This summer I read Making Thinking Visible and I am in the process of reading Creating Cultures of Thinking, both written by Ron Ritchhart. In the first chapter of Creating a Culture of Thinking, Ritchhart compares schools in the past (emphasis on rote learning and tests/grades) with what schools could become (emphasis on a culture of thinking). As I was reading about schools in the past, I could totally relate with it because that was how I was taught. And, I was okay with that. I didn’t know any better and I loved school! When I began teaching, I taught the only way I knew and felt that I was doing a good job. Well…thank goodness for great research, books, conferences, Twitter, and the MTBoS!
“Learning is a consequence of thinking.” In his book, Making Thinking Visible, Ritchhart gives an extensive list of ways to visualize student learning. Not all of the ways will fit in my math class, but it made me more aware of the fact that I have to make student thinking visible. Even though there are many great ideas, Ritchhart cautions about making too many changes all at once. It is better to start with a few new ideas and have students get familiar with those routines so that they improve their responses, rather than not understanding what you are trying to accomplish and giving shallow responses.
I know that I need more writing and conversations to take place in my classroom. So, I set out to look at my 7th grade curriculum and evaluate what I am already doing and where I can make changes, even small ones, to get students engaged, not just passive participants in their learning.
To start, I needed a visual of what my units looked like. To make it easy, I printed off a blank monthly calendar and wrote in activities, assignments, quizzes, etc. for the first four units. Then, I color-coded each activity to see the common elements.
As I started this evaluation, I knew right away that I needed to make changes. On a sticky note, I started to write items that I wanted to incorporate into my lesson planning. This post-it sat next to me as I reviewed each lesson. Rather than scrapping everything I’ve used in the past, I revised pieces of lessons. Sometimes it only required a tweaking of my line of questioning; other times I made an activity to get the students to answer the questions instead of using direct instruction. In this way all students would be engaged in the inquiry rather than only a few.
In a few days I get to put these changes up for the test. Bring it on! I will blog about the changes and the outcomes. More tweaking might be needed, but it is a start. Here’s to a great year!