Monday, June 27, 2016

Making Thinking Visible - Chapter 3

This chapter was really short, but pretty powerful.  A lot of this chapter was an introduction to the structure of the thinking routines as well as how to use them effectively when planning lessons.

Here are my notes and quotes from Chapter 3 with my thoughts in italics:

  • We must first identify what kind of thinking we are trying to elicit from our students and then select the particular thinking routine as the tool for that job.  **This reminds me of a discussion hubby and I have had many times.  He is in IT and often laments how people will try to force a solution to fit a specific problem instead of choosing the best solution for the problem.  We see this in education as well.  Just because something is the new and shiny thing doesn't mean that it's the be-all-end-all for every single situation.  Identify the problem, then choose the best routine for that particular situation.
  • Thinking routines should be useful to both students and teachers to explore thinking, not just a fun activity for student engagement.  **I think this is a potential pitfall that I need to avoid.  I need to be very intentional with my use of thinking routines and not just use them as fun activities.  
  • When doing a concept map, consider using the "generate-sort-connect-elaborate" structure, but don't forget the "sort" part... that's a key element that is often left out!  **I've used concept maps several times, but never thought about the missing "sort".  Next time I do a concept map, I'm thinking of giving each student at the table a different color to generate their thoughts and cut them apart.  Then, as a group, share and sort their papers and glue them down to the map and making connections.  With the different colors, each student is held accountable as a participant, but still there's group accountability as well.  Finally, follow up with the elaborate with an individual quick write.
  • When trying out and planning routines, realize that each step is meant to build on and extend the thinking of the previous step.  When planning, think about what student responses could be and how to make connections between steps. **Again, be intentional!  I think it's really important to think about the student responses, to anticipate how students might make connections and how to guide them as necessary.
  • An instructional strategy may be used only on occasion, but routines become part of the fabric of the classroom through repeated use.  
  • Learning is not a process of absorbing others' ideas, thoughts, or practices but involves uncovering one's own ideas, connecting new ideas to one's own thinking.  **What a great definition of learning!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Making Thinking Visible - Chapter 2

Because this book is property of my school, I've been recording my thoughts in a spiral notebook (with absolutely horrible handwriting... apologies to my elementary school teachers that tried to teach me penmanship!).  Typically, I highlight / annotate in my actual book using either Kindle tools or post-it notes, but I kind of like recording my notes this way.  This book isn't an easy read... I often find myself re-reading the same paragraph, trying to understand what the author is saying, but when I look back over my notes, I realize that I got more out of the chapter than I originally thought!

Here are my quotes and notes from Chapter 2 with any additional thoughts in italics:

  • How does learn to teach well?  **This was the opening question to the chapter and one that really made me pause.  This morning there was a twitter discussion about "high vs low" classes and I stand by my statement that for me, teaching remedial courses made me grow as a professional more than any other class.  I learned more about differentiation, instructional strategies, and classroom culture from those classes than I ever have from teaching AP classes.
  • We judge teaching effectiveness based on student absorption of material with the student in a passive role.  The focus should be on the learner, not the teacher.  With a shift in focus, the role as teacher shifts from content delivery to fostering engagement.  **In many states, there is a trend to include VAM (Value Added Measures aka test scores) to teacher evaluations.  These tests do measure how well our students have memorized processes and procedures, but if our true goal is learning and understanding, then we need to move beyond this passive memorization.  This reminds me of the quote of "The person doing the work is the person doing the learning."  In many classes, the teacher is the one doing the work, running around like crazy while the students sit there passively. 
  • When there is something important and worthwhile to think about and a reason to think deeply, our students experience learning with a lasting impact - they not only learn, but learn how to learn!
  • When we reduce the amount of thinking we ask of our students, we reduce the amount of learning as well.  **Be less helpful.  Sometimes I think I'm being helpful with scaffolding, handouts, foldables, etc, but am I truly creating a learning issue because I've taken away the productive struggle?
  • Uncovering student thinking gives us evidence of student insight as well as misconceptions.  **In this chapter, one of the stories talked about a chemistry teacher asking "why?" on an assessment and not very pleased with the results.  If the teacher had asked "why?" prior to the assessment, she/he would have been able to see the misconceptions and correct them prior to the assessment.  As teachers, do we sometimes avoid asking the hard questions like "why?" because it's easier to ignore the underlying issues than it is to address it head on?  In today's test-taking culture with a focus on multiple choice and memorization of procedures, getting at the deeper thinking often takes a backseat... are we "sticking our heads in the sand", hoping that the deeper understanding will eventually fix itself?
  • The students in our charge need to see an image of us as thinkers & learners that they can imitate and learn from.  **Modeling is key :)
  • Once teachers start noticing and naming thinking (aka making it visible), both the teacher and the students become more aware of thinking, which makes thinking more difficult to ignore. **Knowing is half the battle!  Once you are aware of something, it becomes impossible to ignore.  This is true outside of the classroom as well :)    
  • True generative questions have legs - they propel learning forward!  
  • "What makes you say that?"  **I need this made into a poster :)  This shift in language can have a huge shift in culture
  • Questions that drive learning don't come from a list, they arise in response to student contributions. **You have to listen to students in order to have the information necessary to ask good questions.
  • Listening conveys a sense of respect for and an interest in the learner's contributions.  In order for students to feel safe sharing their thinking, they need to know we are truly interested in hearing them.  As teachers, our listening to students provides a model to our students of what it means to listen.
  • If we routinely ask "What makes you say that?", kids will pick this up as a way to respond to their classmates.  **I really need this as a poster! :)
  • To capture and record student thinking, teachers must be vigilant observers and listeners.
On to Chapter 3!

Edited to add:  Storify of Chapter 2 Chat

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Making Thinking Visible - Chapter 1

One of my favorite parts of summer is having time to read and really feed my "inner nerd" with professional learning.  :)  Pam (@pamjwilson) and I just finished Creating Cultures of Thinking, so now we're off to another of Ron Ritchhart's books - Making Thinking Visible.  Pam has read it before, but this is my first time to read it.  I checked it out from my district's professional library, but based on what I've read so far, this will probably have to join my personal library soon! :)

Here are some of the quotes and notes that I jotted down while reading Chapter 1 as well as my personal thoughts in italics:
  • We ask/tell our students to "think", but what does that mean?  What do we want them to do?  What does "thinking" mean to me?  *If I had been asked the questions in this paragraph, I'd probably be stumped too.  Not a good way to start out on page 1 :(
  • Bloom's taxonomy suggests that thinking is a linear progression, but it's not.  Why is "understanding" toward the bottom of the revised Bloom's?  *I've never really pondered this before, but now that the author brings it up, what a great point!  I think I prefer the word 'comprehension' from the original Bloom's over 'understanding' in the revision.  "Understanding" is a much deeper concept I think.
  • Is "understanding" a type of thinking or an outcome of thinking?
  • Classrooms tend to be places of "tell & practice", not much (if any) thinking.  *I'm guilty of this one.  Especially in the spring when I'm running out of time before exams start :(  I know that "sit & get" doesn't work, yet I still fall into that habit.
  • Retention of information through rote practice isn't learning, it is training!  *Ouch!  This one kicked me in the gut, I must admit... I'm guilty :(
  • Playing a review game or doing other activities may be fun, but still not likely to develop understanding.  Hands on does not mean minds on. :( *One look at my pinterest boards will tell you that I like fun activities.  However, I need to be very careful not to fall into this trap.  If I use an activity, I need to follow it up with connections to thinking.  
  • Work & activity != learning
  • To develop understanding of a subject, you need to have authentic intellectual activity.  *If I want students to develop as mathematicians or statisticians, what do I need to do to create these authentic opportunities?  How can I help my students think like mathematicians or statisticians? 
  • Over the course of a unit, students should be engaged in all of the integral thinking moves:
    • Observing closely and describing what's there
    • Building explanations and interpretations
    • Reasoning with evidence
    • Making connections
    • Considering different viewpoints & perspectives
    • Capturing the heart and forming conclusions
    • Wondering & asking questions
    • Uncovering complexity and going below the surface
  • Activity idea (pg 16) - create a concept map on 'What is thinking?'  However, don't stress if student answers aren't great - most students haven't been taught to think about thinking.  *I really like this idea as a first day of school activity to gauge where my students are and to share with them some of my expectations and what I view as important

For more reflections on Chapter 1, see:

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


From The Big Rocks of Life by Stephen Covey:
"No," the speaker replied, "that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all."

One night at the AP Reading (I honestly don't remember which night... if you ever go to an AP Reading, you'll understand), Julie (@jkindred13), Lynn (@ladsit76), and I were sitting around the lobby visiting about how our year had gone.  I remember sitting there and venting (whining?) to Julie and Lynn.  To be honest, I had a great year filled with great kids.  We had a lot of successes and a few setbacks.  My kids came back from the AP exam feeling confident with smiles on their faces.  I should have been over the moon.  

But I wasn't.  This was a tough year for me.  There's no real reason why other than I just didn't feel like me.  I wasn't finding the joy that I should have had throughout the year.  I was letting myself get bogged down in the minutiae, instead of letting myself enjoy the learning in my classroom.  On that night of the AP Reading, I was struck by the quote above.  I had read it earlier in the day (Chapter 4 of Creating Cultures of Thinking) but it wasn't until that chat with Julie and Lynn that it really hit me.  I had let my professional life get filled up with the small pebbles and the sand until there wasn't any room left for the big rocks.

Another quote from the same chapter said "What does your allocation of time say about what you value in the classroom?"  Am I communicating with my students about the 'big rocks' in my classroom?  Through my actions, do I show my students that I value learning... thinking... understanding... creativity... fun... engagement?  

My 'big rocks' may not be the same as yours, and that's okay!  I have personal 'big rocks' - my faith, my family, my friends, but I have professional 'big rocks' as well and that's what I was missing this year in my classroom, leading to frustration on my part.  

I'm hopeful for a better year coming up.  I've given up some of my leadership roles, which should allow me more time to just focus on the fun part of teaching.  I plan to focus more on my professional 'big rocks' - my professional growth through my PLN and book studies, new teaching ideas via twitter and blogs, and student engagement / visible thinking strategies.  

What are your "big rocks"?

Summer Reads

Inspired by Sarah (@mathequalslove), I decided to start a Pinterest board to record my summer reads this year.  I've been out of school a month now and to be honest, I thought I had read more than this, but I'll blame part of it on the 1.5 weeks I was gone for the AP reading :)

Inline image 1

Unshakable was my first book of the summer.  This was a gift from the amazing Meg (@mathymeg07) and it was exactly the book I needed for the beginning of summer.  Please don't get me wrong - I had a wonderful school year and had fabulous kids, but *I* wasn't fully there for whatever reason.  Unshakable really helped me see the importance of mindset and had a very positive and uplifting message.  I plan to re-read this one in July as part of the author's summer book study on Facebook.  As a result of reading this book, I've also started listening to the author's podcast, Truth for Teachers, which is full of positive and uplifting messages and a delightful addition to my daily walk.

Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn was my next read.  This is one of my free member books from ASCD and it was all about the power of choice as a motivator in student learning.  This was a quick and easy read and one of its main points was about the Zone of Proximal Development.  In this Zone, learning is appropriately challenging and according to the author, "joyful challenge leads to high engagement".  I know I've experienced this over the past few days as I have been working through the Exeter Math 3 problems.  I have been highly engaged with the problems because I am having to use problem solving skills that I haven't used in years.  :)  This book also had several tables throughout each chapter with "Instead of... Try this.." suggestions for shifting voice and mindset of both teachers and students.

Creating Cultures of Thinking came toward the end of Learning to Choose.  LtoC really emphasized the student engagement and ownership elements and during a twitter chat with @pamjwilson, she mentioned that she had recently purchased CCoT.  I already had Making Thinking Visible on my summer bookshelf, so I purchased CCoT in order to chat with Pam about it.  It's a bit meatier of a book that has taken a bit of work to get in to, but overall, I'm even more convinced that I need to make my classroom more "thinking centered".  I still have a few chapters to go in this one, but again, this book really has pushed my thinking on word choice and mindset.  One of the first chapters talks about "work" vs "learning" - a subtle distinction, but one that can have profound implications in the overall classroom environment.  I want my classroom to be one that values learning over work, understanding over knowledge, thinking over memorization.  I am eager to finish this one and read Making Thinking Visible!

Classroom Instruction from A to Z was one of my Half Price Book finds this past weekend.  On Friday night, my hubby drove up to KC, where I had just spent 10 days at the AP Reading and after celebrating with several friends from the #MTBoS for a job well done, hubby and I proceeded to bum around KC before driving home on Saturday.  In our travels, we made it to Ikea and several HPB stores.  I walked away with even more books to add to my ever-growing pile, but this one is a short and sheet best practices book.  One of the topics from this book will be the topic of another blog post over exit tickets.  It's not the best book I've ever read, but it did give me quite a few ideas to pursue and research, especially in things like questioning strategies and writing to learn.

Still on the Bookshelf to be read:
- Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler
- Mindset by Carol Dweck
- Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart
- Making Number Talks Matter
- Total Participation Techniques
- Instruction for All Students by Paula Rutherford
- Forensic Science Teacher Magazine

What's on your summer reading list?

One Month Down

It seems that the longer I go without blogging, the harder it is to start back up.  I can't count the number of times that I have started a post, written a few sentences, thought "this is garbage that no one really cares to read", and deleted the post, only to repeat that again a few days later.

But honestly, I need to get over that.  

This is my blog and I'm the only one that I really need to be concerned about.  And to be frank, I am concerned about it.  I look back to previous years posts and I don't even recognize myself.  I was creative, innovative, energized... 

Now?  Not so much.

And I attribute a lot to my lack of blogging - my lack of reflecting through the written word, which I know from experience is extremely useful and necessary for my personal and professional growth.

But, I'm back.

I've been out of school now for a month and have about 2 more months to go this summer.  My summer has been full of rejuvenation, rest, and reflection.  I have spent every day (other than the time I was at the AP Reading) on my patio with a book, a glass of water, and nature.  I have collected ideas for next year, reconnected with my PLN, and enjoyed every minute of it.

It feels good to be back.