In Creating Cultures of Thinking*, Harvard academic and educator Ron Ritchhart explains the important impact of ‘cultural forces’ in fostering and developing learning. For Ritchhart everyone in a ‘culture of thinking’ is a learner, be it an expert or novice.
In professional development with Ritchhart, his ideas have had a significant impact on me as both an educator and learner and have made me reflective of my own practice. A core idea I’ve taken from Ritchhart’s work is the interplay between various cultural forces in learning and in the wider School context, namely, the expectations we set and enact; the language we use around thinking, the time we allocate as a marker of what we value; how we model both the dispositions of learners to our students and how we show specific strategies to help our students learn; the opportunities we create with our students; the routines and teaching strategies we use; the interactions we have as learners; and the learning environments we share.
In my Year 12 History Revolutions classes held earlier this year I used a specific thinking strategy where students conducted a ‘silent discussion’ centred on a range of questions; in this case from a key period in the Russian Revolution 1906-1914 when Nicholas II attempted to consolidate his position after the events of the failed 1905 Revolution.
My choice behind this thinking routine is key, to focus student thinking on ‘big picture’ questions that are contestable, and deliberately designed to be interpreted in various ways because of wording that requires unpacking and interpretation. This allowed students time to think, they were free to move around the room quietly and respond to questions in any order they liked, allowing processing and thinking time, providing a necessary balance to verbal discussion. Students then made one response of their own, one comment to someone else’s thinking and one question to deepen the thinking of others, emphasising the development of a shared culture of thinking.
Traditionally, teachers might be seen as the ‘sage of the stage’, the font of information. I became an observer of students’ thinking, diagnosing, clarifying, prompting and checking for understanding throughout, 'stage right' not 'centre stage'. The flow on effect continued to build momentum, connection and confidence for learning.
Learning Leader, Humanities
Ruyton Girls' School
*Harvard Project Zero https://pz.harvard.edu/