Cultures of Thinking (CoT)
Language: Words Shape our Thoughts and Actions
Language (noun). The system of communication used to create meaning and build group coherence and understanding around ideas, behaviors, and actions.
Ron Ritchhart (2015), author of this critical text for educators states, "The words and structures that make up language not only convey an explicit surface meaning but also impart a set of deeper associations and connections that implicitly shape thought and influence behavior. This is the hidden power of language: its ability to subtly convey messages that shape our thinking, sense of self, and group affinity" (p. 61).
Language can facilitate the development of a culture of thinking in classrooms, schools and even at home. Ritchart defines seven key areas of language:
Each of these key areas shape and inform our thoughts, feelings and experiences. Lev Vygotsky (1978) stated, "The child begins to perceive the world not only through its eyes but also through its speech. And later it is not just seeing but acting that becomes informed by words" (p. 78). When educators notice their students’ behaviors and and positively name the type of thinking they are exhibiting, the learners will want to repeat those behaviors. For instance, when focused on the language of identity, instead of saying to the learner, "Please do your work," the teacher states, "Time to do your learning." Work is something we do for someone else, whereas, learning is personal, and we learn for our own benefit. Classroom protocols can also promote Ritchart’s key areas of language. "See-Think-Wonder " requires the learner to look closely, notice details, observe, make connections and question. When the teacher debriefs the protocol, noticing and naming the type of thinking can take the learning even further.
The culture of language can seem so obvious, yet for many, the patterns of speech are so much of who they are that they do not even notice the words they are using. Being aware and being intentional of how language can shape a learning culture are the first steps.
Cultures of Thinking (CoT)
Environment: Purposeful Design to Support Student Learning and Thinking
Environment (noun): The surrounding conditions or influences in which a person operates. According to Ron Ritchhart (2015), the cultural force, the physical environment, is the "Body Language" of an organization. The environment conveys the values and influences interactions, behaviors and even performance. The physical environment can inspire the learner. Yet, often times in education, typical old paradigms of learning tend to consume our environment: desks in rows, teacher desks, cluttered walls, etc. While many educators inherit the physical space and furniture of their classroom, there is still much we can do to shape the learning space (p. 227).
Our Deerfield staff have been working diligently to rethink the various environmental factors which impact student learning. Intuitively, our teachers have always worked to build a learning space that is child centered and designed with specific learning goals in mind. Reading corners are colorful, relaxing, and encourage reading. These specific classroom designs do not occur without thoughtful planning. As this year progresses we are excited for the students and community to see how the staff will redefine some of the learning spaces. Some have already begun and some are just beginning to explore but, looking at the "environment" as a cultural force of student learning is something we all can do; even you at home.
Cultures of Thinking (CoT)
Time: Learning to be its master rather than its victim
Time (noun): The containers, consisting of measurable periods, that we allocate, assign, or use to accomplish tasks of our choosing. An entity through which we recall, sequence, and make sense of our experience.
The element of time can be a gift and curse all at the same time. Often we find ourselves searching for more time, and we allow time to dictate our actions rather than managing time ourselves. Schools ultimately live in a world of deadlines, points to cover and those involved become “Human doers” versus “Human Beings.” In First Things First, Stephen Covey states, “The way we see (our paradigm) leads to what we do (or attitudes and behaviors); and what we do leads to the results we get in our lives” (1994, p. 28). Covey also argues that by changing our paradigms, we ultimately change the results.
In Creating Cultures of Thinking, Ron Ritchhart (2015) elaborates on Covey’s thinking, “When we consider time not as periods of the day that we fill, but as a cultural force sending messages about what we value and shaping students’ learning, we take a step toward thinking about time differently, toward changing our paradigm with regard to time” (pg. 110). He also argues that how schools and parents allocate time within their buildings, classrooms, or homes send messages to their students and children about what is important. These messages shape the culture of the school, the classroom, and the home (Ritchhart, 2015, pg. 98). As a school community, we need to continually examine how we allocate time to ensure we are sending the message which puts student thinking and learning at the core.
Covey (1994) designed a time management matrix. He created the four quadrants of human activity: (1) Urgent and Important, (2) Not Urgent and Important, (3) Urgent and Not Important, and (4) Not Urgent and Not Important. Quadrant 2 is the space where we ultimately want to spend most of our time. He states, “Increasing time spent in this quadrant increases our ability to do. Ignoring this quadrant feeds and enlarges Quadrant 1, creating stress, burnout and a deeper crisis for the person consumed by it” (1994, p. 38). When we schedule our “Big Rocks” first, give priority to the things that are most important, we truly are “Putting first things first.”
It is crucial that we manage time in a way that supports thinking, not only for students but for adults. We need to be clear about our priorities, so we can plan beyond the schedule and cover the curriculum focusing on the learning and thinking that needs to take place at home and at school.
Cultures of Thinking (CoT)
Modeling: To display, demonstrate, or draw attention to as an example for others to follow or imitate.
Modeling (verb): As a culture sharper, modeling operates explicitly and implicitly. Explicitly, teachers (parents) model processes and strategies in a way that makes the adult's own thinking visible for the learner (child). Implicitly, adult actions are constantly on display for children. They see the adult's passions, interest, and authenticity as thinkers and leaders of themselves. Positively or negatively, children soak up the messages the adults model.
As educators, a critical element of learning revolves around this notion of modeling. Students can learn many things from a book, or the internet, yet, through purposeful modeling of one's thinking and learning, students emulate the thinking being modeled. When a teacher reads a book, they model oral reading skills, tone, thinking and various ways a reader makes meaning from the words. Skilled educators can make a story come alive and students learn from this journey. "In observing models, whether informally or formally, learners have the opportunity to "take on the other," try out new roles and behaviors, and apprentice into new ways of the acting and thinking" (Ritchhart, 2015, p. 136).
Yet, Ron Ritchhart (2015) also cautions educators, "Too much modeling of skills, procedures, or actions can lead to rote learning and imitation, and can inhibit creativity and original thinking" (Haston, 2007). As with many things, finding balance between modeling and exploring is key. Formal, informal, ongoing and embedded modeling, all have their place in the classroom. As a cultural sharper, Ritchhart (2015) claims, that is the informal modeling that has the most power. It unveils the true feelings and thinking. Instead of hiding our imperfections or weaknesses, adults can open themselves up authentically to their students (children) and show them what it means to be a life long learner.