Thoughts on thinking

Alan McLean

Making Thinking Visible

By Ron Ritchaet, Mark Church and Karin Morrison

Josey-Bass, RRP pound;19.99

This book emerged from the work of Project Zero at Harvard on creating thinking routines to help teachers cultivate thinking dispositions in their students.

Teachers ask their pupils to think all the time, but they rarely stop and think what thinking is. In some classrooms, the teacher tells the pupils what is important to know and do and then gets them to practise these skills, without much thinking. Other classrooms are full of activity, with the thinking needed to turn activity into learning left to chance. They are hands-on, without necessarily being minds-on.

In both, the curriculum is seen as something teachers deliver to pupils, the focus is on the teacher not the learner. The antidote to this is to ask, "What kinds of thinking does this lesson ask pupils to do?"

This book offers a very useful set of high-leverage thinking moves that develop understanding. These are:

observing closely and describing what's there;

building explanations and interpretations;

reasoning with evidence;

making connections between the new and known;

considering different viewpoints and perspectives;

capturing the essence and forming conclusions about what it is really about;

wondering and asking questions;

uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things.

The 21 routines are well organised into three categories: introducing and exploring, synthesising and organising, and digging deeper. They are explained in clear accounts and amplified by real-world examples that take the theory into greater detail.

The routines are intriguing and the reader is left with a desire to try them out at the first opportunity. For example, "See-think-wonder" harnesses the power of looking closely at any stimuli to stimulate curiosity. It asks, "What do you see, what do you think is going on, and what does it make you wonder?"

I particularly liked asking questions to which the teacher does not know the answer; that shows teachers as learners and so fosters a community of inquiry.

The book is written in an engaging and easy to follow structure and is full of practical and powerful ideas. The message is consistently uplifting.

About the authors

Ron Ritchaet is a researcher at Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education; Mark Church is resource supervisor for the Traverse City Area Public Schools in Michigan; and Karin Morrison is director of the Development Centre at Independent Schools Victoria, Australia.

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Alan McLean

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