Valuing student thinking

“As educators, parents, and citizens, we must settle for nothing less than environments that bring out the best in people, take learning to the next level, allow for great discoveries, and propel both the individual and the group forward into a lifetime of learning. This is something all teachers want and all students deserve.” – Ron Ritchhart, Creating Cultures of Thinking

The development of our working relationship with Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education, through our connection with Ron Ritchhart, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Project Zero and Fellow at the University of Melbourne, Australia, has been an important one for St Leonard’s College and one that has grown deeper over time. Since 2016, and in support of our deeply held belief that developing student thinking is foundational to rich learning and deep understanding, our aim has been to provide opportunities for all teaching staff to engage with the research, theory and practices that will assist them in creating a culture of thinking in their classrooms. Deep thinking, underpins all that an education for life should entail and is important to the success of student learning at every level of their development.

Author of Visible Thinking and Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools, Ron runs workshops for teachers at the college three times each year– both beginners and those who have more experience working with Cultures of Thinking and Visible Thinking routines. His extensive research has led him to the belief that any school or teacher can accomplish a culture of thinking by leveraging 8 cultural forces: expectations, language, time, modeling, opportunities, routines, interactions, and environment.” Our collective endeavours at St Leonard’s seek to create the sort of learning environments where staff and student thinking is valued, visible and actively promoted on a daily basis.

In 2018 we ran a full day beginners’ class for teachers new to the College and new to Cultures of Thinking work. Thirty-five staff attended this workshop and were introduced to the philosophy behind Cultures of Thinking, as well as to a range of practical strategies that they can use to promote a culture of thinking in their own classrooms. The purpose of this session was to build shared understanding and to provide some immediate strategies that teachers can begin to use with their students.

For staff more advanced in their understanding of this work, we offered two half-day workshops,Building a Culture of Thinking for our Peers and Ourselves: Examining Facilitation & Protocols for Communities of Professional Learners, specifically designed to deepen personal understanding and to suggest ways in which participants can lead the promotion of this work further, both in their own classrooms and, more broadly, across the College. Twenty-three staff from across the college attended these workshops.

While shifts in culture do not happen quickly, our collective understanding of the role thinking plays in deep learning, and of how to nurture it, is helping to move the culture forward at St Leonard’s. This important work invites us to reimagine the purpose of education and the promises it holds for our students and what they can achieve.

“Creating a culture of thinking is more important to learning than any particular curriculum and this can be leveraged using 8 cultural forces: expectations, language, time, modelling, opportunities, routines, interactions, and environment. A culture of thinking produces the feelings, energy, and even joy that can propel learning forward and motivate us to do what at times can be hard and challenging mental work.” – Ron Ritchhart, Creating Cultures of Thinking

Jacqui Coker
Director of Teacher Professional Learning

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Photo: Ron Ritchhart with Jacqui Coker