Learning from Teaching
On Monday & Tuesday I was flown to Boston to speak at an all-girlâ€™s leadership and character development focused school named Montrose. My goal was to teach their staff how to create opportunities for thinking in the classroom â€“ aptly called â€œThinking Routines.â€ In preparing, I was struck that what we are creating in our classrooms and in our school, is what Ron Ritchhart (the Director of Harvardâ€™s School of Education) calls, enculturation.
Enculturation means that we are looking at every aspect of our school and ensuring it is in line with our mission and vision:
IVA's Mission - To foster meaningful growth in intellectual character virtues in a thoughtful, challenging, and supportive academic environment.
IVA's Vision - To equip students to engage the world with curiosity and thoughtfulness, to know themselves, and to live well.
How this affects middle school as we know it:
- We hire teachers because they demonstrate a love of the mission and vision â€“ these are teachers who want to give students opportunities for thinking in their classroom.
Our teachers do not lesson plan the way other teachers do: Specifically, they plan for understanding first â€“ they ask, â€œWhat sort of understanding do I want my students to communicate about the content?â€ Instead of the traditional approach, "what content am I going to teach today?" The approach is concerned with the development of their minds, versus covering content. What follows is a simplified version of lesson planning at IVA:
IVA Teachers then incorporate...
- Big or essential questions related to the subject â€“ learning continues beyond this class or this year - these are questions that students will think of through the unit, through the year, and even beyond middle school.
- Thinking Routines â€“ or strategies and procedures for how all students in the class will be able to access the content and contribute to the thinking in the room.
- Click here to see the reference page we give to our students in Advisory.
- Text to study â€“ in order to challenge students, the content needs to be complex and rigorous content.
During the talk I wanted to help my audience grow in their thinking and understanding together with their peers, so I used a Thinking Routine called 3-2-1 Bridge. It went like this:
I asked the teachers to explain what Teaching for Growth in Intellectual Character means by listing (this is my big question) :
3 words that it makes them think of
2 questions they have about the topic
1 simile or metaphor to better describe the concept
The teachers wrote silently, discussed in small groups, and shared out. At the end of the discussion I asked them to write out a new 3 â€“ 2 â€“ 1 and compare it to their original. I asked them to bridge their learning or identify how their new responses connected or shifted from their original response.
This simple structure allowed for each teacher to approach the topic at their own level, which is the kind of differentiation teachers are always seeking to create in their class. The thinking routine also served to let me know what teachers were thinking at the beginning so that I could adjust what I was doing throughout (this is called formative assessment). At the end of the talk, their bridge helped me hear and visibly see (because we posted them around the room) what the teachers now learned or understood. The bridge also helped them to explain for themselves and to their peers the shift in their thinking.
One Montrose teacher shared that she noticed her original response was all about what was required of the student in order to grow in their character. At the end, her responses identified what she could do as a teacher to provide her students with opportunities for thinking. I recognized that this is what our teachers do! They not only craft their lessons so that they can see a studentsâ€™ understanding, but they utilize thinking routines to create a protocol by which thinking is welcomed and expected by every member of the class.
What I've learned from teaching other teachers is that at IVA we are creating a culture. Your students are not just individuals whose minds are being developed, they are members of a group of thinkers. By being a member of the group, they are constantly refined by each othersâ€™ thoughts and by taking the time to listen to other ideas, develop intellectual humility, and not assume they know it all (which is such a tendency at this age as you might know).
As humans, we do not learn individually. Our students are not only responsible to themselves, they are also asked to be committed to the learning of those around them through the lessons that give them the opportunity to think and understand together.
Our school has a culture of thinking that is created by teachers through love and rigor. In his book, Cultures of Thinking, Ron Richhart explains: "People often mention that in a culture of thinking, they feel committed to the learning of others and not just to their own. It is this commitment and the recognition of the symbiotic relationship between oneâ€™s individual learning and that of the other group members that help create a sense of community."
To learn and live well,
Coming Next Week: ***This description of how teachers at IVA plan is very similar to how Advisors teach their group to prepare for their own Advisory. Next week I will explain the task of preparing for an Advisory and give parents an opportunity to know how best to support their kids in crafting their own intellectual explorations.