This week we have a special guest introduction from Jason McManus, Vice Principal.
This time last year I wrote about an exciting pilot program that we were running as part of our Bold Learning strategic project, exploring Harvard University’s Project Zero initiative, Cultures of Thinking. This was a great success in 2019 so I am pleased to report on the expansion of this in 2020.
Cultures of Thinking, drawing on research by Harvard’s Ron Ritchhart and pioneered here in Melbourne at Bialik College, looks at how teachers can create cultures within their classroom (or in a school) where the group’s collective and individual thinking is valued, visible and actively promoted as part of day-to-day experience. (Paterson & Munro, 2019. p. 48)
Teachers learn how to use cultural forces which are present in every class room to create this culture where depth of thinking is clearly valued. The 8 cultural forces that teachers are guided to reflect upon are:
- Expectations – How do you focus on the value of thinking and learning as opposed to mere completion of “work”?
- Language – How do you provide students with the vocabulary for describing and reflecting on thinking?
- Time – How do you provide time for exploring topics in more depth?
- Modelling – How do you model your own thinking so that the process of thinking is shared and made visible?
- Opportunities – How do you provide purposeful activities that require students to engage in thinking?
- Routines – How do you scaffold students’ thinking?
- Interactions – How do you respect and value other ideas and thinking in a spirit of collaborative inquiry?
- Environment – How do you display the process of thinking and arrange space to facilitate thoughtful interactions?
(Ritchhart, 2015, p. 15)
The impetus for our exploration of Cultures of Thinking is the future needs of our students. It is clear that the world that we want them to strive confidently into, requires skills and dispositions beyond that of the traditional subject disciplines, important as they are. Cultures of Thinking puts the focus on building student independence, learning how to learn, collaborating with others to build knowledge and problem solve, self-efficacy and student agency.
While mastering the subject content and skills is an essential part of learning and teaching at Tintern Grammar, we must think expansively on how we can do this while at the same time develop their values, dispositions and capabilities to achieve their potential and find their place in the world.
It is not an either/or situation – we can do both by consciously using cultural forces in our classrooms to ensure the activities we do make thinking valued, visible and actively promoted as an end in itself. By improving meta-cognition, reading and writing improve along with engagement, commitment, purpose and challenge, as well as better preparing students for senior assessment which increasingly rewards higher-order thinking.
For 2018 and 2019 we have had a number of action research groups working with a coach within the school to experiment with leveraging aspects of the cultural forces in their classrooms whilst a team of staff attended a program run by Independent Schools Victoria to apply the Cultural Force of ‘Routines’ in their classrooms and track how it impacted student learning.
In 2020 we will have 5 groups of teachers in action research groups in our Professional Growth Partnerships (PGP) program, each with a staff member trained as a coach and all assisted by Jackie Macreadie from Independent Schools Victoria who addressed all of our staff in our January in-service day. All of our secondary school Heads of Faculty are involved in these groups and they will lead the next stage of this project in their faculties. A Culture of Thinking for students, means a Culture of Thinking for staff.
Of course, this is not the only initiative in teaching and learning at Tintern Grammar with PGP teams looking at Numeracy in the Junior Schools, a Year 7 Maths teaching team and integrating the Farm into curriculum among others. At Tintern Grammar learning is something that staff as well as students are constantly striving to attain.
Ritchhart, R. (2015). Creating a culture of thinking: The 8 forces we must master to truly transform our schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Paterson, C. & Munro. C, (2019) ‘Coaching for a Culture of Thinking’, AEL 41 Issue 3, p 47-49