Making Thinking Visible for EAL Students

Ritchhart-Cover-265x350In November 2013, I attended an amazing conference with the focus of developing effective feedback practices to improving student learning. Ron Ritchhart, one of the keynote presenters, shared his research on visible thinking routines. Visible Thinking is a research-based approach to teaching with the aim of developing students’ thinking abilities while deepening their understanding of the learning goals. With visible thinking routines, learning is no longer just content-driven; students’ thinking processes during learning become visible to teachers and the students. As a participant in Ritchhart’s workshops, I was fascinated by his research on developing students’ thinking skills through these different thinking routines. As a teacher, my question was, “What modifications and scaffolding would I need to incorporate to use these routines with students of low language fluency?”   Although Ritchhart’s research had involved EAL students, in his demonstration videos, the students’ language abilities seemed quite high. I wanted to know how I would adapt and scaffold these thinking routines for students who had minimal English fluency.

 

Peeling the Fruit

 

Working with a colleague, we decided to try the “Peeling the Fruit” routine, but we soon realized using this entire routine in one lesson was much too ambitious. This routine is designed to help students think about a text, moving their thinking from literal understandings to inferential. After trying the strategy in class and reflecting upon our experiences, we decided that using the entire routine would be more appropriate towards the end of the year, after we had scaffolded the language and thinking process for each section of the routine throughout the year.   This would give the students a chance to become comfortable with each part of the routine and better able to move through the routine. Because students were both unfamiliar with the routine and the different levels of thinking involved, they need more support with each part before we could use the entire routine.

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See – Think – Wonder

this one

My colleague and I found this routine to be extremely effective for moving students’ thinking from literal to inferential. We had students working in partners with a visually stimulating picture and they enjoyed describing what they saw and then making hypotheses about the image. We used this routine as a pre-reading tool to access students’ prior knowledge and direct their thinking to make connections between weather, mood, and setting in a story.

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CSI – Colour – Symbol – Image

 

CSI is a thinking routine that asks students to look at a concept or theme and represent it in three forms – color, symbol, and image. After we spending several classes working with two poems, my colleagues and I asked the students to use CSI for one of two poems. We wanted to use this routine to see the level of their understanding. Prior to having students use this thinking protocol, we scaffolded the idea of representing and discussed the difference between symbol and image.

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“Immersion”

Video

I first saw this heart-wrentching video at an ELL strategies workshop. What stood out so strongly for me was the message of necessity for equity in linguistic and cultural inclusion. In the video, the student understands the content, but is impeded from showing his understanding (and possibly growing as a learner) because of the rigid language policies. Without the scaffolding of his first language, he struggles to demonstrate his understandings. For me, this shows the importance of continuing students’ learning in both their L1 and L2 and empowering students with the right to use both languages in their learning.

Introverted Students and Multiple Intelligences

Continuing Contemplation

In October 2012, I posted Susan Cain’s TED talk and shared my thoughts on the importance of valuing introverted students in the classroom.  I recently came across an RSA Short illustrating Cain’s novel, Quiet, and this prompted me to think further about the dynamics of introverted and extraverted people. Cain advocates for a society that recognizes the contributions of both groups and encourages an interdependent relationship between introverted and extroverted individuals, but I also believe in the importance of finding that interdependence within oneself, of finding a balance between inner reflection and building connections with others. At work, I tend to be extroverted, engaging in lively and productive discussions with my colleagues, but I also truly cherish the time when I can look back on our discussions and ponder the ideas tossed back and forth and my role as a participant or facilitator. It is through moments of contemplation that I become more aware of my areas for professional growth as a leader and educator and I see the larger connections and understand multiple perspectives. Education tends to be extroverted field; however, similar to Susan Cain, I believe a balance between introversion and extroversion is necessary for individuals to move forward.

RSA Shorts – The Power of Quiet

October 2012

Some people come alive in social environments with high levels of peer interactions, whereas other people seek quiet alone time to re-energize, contemplate ideas and reflect. In society, we tend to propagate the idea that being gregarious is better, and an outgoing, extroverted personality gains more approval in schools, workplaces and general society.  Introverts are seen as being defective or abnormal in some way, and they are encouraged to become more outgoing and social.  In this TED talk, the speaker Susan Cain, shares her personal experiences with the societal bias against introverts and she provides an insightful discussion on how society loses out on the potential of introverts by expecting them to adhere to an extroverted sense of normalcy.  As I was listening to her talk, I began to wonder how this bias applies to our classroom practices, our focus on collaborative work, and providing instruction that integrates all of Gardner’s multiple intelligences.  If society values interpersonal intelligence more than intrapersonal, and as classroom teachers, we propagate this bias, perhaps we need to adjust our classroom practices to find a balance between collaborative and individual learning.  All students are capable of developing their different intelligences, so as educators, we need to ensure that we are supporting learning and development in both intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences.  Students with interpersonal intelligences need to develop their abilities to engage in quiet introspection and reflection, while interpersonal students need support enhancing their comfort with social and group based activities.  However, for both of these intelligences, students’ strengths should be valued and validated; they should be provided with opportunities to be successful and ‘shine’ by applying their own strengths to learning.  In past teaching, I have had students who advocated for working on their own, instead of being part of a group.  As their teacher, I was conflicted between allowing them to working individually because I was aware of their intrapersonal strengths, or telling them they must be part of the group because in education, we promote and value collaborative learning.  Ultimately, I decided that there has to be a balance between all intelligences, and educators must be cognizant of both the societal biases and their own biases towards certain intelligences in order to provide students with the opportunities to develop in all areas.

Thinking Beyond the Apps

I recently had the opportunity to observe 4 male students of varied primary grades playing the same game on their individual iPads.  What was amazing for me was the high level of collaboration, discussion and strategizing taking place among the 4 boys.  Their game playing evoked a flurry of higher level thinking questions on how to reach their mutually-shared, ultimate goal: the next level.   Together, these boys were building a common knowledge base of strategies to help one another move forward in the game.   They each brought forth their individual skills and knowledge and shared these with one another.  The level of engagement and collaboration I witnessed in this moment is teacher’s dream for the classroom. These students were highly engaged in learning, cooperating, and having fun.

A short time later, a teacher came over and asked the boys if they were playing an “educational game.”  They showed their game to the teacher and it was suggested that the students choose a different game, an “educational” game.  After this interaction with the teacher, here is what I noticed.  The level of engagement, collaboration and fun immediately fizzled away.  An adult has taken over the direction and ownership of their learning.   The sense of unity gained from working towards a common goal had disappeared.  Two students were sneakily playing the ‘forbidden’ game, while the other students complied with the teacher’s instruction.  One student was threatening to tattletale on the two students who had chosen to keep playing forbidden game.  Granted, the game they had been playing was not explicitly teaching math, sight words or other specific curriculum related content, but there was a great deal of learning taking place.  As educators, I strongly believe we need to re-examine the meaning of “educational” when we are teaching students to be 21st century learners.  Shouldn’t “educational” be defined by the outcome that we, as teachers, are hoping our students can achieve and shouldn’t this outcome reflect the complex thinking and collaborative skills that students need to be successful learners?  I would also like to suggest that the outcome be determined by the students who are trying to achieve in their own learning goal.

I do think there is a place for those apps that explicitly re-enforce concepts in math or science, but don’t we want more from technology for learning?  Shouldn’t technology be a medium that transcends the mundane review of basic content related learning and promote thinking and social skills applicable for the 21st century?   In order for this to happen, teachers have to re-think the old meaning of “educational” to incorporate a newer meaning that acknowledges the skills and learning needed to prepare students for a future that they will help to define.

If using technology for learning is just practicing math, reading and writing skills with a fancy interface, are we doing any better than if we just handed students a worksheet?

“The world’s problems should not be the human family’s heirlooms”

This is a truly inspiring talk by an amazing young woman.

Adora Svitak advocates that positive change in the world will come about when adults learn to embrace the thinking of children, as children see IDEAS, not limitations. When adults think, they are restricted by mental barriers because their thinking is laden with perceived boundaries of what is possible and what is not.  Children pursue ideas, creativity, and problem-solving.  They are willing to investigate and experiment through the perspective of limitless possibilities.  Our goal as adults and teachers should be to make the world better than it is today and listen to the ideas of children because they will help us relearn how to think outside the box.

 

Rethinking our Perspective on Generational Poverty

“Although there has been some progress made in diminishing the educational barriers of race, gender, geography, and religion, poverty is the one barrier that has not been even partially overcome.”

Overcoming_the_Silence_of_Generational_Poverty,” by Donna Beegle, offers poignant insight into the relationship between children’s learning and poverty.  Based on her study of individuals who grew up in generational poverty, but were able to change their life situations, Beegle provides a thoughtful discussion of how these respondents felt about themselves, their education, and their teacher’s lack of awareness of their learning needs.  Examples of this can be seen in Beegle’s explanation of the differences between “non-standard English” and “middle-class language” and “oral culture” and “print-culture” communication.  After reading this article and examining on my own teaching experiences with students of low socio-economic status, I have come to realize that the gaps of understanding between students of generational poverty and teachers is still significantly large.  This is an area where educators need to reflect on their teaching practice, curriculum, and assumptions in order to reach those students of need.