A Project Zero Perspectives: Building a Culture of Thinking presentation experience
By Carmen Samanes and Elena Zapico
The title of this post results from the combination of two “Headlines” proposed by the participants in our presentation at the recent Project Zero Perspectives: Building a Culture of Thinking conference in Clarkston, Michigan, on November 2-3, 2012. Halfway into the session, we were performing the homonymous routine as a way to extract the core ideas about the nuts and bolts of Visible Thinking in the Foreign Language classroom. Viability proved to be at the heart of the matter.
The mere awareness of routines as a feasible experience acted as a hinge that opened the audience to a totally new perspective. From the Kindergarten Spanish teacher to the Japanese High School instructor, to the Principals in search of advice to help their Foreign Language departments, all seemed to come to the same realization: that –as other “headlines” stated- students could indeed “think about thinking” using a language that was not their native one, do it “for everyday use,” and “in all contexts and levels of performance.”
Our expectation of finding initial skepticism towards a successful use of the VT routines to promote second language acquisition was predictable and confirmed when we began presenting. However, encountering general feedback about its impracticality –“I can´t do VT with my students,” several teachers said; “in English yes, but in another language it is impossible,” others corroborated- was quite a surprise for us. And yet, it made sense: how could you think in depth in a language that you can´t or very imperfectly can speak?
However, it took only experiencing three routines to get everybody on the same enthusiastic page. As the audience was asked to approach “See, Think, Wonder”, “Zoom In” and “Ten Times Two” as if they were their own students –the Spanish learner preschooler, the German II student, the French B 11th grader, the Japanese I teenager- it started to get clear: this is doable. Actually, it is the only doable way. Describing, making connections, wondering and reflecting on one´s own thinking process were happening without translation. Meaning was not coming from vocabulary lists or grammar charts, but from the intrinsic need of expressing one´s thoughts. And after a few weeks of exposure to any language we develop enough tools to start doing so.
Communication-oriented methods have been around for many years now; however, our foreign language classes typically fail in providing a natural environment for real communication. We drill and rehearse, lecture and role-play. We offer settings, no contexts. VT routines create that context, one where students are not aiming for the right answer but for their answer, where the teacher does not own the language but students take ownership of their contributions.
Our group now had its context. During the second half of our session, they manipulated images, looked for other materials online, brainstormed, discussed, and generated different routines that could be used in their current lessons. When the time was over they left their reflections, making Visible Thinking more visible to us than ever:
“I used to think that thinking routines where difficult to implement in my Foreign Language class. Now I think I have enough tools to give them a try!”
“I used to think that I wouldn’t be able to use these routines in Spanish I. Now I think I can use them in the target language. I just need to use pictures that are more contextualized.”
“I used to think that using these routines in the target language wasn’t going to be so successful. Now I think that the students are fully capable of working with the language, all levels.”
“I used to think that I couldn’t help my world language teachers to incorporate thinking routines. Now I think that thinking routines can be used to prompt students to think with/in the target language.”
“I used to think that integrating thinking into the classroom would be difficult. Now I think it is possible, worthy and exciting for our students. Can´t wait to get started.”
“I used to think that I had to use English at lower levels with thinking routines. Now I think it is possible to do some of these routines in the target language.”
“I used to think that it would be complicated to use thinking routines in a foreign language. Now I think it will flow in nicely with what we already do.”
“I used to think that I had to teach my classes and feed information to my students. And now I think that my students are perfectly capable of coming up with their own information. I just model and facilitate.”
“I used to think that my preschoolers would be very challenged with VT routines. Now I think they can do it and I will try!”
“I used to think that I could only use thinking routines in certain lessons. Now I think that I can use them in any lesson. I will just fit them in the context of what we are learning.”
“See, Think, Wonder” Visible Thinking Routine performed by course participants, from their students´ perspective (click on each thumbnail for closer look at image)