Sashabaw Middle School, Todd Bidlack
At Sashabaw Middle School, Cultures of Thinking is turning out to be a wild and unexpected ride. One that has not only challenged us to question how we have defined what it means to provide students with an education, but equally, allowed us to let go and see where the students will take us. It is the paradox between a defined thinking routine used to elicit thinking, and the unforeseen results of learning that come about. It truly feels like a journey into un-chartered, unseen territory, yet, our students’ thinking is being made visible, right before our eyes. While it can be difficult to shift into a teaching practice where, rather than asking questions that have predetermined answers, our questions are now asked in order to examine the kind of thinking the student is doing. It can feel perilous and frightening, yet, as we experience and move with this shift in our classrooms, we feel inspired with a “can’t wait to see where they go next” anticipation.
Throughout the year, the staff at Sashabaw Middle School has been engaged themselves in visible thinking routines, often during staff meetings. When asked to work with the learner profile in order to identify or describe what those skills look like or how a student might demonstrate them, we used, as a staff, the thinking routine, ‘Circle of Viewpoints’. We have turned our front office hallway, into a visible thinking hall, where teachers are able to display their thinking on anything from collecting data, to using MiClass Literacy strategies. Students who have wandered by, occasionally post a sticky note with their own thoughts on our thinking. Our Positive Behavior Intervention Support Team has incorporated thinking routines throughout the year with their school-wide lessons as a way to deliver information about the expected behaviors in school and elicit from students’ their thinking on the topics.
Recently, a group of teachers attended a series of two Cultures of Thinking meetings, facilitated by Ron Ritchhart at Harvard University and co-author of Making Thinking Visible. As a result, our conversation continues to move. Now we will not only continue the practice of extracting our students’ thinking, but dig deeper in order to identify the kinds of thinking our students are doing. Students, too, are beginning to make these observations and comment to one another about the kind of thinking they each are doing. We are looking forward to next year as we continue to work in an effort and toward a mission of cultivating thinkers!