What Were You Thinking!? #micon14 #micon15

06/08/2015 Update: Alice and I were asked to share this session again tomorrow at the Martin Institute 2015 Summer Conference.

What Were You Thinking!?Today and tomorrow Alice M. Parker and I are learning and sharing at the 2014 Martin Institute Conference. Alice and I are facilitating a session entitled “What Were You Thinking!?” Our goal is to help teachers learn and grow in their ability to develop students into the critical and creative thinkers they will need to be to thrive as citizens in the rapidly changing, information-rich world in which we now live.

Session Description: Blank stares. Ask your average middle school students what they are thinking, and all you’ll receive are blank stares. As teachers our primary goal must be to move beyond simply teaching content to helping our students develop the critical and creative thinking skills they will need to thrive in the modern world. This session will explore the value of critical and creative thinking and examine how to develop student thinkers by using visible thinking routines and creative thinking techniques across the curriculum and in all disciplines.

Session Outcomes:

  • Examining the importance of critical and creative thinking in today’s information-rich world
  • Insight into what critical and creative thinking looks like in a classroom
  • Familiarity with visible thinking routines and creative thinking techniques
  • Awareness of the 4 aspects of creativity and how to scaffold them into instruction
  • Reflection on current practice and transformation of classrooms into places that promote students’ creativity and critical thinking

Protocol/Routine Links:

The following are some resources for further exploration and learning:

Brookhart, S. (2013). Assessing Creativity. Educational Leadership, 70(5), 28-34. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb13/vol70/num05/Assessing-Creativity.aspx

Ciotti, G. (2013, June 22). Creative Thinking: How to Be More Creative (with Science!). Sparring Mind. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.sparringmind.com/creative-thinking/

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (20112011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tishman, S., Perkins, D. N., & Jay, E. (1995). The thinking classroom: learning and teaching in a culture of thinking. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Ideas for My #ISTE13 6-word Story

6-word storyWhile sitting by the pool watching my kids swim this afternoon, I came across a Sandy Kendell post entitled “Contribute to the #ISTE13 Six Word Story Project!” This was the first I’d heard of the project so I followed a link to Bryan Doyle’s original post and the collected stories. What a fun idea! I enjoyed reading the other stories and saw that a few of my friends have already shared their 6-word story creations. So as the sun beat down on me, I wrote the following 6-word story ideas as my potential contribution:

  • “Remember,” he whispered outside the Alamo.
  • They’d never met in person before. (Do contractions count as two words?)
  • They walked and talked all evening.
  • He raced to escape the Expo.
  • The conversation flourished beyond 140 characters.
  • He waited in the wrong room.
  • The conversation completely changed his classroom.
  • A single tweet stood between them.
  • The queue wrapped around the building.
  • He just wanted to introduce himself.
  • He talked. They watched their phones.
  • Was it possible? Could it be?
  • He tried to text. Dead iPhone.
  • They invited me to join them.

I’ve already written my ISTE 2013 reflection, but I like the creative aspect of Bryan’s idea so I need your help. Which of my stories should I share? I’m pretty sure the deadline looms tomorrow so if you have a favorite, please let me know in the comments below. I want to pick the best one. Also if you have an image that would go perfectly with one of these, please share it with me. I’ll be happy to credit your for your contribution.

Creating Headlines and Capturing the Essence of Our Family Vacation

Family Vacation HeadlinesGood newspaper headlines capture the essence of an event or story. Great headlines draw a reader in and make him want to read more. While headlines don’t share everything in a story, good ones express the most important aspects of a plot. Often, the best headlines not only inform readers, but also entertain them.

One of my favorite thinking routines for helping students’ capture the heart of what they are reading is Headlines. This routine asks students to write newspaper-type headlines to summarize and express the crux of the matter at hand. We use this routine often in my 6th grade reading class, and I have found it a useful tool to help me formatively assess my students’ understanding.

In my class students create original headlines after each chapter they read in a text. We sometimes share these aloud in class. Often, we ask the writer the follow-up question: What makes you say that?” Occasionally, I ask students to write a headline for the days’ learning as their “ticket out the door.” We’ve also used the routine as a way for small groups to report to the class on the core their group’s discussion. It’s a useful tool, and I recommend you give it a try to make your students’ thinking visible. Students need practice summarizing and identifying main ideas, and headlines are a good way to practice

My school has eagerly embraced the Project Zero thinking routines, and my sons’ teachers use this routine in their classrooms, also. Creating headlines has spilled over from school into our home as well, and I love to hear my children ask each other for a headline after a family outing or event.

We are on spring break this week and have traveled to Copper Mountain to ski. At the end of the day Monday, as we were riding back from the slopes, my second grader Andrew chimed in with his “headline” for the day. We liked his so much that Eric, Sam, and I added ours as well. I shared them on Facebook as a way of keeping friends and family updated on our trip. The headlines really do capture the heart of our family vacation. So, we added our girls’ headlines and continued writing them at the end of each day. Here they are so far:

Monday, March 11

  • Philip: Where’s the Ibuprofen?
  • Eric:  Up Down Turns
  • Sam: First Day – A Success I Say
  • Andrew: Cold Cold Colorado

Tuesday, March 12

  • Philip: No Longer 25
  • Debbie: Not As Bad As Yesterday
  • Eric: The Journey to the Top Continues
  • Sam: Family Fun Skiing ‘Till the Day Is Done
  • Andrew: The Fast and the Furious
  • Evelyn: Getting to Ski with Dada

Wednesday, March 13

  • Philip: How Did They Grow Up So Fast?
  • Debbie: She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain
  • Eric: The World of Turns
  • Sam: Bittersweet
  • Andrew: Tree Trouble
  • Evelyn: Skiing Is Fun

Do you think you have a good idea of what our trip has been like? How might you use this with your family or your children? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences about writing headlines as a method for capturing the heart of an event, idea, or concept.

The Threads That Run Through: Thoughtfulness

reading metacognition thoughtfulness

This is the second post in a series of reflections on my class throughlines. You can read the first post and general overview of the throughlines here.

At PDS reading is a core class all by itself. Strong reading skills are key to becoming an independent learner and thinker. Therefore, our students have a separate reading class as well as a regular English class focused on language arts.

How can we become more thoughtful readers and writers?

Prior to my current position, most of my teaching had been in traditional English classes. I had taken classes on teaching reading, but it had never been my primary focus. I wasn’t certain how to teach 6th grade reading. Fortunately, at PDS my classroom is next door to Alice Parker’s room, and Alice is an amazing and experienced reading teacher. Through conversations with Alice, I narrowed the focus of my class. By observing Alice teaching, I discovered practical ways to help my students develop into more  critical and creative thinkers. I want my students to think well, and I want them to become better thinkers through awareness of their thought processes and through reflection on that thinking. In other words, much of my class focuses on students’ reading metacognition.

Alice and I teach the first trimester of 6th grade reading together. We take the 6th grade classes and divide each into two small groups. Alice teaches one small group while I teach the other. Her group reads a different book than my group, and after six weeks the students switch teachers. As they read, students mark their books using metacognition strategies they have previously learned from Alice in the 5th grade. (She teaches small group reading to fifth graders, too.) During one of the first activities Alice and I ask our 6th graders, “What does a thoughtful reader look like?” Then, we break the students into collaborative teams to brainstorm responses to the question. Their answers show their general understanding of the need for reading metacognition.

In addition to having my students document their thinking, I also directly instruct my students in certain thinking processes. For example, I teach my students how to brainstorm effectively. They know “the guidelines for brainstorming,” and they know kinesthetic movements that help them remember each guideline. I also teach them to use the Ladder of Feedback protocol when making observations in the classroom, but I confess I need to revisit the protocol with my students more often.

Not only do I have my students check their reading metacognition and teach them specific thinking processes, but also I use thinking routines in class instruction to make students’ thinking visible. I’ve written before about using See Think Wonder on the first day of class, but I also use it occasionally when introducing a new concept or theme. In addition to See Think Wonder, so far I’ve incorporated the following thinking routines into my reading instruction over the past two years:

When using these routines, my student write down and share their thinking with the class so that we can talk about it. I try to allow time for student reflection after each thinking routine, but I admit it’s an area where I need to improve. When I first identified the throughlines, I imagined my students blogging regularly but that hasn’t materialized. We  write in our “thinking books” often, and we occasionally share our writing, but I’m not satisfied with the amount of writing we do nor with our lack of an authentic audience.

I want my students to write, but I haven’t found the balance between reading and writing in the class yet. Thoughtful readers should also be thoughtful writers, but I’m still trying to figure out the writing aspect of it. I’m also wondering if I need to expand my definition of writing. I tend to think of writing in terms of traditional text or manuscript. Should I revise it to include other forms of creative expression (art, film, music, speech, or physical expression)?

Overall, I believe I’m making progress in designing toward the How can we become more thoughtful readers and writers? throughline, but I can improve. I want us to write more. Specifically, I want us to write for a more authentic audience. I want my students to blog. I also want to integrate more fine arts and more reflection into the class.

What do you think? Does any of this make sense? What questions do you have about this thread or how it’s woven into the class?

#MCHunter Tools for Creative Thinking

As our Master Class was debriefing yesterday on what we had observed in the World Peace Game, John Hunter began telling us about the “mental toolkit” he shares with his students to help them think creatively. We didn’t have time for John to share all of it, but it was interesting information and some of it was new to me.

The first tool John shared was teaching students how to use FFOE to assess their creative thinking. As a sample activity, John explained that he would show the students a coffee mug and ask them to brainstorm ways that the mug can be used other than as a container (i.e a door stop, a paperweight, a drum, etc.). At first they will find it hard to think this way, but as they practice, they will become better at it. FFOE stands for:

  • Fluency – producing as many ideas as one possibly can
  • Flexibility – producing ideas that demonstrate variety or different approaches
  • Originality – producing ideas that are unique or unusual
  • Elaboration – producing ideas with detail or enriched characteristics

Then, John shared with us his guidelines for brainstorming and his kinesthetic method for teaching it to his students. Fortunately, we captured his one on video:


The four guidelines are:

  1. Fluency – Produce as many ideas as you can
  2. Withhold Judgement – There are no bad ideas.
  3. Wild Ideas Ok – It is desirable to think outside the box.
  4. Piggyback Ideas – It is okay to have an idea that is similar to someone else’s thought or to expand on someone else’s suggestion.

Another tool that John uses with his students is something he calls a “Perspective Wheel.” I created a PowerPoint slide for my use that I thought I’d share. To use it, write the topic in the middle circle (yellow) then have the students identify four different perspectives that could be taken toward the topic (one for each blue quadrant) and explain how each perspective differs.This tool reminds me of the Visible Thinking Routine Circle of Viewpoints that I learned about at Project Zero last summer, and I think they might work well together.

The final tool John shared with us is the SCAMPER approach to creative thinking. SCAMPER is a mnemonic that stands for:

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Maximize/Minimize
  • Put to Other Use
  • Eliminate/Elaborate
  • Reverse

This tool was completely new to me so I did a little searching and found a nice website that helps explain the tool and gives an example of how to use it. You might want to check it out.

In talking with Jamie Baker about teaching creativity I realized that I tend to get hung up thinking about creativity in terms of being artistic. Artistry is one type of creativity, but most creativity is really problem solving and learning how to approach something from a different direction. Jamie recommended that I read Michael Michalko’s Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius so I’ve added it to my Amazon Wishlist and will try to read it when I get through my current reading list.

What about you? What tools do you use to teach students to think creatively? What are your experiences using these or similar tools? Please leave a comment and share your ideas, experiences, and recommendations.