Embracing Wonder

More WonderFor the past few years, my students and I have begun the year with a See, Think, Wonder thinking routine exploring the classroom, making inferences about what we find there, and wondering about our learning in the year ahead. It’s a good first day activity to get students moving around, asking questions, and thinking visibly. The boys have always enjoyed it, and I’ve always left at the end of the first day feeling energized for the next. Nevertheless, I’m planning to abandon the lesson this year.

Two weeks ago I attended the Clark County Connected Conference in Jeffersonville, Indiana. As I reflected on the day, I realized I attended several great sessions, but Dean Shareski’s keynote “Whatever Happened to Joy?” resonated with me in a particularly powerful way. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. If you have time, you should watch it.

Near the end of his keynote, Dean shared several ways we can cultivate joy. I could certainly embrace more joy, so I’ve been revisiting my notes and experimenting with his methods. One way he suggested is simply to wonder. So, in the days leading up to a new school year I’m trying to cultivate my sense of wonder. I’m reading and researching. I’m taking the time to look at things closely, and as I sit here dreaming about a new year and looking at new class lists, I’m beginning to wonder about each boy. I wonder what he’s like, and I wonder what he likes. I wonder what he wonders–not about 6th grade reading, our classroom, or me. But, what does he wonder about life? About what is he curious? What puzzles him about the world? What inspires him and holds his interest? What does he most want to learn?

I’m not sure what the first day of school will look like. I have no brilliant lesson plan, and I haven’t figured out what we’ll do. But I want to start–on the very first day–uncovering and  embracing their wonder, and hopefully, together we can cultivate our sense of awe.

Dean shared the video below in his keynote, and I think I’ve watched it at least 15 times over the past two weeks. “We have a responsibility to awe.” Indeed.

Awe by Shots of Awe

See, Think, Wonder, 6th Grade Reading (2012)

This is a collaborative post co-written by Alice Parker (Yoda) and me. We are cross-posting it to both of our blogs–Through the Looking Glass and A Retrospective Saunter.

The beginning days of school should be magical ones. While students meet their new teachers, view the classroom design, and try to sort out what it is they may learn during the year, it is imperative for teachers to create a culture of thinking and learning, as well as a climate of group collaboration on those first days.

This year we, Alice and Philip, combined our magical forces to teach as a team during the first week of school. We decided to improve upon last year’s See, Think, Wonder — from my (Philip’s) first days of school lesson and extend the students’ thinking further while creating new classroom dynamics. As we had made significant changes to the physical styles of our classrooms during the summer, we knew that the students had much to observe.  Additionally, we, along with Julia (our Martin Institute Resident), flavored each classroom with many hints about us as people and teachers of reading.

To begin the lesson, we asked students to develop their own driving questions about the design of the 6th grade reading classes, the 6th grade reading teachers (including Julia), and 6th grade reading. Before starting, I (Alice) took a few minutes to review with the boys what makes a good question, focusing on the idea of writing deep, open-ended questions rather than questions that could be answered with one or two words. Our sixth grade guys easily recalled their past lessons on “Fat Questions” vs. “Skinny Questions.” We asked the students, “What do you want to know?” and allowed them a few minutes of think time. Then we asked them to write their questions on sticky notes. Using the group discussion connection rules as a platform, the students shared and posted their questions that would help focus their inquiry and drive the See, Think, and Wonder activity that would soon follow. The following are a few samples of the students’ “driving questions:”

  • “Ms. Parker, why do you have brains in your closet?”
  • “Why does Mr. Cummings like Phineas and Ferb so much?”
  • “How does all this stuff connect to reading?”
  • “How will the books we read connect to our lives?”
  • “Why do you both teach reading?”
  • “What do you do to prepare for the school year during the summer?”

After deciding “What Inquiring Minds Want to Know About 6th Grade Reading,” the students began exploring the rooms looking for answers to their driving questions. The students moved from room to room investigating the closets, checking out the bookshelves, noting posters on the walls, examining pictures on the shelves, and analyzing the arrangement of the rooms.  The only areas “off limits” were the teachers’ wallet, purses, and backpacks.

The students returned to the desks and began making lists in response to the prompt: “What did you see?” They recorded their lists on a sticky note. After a few minutes, the students shared their best discoveries. Then, they came up to the board and posted their “Sees” for the class. The following are a few of the things they noticed:

  • strategies for reading
  • Phineas, Ferb, and Perry
  • Flying Pigs
  • various types of books to read
  • places to go read
  • many types of paper
  • school supplies

Once the students had returned to their seats, we discussed what it means to make inferences and draw conclusions. “How does one make an inference?” The guys then responded to the prompt “What do you think?” making another list on a sticky note. After a few minutes they started sharing their thinking aloud. As teachers, we neither confirmed nor denied whether their conclusions were true. We only responded with an additional question asking “What makes you say that?” requiring the student to support his inference with evidence based on what he had seen. Here are some examples of our students “Think” statements:

  • “I think the books will somehow connect to what we are learning in other classes.”
  • “I think collaboration is important.”
  • “I think Ms. Parker’s room is wacky and random, but Mr. Cummings’ room is cool and organized.”
  • “I think there will be some freedom and independence in Mr. Cummings’ and Ms. Parker’s class.”
  • “I think our teachers are optimistic.”
  • “Mr. C and Ms. P like their students to use knowledge to build projects.

Each student shared his “think” statements by posting them on the board for the class to see.

Next, we asked the students to consider what additional questions they have now that they have explored the room. We explained that we wanted them to go deeper with their questioning. They responded by creating another list to answer the prompt: “What do you wonder?” Again, the following are a few samples of the responses they shared with the class:

  • “I wonder how old Mr. Cummings is.”
  • “I wonder if we’ll ever go outside to read.”
  • “I wonder what the differences between the two classes will be.
  • “I wonder why they are both so relaxed.”
  • “I wonder how will the fun affect our performance of reading in school and out.”
  • “I wonder how sixth grade reading will be different from fifth grade reading.”

At this point we were almost out of class time. As the students posted their “Wonder” statements on the board, we told them that their “ticket out” for the day was to come up with a “Headline” for the day’s class. We reminded them that good headlines capture the main idea and inform or entertain the audience. We stood at the door and gave high fives as the boys informed and entertained us with creative headlines, a few of which follow:

  • Class Time Thoughts
  • Classical Creativity
  • Pigs and a Platypus: The Perfect Combination
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Creativity
  • The Odyssey of Reading
  • Getting to Know Cat Daddy, Cat Momma, and Their Cribs
  • See, Think, and Wonder So Much to Ponder

We have found See, Think, Wonder to be a great way to introduce ourselves, the subject of 6th grade reading, and our individual classroom design to our students on the first day while engaging them in inquiry and encouraging them to think. If you have never tried See, Think, Wonder with your students you can find an explanation of the thinking routine here.

What is your reaction to our first day lesson? How do you engage your students’ minds on the first day of school? We’d love to hear from you.

Running Thoughts: First Week Reflections, Litter, and Planning Ahead

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Writing limit: 30 minutes

I ran 8 miles (a new PR) this morning in 1:24. I’ thrilled that I was able to keep at a 10:30 minutes/mile pace, but I must confess the 7th and 8th miles were tough. It felt good to run that far, and I burned enough calories that I think I can eat for two people today. 🙂

First Week Reflections

This past week at school was our first with the students. We had a half day on Wednesday and full days the rest of the week.

Wednesday was mostly a logistical day. I distributed supplies, assigned the lockers, and allowed time for organizing. I had already mailed the boys a get-to-know-you questionnaire that I asked them to bring and we needed a few minutes to collect forms and paperwork. The day started with convocation, then additional homeroom time, and I had to explain some grade-level procedures that are different from fifth grade but that only took a few minutes. We spent most of the homeroom time getting situated. During reading class I wanted the boys collaborate and present on the first day so I had them interview one another then introduce each other to the class. We only had 25 minutes, but the boys amazed me by how quickly some opened up and starting sharing with our class. I was reminded how much each of us desires to be known.

Alice, Julia, and I used the See, Think, Wonder thinking routine on Thursday to have the students inquire into 6th grade reading, the reading classrooms, and the reading teachers. We started by having them come up with a few deep questions they have as we begin the year. What did they want to know? We share and posted them. Then we gave the boys a few minutes to explore the rooms in a way similar to what we did last year. Then, we began the thinking routine. I’m not going to go into too much detail here because Alice and I want to co-write a complete reflection on the day. As the class ended, we asked the boys to think up a headline for the day’s learning to share with us as they left the room.

Yesterday, we began modeling for the boys how to do a 3, 2, 1 Bridge. They are going to have to write a bridge about themselves so we decided we would walk them through the steps of writing a bridge about a person and made ourselves the object of the practice bridge. This is another lesson I want to write about and share more completely so I won’t go into too many details except to say we talked at length about brainstorming, sharing wild ideas, and what makes a good bridge (metaphor or simile). It was fun day with the boys working together to collaborate and to think critically and creatively.


As I ran this morning, I also noticed the amount of trash along Seed Tick Road. It really annoyed me that people would just toss their garbage out on the street, and I spent at least a mile going through an inner rant that I won’t share the details of here. However, let me say this: PICK UP AFTER YOURSELF! I find it incredibly selfish that people leave their trash for others to clean up.

Planning Ahead

This coming week is a short week in class for my students. On Thursday and Friday we will be at our class breakaway at Victory Ranch. Before we leave, we need to take the STAR reading test, create and share bridges about ourselves, consider what a thoughtful reader looks like, and design our metacognition bookmark. We need to be on our game in order to be ready for small group reading when we return from Victory Ranch.

Did you start school this week? How did it go? I do my best to avoid discussing rules, policies, and procedures during the first few days with my students. Instead, we focus on thinking well and getting to know each other. What do you do to kick off a new school year?

See/Think/Wonder – Mr. C.

While at Project Zero I was inspired by Lisa Verkerk, a 5th grade teacher from the International School of Amsterdam. (Lisa’s classroom and teaching play a prominent role in Ritchhart’s Making Thinking Visible.) I attended Lisa’s class “Developing the Disposition to Be Reflective.” Truthfully, the class wasn’t what I had expected when I enrolled. Nevertheless, Lisa modeled how she uses two specific thinking routines–See/Think/Wonder and Sentence/Phrase/Word (see Making Thinking Visible, 2011, pp. 207-213). Then, she talked about how she uses reflective art journals with her students to document their thinking. Instead of writing, students draw, paint, or color their reflections. Sometimes she asks them to explain their art in writing or simply to talk about their art and thinking. The artwork and testimonials were powerful stuff.

Lisa shared that she likes to show how much she values thinking by having her students do a See/Think/Wonder on the first day of school. I loved her idea. The former me always started school the “Wong Way” distributing my prepared syllabus and speaking to rules and procedures. Lisa’s idea resonated with me because it prioritized what I value (or want to value) most–THINKING! So, I stole Lisa’s idea, and guess what we did on the first day in sixth grade reading. That’s right! The students used the See/Think/Wonder routine to think about 6th grade, my classroom, reading class, and me.

When students entered the room, I gave each a small stack of sticky notes. I explained that instead of

 spending time talking about class rules and procedures we would spend the day investigating the classroom and thinking about what the year might be like. The students were to get out of their seats and explore the classroom making notes about the things they “see.” They were given access to whole room including community workspaces and closets. (I had placed specific items in the room that might shed light on me and my plans for the class. The only off-limit items were my wallet and my backpack, which held my phone and laptop.) During the “seeing” time I only observed them. I did not guide them or answer any of their questions. I only asked them to write “I see” statements about what they discovered.
  • I see a woman wearing a wedding dress.
  • I see a picture of Mr. Cummings wearing St. Louis Cardinals clothing and standing with four kids outside a baseball stadium.
  • I see desks pushed together in groups.  
  • I see two comfy couches sitting on some rugs next to the book shelves.
  • I see a stuffed Phineas, Ferb, and Perry the Platypus. 
  • I see “the language of thinking” words posted around the room.

After ten minutes of exploring, students returned to their seats. I instructed them to write “I think” statements based on the evidence they had collected while they were “seeing.”

  • I think Mr. Cummings is married to the redhead in the picture. 
  • I think Mr. Cummings is a Cardinals fan and has four kids. 
  • I think we will work in reading groups this year. 
  • I think the couches, rug, and bookshelves are designed to be a reading center. 
  • I think Mr. Cummings likes Phineas and Ferb
  • I think Mr. Cummings wants us to use our brains.
After the students had written their “I think” statements, I instructed them to extend their thinking by writing “I wonder” statements to correspond with their “seeing” and “thinking.”
  • I wonder how long Mr. Cummings has been married.
  • I wonder if Mr. Cummings took his family to a Cardinals game this summer.
  • I wonder what kinds of small group activities we will do this year.
  • I wonder how much time we’ll have to sit on the couches and read.
  • I wonder why Mr. Cummings is so fond of Phineas and Ferb.
  • I wonder if Mr Cummings entire room is designed to be a metaphor. (No lie. A student actually wrote that!)
Again, through this entire process all I did was observe the students thinking. Once they were finished, we debriefed. I facilitated as they shared what they saw, what they thought, and what they wondered. Several students helped me record what was said, and I was careful to neither confirm nor deny what was shared. However, I did respond to their comments by asking, “What makes you say that?” this forced them to support their ideas. It was a wonderful day in the classroom. At the end of the day, I reviewed and posted their thinking (sticky notes) and statements in my room. It was fascinating to read their thinking and learn from their perceptions. And, based on their energy and enthusiasm, I’m certain they left the classroom excited about our class and what future meetings would bring.

Now, I’m trying to decide how best to incorporate See/Think/Wonder into my reading instruction. I’m currently designing a unit for next trimester to help students investigate and make connections to the civil rights movement. I’m researching books, resources, events, and topics for my classes. I’d really like to use See/Think/Wonder to get a look at students’ understanding as we go. The idea is still percolating, but if you have any suggestions about resources or how to incorporate this thinking routine in the process, I’d appreciate the input. Also, what do you think about the See/Think/Wonder routine? Have you ever used it? If so, how? I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences.