Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Summer Reading & Intellectual Character

At a recent session for our Teaching Advocacy Network (TAN), tertiary colleagues were invited to select and review a text about teaching that resonated with them. Over wine and cheese, a few of us got together late last year to talk teaching and recommend good reads on teaching issues.  A reference list of recommendations follows this piece.

As we talked, common themes related to what we think about when we approach our teaching: How we reflect, big questions and provocations around philosophy and very human concerns about purpose, values, beliefs, goals, soul and identity. The digital made an appearance with digital literacy and protocols for online learning. Dispositions like curiosity and wonder were centre stage, along with creativity and critical thinking.

I chose to follow up a few of the texts recommended by my learned colleagues, and thought I might blog briefly in relation to each, starting with Ritchhart (2002). 

Ron Ritchhart tackles the notion of ‘Intellectual character: What it is, why it matters, and how to get it’. A colleague of Howard Gardner’s from the Harvard Graduate School of Education & Project Zero, Ritchhart wrote this text more than a decade ago (2002), yet the insights are pertinent still as educators and students continue to wrestle with the tensions between deep and surface learning, personalized learning and test scores, cultivating curiosity for lifelong learning and acquiring skills and knowledge.

Ritchhart writes about productive patterns of thinking, dispositions and habits of mind, including curiosity, skepticism and open-mindedness. Importantly, he queries the messages that teachers send about the types of thinking that are valued and expected. For Ritchhart, education is not about compliance and outcomes. Rather, the aim is to generate a culture of thinking. In this vein, I was particularly drawn to chapter 5 of the text, looking at ‘Thinking Routines: Creating the spaces and structures for thinking’.

As someone who values structure and routine, but often as a foundation from which to branch out flexibly, I was intrigued to learn more about Ritchhart’s ideas on thinking routines, and to consider whether and how these might inform my own thinking and influence on students’ thinking. I have a hunch that routines are a bit like habits, and that these formations, along with the other structures and spaces we build, can be enabling or disabling. After all, we can usually recognise a bad habit when we see one, or work to replace our bad habits with good ones. It is possible to become locked into unproductive ways of thinking and behaving, just as it is possible to learn (unlearn and relearn) new and more positive approaches to learning and life. With these thoughts in mind, I settled in for a closer read of chapter 5.

Ritchhart  quickly modified my assumption that habits and routines are similar, by asserting that habits emerge over time through preference and familiarity, whereas routines are more explicit, deliberate and goal-driven. The way routines are conceptualized in this text is quite specific and associated with particular forms, functions, and criteria. In a nutshell, routines are instrumental and simplified to just a few steps for ease of recall, teaching/learning, application and repetition. Despite the simplicity however, the power of thinking routines is not to be underestimated.

A key idea here is that thinking routines are used to promote discussion and exploration of ideas, to probe for evidence, to expose reasoning, and to enable evaluation. The thinking routines discussed in the chapter include the use of journals as a means of documenting thinking so as to free up mental space, to promote connections and elaboration of ideas.

Two parts of this chapter resonated with me:

1.  How being told the answers, or lectured on content, detracts from thinking and
     “affords students little opportunity to develop their skills in thinking. Furthermore, when this routine dominates the life of a classroom, students’ inclination to think is not only neglected but also suppressed. When all one needs to do is to wait for the teacher to deliver the goods, thinking seems to have little payoff” (p.107).

2.  This is about how students come to know, and is followed by a good example of the use of writing as a routine for coming to know: where learners write before and after reading literature. Pre-writing enables formulation of questions and wonderings. Follow-up writing reflects on developing understanding. In each case, writing involves organization of thoughts and preparation for discussion. In contrast to ‘teaching as telling’, the thinking routine and use of class discussion conveys the idea that “in this class questions aren’t so much answered as they are investigated” (p.108).

Overall, Ritchhart’s chapter on thinking routines makes a case for the enculturation of a disposition to think, and suggests ways in which teachers can promote a thinking space through questioning, discussion, exploration of ideas, evidence, reasoning, and cognitively active learning, in contrast to waiting for the teacher to deliver.

The takeaway message here is to ask ourselves: 'how are we promoting thinking?'

I recommend Ritchhart’s book to teachers in all sectors.  I’m grateful to my colleague, Bill Ussher, for bringing it to the TAN summer reading group. I hope Bill and others will respond with their thoughts and with further text recommendations.

TAN Summer Reading List follows. Have you read any of these? Which should I tackle next?

Artzt, A. F., & Armour-Thomas, E. (1999). A cognitive model for examining teachers' instructional practice in mathematics: A guide for facilitating teacher reflection. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 40(3), 211-235. [recommended by Brenda Bicknell]

Artzt, A. F., Armour-Thomas, E., & Curcio, F. R. (2007). Becoming a reflective mathematics teacher: A guide for observations and self-assessment. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. [recommended by Brenda Bicknell]

Claxton, G., & Carr, M. (2004). A framework for teaching learning: the dynamics of dispositions. Early Years, 24(1), pp. 87-97. [recommended by Jeanette Clarkin-Phillips]

Dahlberg, G & Moss, P. (2005) Ethics and politics in Early childhood education. Abingdon, UK: Routledge Farmer. [recommended by Simon Archard]

Doyle, C., & Hoben, J. (2011). No room for wonder. In J.L. Kincheloe and R. Hewitt (eds.), Regenerating  the philosophy  of education: what happened to soul? (pp. 115-127). New York: Peter Lang. [recommended by Pip Hunter]

Gilster, P. (1998). Digital Literacy. New York, NY: Wiley. [recommended by Tracey Morgan]

Lang, J. M. (2013). Cheating lessons: Learning from academic dishonesty. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [recommended by Mel Chivers]

McDonald, J.P., Mohr, N., Dicter, A., & McDonald, E.C. (2013). The power of protocols: An eductor’s guide to better practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. [recommended by Dianne Forbes]

McDonald, J.P., Zydney, J.M., Dichter, A., & McDonald, E.C. (2012). Going online with protocols: New tools for teaching and learning. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.[recommended by Dianne Forbes]

Pink, D. (2005). A whole new mind - moving from the information age to the conceptual age. Crows Nest, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin. [recommended  by Maria Persson]

Ritchhart, R. (2002). Intellectual character: What it is, Why it matters and How to get it. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass. [recommended by Bill Ussher]

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