… could be like today.
After weeks of cold and rain, including one snowy April day, it seems Spring may finally be here. It’s amazing what a little bit of sunshine—that familiar warmth on your back—can do to lift the spirits.
I also had some unexpected wonderful news this morning—news that I’m not sure I can publicly share yet—but let’s just say it left me smiling ear-to-ear all day long. I’m actually still pinching myself.
So as I sat at my son’s baseball game this evening, with the sun setting behind me, I dug my toes a little deeper into the soft, pliant spring grass. No more winter socks; summer flip flops will be here soon.
In between innings, I paged through my latest pedagogy reading, Making Thinking Visible. I actually finished the book last week but I brought it with me to do that much needed “second draft” reading—the one where I take notes, make lists, find all the “applications and implications” (as a former mentor liked to say) for my classroom. Sometimes I wonder if it’s odd to be reading pedagogy books in my spare time. I have a pile of fiction titles—both adult and YA—that are waiting for me at home. I could (and probably should) pick one of those up, lessen the pile even if by one. And yet the piles of will-one-day-read-books just grows. The Japanese even have a word for this: tsundoku.
The thing is, I like reading pedagogy books. There, I said it. In fact, there are times I find as much pleasure in reading books about teaching reading and writing as I do some of my favorite narratives. There may not be compelling plot twists, but there are compelling possibilities—possibilities for what I can do differently in my classroom. I enjoying thinking about how I can tweak a lesson or revamp a unit to make it better. What’s so frustrating about teaching is that what works in one class or one year can fail miserably with the next class or the next year. Yet it’s a frustration that also challenges me to be better. I like the challenge. And when I read a pedagogy book, I feel like I’m moving at least a few steps in the right direction.
So far, one of my favorite parts of Making Thinking Visible is the distinction between thinking routines versus thinking strategies. The authors—researchers at Harvard University Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero—advocate for the use of thinking routines. Routines, they argue, act as important “culture builders” in a classroom. As they write:
Whereas an instructional strategy may be used only on occasion, routines become part of the fabric of the classroom through their repeated use . . .
Although the word routine carries with it notions of ordinariness, habit, and ritual, it would be a mistake to characterize thinking routines as simply mundane patterns of behavior. Classroom routines are practices crafted to achieve specific ends in an efficient and workable manner.
Other words the authors use stand out to me—words like internalize, uncovering, connecting, wondering, questioning. And so I’m left wondering: how can I make thinking a routine in my classroom? Routines are automatic. For example, my students know the routine for checking out books from my classroom library. I no longer have to direct them about when, where, or how to borrow books. On any given day, students will spend the first or last five minutes of class browsing and borrowing. They know what to do unprompted.
Too much of my students’ thinking must be prompted. So how can make thinking as routine as borrowing books?
This is the question I ponder sitting along right field, watching a double-play unfold.