Sunday, June 28, 2015

Choosing Your Language

The hidden power of language has the "ability to convey subtle messages that shape our thinking, sense of self, and group affinity. (Ritchhart, 2015, p. 61).

My connection to chapter three is personal on many levels. When speaking, my focus is often on word choice. Am I using the right words to say what I mean? Or am I selecting vocabulary I assume the listener will understand? Ritchhart (2015) says word choice should be an important and deliberate act. He speaks about how our language choices shape "our behavior, interactions, thinking attention, and feelings in ways that we might mot be consciously aware of" (Ritchhart, 2015, p. 64).

In the book, Creating cultures of thinking, the focus is on the use of language in a classroom setting. It was a joy to read about how the words a teacher chooses to use can evoke specific responses of thought. I am sure we do this now, but we need to be more cognizant of this process. If not, here is a professional development discussion we need to have. And chapter three is our guide. Ritchhhart (2015) stated how "our language helps to shape out intention and that of our students, making it worthwhile to examine our language and strive to harness its power" (p.65).  Here is a worthy goal for the fall. Coaching and practicing the intentional use of language can have a tremendous impact in creating a culture of thinking teachers and students.

Now, I haven't finished reading chapter three. I just got excited about the topic.  As I read further into the chapter it discussed how word choice isn't the only objective. How we interact in conversations is important as well. Gauging a conversation tells us what is understood and where meaning might be lost or need more clarification. In a classroom setting "interactional language conveys interest in the students' thinking and signals authentic engagement with the task at hand" (Ritchhart, 2015, p.65).

I wonder...
What should the language of thinking be in our buildings? Communities? Our identities as teachers, leaders, e-trainers? We have T-2-4 and the 'one team one goal' motto. What language should are we using to reach this shared objective?

Sidenote: I find it was funny how my spell checker wants me to add a verb between creating and cultures in the book title. Lol!


Ritchhart, R. (2015). Creating cultures of thinking. San Fransico, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Most Important Piece to Cultures of Thinking....I

I am so excited to be reading this book, and to be part of my group.  However, I must confess that I have only read to page 5 at this point.  With the purchase of a new house, the selling of the old and two small boys on my hands, I can barely find time to sit still.  Which, leads me to this particular post.

I recently received an email from my colleague wondering how my reading was going. goodness..I am supposed to be reading!!!  I listed the slew of excuses above and then began feverishly searching for my book.  Things are now being tossed in boxes, and I was fearful it would not be found.  Luckily it had somehow found its way to the bookshelf.

Her email reminded me of the commitment I had made to the group, as well as to myself.  And this made me think of  the introduction and some of the things Ritchhart spoke to.  Mainly about the importance of a group and surrounding yourself with individuals who push "you to think and advance your thinking".

When I first began teaching I felt like a boat being battered from all sides by the storm of not knowing what to do.  I did not know who to turn to and often found myself sitting alone trying to come up with solutions to problems that seemed insurmountable.  With the birth of my first child I took two years off, and wasn't sure I wanted to return to the profession.
But, my husband convinced me to give it another go.  My first year back was rough, but for the first time I worked daily with another teacher.  And, I was fortunate enough that she was an individual who valued the idea of collaboration and thinking.  We worked together for an entire year.  Through this time she taught me a number of invaluable lessons.  However, the most important thing I learned from her was the power of collective thinking.  We developed a strong working relationship and she introduced me to others who worked and thought the same way.  These individuals became models, mentors and friends.  Each day I learned from them how to cultivate my own way of thinking, and how to share and model it too.  I cannot speak enough to the importance of this network in helping me grow and become better each day.
These relationships actually shifted my own mindset, and forced me face to my weaknesses and celebrate my strengths.  Our conversations can be fierce, and we don't always agree.  But, therein lies the strength of the culture.
So the point is....that I don't find it interesting at all that Ritchhart's introduction centers on who you surround yourself with.  This is the very foundation that must be laid, but it must be done with care and consideration.
Without my group, I might not even finish this book because life is messy and time is scarce.  But I have them to hold me accountable and remind me of how passionate I am about being an educator. They are the spokes to my intellectual wheel.

Questions I have:

  • Why does it seem like these types of cultures are created in spite of and outside of the traditional settings?
  • If cultures of thinking seem to flourish most when they occur organically, what happens to the nature of them when they become tailored and manipulated by a specific group/individual?
  • Is this mindset really a teachable concept or are there spaces in which it will have to be an imposed system, similar to ones we see today in most schools today?  Will it be useful then...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Moving past "the why" in search of "the how"...

Much of what that was in the introduction and chapter 1 I have been sold on for a while, however, I have yet to see how to leverage the tenets proposed in a traditional public school system, i.e. not a charter, private, specialized, magnet, etc. etc., a regular, run of the mill public school.  That is what I am hoping to get closer to after reading this book.  I get the why...I am looking for the how.

After reading these the intro and chapter 1, my take away was that educators are strategists (probably the best on the planet).  Think about the charge...every year:  Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to-

  • Educate 10-150+ students
  • All have different needs and abilities
  • All have different interests
  • In 188 days
  • And, perform other duties as assigned…
  • Go!

Whoa!  Just typing that made me feel like putting on a cape and shooting my fist in the air!  Well, returning to reality now, it seems that Ritchhart is positing is that we should be strategizing for learning not managing time (which appears to be a default). Personally, I have no problem with starring time in the the face and saying, “you will never rule here in this classroom”.  I suspect this is a by-product of my experience from working for the postal service before becoming a teacher...the clock rules there in theory (it is kind of like the boogie man).  However, after 11 years in education (plus the 21 years as a student), I completely understand why this is not common, and I empathize beyond measure with my colleagues.

This first section also made me think of the accountability vs. responsibility paradigm hinted at in the book the Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley.  Will elaborate on this in a different blog post.

And, well, I am still looking for "the how".  How do we leverage a culture of thinking and sharing for adults?  At the moment, I think that is the key...creating culture of thinking for students would be a consequence of the aforementioned in the same way the “learning is a consequence of thinking” p.101. Or not...there are still several chapters read and think about.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Getting started... What if?

High expectations... It is amazing how I tackle a book when I have them! I am VERY careful to read in small chunks to try and digest. Sometimes though, I find it difficult to get "into" the book because I feel that I need to absorb it all. That is where I am with Ron Ritchhart's book, Creating cultures of thinking: The 8 Forces we Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools. I need to relax a bit, read through it, with the mindset that I can return as needed.

I have read the Introduction and Chapter 1. Here's my thinking so far:

  • Couldn't agree more that we need to have a common understanding and belief of what we are trying to accomplish. 
  • There isn't a recipe for a culture of thinking, but when you have it you should know it. To me, it is rather like being in "the flow," you're absorbed in what your doing and highly productive towards your goal (Does that make sense?).
  • Our expectations need to be focused "for our students" not "of our students." I like that distinction because it isn't about managing behaviors but about empowering students to learn. 
  • He references Vygotsky's work (fitting for us - "Find the zone!") and how we learn "with others in the midst of authentic activities" and the importance of the intellectual experiences we offer students.
  • I identified with Nicole (pg 23) as far as my experience in school. I was pretty good at playing the game of school. I vividly remember 3 learning experiences: 
    • 4th grade - special summer camp where I learned about the stock market. We actually tracked and graphed our own selected stocks. I was engaged.
    • 10th & 11th grade - Had a great ELA teacher - Mrs. Scott - who really cared and challenged your thinking - I still didn't do my best work much of the time, but I was forced to think
    • 12th grade - Trig - Had to use what I knew to mathematically figure out the outline of a side view of a car. It was the closest thing to understanding that higher level math that I ever knew.
  • Learning is a consequence of thinking! (pg 31)

Questions/What I'm pondering:

  • How might we change the culture - from one of completion of work and getting grades? Recently, I was talking with a SBISD parent who believes in everything this book is about but told me that when her kids got to high school she was done fighting the fight and told her kids to just "get the grade."
  • How might we compel all to make a shift like this? It is a lot of work - people need to model who they are as thinkers and learners (pg 8). As Ron says... that requires authenticity. Modeling: risk taking, reflection, success as outgrowth of failure... (Interesting because there is this notion of "work ethic" but aren't we training our students to think success is easily attained... that they can't fail...)
  • What are "thinking" dispositions? Well, guess he spells them out, but just in case I might have some additional ideas... ;-)
  • What if... our clientele understand that the model we went through isn't preparing our students (and didn't really prepare us) for success. (pg 29) 
  • What if ...our clientele understand that they have a stake in their child's education.  As my friend and old next-door neighbor growing up says, she wishes her parents had valued school/learning like mine did. 

Here's the real meat for me:
"When we make thinking visible, we are provided a window into not only what students understand but also how they are understanding it... We need to make thinking visible because it provides us with the information necessary to plan the opportunities that can take students' learning to the next level and enable continued engagement with the ideas of study." (pg. 32)
Why am I asking that we read this and consider the role of technology? What "affordances" does technology bring to documenting student thinking?  As Grant Lichtman says in his book #EDJourney,
"Technology provides some of the arrows in the quiver of innovation. Real innovation in learning means reframing the mindset of the archers - the students and teachers..."
I think reframing what we value through the lens of thinking will, in fact, begin our innovation. How might we begin?