Cultivating a Culture of Thinking

Cultivating a Culture of Thinking

“Children grow into the intellectual life of those around them.”

Lev Vygotsky

I love this quote of Lev Vygotsky, a Russian development psychologist, whose work did not become well known in the West until the 1960’s – long after his death in 1934.  This quote, cited by Ron Ritchhart, in his latest book, Creating Cultures of Thinking, captures the essence of what Ritchhart means by a culture of thinking.

I had an opportunity to hear Ron Ritchhart speak this summer.  He opened his presentation by asking, “What do we want our children to be like as adults?”   Most of the responses fell under what Ritchhart calls “dispositions” (reflective, imaginative, creative, curious, etc.).  He argues these dispositions or “enduring traits” are best learned by “immersion in a culture.”

In his book, Ritchhart describes in detail eight forces that help shape this culture.  One of these eight forces is the language we use.  Ritchhart describes the subtle power of language to reinforce a culture of thinking.  For example, do we focus on the learning involved or on the work to be completed?   Even the pronouns we use make a difference. The use of the first person plural pronoun signals an inclusive learning experience whereas the third person pronoun introduces what Ritchhart calls “an anonymous outsider” in the classroom (Compare: “We are going to look for patterns in solving these problems.” to  “What are they looking for in this problem?”). Ritchhart also reminds us the power of noticing and naming:  “Noticing when and where students are thinking and specifically naming the thinking being demonstrated is a key move that teachers, parents, and mentors can use to develop awareness, direct attention and reinforce processes.”  (p. 70).

Why focus on a culture of thinking at Lawrence?  Clearly, thinking is at the core of teaching and learning.  This work is closely connected to our school goal to cultivate habits of mind. The goal includes providing explicit instruction in and expanding the intentional use of habits of mind.   The phrase “habits of mind” refers to the thinking skills, dispositions and character at the heart of life-long learning. Helping students develop these habits of mind is part of our school vision, as well as Brookline’s strategic plan goal (“Every student prepared for change and challenge.”)

Our work with habits of mind will enter its second year as a school-wide focus and its fourth year since an initial faculty study group.    We will continue to have faculty work in self-selected vertical study groups to learn about different aspects of habits of mind.   These groups of teachers will develop plans and share ideas for how to incorporate habits of mind into the classroom.  In addition, as a whole school, we will focus on creating “cultures of thinking,” drawing on Ron Ritchhart’s books, Making Thinking Visible and Creating Cultures of Thinking.

Parents will continue to be included in this work so that you may support the use of habits of mind language and strategies at home.  For example, last year we suggested asking your children, “What makes you say that?” as a way to promote and clarify your children’s thinking.   This question has a different feel than “Tell me why.” or “What is your evidence for saying so?” Asking, “What makes you say that?” instead conveys a level openness and interest – inviting further thinking and discussion.

We look forward to a year of growth nourished by a strong culture of thinking.

Rick Rogers
rick_rogers@brookline.k12.ma.us

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