Developing Habits of Mind Through Thinking Routines

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 a goal in Brookline’s strategic plan.

Earlier this year, I cited the work of Ron Ritchhart, whose most recent book is called Creating Cultures of Thinking.  Ritchhart argues that dispositions or enduring traits are best learned by immersion in a culture.  One force that can shape culture is the use of routines.

For the past couple of years, a number of teachers have been experimenting with the use of thinking routines in the classroom. Why thinking routines?   According to Jessica Ross, our visiting consultant from Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero, “Thinking routines help students develop a disposition for thinking by routinely engaging in specific patterns of behavior.”

What are thinking routines?   Project Zero’s Visible Thinking Project describes them this way: “Routines exist in all classrooms; they are the patterns by which we operate and go about the job of learning and working together in a classroom environment…Classrooms have routines that serve to manage student behavior and interactions, to organizing the work of learning, and to establish rules for communication and discourse. Classrooms also have routines that structure the way students go about the process of learning. These learning routines… may be designed to promote students’ thinking, such as asking students what they know, what they want to know, and what they have learned as part of a unit of study.” (

Here a few examples of thinking routines our teachers are experimenting with this year:

1. For Introducing or Exploring Ideas:  “See, Think, Wonder

  • What do you SEE?
  • What do you THINK about that?
  • What does it make you WONDER?

2.  For Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas:  “Connect, Extend, Challenge

  • How are the ideas and information presented CONNECTED to what you already knew?
  • What new ideas did you get that EXTENDED or pushed your thinking in new directions?
  • What is still CHALLENGING or confusing for you to get your mind around? What questions, wonderings or puzzles do you now have?

3.  For Digging Deeper Into Ideas:  “Claim, Support, Question

  • Make a CLAIM about the topic
  • Identify SUPPORT for your claim.
  • Ask a QUESTION related to your claim.

Teachers have been working in small groups with our consultant Jessica Ross to identify which routines are most effective for a particular age and to plan how to incorporate these routines into existing units of study. This work spans the grades, including: a Kindergarten unit on water, a second grade unit on Japan, fourth grade writing, eighth grade health, and middle school mathematics.

The key is not which routine a teacher uses, but rather that the language of thinking becomes an intentional and routine part of our classrooms.  In this way, we help our students develop a disposition for thinking.

Rick Rogers

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