Thinking routines such as “See Think Wonder” can be incorporated in the teaching of subjects such as Maths and Science.
When a teacher poses a question in class and two students give very different answers, the teacher may wonder: How did the students arrive at those answers? What were they thinking of? And for the student who might have come to the wrong conclusion, what “went wrong” during the thinking process?
For teachers at River Valley High School, they can now gain insight into their students’ thinking through the Visible Thinking approach. Developed at Harvard University’s Project Zero, it uses a set of thinking routines to make thinking more explicit. More importantly, these thinking routines, each with its own specific set of questions, promote critical thinking and nurture a thinking culture in the classroom.
For example, Mrs Christine Teo, who teaches Year 1 (Sec 1-equivalent) students, applies the Visible Thinking approach in her English Language Arts classes (the subject is a merger of English and English Literature).
Visible Thinking in action
Mrs Teo uses one of the seven core thinking routines in Visible Thinking: “See Think Wonder”. It comes with three questions: What do you see? What do you think about that? What does it make you wonder about? She applied this at the beginning of this year to a lesson on the theme “Self and Identity”, where students had to write an essay on themselves and their identities.
As a prelude to the lesson, Mrs Teo flashed a series of images of youths from different parts of the world. The students were asked to write down what they thought about the images in response to the three “See Think Wonder” questions. For example, upon seeing a photograph of some African children, one student noted that the kids appeared to be poor and it made him wonder if they ever had a chance to go to school.
Students using “See Think Wonder” to document what the series of images makes them think about.
Next, she asked the students to share on what they had written. From their discussion, she noted down some key words related to identity, e.g. “Chinese”, “costumes”, “dancing”, “praying”, “computer games”, “Europeans”. After this, she divided the class into several groups to brainstorm on headings under which they could categorise the words The students came up with headings like “ethnicity”, “religion”, “nationality” and “interests”.
The lesson taught students to examine their personal thinking processes behind how they described and catergorised people and allowed them to further expand on how to portray and develop characters for their essays. The “See Think Wonder” routine also allowed Mrs Teo access to her students’ thinking process and how they examined the world.
Thinking routines can also be used in other subjects such as Maths and Science. Maths teacher Mr Choy Ban Heng incorporates thinking routines in his lessons, such as when he introduced students to logarithmic and exponential graphs. Using “See Think Wonder”, he asked students to look at the graphs and write down their immediate observations. Next, they had to think about what they had seen and explain their observations. Lastly, they were to write down any questions they had about the graphs.
“Not only can I ‘see’ what they were thinking, but through the exercise, the students were also constructing their own knowledge of the graphs. Through thinking about the properties and asking good questions about the graphs, they were able to use the methods of a mathematician to discover knowledge. This is definitely better than providing a set of notes telling them about the various properties of the graphs,” says Mr Choy.
Teaching for understanding
The Visible Thinking approach is part of River Valley High School’s thinking-based curriculum focused on teaching for understanding. It was introduced as part of the school’s Integrated Programme in 2006, which offers a seamless six-year education programme leading to the “A” Level examinations in the sixth year. Visible Thinking is part of the Teaching for Understanding pedagogy developed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which has been adopted by River Valley High School.
Teachers are not the only ones who welcome this innovative teaching approach. Students also recognise that they benefit from using the thinking routines. Year 1 student Chai Wan Eu says, “Thinking routines are useful especially at the beginning of a new topic. They help us to generate ideas and understand the subject in more depth.” Another student Chang Qian Hui adds, “Thinking routines helps us to focus on our subject better and helps us relate better to what we have learnt.”