How we're engaging learners with Thinking Routines

OCTOBER 30, 2016 / Articles


Simon Brooks is a former English teacher and he draws on Classics well in workshops that advocate for a new way of teaching. We begin with Dickens:

“Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”

Schools founded on this thinking are the schools we work in today. Dickens still inspires, but only in helping us recognise how great is the need for change.

“Ask anyone what they would want for our children when they are adults and it is qualities … intellectually curious, strategic thinkers, self-directed, open-minded, imaginative, reflective, truth seekers, empathic, responsible. These are the most important parts of education.”

Simon now works with educators to build Cultures of Thinking in their schools and organisations. Recently he delivered a presentation to campus administrators and a workshop with learning leaders, to further immerse us in Cultures of Thinking pedagogy and practice.

Our workshop explored the role of Thinking Routines in shaping culture and in developing engagement and understanding. There are many routines, and the ones we practised were:

  • Compass Points (what excites you, what worries you, what more do you need to know to move it forward, what suggestions do you have to bring it to fruition). This is a useful starter routine for teachers looking for ways to help students or professional learners critically analyse a proposition.
  • What Makes You Say That? (a simple, but effective routine to press for justification and show students that you care what they are thinking about)
  • Zoom In (exploring a historical image, in staged reveals, which ensured that we were thinking about what we were seeing, right to the very end of the lesson)
  • Claim Support Question (in this case, we were presented with a scenario that introduced mathematical concepts. A point to be made here is that Cultures of Thinking can be used in all subjects, and at all year levels)

Simon is passionate about building school cultures where children become thinkers and self-directed learners, rather than just doing thinking and self-directed learning.  He believes that cultures of thinking pedagogy functions in support of ‘getting through the content’, rather than in opposition to it. “Teachers who say that are in an either / or dichotomy. What we believe is that through creative and critical thinking, the content is enriched. Cultures of Thinking is not something we do, it is how we are. It is being, rather than doing.”

Further reading:

Simon’s philosophies are well reported in an eight-part series on the Learnfast Learning Success Blog.

The Cultures of Thinking educational framework arises from the work of Dr Ron Ritchhart and colleagues at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. It fits within the Project Zero research portfolio.

Westmount’s approach to teacher professional development is that it is:

  • championed by our executive team
  • collaborative, and
  • continuous. We are all Learning to Learn.

Simon’s workshops build on learnings from:

  • Attendance at the Project Zero conference in Melbourne in 2015.
  • Attendance at the World Education Summit in Singapore, where we learned from Ron Richhart.
  • Attendance at the Cultures of Thinking Workshop at Harvard in 2016.
  • Study groups across year levels and curricula which enable teachers to learn from each other