Thursday, March 20, 2014

I Used to Think ... , Now I Think ...

Making students' thinking visible is important for both teaching and learning. When teachers are able to see what students are thinking about the concepts with which they are working, teachers are better able to understand how they might support their students growth in understanding. Furthermore, making students' thinking visible is advantageous for the students. When they are able to see how their own thinking is growing, shifting, and changing, they're able to better understand their thinking processes, which benefits them in future learning.

In their book, Making Thinking Visible (2011), Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison have included seven Visual Thinking Routines for synthesizing and organizing ideas. "I Used to Think ... , Now I think ..." is a routine that teachers can use to provide students an opportunity to reflect and think about their own thinking (metacognition). It is used "to help learners reflect on how their thinking has shifted and changed over time," (p. 51). Furthermore, it allows teachers to see how students are understanding particular concepts before and after a period of learning, which is important formative assessment data that teachers can utilize as they develop future learning engagements for their students.

Recently, I found myself in a kindergarten classroom with 34 learners. Their classroom teachers were leading the children through an inquiry into how weather influences living things all over the world. During the unit of inquiry, the students inquire into how weather can be observed, recorded, and predicted; how severe weather affects humans' lives; and how seasons can influence living things. As the students learn about these concepts, teachers plan learning opportunities during which their students can engage with the big ideas of change, responsibility, cycles, and pattern.

Understanding this was the direction the teachers were going during this unit of inquiry, I planned a lesson with the students around the concept of "cycles". By working with the seasons at the factual level, I wanted the students to understand that cycles are patterns in the shape of a circle that repeat over and over. Because kindergartners wouldn't be able to articulate that understanding verbally, I was looking to see if they could show me their understanding of cycles by drawing a flow map in the shape of a circle.

Because I not only wanted to check the students' understanding at the end of the lesson, but I wanted to know what they understood about seasons before the lesson began, I decided that the Visible Thinking Routine, "I Used to Think ..., Now I Think" would be a perfect way for the kindergarteners to demonstrate their understanding before and after the lesson.

I began with introducing how a flow map is a tool that allows us to show the order or sequence of something.  I gave students time to show their understanding of seasons using a flow map under the heading, "I used to think". Then, after learning that the seasons go in a cycle (using pictures of a biCYCLE, a motorCYCLE, and the reCYCLE symbol, along with singing the song, "ROUND and ROUND the Seasons Go) students had to show me their new understanding of how the seasons go in a cycle under the heading "Now". Below are some student work examples of how their thinking changed and shifted within the hour lesson.

Student A: This student shows how she understands the seasons run. Notice the linear flow-map, along with the incorrect order of the seasons (spring-fall-winter-summer).

Student A: After the lesson, not only does the student demonstrate her knowledge of the order of the seasons, but she understands the concept that the seasons run in a cycle, not linearly.
Student B: This kindergartner is obviously advanced in his literacy skills. However, he still demonstrates an incorrect understanding of how seasons work.

Student B: After the lesson, the student demonstrates the correct understanding of the cyclical nature of the seasons, along with adjective descriptors of each of the seasons.

Student C: This student demonstrates a correct understanding of the cycle concept before the lesson. Notice how he also labels his graphic organizer "flow map".

Student C: Because the student already demonstrated a correct understanding of how the seasons run in a cycle, he didn't feel the need to draw the cycle again. Instead, he challenged himself (completely independent from teacher direction) and demonstrated his understanding with words - "the sezins (seasons) go in a caieikl (cycle)".

Student D: This kindergartener demonstrates a lack of understanding of print. He was able to copy from the board words and phrases like "flow map", I used to think", "wntr" and "sprg" however they're not in any sort of order and it is hard to understand what his thinking is with regards to the concept of cycles.

Student D: Although this student wasn't able to adequately demonstrate understanding before the lesson, this "Now I Think" demonstration clearly shows he gained not only an understanding of the abstract concept of cycles, but he also is beginning to accurately use print to communicate meaning: W (winter); CC (spring); (su) summer; [backwards] F (fall). Complete with a jack-o-lantern!

Student E: It is unclear what the student understands about seasons or cycles in this "I used to think".

Student E: This student continues to demonstrate a lack of understanding of seasons, cycles, or this particular Visible Thinking Routine.
Although Student E was not able to demonstrate an understanding of the concepts taught, the majority of his classmates were. After this lesson on the concept of cycles, 29 of the 34 five- and six-year-olds (85%) were able demonstrate an understanding of the concept of "cycles". As the classroom teachers continue their study of cycles, seasons, and the bigger idea of "how weather all over the world influences living things", they will have to keep a close watch on those five students who were unable to demonstrate an understanding of cycles and carefully scaffold the learning engagements so that these students too, will be able to access the challenging, significant, engaging, and relevant curriculum going on in the kindergarten classrooms.

After reading about how kindergartners used the Visible Thinking Routine "I Used to Think ..., Now I Think ..." to demonstrate their understanding of concepts, how could you use "I Used to Think ..., Now I Think ..." in your instructional practice?

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