Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Step In & Back

Since the beginning of the 2013 school year, teachers at our IB PYP school have been investigating about how students think and what routines we can use to help our students think more deeply about big ideas (called concepts in the PYP). One way we've been exploring how to do this is by reading and discussing the book Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Morrison, and Church.

Recently, as a 6th grade teacher began the transdisciplinary unit Who We Are (for more info about this unit, see our school's POI), she used the Understanding Map to identify what kind of thinking she wanted her students to do. The Understanding Map was developed by the Visible Thinking and Cultures of Thinking Project at Harvard's Project Zero.

At the beginning of the unit, she wanted to give her students the opportunity and time to wonder what they were curious about regarding health, decision-making, and interactions with others. So, she decided to use the thinking routine Think-Puzzle-Explore. This routine allowed her to identify what students already knew, what they were wondering, and where students thought they could go to find answers to those questions. For more information about this thinking routine, read my post from May 2014: Think-Puzzle-Explore.

As students thought through what they knew and wanted to know, the teacher quickly began to see that many students were curious about Ebola. Wanting to leverage this curiosity, the teacher planned to teach the metacognitive and comprehension strategies from her reading curriculum unit with texts related to the current Ebola epidemic, which she found at the site Newsela

As students began to read, identify main ideas, and find details that not only supported the articles' main ideas but also answered their initial questions about Ebola, they seemed to come up with even more questions. It is important to point out that it was when the teacher gave content that was meaningful and worth knowing about, students suddenly were engaged in reading, understanding, questioning and most importantly thinking!

Now that the students had some background knowledge on Ebola, the teacher and I began to collaborate and we returned to the Understanding Map to decide that our next step was to ask the students to consider different viewpoints regarding this global issue. To help students do this, we decided to use the global thinking routine Step In & Back, developed by researchers working in Project Zero's Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Project (Veronica Boix-Mansilla, Flossie Chua and Melissa Rivard).

Since we expected students to consider a viewpoint different from their own, we selected a radio interview of Patrice Juah, a Liberian woman who recently traveled to the United States. As students listened to the interview for the first time, they took notes on what Ms. Juah saw, thought, cared about, and wondered. We also listened and took notes, modeling for the students how to listen carefully and think deeply.

After, students interacted with each other, noticeably showing respect for and valuing others' thinking as they listened carefully to each others' ideas. Once students had initially shared their thinking, we listened to the interview again. After the second time, students again shared their thinking. Below is some documentation of some students' thinking from the Step In part of the global thinking routine.

Next, as a whole group, we had a debriefing discussion on the process of using Step In as a framework for considering another perspective. Student responses included:
  • "It helped me know what I should be listening for. Without it, it would have been hard to listen to."
  • "Listening to the interview twice helped, because if I was writing down one idea the first time we listened, I probably missed another important idea. When I listened to it the second time, I could hear other important ideas I had missed."
Then, students were asked to Step Back and examine their own perspectives. Students were given two prompts:

  • What questions do you have for/about this person? Who could you ask?
  • What doubts did this raise about your ability to take this person’s perspective?
Students were given a couple of moments to write down their thinking and then shared with the group. The students' thinking regarding the 2nd prompt was:

What doubts did this raise about your ability to take this person’s perspective?
  • The interviewer and the interviewee were speaking quickly.
  • The accent was hard to hear and understand.
  • I haven’t lived through the things she’s lived through.
  • She didn’t talk about all the little details - we still have more questions!
With regards to the first prompt, we wrote down all the students' questions, synthesized them, found Ms. Juah on Twitter and posed the questions to her. Our interaction is below:

Click here to read Ms. Juah's poem, The Ebola Ride.

After reading about how one teacher had her students consider different viewpoints by using the global thinking routine Step In & Back, how could you use this routine to get your students to think about other angles of a particular topic?

NOTE: The words in red above are some of the cultural forces that play a part in creating a Culture of Thinking in our classrooms. To learn more about these Cultural Forces (there are 8 in all), read Intellectual Character, Making Thinking Visible, Creating Cultures of Thinking (all by Ron Ritchhart) or visit the page on his website that talks about these cultural forces.

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