Nurturing a Culture of Thinking Reflection Activity

Nurturing a Culture of Thinking From the Start

Nurturing a Culture of Thinking Reflection ActivityVisible Thinking is about helping students become better thinkers. The way our students think and their disposition towards thinking, are each greatly influenced by the culture of our schools and classrooms. When thinking is valued and protected, students and teachers will come to realize that real learning is not about facts, but about the exploration of ideas*.

Ron Ritchhart identified eight forces that impact the culture of thinking, each with the power to stifle or promote thoughtful learning. Below are Ritchhart’s Cultural Forces, his commentary, and some of my thoughts mixed in there.

Ron Ritchhart's 8 Cultural Forces

8 Cultural Forces

1. Time: Allow students time to explore ideas and time to respond to questions asked. Don’t forget about the second wait time students need in order to reflect after a response is given.

2. Opportunities: Create purposeful activities to explore ideas. Implement learning design that promotes inquiry. Students can’t deepen their thinking if they are only given shallow requests.

3. Structures & Routines: Use Thinking Routines, patterns of conversation, and other tools to make student thinking visible. Over time, these routines can become engrained habits that will stay with students for a lifetime of learning.

4. Language: Use a language of thinking and reflection with your students. Ideas like metacognition and wait time could be explained to your students (no matter their age).

5. Modeling: Model who you are as a thinker to your students. Share, discuss, and make your own thought process visible.

6. Interactions & Relationships: Create a safe place for thinking and sharing, through collaborative inquiry and continual reaffirmation of the value of thinking.

7. Physical Environment: Arrange the space to facilitate thoughtful interactions. The way a room is set up can say a lot to our students about whose ideas are valued.

8. Expectations: Share clear expectations for the level of thought required for a learning activity. Keep the priority on thinking and learning, not on regurgitating information and completing work.

I believe it is important to reflect on these forces as they apply to the culture we create in our classrooms, schools, boardrooms, presentations, and any interactions we have with “learners”. I created the reflection activity to help myself and the educators I work with, as we strive to nurture a culture of thinking. I spent some time trying out the activity and ended up with some changes I’d like to implement in every single category.

Reflecting on a Culture of Thinking

A culture of thinking doesn’t develop spontaneously. It takes intentionality.  I hope this reflection activity will encourage my teachers to experiment with, and be mindful of, the forces that impact student thinking.


Ron Ritchhart’s newest book, Creating Cultures of Thinking, is due out in 2015

*This is a paraphrasing of a quote from Rosamaria Díaz-Vélez, professor in the online Making Thinking Visible Course- Fall 2013


Why I can’t stop talking about Visible Thinking

Many approaches to encouraging better thinking are abilities-centric, but Visible Thinking is about fostering dispositions of thought, creating a Culture of Thinking, and bringing students to the center of the learning conversation.

Visible Thinking Quote

I think it is vital to share the message and practices of Visible Thinking, especially as they apply to innovation and creativity in the classroom. Visible Thinking promotes the simultaneous development of non-cognitive and cognitive skills, something few other instructional frameworks can truly claim. The strategies are also not dependent on a certain subject area, curriculum, student demographic, or technology infrastructure. Visible Thinking can be implemented in a class with one iPad, a thousand Chromebooks, or ten sticky notes. There are no excuses to limit adoption.

One of the basic tools of the Visible Thinking framework is a series of Thinking Routines, simple patterns of conversation, or protocols, which encourage a spirit of inquiry, reflection, and metacognition. I created the resource below to help the teachers and students I work with as they pursue a Culture of Thinking. My plan is to use it when introducing Thinking Routines as part of an exploration activity. I am hoping these routines will become part of their reflective toolkit, a natural part of their questioning strategy and, eventually, a given in their classroom culture.

Visible Thinking Prompt Picker

This can be cut and folded into one of those fortune teller things or you could punch a hole and put a spinner on it and have teachers or students explore the routines they land on and share where they might be best used.

For the VT Research Buffs: I know they aren’t really prompts, but I thought the word protocols might scare people.

Clarification: Since I plan to use this when teaching about the routines the randomized selection works. When using to actually select a routine to use… the randomized deal doesn’t so much work since there are more appropriate times to use each routine. Proceed with caution–you’ve been warned. 

The Visible Thinking framework and Thinking Routines can be found at

SXSWedu: This is the Moment of Truth

By Tracy Clark

By Tracy Clark

The EduNerds are leaving and in their place music groupies, film aficionados, and gaming junkies descend upon Austin for the “other” SXSW events. The Jeffrey Tambor keynote and Pok-e-Jo’s BBQ may have signaled the end of SXSWedu 2014, but hopefully the learning, connecting, and action is just getting started.  According to executive producer, Ron Reed,  “SXSWedu provides a powerful platform to drive meaningful change and constructive, actionable outcomes.” I know… sounds pretty nice, but here’s the question I want to keep asking:  What will it take to see this change?
SXSWedu may set the stage, but we still have to perform the show. A conference can provide a platform and opportunities to connect, maybe even develop a sort of culture, but ultimately we are responsible for how we engage in learning opportunities both during and beyond the conference dates. We choose what to make of the conference and what the conferences makes of us.
By Amy Burvall

By Amy Burvall

 Inspire & Be Inspired

Classroom teachers, entrepreneurs, investors, professors, thought leaders, students, and non-profit organizers from across the world gather in one place for four unique days of conversations, connections, and growth. People come to inspire and be inspired. Beyond the planned events, in the nooks and crannies of a jam packed schedule, the informal learning takes place.

I was reminded that good stuff happens during these “in-between” moments as I reflected on my own:
  • Conversations with friends both new and old, huddled by coveted outlets, on the top floor of the Hilton
  • A 15 minute hallway interview with Vladmir, a Russian edtech writer, prompted by the EduSocial profile
  • Learning from an incredible table of women, in preparation for the ETW lightning talks
  • Pushing the mindset of an entrepreneur looking for an educational viewpoint
  • Playing with the Paper app with Amy Burvall (definitely one of my new favorite people) during my #sxmetacog session (while I was implementing wait time for responses)
  • Carrying on conversations via Voxer with my extended PLN (most of whom were not at the conference) discussing the networked lives of teens
When everyone is willing to take a moment and talk about things that matter, a culture of thinking develops. And it is this collective cognition that makes the event so powerful.
By Tracy Clark

By Tracy Clark

 Moment of Truth

Ok so…
  • Mountain top high conference experience…check
  • Learned a lot…check….
  • Met a lot of incredible people….check, check!
But I want to talk about the moment of truth (insert inspirational trumpet music here). That moment when we all part ways.  When we get in the car (or on a plane or other mode of transportation) and go home, reflecting on what just happened. In that moment will we say, “that was really cool I can’t wait to see all those folks next year.” Or will we choose to solidify connections, commit to action… and then actually do it.
This is the moment to stop talking and start doing. Don’t let innovation die at the steps of the Hilton and Austin Convention Center. Don’t leave the change you want to see lying in your suitcase. Don’t disconnect from the connections you made. It was scary and akward to talk to that person in the first place.  Use the momentum of your active mind and your active connections to pursue innovation in education. We can’t keep talking without action. Our kids are way too important to leave change in the hotel lobby.


 What Now?

Here’s the thing, change is not going to be easy.  In order to get something done, to shift a culture, or to create lasting impact, it is not going to be one phone call, one tweet, one lesson. Most likely change will be more like the “20 mile march” Jim Collins writes about. It is going to be setting flags (performance indicators/mini-goals) along the way to make sure you don’t stray of course. It is going to be getting told “no” several, or several hundred times, before “yes”. It may be failing. But change is worth it and our kids are worth it. SXSWedu brings together pockets of innovation. But will we leave the conversations in Austin or follow through, creating connected and tangible innovation and impacting the future of learning?
SXSWedu self labels as a “catalyst for change in education”. Instead of complaining about where that fails to be true, why don’t we just go out from this conference and make it true.