This is the most common question I have heard in my classroom at Westbourne Grammar. As a former student, I was unsurprised by the students’ interests in their overall results. It was this competitive disposition that built my resilience and gave me the confidence to pursue my goals during university and then the workforce. As a teacher, however, I was surprised by my students’ lack of understanding that the summative is a snapshot, a step along their learning journeys, and that assessment, in both its formative and summative forms, is the means, not the ends, to developing their thinking.
To improve my students’ lack of metacognition, I, with Renee Alford, Tonya Cook and Sam Boardman, joined the Ithaka Professional Learning Network, a group whose central goal is making student thinking central to teacher practice. This group of independent school educators from across Melbourne has been running since 2004 and collaboratively explores, through theory and practice, Ron Ritchhart’s game-changing Visible Thinking routines.
Visible Thinking is about making the thinking of students the forefront of the learning. This means students, not teachers, are the centre of the classroom, and take a leading role in their own learning. The days of ‘chalk and talk’ are dead. Students are not vessels we can just pour information into. As Ritchhart states:
Whereas we might be able to receive new information passively, building understanding is an active process that involves digging in and making sense.
Our students are unique individuals, from diverse backgrounds and they come to class with knowledge and skills. As teachers, we need to create opportunities for them to express their thinking in a visible way as this will develop the knowledge and skills required for our globalising world, where memorising information is useless and critical thinking and creativity are essential.
This does not mean students run rampant, chaotically spreading misinformation across the classroom. It is our role as teachers to create and facilitate these learning opportunities through guided, explicit learning routines.
One such routine is Peeling the Fruit (see image above), which allows students not only to describe what they see in the subject content, but also what they are questioning and how others view this content. Visible Thinking routines such as this, give teachers feedback on their students’ thinking and this powerfully gives them the knowledge to create engaging and challenging classes that are not just about “what [they] know, but how they know it”.
By working with the thinking of students, teachers can develop their learning, even enhance their results on the good old end-of-year exam. It is no surprise that engaging students equals student success. Rithhard states that “the data” shows “that efforts to make thinking visible can…greatly enhance students’ performance – even on standardized tests”.
I look forward to continuing my own learning journey with my colleagues in the Ithaka Network and discovering new ways I can make thinking visible in my classroom. Next time a student asks about the summative, I will remind them to check OneNote and SchoolBox, but I will also quote the beginning of C.P. Cavafy’s poem Ithaka: