8 Thinking Routines I Love

I know, thinking and understanding is a huge topic. It’s not even a topic; it’s the whole goal of education. What I want to share today is something that totally revolutionized my teaching: Project Zero.

If you’re already familiar with Project Zero from Harvard, awesome! I’m so excited, and I hope you love thinking routines as much as I do. If you’re not, you may be aware of a few things from the project without realizing it.

Have you ever participated in a See, Think, Wonder routine? Often, this involves looking at an image or a painting and noticing what you see, stating what you think about it, and wondering what you might not know. This seems like a simple process of questioning, and curiosity is at the heart of PZ – curiosity on the part of students into what they’re learning and curiosity on the part of teachers to develop understanding of how students are engaging with the

You can view a video about PZ here. In the video, they explain that some might believe that thinking comes from learning. Thinking and learning, however, are circular processes that are not only inside someone’s head but can be made visible. Teachers use documentation, artifacts, and thinking routines to make thinking visible.

Project Zero has a huge scope. There are many, many projects that fit under that umbrella. They embrace making across the curriculum, movement, arts integration, teaching the whole child, slow looking, and deep understanding.

The mission of Project Zero is to understand and enhance learning, thinking and creativity for individuals and groups in the arts and other disciplines.
“Founded by philosopher Nelson Goodman at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1967, Project Zero began with a focus on understanding learning in and through the arts. Over the years, we have continued our inquiry into the arts and arts education, while drawing together diverse disciplinary perspectives to examine fundamental questions of human expression and development. Our research endeavors are marked by a passion for the big questions, a passion for the conceptual, a passion for the interdisciplinary, a passion for the full range of human development, and a passion for the arts.
“Today Project Zero is an intellectual wellspring, nourishing inquiry into the complexity of human potentials – intelligence, understanding, thinking, creativity, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural thinking, ethics – and exploring sustainable ways to support them across multiple and diverse contexts. Anchored in the arts and humanities, and with a commitment to melding theory and practice, we continue to work towards a more enlightened educational process and system that prepares learners well for the world that they will live, work and develop in.”

Although PZ is a network of many components which I’m still discovering, their thinking routines are tangible steps you can take to put their research into practice.

Here is their website that lists many thinking routines (visiblethinkingpz.org). These are a few of my favorites that I started with:

  • Color Symbol Image: Used for summary or encapsulation – identify a color, symbol, and image that represents an idea, a book, a movie, etc.
  • Chalk Talk: Used for activating knowledge or recalling information – write ideas on a large chart paper with others; this is like a silent conversation on paper
  • Compass Points: Used to kick off a project or unit – respond to each of the four prompts: N-need to know, W-worries, E-excited, S-suggestions/stance
  • 3 Why’s: Used as a reflection to answer the three questions: why does it matter to me, others, the world
  • I used to think…now I think…: Used as a reflection after a lesson, unit, project, etc.
  • Connect, Extend, Challenge: After reading or hearing something, write a connection, something that extended your thinking of what you already knew, and something that challenged your thinking
  • Sentence, Phrase, Word: Used to summarize or encapsulate an idea – choose one sentence, one phrase, and one word that stuck out to you or made you think from an article, chapter, book, etc.
  • See Think Wonder: Used to analyze an image of some kind – notice what you see, explain what you think, and ask questions about what you wonder

One thing I think is important to keep in mind about Thinking Routines (and Project Zero ideas in general) is that these are not activities to do with students. These are not tasks; they are WAYS of thinking. Thinking routines are just that – routines – habits of mind that foster understanding in the classroom and promote thinking and learning over task completion and pacing guides. They allow space for teachers and students to explore and truly understand. If you decide to try any of these, give yourself that space to explore as well.


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