Episode 84 – Visible Thinking Routines with Ron Ritchhart

Show Notes

Ron Ritchhart is a Senior Research Associate and Principal Investigator at Harvard Project Zero where his work focuses on the development of school and classroom culture as prime vehicles for developing students’ as powerful thinkers and learners. 

Ron’s research and writings have informed the work of schools, school systems, and museums throughout the world. His book Making Thinking Visible, co-written with Mark Church and Karin Morrison, has popularized the use of thinking routines to facilitate deep learning and high engagement.  Ron and Mark Church have just finished a new book, The Power of Making Thinking Visible, in which they introduce a new set of routines and share what they have learned about the successful integration of thinking routines as a powerful teaching tool.


Dan: (00:00)
Hi everyone. And welcome to the effective teaching podcast. I’m your host, Dan Jackson. And today is episode 84, and I am super excited to be able to sit down with Ron Richhart and talk about all things visible thinking. Now, Ron is the author of multiple books, including Making Thinking Visible, Creating Cultures of Thinking and the Power of Making, Thinking Visible. Uh, he’s also a researcher and stuff, and we’ll find out more from him in just a second. Well, thank you so much, Ron, for giving up your time and joining me here on the podcast. Can you just tell everyone a little bit about yourself. I mean, I already gave a bit of an intro to you, but can you just talk a little bit about what you currently do?

Ron: (00:41)
Yeah. I’m currently a senior research associate at Harvard graduate school of education with a working with a research group known as project zero. So I’ve been with them a little over 25 years. Um, I’m about to retire from that and just kind of continue writing and consulting after that.

Dan: (00:59)
Oh, great. Great. Well, I look forward to the extra books that you put out. So can you just give us a little bit of insight into your thinking about your first book? I’m not sure, but the visible thinking routines and stuff. That’s definitely one of the first one I came across. So I don’t know if it’s actually the order, which you published them. But can you give us a little bit more information about what invisible thinking really is.

Ron: (01:24)
Yeah. Um, you know, visible thing is really a set of practices. So four kind of key ways that we as teachers can make thinking visible. So one of the key ways that perhaps we’re best known for is talking about thinking routines. And so thinking routines are simple structures which teachers use to help scaffold and support and their students. And the idea of thinking routines actually came from some early research that I did studying teachers who were really effective at getting students to think. And what I noticed was those teachers didn’t like teach thinking skills lessons instead they had routines and structures, which they used over and over again. So we’ve really kind of developed that idea of thinking routines, um, you know, over, um, you know, several years, but the three other ways we really think about them as what makes a thinking routine powerful.

Ron: (02:18)
And what we surrounded are, are things that teachers are probably already doing. So one is the importance of questioning. So we questioned to help make students thinking visible, um, ask a lot of what we call facilitative questions, which are questions that kind of follow up on a student’s response, where you might say, well, you know, well, what makes you say that as a way of getting, you know, the understanding behind an answer that students have given them. And of course then that kind of companion side to questioning as listening, um, students, aren’t going to make their thinking visible to us unless we are listening to them. And so by being good listeners, by taking an interest in being curious about our students, we actually then can get a window into their thinking. And then the third tool is documentation. And, um, some people are familiar with the Reggio, Emilia preschools might already be familiar with this idea of documentation, but it’s, how is it that we can kind of capture the learning and the thinking that are going on? So we really think of those four practices as really all supporting one another.

Dan: (03:28)
Yeah. I really liked the, the question, the aspect there, because it’s not just about finding the right answer it’s actually probing into and you can even design questions. The original question is to really focus on the reasoning and what the students are actually thinking in order to get to, to those answers. I’ve even, I’ve read something by Dylan Williams. It talked about how to even create a question so that if they get the wrong answer, you already know what they’re thinking to get that wrong answer even, uh, you know, because of very common misconceptions that that students might have. So I really, I really liked that. I love that your routines. I have actually, yeah. I’ve seen lots of your routines. I think, see, think wonder is almost every teacher I think should have heard of that by now.

Ron: (04:08)
I think you’re right. Yeah.

Dan: (04:11)
So can you give us a few examples of what it looks like in practice when we’re looking to, for these visible thinking, we want to see what our students are actually thinking, make it visible for ourselves as teachers can you give us a few examples of how to do that in our classrooms. A bit more specifically than what you’ve just done.

Ron: (04:25)
Yeah. You know, when a lot of people are introduced to routines that I kind of come across them, um, you know, perhaps it’s just a colleague shared with them. You know, one of the misconceptions is, Oh, you know, this looks like a great activity that I might do with my students. And again, we really want to think about them as tools that we use. So the, the first step in using a thinking routine is to identify, okay, I’ve got this piece of content and what is the thinking that I need students to be doing with that content? That one of our kind of core principles that we keep coming down to is learning as a consequence of thinking. So learning doesn’t happen when teachers deliver content because students could be listening, it could be distracted, nothing could happen. They’re only going to be learning if they do something with that content, if they think with that content.

Ron: (05:15)
So we don’t want to leave that thinking to chance. So, you know, you may say, uh, you know, what I really want students to do with this content would say we’re exploring, you know, um, you know, a really complex issue and we’re willing to kind of get into that level of complexity and we’re wanting to look at different perspectives on that issue. And so teachers identified, well, that’s what I want students to do. Say, maybe it’s a discussion of, you know, say black lives matter or climate change or something that we know is, you know, very complicated, lots of different perspectives. And then they may then look at, uh, you know, well, what routine might support that and the tug of war routine as one example of how you can to kind of explore different perspectives and explore complexity. So we always begin with, okay, here’s the content, what’s the thinking. And then is there a routine that would help to support and scaffold that kind of thinking we’d go through that kind of process to get started.

Dan: (06:14)
Yeah. And then by calling them routines, that also mean that I should be using these very frequently, like in the sense that I am constantly using, I don’t know if it will happen. It has to be the same routine neccessarily, but just constantly have these routines that we’re going to, uh, to check in, to see what their students are thinking.

Ron: (06:33)
Yeah. So we did choose to call them routines rather than strategies, because once again, you know, based on, um, the research I had done that the, these were used enough in classrooms that they became real patterns of behavior. And it’s not that we need students so much to, uh, you know, they, they need to know that tug of war routine. They needed to know the see, think wonder, but a little bit of play on words here, but it’s, I think significant to kind of get an idea about the idea of routines as it is by using thinking routines. It is the thinking that becomes routine. Okay. So by using a routine, like see, think, wonder what students get really good at is they get really good at noticing and going beyond the surface and looking deeply and looking closely, they get really used to making interpretations the think component and basing that on evidence. They get really good at wondering and asking questions. And that is kind of the crux of the matter in terms of why we find the thinking routines. So powerful is it is developing students as lifelong learners and thinkers. Um, again, one of our questions that we’re always posing to teachers to ask themselves is, you know, who are your students becoming as thinkers and learners as a result of their time with, you know, of course we’ve got content, but we also want them to develop as thinkers and learners as well.

Dan: (08:01)
Yeah. And I would even say developing them as thinkers and learners is more important than the content. The content is almost the vessel through which they learn the thinking, not the routines, the thinking process and the learning process. And that’s part of why I started the podcast actually was to try and give teachers more and more ways that they can think through how to do that with their students. Because I think as we set them up for the future, it’s much more important that they know how to think and how to go about doing research or, uh, all that processes of how to learn something. It’s very important to do that because when they leave school that, that the content isn’t just given to them, they’ve got to go and find it. They’ve got to go and read it. They’ve got to analyze it. They’re gonna get multiple perspectives on that. Now, obviously we’re not just about routines. You said there are other, the other aspects of visible thinking as well. How do we embed that into what we’re doing? You know, you don’t mention questions a few other ways. How do we really create embed that into what we’re doing

Ron: (08:59)
Well? Yeah. So, you know, one way of kind of visualizing this is, is say, you know, you’ve got a routine, um, and you’re using it maybe a see, think, wonder, may be a tug of war. And what’s going to make that routine effective is that you surround it with questions that you surround it, um, with the listening and, you know, perhaps some kind of documentation, that’s actually kind of capture that. So those are also kind of key decision points for us as teachers, um, as well, you know, you, you mentioned that that see, think wonder is a well known, very popular routine and it is, um, and sometimes I’ve seen it be used where, um, you know, it’s not done in a way that really is facilitating the thinking. I see teachers because they map it onto something they’re used to doing, turning that routine into a worksheet.

Ron: (09:54)
So they create three columns, see, think, and wonder, and then they give students a stimulus and they ask them to kind of write down that, well, you know, the reason why see, think wonder works is those three things that are rather than thinking about them as column headings. So they think when are, they’re really three questions are, they’re really even more than three questions, um, that are repeated over and over again, because it’s looking at an image and saying, well, what do you see and what else do you see? And what more can you see? And that’s a discussion and a dialogue that moves at things. And what does that make you think? And what else does it make you think? And is there something else that makes you think, and what does that make you wonder and what else and what other questions? And so that routine actually gets elevated when we think about it, as those are questions and for questions to be dynamic, we have to be listening to the answers. We have to be responding to that we have to be pushing and probing. And that’s what really kind of elevates that when it gets reduced to just an activity of writing things down in three columns, rarely, I mean, I’ve seen a few instances in which, um, it’s worked pretty well, but for the most part, when it’s all just recorded as an activity or as a work to be done, it’s not really doing for students what we want them to be.

Dan: (11:11)
Yeah. I, I totally get that. I think if you’re implementing one of your routines, if you’re not listening to the answers, like even if they do it as a worksheet, if you don’t collect that and spend time going through it and then pro back, you’re not really getting any depth to that. I don’t, I don’t think. And so I actually find it very helpful to do, to do them live when I’ve done them, to actually have the conversations with the students. And even sometimes having them do it themselves in smaller groups too, as they discuss it and then bring that together as a group so that they’re, they’re listening to each other as well as me listening to them as they’re doing it in their groups and stuff, which it does. It gives you that extra level of insight into their thinking, because otherwise you’re really just looking at their answers, if it’s just the, whereas you want to see their thinking and you get that by probing and by helping them to understand what you’re actually after too, with those questions, because you’re not just after, you know, I see a blue, a blue pair of pants.

Dan: (12:04)
You want them to think deeper into, into these things in terms of what else they can see. And I’m really thinking about what’s behind whatever whatever’s in front of them. So you talk there about how this links into lifelong learning. Can you make that a bit more explicit for us? How does this really help our students to become lifelong learners?

Ron: (12:23)
Um, well, again, just to kind of have back in terms of, um, you know, I, I kind of referenced that early research I did and the research was on the development of thinking dispositions. So again, thinking about, we talk about thinking disposition, some people call those habits of mind, things like curiosity, things like, um, you know, being able to look at different perspectives and being open-minded so really developing those as dispositions for them. So I was interested in how teachers cultivate those. And so that again is where the thinking routines came as we began to really, um, kind of move forward as a research team. And those, again, our focus was always on that dispositional development. And so, you know, we’ve seen that kind of over and over in, in schools and in clown streams that really do spend time focusing on the thinking, making the thinking routine.

Ron: (13:16)
Again, that whole idea of making the thinking routine is about developing those habits. Developing those dispositions said those are things that students are going to be carrying with them. And they’re then, you know, as opposed to a lot of the knowledge that we’re teaching and, you know, we have a, um, it’s not that knowledge is unimportant, but the way we’ve kind of structured schools is we often teach for very short term learning. We teach them and give a test right away, and then we’re happy to move on. And that learning just dissipates very, very quickly, but developing dispositions is a long time endeavor and we’re doing it because we’re thinking this is what actually kind of move students forward. So what we have seen in, in, in the recent book, which reports a lot of the, um, the research after a decade of teachers working with the thinking routines and that new book, the power of making, thinking visible, we do report a lot of the data that we have, not only does it improve academic performance, students do better on, um, on tests, but also, you know, in the interviews we did with both teachers, as well as students, that dispositional development is something that really kind of came out, um, as well.

Dan: (14:27)
Yeah, I think that’s fantastic. I’m actually looking forward to reading that book, the power and seeing how it’s really impacted them. Long-term so beautiful. I’ll look at, look out for the black cover. I say, can you provide them, uh, just one thing that the teachers who are listening this week to this episode, one thing they can do to start to implement thinking routines or making visible, making, thinking visible, I guess, in their classroom this week.

Ron: (14:55)
Well, you know, we like to say that that all thinking routines, you know, they, they sometimes require different amounts of planning, different amounts of kind of integration. But the easiest thing in routine to start with that has the biggest impact is a single question. Is that question, what makes you say that? So get used to asking what makes you say that, you know, you can ask your traditional question, you get an answer, but then follow up with what makes you say that and what you’ll notice. I mean, and you can, you teachers will see this even within a single class period. If they start asking what makes you say that? What makes you say that it won’t be too long before a student will give an answer and they’ll instantly reply with what makes you say that they’ll instantly begin to elaborate on their thinking and what that’s doing is by using what makes you say that you’re communicating to your students? I don’t just care about the answer. I care about the thinking and the reasoning and the evidence behind the answer. They’ll pick up on that very, very quickly. And they’ll begin to focus on that. So again, that idea that we’re getting students used to the idea of giving evidence and providing support. So that’s the single easiest routine and, you know, really the most powerful to instantly integrate doesn’t take an additional lot of planning with that would be the one thing I would tell teachers to begin to do right away.

Dan: (16:16)
Can I please clarify something on that too? When I asked them, What makes them say that? Should I first tell them whether or not they got anywhere near being correct? Or should I avoid doing that until after the conversations kind of have been had?

Ron: (16:30)
Yeah, I would avoid that, that, um, you know, it’s, it’s not that we don’t care about correctness and sometimes teachers will say, you know, one of the things I like about thinking routines is, you know, um, they might say there’s no correct answer. Well, there are correct answers. It’s just that we are building an evidence base in order to help us determine the correctness, because it’s actually, um, you know, kind of debilitating for you as a student, if correctness, and if the, the source of correctness it’s always outside of you, if you always need a teacher to validate, are you correct? But as you get students used to, well, here’s the evidence, you know, and getting, and then someone else, you know, gives a response to that same question. They say something, and you say, well, what makes you say that? Well, now you’ve developed enough evidence that you can begin to say, okay, well now, you know, Susan said this and Jacob said this, and what do you think about that? And let’s put that. And so you’re getting students used to, yes, we care about correctness, but our correctness comes from an examination of evidence, not from waiting for the authority to kind of tell us here. Yeah. So I think that can be very, very powerful.

Dan: (17:44)
Beautiful. I did expect that answer, but I just want to make sure it was very, very clear to the people listening that, not to give the answer, but to just look for the reasoning and stuff behind, I think you can still give them the answer later after you had the discussion and stuff. But I think you’ll get a better discussion, I think, without giving them the, as it’s the same with feedback, generally, if you give them the, it, you say, yes, that’s correct. And I’ll kind of read anything that else that you wrote. Or even if you tell them it’s wrong, they don’t read it. They just care whether or not it’s right or wrong. Whereas if you just give them feedback without the, you know, the Mark or anything that becomes a lot better for their learning. So that’s one of the, thank you so much, Ron, for giving up your time. I know you’re extremely busy and I’m very, very thankful that you’ve chosen to come and join me to, to share your knowledge or at least a very small snippet of your knowledge with my listeners. So I thank you very much for your time. And can you just tell us where can people will quickly find you to connect with you to find your books, all that kind of stuff?

Ron: (18:38)
Um, yeah. So if people are on Twitter, they can follow me on Twitter, just @RonRitchhart. Um, my website, which is just my name again. Um, you have to learn the spelling of it as double hitches and they’re so Ronritchhart.com also there. Um, and, uh, you know, I know that you can, you know, get my books, um, AITSL in Australia, um, carries the books and last I looked, they actually have the best prices on things. Um, fishpond Amazon, all of those carry them.

Dan: (19:09)
Beautiful. Well, thank you so much, Ron, for your giving up your time.

Ron: (19:12)
My pleasure. Thanks, Dan.

Dan: (19:15)
Well, I hope you enjoy this episode. I don’t, I enjoy this. I learnt stuff from Ron. If you did enjoy it, please make sure you leave a review. Make sure you subscribe and come back next week. Next week, I’m going to be sitting down and talking with Dr. Judy Willis about how students learn and how that should impact what we’re doing in our classrooms. I hope to see you then.

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