refugee creative questions thinking

Thinking Routines: Developing Creativity and Critical Thinking In My Classroom

Thinking Routines: Developing Creativity and Critical Thinking In My Classroom

As I was walking out to hop on my bike after school today, I noticed a man leaving at the same time. I smiled, balancing my bookbag on my shoulder, and said, “Hello”. 

Flashing a huge grin, he replied, “You on your way home?”

“Yep,” I mumbled, not sure if I should recognize him. So many new parents…

“I don’t know how you do it; I couldn’t have your job. Clock in, clock out, I like not having to think about work at the end of the day,” he laughed back as I juggled my papers to grade, coffee mugs to wash and combination on my bike lock.

“Yeah, I would like that, too,” I responded instinctively, smiling as he walked towards his car.

Pedaling home, I thought about my response. What would I like about not having to think about work after the teaching day ends? Is it the constant reflection that happens on my 15-minute ride home? Would I prefer to have my boundaries so clearly drawn that my work and personal life never intersected? How is that even possible?

I’m a thinker.

I’ve been accused of ‘living in my head’ since I was a little kid. I’m a thinker, an introvert, an observer. In my childhood, I didn’t like to talk and only responded to certain folks in my small social circle. Part of it was definitely shyness, but also my discomfort at sharing my thoughts before I’ve had a chance to sit with them. My ‘thinking routines’ involve identifying a concept or topic, curiously digging in to find out more about it, swishing it around in my mind, comparing nuances, sorting through pros and cons, and then cautiously making my thinking visible.

Sometimes that comes out through my writing, and more often, lately, it comes out through my voice.

I’ve been working on making my thinking routines.

I think about those kids in my classes, who just like me, have difficulty blurting things out. They have so much more swimming around in their heads than they let show on paper. They would rather be misunderstood than push themselves to communicate publicly – often resulting in academic grades that are lower than they should be.

These students have inspired my work to help them make their thinking visible. I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the work of Visible Thinking, of Trevor Mackenzie and Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt (see below for their exciting new book, Inquiry Mindset), and Simon Brooks’ work on Thinking Routines. I nerd out reading research and strategies and wondering how I can create a student-friendly version to help my students flex their thinking muscles.

thinking routines dive into inquiryVisible Thinking

Visible Thinking stems from the research at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education Project Zero, “Visible Thinking makes extensive use of learning routines that are thinking rich. These routines are simple structures, for example a set of questions or a short sequence of steps, that can be used across various grade levels and content. What makes them routines, versus merely strategies, is that they get used over and over again in the classroom so that they become part of the fabric of classroom’ culture. The routines become the ways in which students go about the process of learning.”

Thinking Routines Using Hyperdocs

Inspired by my brilliant HyperDoc creator friends Heather Marshall and Kevin Feramisco, I started using different versions of the 3-2-1 Bridge hyperdoc to help students build their thinking routines. Last year, I pushed my students to think about the concept of choice as we dove into our novel study of The Giver by Lois Lowry. Check out my Giver 3-2-1 hyperdoc here: it stimulated excellent conversations in my classroom and helped students think deeply about the choices they have. As one of my students stated, “I used to think that you have freedom and choice everywhere but now I know that there are many restrictions of choice and freedom at school. I also no understand better the phrase my freedom ends where your starts, it means that my freedom stops when it impacts your freedom.” I want these thinking routines to be part of part of the fabric of classroom’ culture.” 

thinking routines giver 321

It’s going to take some thinking on my part. I’ve got to be the ‘behind the scenes’ creator who is plotting, strategizing, and making it seem as if these routines were inside them all along.

It’s part of the magic of being an educator.

According to the Visible Thinking website,  “Visible Thinking is a flexible and systematic research-based approach to integrating the development of students’ thinking with content learning across subject matters. An extensive and adaptable collection of practices, Visible Thinking has a double goal: on the one hand, to cultivate students’ thinking skills and dispositions, and, on the other, to deepen content learning. By thinking dispositions, we mean curiosity, concern for truth and understanding, a creative mindset, not just being skilled but also alert to thinking and learning opportunities and eager to take them.”

Thinking Routines for Refugee

My English 7 classes are reading Refugee by Alan Gratz as part of the Global Read Aloud this fall (a mind-blowing book, by the way), and after our initial dive into the topic of refugees, their brains were definitely more curious and primed for learning. The next step is harnessing that curiosity with another thinking routine called Creative Questions. I made a hyperdoc to help them explore their ‘wonders’ more deeply – you can check it out here.

refugee creative questions thinking

I spent hours on Sunday morning diving into the Cultures of Thinking I found on the Rochester Community Schools website. 

Educators in Rochester are doing some amazing, inspiring work on thinking routines that are pushing me to be more creative and intentional with my inquiry practice. Please say tuned for more thinking routines inspired by them, created by me, and shared with you!

You know, I’m realizing that I like this part of my job. I love this ‘thinking routine’ that I find myself in even when I’m not in my classroom. The essence of thinking routines piques my intellect, engages my drive and my love for “curiosity, concern for truth and understanding, a creative mindset, not just being skilled but also [being] alert to thinking and learning opportunities and eager to take them.”

Are any of you using thinking routines with your students? I’d love to collaborate/share/create with you! Feel free to adapt my hyperdocs to meet the needs of your students. All I ask is that you just share them back, please, so I can see how amazing you are! And please drop me a note in the comments, or message me on Twitter @mamawolfeto2 – we are so much #bettertogether!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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make a difference

Could You – Would You – Help Make A Difference?

Could You – Would You – Help Make A Difference?

What would you do if it meant you could make a difference in the life of a child? Would you watch a video? Donate money? Eat a burrito every single day for a year?

make a difference

 

You’ve got to hear the story of my friend Kala Ebbe, founder of the Educator Chipotle Challenge. She’s the real deal.

Kala is in her first decade of education – she’s a school counselor, fantastic dancer, and all around kind and awesome human, and she’s DEFINITELY making a difference.

I love knowing that people like Kala are around to help our kids move into their futures.

make a difference

Do You Walk Your Talk?

Kala exudes positivity. She’s a sharp dresser (boy can she rock the bow-ties), she’s got a quiet and commanding presence (sometimes she startles me by just appearing outside my door), and she can really walk her talk.

Right now, she’s committed to eating CHIPOTLE for an entire year…to help raise awareness for the need for better mental health services for kids and teachers.

Pretty cool, huh?

What Could You – Would You Do?

Could you do that? Commit to one action for an entire year if it meant helping someone else have a better future?

She’s trying to raise awareness and raise money through her Educator Chipotle Challenge by sharing stories of important educators – those teachers who have inspired other teachers to become educators themselves. Teachers who have helped kids through hard times. Teachers who have made an impact.

Make a Difference

It would mean a lot to me if you could support Kala’s effort to make a difference by making the world more awesome, one Chipotle meal at a time. It’s hard to get young, inspired educators to stay in the education field. Just today I read a sad-but-true account in USA Today of what teachers deal with every day: low salaries, poor facilities, working ‘side-hustles’ to earn enough money to pay their bills and send their own kids to college – if we can support young people like Kala who WANT TO HELP KIDS, that’s one way to make a difference.

You can check out Kala’s website, www.educatorcc.com.

You can follow her Chiptole Challenge on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/educatorcc/

The Educator Shout Out Interview Video

I know you’re going to want to see Kala IRL. And it just happens that this week, she’s posting an interview we did together as part of her Educator Shout Out series!

We recorded this after a LONG day at school, hanging out at Chipotle. I could talk for HOURS about teaching, kids, and education, but thankfully Kala edited this down to twenty sweet minutes! I love Kala’s approach of asking teachers about who they would love to ‘shout out’ – is there a teacher you’d love to let know that they made a difference in your life?

Thanks in advance for checking out Kala’s project! Hopefully, you can support her effort to make a difference in the life of a child.

 

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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self-care

Saying No As Self-Care

Saying No As Self Care

The final bell FINALLY rang last week, and just as I shuttled out my 7th graders and sat down to breathe in and take some self-care time to relish the quiet, a new teacher burst into my room. I use the word ‘burst’ intentionally, as she was quite out of breath and started rambling about something I had agreed to do for her, and how thankful she was because it apparently wasn’t going to be very pleasant.

“Wow,” I replied. “Can you sit down for a minute?”

She stopped mid-sentence, pulled out the white folding chair across the table from me, and sat. I was actually surprised she agreed.

Over the next 40 minutes, I began to understand her breathlessness. She shared her overwhelm with being a new teacher, her desire to do her best, her feelings of being completely drowning in lesson planning and accountability and paperwork and adjunct duties and university coursework…and this is only the fourth week of school.

“Do you have any personal obligations?” I asked, immediately wondering if I’d probed too far. I remember feeling like her – as if the choices I’d made to be an educator were completely wrong, that I’d never have a life outside of school, and that despite all my earnestness and time and devotion and HOURS I gave to my class, I’d never be enough.

She luckily, at this time, only has a dog and some chickens to feel guilty about ignoring.

self-care

And yesterday I found myself in yet again another conversation with two teachers, both more experienced in the classroom yet young mothers. They spoke of hectic schedules, dirty diapers, daycare, and not seeing their spouses. And they talked money – how hard it is to be a teacher and want the ‘American Dream’ of a house AND a baby.

Preaching Self-Care

On both these occasions, I found myself steering the conversation the way I too often do these days – towards realizing you are enough just the way you are, preaching self-care, and the old ‘oxygen mask’ theory. Towards putting your own kids first, and to never feel guilty about moments spent with your own babies over someone else’s. 

Maybe it’s just that with my empty nest, I’m realizing how precious moments with my children were – not for only selfish reasons, but because the energy I put towards them and took away from my classroom meant that my kids would become strong, competent adults. Creating boundaries, saying ‘no’ instead of ‘ok, I’ll do it’ meant that my kids knew they came first.

It wasn’t easy, but it was definitely worth it.

self-care

It just seems that so much of being a ‘teacher-mom’ is about creating a strong work-home balance, and with technology allowing us to be notified every second of the day, finding ways to distance ourselves from what happens at work must become more and more intentional.

Teaching, it seems, is one of the only professions where we feel like we are disappointing a child whichever way we choose. Creating strategies to ‘disappoint’ with grace and ease are crucial to our self-care. I’m hoping these four tips might help you the next time you have to choose between whispering ‘yes’ and screaming ‘NO!’

Four self-care tips:

  1. Start with being aware of the predicament you find yourself in. Say it out loud, write it down, share how it feels. Owning our situations helps us feel in control, and feeling in control helps us respond authentically.
  2. Consider the flip-side. You have so much to be grateful for. There are many worse problems than putting your children first – just ask someone who isn’t able to be a parent. Try to put the situation into perspective, and realize that this too, shall pass.
  3. Find a way to say no. Don’t feel obligated to offer a detailed explanation of why you are declining. “I’m sorry, I’ll have to decline” is honoring the situation AND yourself. Life will go on if you say no. And it will also open up more opportunities to say YES to things you really want to do.
  4. Breathe. Deeply, and from your belly. Slow it down. Take a moment to yourself, to change your state. Making decisions when we are emotionally heightened usually doesn’t bring good (or true) results. Nearly every decision can wait for a few deep inhales and exhales to help you center. Check out this video for more breathing ideas: 

Anna Quindlen said, “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” I’d bet that if you try these strategies, you’ll find your perfect self right there where you left her.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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clearing out

Clearing Out and Making Space For Creativity

I spent the summer clearing out.

Clearing In Springtime

It started in May, actually, when my classroom began to feel like the walls were closing in. I needed space. Every day after school I would open something, fill the recycle bin, scrutinize and smile and either toss or find a new home.

 

clearing
What a mess…

I turned my classroom inside out before leaving in June; when I came back in early July after the carpets had been scrubbed clean and all 900 square feet felt fresh and everything was stacked neatly on top of my tables. So of course, I flipped it all around.

The back went to the front, the sides swapped spaces. Bean bags and folding chairs stacked in the center of the room on tables as I worked on creating more structure. I worked from the outside in, rearranging bookshelves and my teacher desk. I nestled new/old coffee tables in nooks with books and stools, and created AVID corners and reading spaces.

clearing
Starting to take shape…

Old paper ripped from the walls, became new blank bulletin board spaces. Wonder walls and student shout out spots smiled in anticipation of what would come in August… and I worked nearly all summer clearing out my classroom space until I could close the door and know that when school began August 27, I would be ready.

Ha.

Clearing At Home

At home, it wasn’t much different. The day after school let out in June, literally and figuratively, I opened drawers I hadn’t looked into for years. I pulled out all the linens and papers and blankets and stuff….and then I gently lifted them, breathed in the scent of memories and either gently folded and returned them to a place of honor, or let them go.

I knew what was propelling me, that life was tipping out of balance and only by clearing, by bringing awareness to the places in my life that I habitate and nest deeply, would I embrace all the change.

Before the end of July, I cleared out nearly every room in my house.  It was messy, and yes, a bit incomplete. There were tears of joy and overwhelming washes of memories that brought me down. I couldn’t go one room at a time; rather, I seemed to spiral from here to there depending on how the spirit moved me. It didn’t make much sense, but inevitably after I completed one part, an ease came over me. A sense of completion, of control, of calm.

Vaclav Havel said, I am not sure one is capable of reflecting absurdity without having a strong sense of meaning. Absurdity makes sense only against a meaningful background. It is the deeper meaning that is shedding light on the absurdity. There must be a vanish point, a metaphysical horizon if you will where absurdity and meaning merge.” Shedding layers of ‘stuff’ allowed me to shine a light on what means the most – it allowed the ‘absurdity and meaning’ of 22 years of parenting to merge and push me towards what was not only meaningful but possible.

Every Single Day

It became a daily practice. Like an addict, I fed on the need to bring balance and order. To create space for the change to wash in and out while my baby, my teenage son, wandered in and out of the house as he relished his last few months in the only home he’s ever known.

I spent much of the summer alone, in solitude. Aside from the obligatory summer excursions with the family (which I loved), I stayed at home, happily filling my days with clearing. 

May Sarton once said, “There is no place more intimate than the spirit alone,” and for me, the intimacy brought with clearing out gave me time to think. What would this next phase of life be like, alone with just a husband and a dog and no children in and out all day? What would my teaching transform into? For 22 of my last 28 years of ‘first days of school,’ I’ve juggled being that teacher-mom, trying not to show how I was always feeling split in two.

Clearing and Creativity

And to be honest, I have no idea. Two weeks after dropping off C at college and starting the new school year the very next day, my rhythm isn’t there yet. I’m exhausted, edgy, eager, curious, nervous, and mostly cannot imagine how to jump-start creativity. Seems like with all this clearing, with all this open space I should be oozing with ideas and the time to bring them to the surface.

clearing out

It’s making me a bit frightened, actually. I want to force it into shape, to dump it all out and mold a plan that seems unmistakenly possible. Things need to fall into place before me, wide and clear and clean. I feel the call to creative work – the years and years under me, of thinking about this time and feeling the foundation that I’ve been building with this blog, with my PLN. with my pushing myself into something that while at times cloudy and obscure, it seems like might just be starting to glitter. 

Feeding The Call

The poet Mary Oliver wrote that “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” 

I don’t want to push down this clearing and cleansing and creativity that is opening right in front of my eyes. I want to jump in, feet first, and see where I pop up, to give myself permission to fill those empty shelves with new ideas and opportunities. And maybe, embracing the change for once, not shrinking from it. Just as the smoke is finally clearing from the summer skies, I know this will happen. Eventually.

Patience, Jen. Patience.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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What To Learn When You Want To Grow

What To Learn When You Want To Grow

My own children have officially launched, leaving me wondering, questioning, considering how now to become the very best version of myself as I move into another phase, one without my children here to direct my time. It’s still important for me to learn and grow and progress.

I’ve done my best with my kids and now life is different, ready to teach me new lessons, I hope! But right now, I need to keep busy – actively trying to nurture my mind and develop as a person, or it’s highly likely I’ll just stagnate. This isn’t ideal when I really want to flourish in this next phase of life. This is why committing to pushing myself, going back to school, and taking up new interests and hobbies can be very much a benefit. But where to start? And what kinds of things should you be looking to learn when you want to grow? Let’s take a look at a few ideas I’m mulling over:

Learn A Language

One of the very first topics that can help you to grow and develop is languages. When you can acquire a new language, you’re really broadening your horizons and opening up your mind to new possibilities. If you’ve always wanted to be able to speak another language, then this is something that you really should look to do. But do it in a way that really works for you. Book an online course, get a tutor, or even head overseas to master the language in the native country. Just do what you feel is best for you to be able to really grow as a person and speak a new language. I’ve been using Duolingo to work on my Spanish!

Learn A Craft

Or perhaps you’re not that interested in languages, and you’d rather learn a craft? Why not take a look at these crafts to make with DIY Joy and see if you feel inspired. From knitting to baking to even things like makeup artistry, here you’ll be looking to discover something that can give you a new skill for your own personal enjoyment, or inspire a new business venture for you. Baking has always been a stress reliever for me, but now that there are no children at home to eat my treats I’m going to have to bring them to school…

learn

Learn Coding

Right now, the internet and technology are so huge. So why not be apart of that and learn to code? Last year I used some coding hyperdocs in my classroom – you can try them out here. If you do have an interest in this area, coding is a great skill to understand for your own personal internet use and if you want to go into business too.

Learn To Teach

Maya Angelou said, “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.” Now, this can mean that you do want to go back to school and get your teacher’s credential, or maybe start by volunteering in a classroom – teachers always need help. When you love learning, it’s highly likely that you’ll be passionate about teaching too. So why not look to share your love of learning with children or seniors?

Learn Business Skills

Another skill area to consider involves business. Have you always wanted to launch your own company? Create a blog to showcase your creativity? Then why not try it out?

Blogging has turned into a big side job for me – it’s amazing how much I’ve had to learn about marketing, social media, and growing my professional networks. Read up on business skills online and with books. Find key business solutions that allow you to prevent fraud with Jumio’s Netverify or create a website with Wix. Scroll through blogs and even think about getting your MBA so that you could start off on your own.

If you’re an empty nester like me, consider investing in yourself. Learn and grow!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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