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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purge party

It’s A Purge Party – And You’re Invited!

Back in May, a few weeks before school let out for the summer, I decided I needed to have a purge party. In the last 27 years, you see, I’ve taught a huge variety of curriculum and grades, I’ve gone from overhead projectors to DLP to Chromebooks and devices, and yet my paper files were still there, haunting me from five huge, overstuffed beige metal filing cabinets.

I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I needed support…and fortunately, as every teacher knows, there are ALWAYS kids who love to help.

Grateful, tired teacher with purge party helpers.

Here’s how the purge party began:

I thought it would be simplest to start with my bookshelves. This year I returned to dedicated time for READING in my classes, and boy, did we all love it. Every day starting off with 10 minutes of relax and read helped us all to calm down, focus, and get lost in stories. And as a result, I bought new books…which meant purging titles I have had for decades. I didn’t think it would be too big of a deal – books are books, and surely I could make some space without too much heartache.

Letting go of books, to me, is like leaving old friends – and I realized just wasn’t up to that part of the purge party, so I asked some of my most voracious readers if they’d like to help…and boy, did they help!

We purged out an entire bookcase, and then she ORGANIZED what was left! Best of all, as I tried to sneak back some beloved titles, she reminded me that, “OMG, Mrs. Wolfe, you have TOO many books about baseball…and no one is going to want to read that one -just get rid of it!”

This is one huge reason my purge party was a success – I was reminded that while I might feel huge attachment to the books in my room, kids in 2018 have different tastes and I needed to make room for more current titles.

A few other students caught on to the idea of my ‘purge party’ – and to my huge surprise, volunteered to come back the day after school was out to help.

I honestly couldn’t believe they showed up. I HAD promised them a treat from Dutch Bros….but to show up eager to help at 8:30 a.m. the first day of summer? I’m the luckiest teacher…

Another sweet purge party helper!

Here’s how the purge party went:

The purge party went something like this: I open a file cabinet drawer, said just recycle everything, they look at me like I’m crazy, and then proceed to fill my green bins over and over and over with 27 years worth of PAPER.

I tried not to hyperventilate. I tried not to dig through the file folders and workbooks and transparencies, and just let them PURGE.

purge party

It was hard clearing out all those memories; I’m transitioning back to 7th grade ELA next year and this felt like the perfect time for purging. I’m grateful to be surrounded by loving students willing to not let me look back, and instead keep supporting me, pushing me forward and reminding me of the fun year they had. And not one part of that ‘fun’ came from those metal drawers.

In truth, I haven’t even touched those five filing cabinets for years. I was trying the ‘if you don’t see it/touch it/use it’ theory to make purging easier for me. I was never again going to teach French, or Yearbook, or 7th grade History…and if by some chance the Universe sent that curriculum my way again, I was now opening up the possibility for something new to enter.

It was a long, emotional day for me. The kids ate pizza, got caffeinated and silly and somehow, by 2:30, the purge party was done. Most of the kids stayed the entire time, supporting me and each other as we cleared out the old and made way for the new possibilities. I’m not sure any of us were really ready to leave, actually. 

The purge party continues:

The success of my purge party inspired me to continue at home. This summer, I’m starting to clear. I’ve done some drawers and closets, and already made two deliveries to the donation center. I’ve brought bags of books to the Little Free Library around the corner. I’m scratched by rosebushes by clearing dead debris in my garden. I’m spreading new mulch and propping up lilies that bloomed so big they fell over.  And I’ll be honest – I’m feeling a bit anxious about it all…just like watching my classroom memories disappear into the recycle bin, my home holds 24 years of memories. I have to learn that right now, clearing out doesn’t mean the feelings are going; instead I’m allowing space for possibilities as we enter this new phase at home and embrace the empty nest.

So this week, on my solo staycation, I’m taking the quiet time to pay attention to the places at home and life that are out of balance and making a daily practice to purge, to put away, and to allow the light to shine in and on and through, one minute at a time. 

I hope you’ll join me on this one. I could use some friendly energy to help me ride out the flood of memories I’m sure will come. I’d really rather not have a purge party for 1! Give me a shout out and let me know if you’d like to be here with me in spirit!

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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Holocaust

The Holocaust and Big Questions For Our Children

We’re studying the Holocaust in my classroom right now. I knew it was coming….middle school kids are in that developmental phase where they mimic what they see in the media. They parrot their parents or family members, not always realizing what is coming out of their mouth.

Very often, that can be problematic at best.

At worst, it can show the hate that is simmering in our country. It can spew the language of division, and mimic the actions of those adults who should know better, but don’t.

I’m sure you know who I’m talking about.

In the last three weeks, it’s happened at my peaceful little school. Anti-LGBTQ language. Symbols of hate carved into bathroom stalls. Girls coming to me sharing stories of sexual harassment from male classmates…all this simmering beneath the surface of our children.

They look to us for guidance, but we don’t always know the right or appropriate thing to say. They look at the news, the media, and see people in their country showing hate, bringing guns to schools, using words to demean and disregard and dismiss behaviors. They want us to find the villain, to get back to ‘normal’. 

And so somehow, inside my tiny classroom, I need to shift course. I need to model more love and acceptance without showing my own anger or fear or disgust at the actions of people around me and in our government.

So I teach and weave in lessons of history, of courage, of love, and yes, of the power of hate. The power of hope, and helpers, and believing that deep down, people really are good at heart.

Holocaust

Teaching The Diary of Anne Frank at the end of the year always makes me a bit uneasy. It’s not a ‘light’ story by any means, and as we are heading towards celebrating a year of learning together, it often seems out of place in the May curriculum.

Until this year. I need my students to understand the power of hate.

I want them to know why the Nazi symbol holds such venom and what the Star of David, identifying Jews and ultimately bringing millions to a horrific death, teaches us about faith.

Yellow badge Star of David called "Judens...

I want them to know when they see these images that there is a backstory – and to understand why we must lock bathrooms and be vigilant and intolerant of hate and violence against each other.

Some of you might think that they’re just kids – they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re just mimicking what they see on social media, or repeating what they hear without processing.

And I’d say you’re right – and that’s precisely the problem. Why are they seeing these images and hearing language of hate and intolerance in 2018, decades after we should have learned this lesson? Why are they watching leaders and decision makers act with disregard for those that aren’t in the 1%? Why are they seeing images of citizens of the world herded into temporary shelters, or no shelter at all, simply because they seek a life without persecution for living their authentic selves?

I want them to ponder the big questions the Holocaust brings to mind – questions like “What do you gain when you stand up under adversity?” and “Who is worse – the attacker or the bystander?”

I want them to learn about the unknown heroes of the Holocaust – those folks who aren’t famous for their actions, except to those they helped.

I want my students to talk about why we sometimes feel superior to others. I want them to think about their legacy – even though they’re only 13.

This is our time to rise up, teachers. Don’t dismiss the last few weeks of the school year – leverage them. You’ve spent months developing relationships with your students. Take advantage of that. Use these days, weeks, or hours with your young people to explore what’s happening in their world – our world. Talk to them about what they see and hear. Ask them to think critically about local, national, and global issues. Guide them to meaningful media to learn about the world and then communicate their beliefs to an audience. Do a podcast. Write a blog. Shoot a video clip. Give them a voice.

We already know we’re not solving the problems. We already know that the hatred and gun violence and #metoo movements were formed on the backs of our inability to make change happen.

And we already know that we still have a chance, still have an obligation to our children.

So parents, teachers….do something. Teach someone. Talk to the young people in your life. And most importantly, LISTEN.

If you’d like a copy of my Diary of Anne Frank hyperdoc, including text sets about the Holocaust and Judaism, click here. Share it. You don’t have to be a teacher (or a student) to learn from it. You just need to have a desire to make change happen.

We are really better together. We really should be better.

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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Podcasting: Why You Really Need To Try It!

Podcasting definitely pushed me out of my teacher comfort-zone.

It’s not that it’s unusual for me to take risks in the classroom. It seems like every other day I’m announcing to my students that today they will be my ‘test pilots’ for something or other.

Since I dove headfirst into digital teaching and learning six years ago, I’ve learned that it’s best not to over think what I want to do; rather, I make a plan, jump in, and modify as I go.

And I learn a ton from my students along the way.

I write often about my obsession with #hyperdocs and how creating and implementing this future-ready teaching pedagogy has transformed my work – and my students’ learning experiences. It’s true. I am having the BEST year of teaching ever, in large part due to my willingness to listen, learn, create, and trust in my students. I want them to be curious, life-long learners, and by intentionally using technology to enhance their learning experience I hope I’m not only being a strong role model, but also piquing their interest in things like blogging, video, and most recently, podcasting.

In my personal life, I’ve found podcasts to be soothing, intriguing, and revelatory; my favorites include Super Soul Sunday, Happier With Gretchen Rubin, NPR’s Code Switch and Up First, Malcolm Gladwell Revisionist history and On Being With Krista Tippet.

Most recently I’ve been hooked on educational podcasts as I bike to and from school, or when I’m puttering around my classroom in the afternoons – programs like The 10 Minute Teacher, The Google Teacher Tribe, The Cult of Pedagogy podcast, Teachonomy and The Ditch That Textbook podcast fill me with such hope and excitement that I often have to stop pedaling to save an episode or text it to someone!

So naturally, I decided my students needed to get hooked on podcasts – but not the ones I like…that’s not cool. Rather, they needed to CREATE their own podcasts!

How I Started Podcasting

I thought about this for three months. I went to several EdTech sessions on video recording and searched everywhere I could think of for ideas to get me off the ground with this project. I just wasn’t finding as much as I expected, and I began to think I’d never get it accomplished.

podcasting
Sometimes podcasting requires whole-body concentration and focus!

Thanks to the power of the internet (thank you, Twitter), my #hyperdoc friends Lisa Highfill, Scott Padway and Lisa Guardino, and a tech fairy (thank you, Brian) who showed up in my classroom mid-project, my students became legit PODCASTERS!

Of course, I had to create a hyperdoc to explore, explain, and apply the concept. I had to tie it to our ‘Approaching Adulthood’ end-of-unit performance assessment. I challenged myself to figure out the technical pieces, which mainly occurred when a kid ran into an obstacle (like background noise or echoes) and we had to get unstuck – and create soundproof recording spaces on a teacher’s budget!

podcasting
My attempt at creating a sound booth – Pinterest fail?

You can make your own copy of my Podcasting hyperdoc HERE.

Podcasting Results Were Awesome!

But I swear, I taught with a huge grin on my face for two weeks as I watched my students go from “eew…we have to hear our voice!” to “OMG this is my most favorite thing I’ve done in school!” And you know you’re onto something good when your students don’t even blink at the end of class bell and stay for 30 minutes after class recording and editing to get it just perfect!

podcasting
Creative sound booths…

Honestly, I’m sure I learned as much – if not more – than my students did during this podcasting experience. I learned to trust my instincts. To take chances even though there is a high chance for ‘failure’. I learned that my students are capable of extraordinary things (actually, I reinforced that), and I learned that teenagers have a huge VOICE and need platforms to show the world what they’re thinking.

Most students used WeVideo to create their podcasts.

Here’s a link to one of my favorites: The Difficult Lemon podcast

These kids came up with amazing ideas and thinking around the topic of ‘approaching adulthood’. Some did research about voting ages, driving ages, and drinking ages. Some interviewed their parents. One discussed the inaccurate portrayal of teens in young adult novels. Some thought about the impact of gender stereotypes, and others wondered about equality, rights, and identity crises.

Many were so good I strongly urge them to continue – wouldn’t you love to hear what teenagers are really thinking?

This team was the most technical – their podcast was titled “It Really Do Be Like That Sometimes” and was hilarious! Thank you, Brian Briggs (who has an awesome ed-focused podcast called “Check This Out” ), for the loan of the foam and microphone!

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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