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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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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field trip

Plan A Class Field Trip – The Results Will Be Transformative!

Hands up – who wants to take a whole class of kids on a field trip to New York, also known as the Big Apple? No? What about another big city?

field trip
When my daughter was in my class, we took this overnight field trip to Monterey, CA!

Field trips ARE a lot of work, and even more stress, but you can run an educational trip to New York (or modify this for any location, really) effectively, and I’m excited to show you how. In fact, to help you get everything right, I have come up with the guide below:

field trip

Risk Assessments and Paperwork

Before we get to all of the good stuff like choosing where to go and what to see, its vital that you get all of the paperwork done. Yes, I know that paperwork is the bane of teachers’ lives and field trip paperwork is the worst of all. However, it is essential both to ensure the kids have as safe a trip as possible and to cover yourself as well.

In particular, make sure you have completed a risk assessment and submitted it to the school or group leader that approves them well before the trip. Also be sure to have information on kids that have allergies and other illnesses, as well as emergency contact details for all. You’ll be confident that even if something does go wrong, you will be able to deal with the most straightforward way possible.

field trip
Field trip to NYC!

Plan Your Field Trip

Once you have all the dull paperwork out-of-the-way, it’s time to consider your field trip in more detail. In fact, it’s a good idea to think about where you would like to take the kids and what educational benefit each site or venue has.

Want to link your Big Apple visit directly to a class project such as immigration or population? If so, then sites like the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, as well as Lady Liberty herself should be on your agenda.

Of course, you don’t have to have a direct link to a particular project for your visit to New York to be educational. After all, there are many cultural sites to visit as well that can link to the curriculum such as a visit to MOMA, and even taking your class to see a show on Broadway, an activity that would be good for young musicians, dramatists, and dancers alike.

field trip
Even riding the subway is fun on a field trip!

Major Sights On Your Field Trip

Of course to be able to plan your field trip effectively you need to know what is available for educational visits and experiences in New York.

Luckily, you will find that the major sites such as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and One World Tower all have specific sections on their website that you can get access to ahead of time to find out more information and get some resources like lesson plans to use. Similarly, many have guided tours led either by professional tour guides or recordings that will make sure that the kids will get the most out of their visit while they are there.

Field Trip Cultural Attractions

In term of cultural attractions, New York is brimming with options too. Firstly there are ‘the big three’ Museums: MOMA, The Met, and The Guggenheim that host a wealth of exhibitions and workshops that would be an excellent educational experience for kids.

Then there is the theatre district in Manhattan, with its famous playhouses and a range of musicals, plays, opera, and more modern shows.

Of course, it can help a great deal to pick a piece for your class to view that is suitable for their age range and topic interests. For example, you can see the musical Kinky Boots in New York City now on Broadway, a production that could be great for students that are studying music, the 1960’s, gender roles, and even British culture.

There are of course plenty of other show to choose from as well including Disney’s The Lion King, Wicked and The Book of Mormon, among others.

Emphasis On Fun

Lastly, but not least, if you are in New York for more than a day with your class and you have done the educational ‘big hitters,’ you may want to take them to some of the more purely fun places too.

For the younger kids there is now a Legoland Discovery Center in Goshenand for kids of all ages, there is Luna Park on Coney Island. Bronx Zoo is another excellent choice that is both fun and educational as there are many exotic species here including giraffes, sea lions, and even polar bears.

My best advice is to think of something that makes your destination a fantastic choice for your class and might even change your whole teaching experience when you return home from your educational field trip!

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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backstory

Understanding Our Backstory – A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way

Understanding Our Backstory – A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way

“It is quite true what philosophy says; that life must be understood backwards. But one forgets the other principle: that is must be lived forwards.”

– Soren Kierkegaard

I was the second person to board the very early morning flight from Chicago to Raleigh – and the flight attendant took one look at me and reacted with what I believe to be genuine kindness. “I need you to answer one question for me,” he said. His eyes scanned over my shoulder, searching behind me on the gangway for the rest of the passengers. I really wasn’t in the mood for games. Travel isn’t easy, and I was tired. Teacher tired. End of the school year teacher tired.The kind of tired that only teachers – or new moms – know. The kind of tired where you’ve been caring for someone else at the expense of yourself.

I must have looked as dumbstruck as I felt because he continued. “The question is, what can I do to help you?” Wait – what? YOU want to help ME?

Honestly, I could only focus on the origin of his accent. Russian? Australian? I seriously questioned who he was talking to, stunned as I was. “Why don’t you just take a seat and let me take your bags?” he questioned, patiently waiting for me to step into the empty plane. At this point, I’m still having trouble processing and it’s getting embarrassing. This is Southwest Airlines, after all. Coach. Flight attendants are usually friendly, but NO ONE ever treats me like this. Gently he eased my carry on from my tightly gripped fingers and instructed me to sit anywhere.

Finally settled into my seat, he came up behind me and whispered “Remember – just leave all your stress back at the gate,” and kindly helped my husband and hundreds of other tired travelers prepare for their flight.

backstory

Choosing Kindness

How many times have people in my life chosen kindness at just the right moment- and I don’t remember them. Playing this all back in my mind, I hope he knows what a difference he made to me that day. It wasn’t anything earth-shattering or tragic that was going on, but I was spent. He had no idea, I’m sure, about anything having to do with me or my story. But taking those few moments to check in with me, to pay attention, made all the difference.

I’d just finished reading a fabulous novel, All The Missing Girls, before boarding and couldn’t get it out of my mind (be sure to check out my upcoming review and ‘Best of 2018′ book list to be posted soon). I struggled a bit with the narrative as it started with the ending and worked backward. In had to think, to get used to the reverse cadence of the plot and really pay attention to the details.

It really made me think about the backstory of my life – of my children’s, my students’ lives. How elusive it can be, even when we try to not hold onto it. How it can squeeze up at the most profound, unexpected times, only to whiplash our thinking.

Our backstory can frame the plot of our lives, even when we don’t pay attention to it; it can chart our course.

What is the backstory of your life?

It’s probably not a question we can ask directly, but one we should directly pay attention to. Just imagine what life could be like if we knew more about each other. Would we be more empathetic? Compassionate? Or less tolerant, figuring we should know better?

What’s the backstory of my life?

Thirty-six years after my parent’s divorce and I still feel that chasm they created. There’s no blame. No right or wrong. It just is. How many of my students are dealing with their own divorce backstory that I don’t have a whisper of information about? Have my own children learned about life and love from watching me and their dad? How has my divorce backstory influenced me from living my parenting life forward?

Twenty-eight years after my first day of teaching I’m once again changing course with my career. I started before NCLB – and still, I shudder at the idea of teaching like it’s 1991. It’s only by looking at my teaching backstory that it comes into focus. I know I haven’t been a perfect teacher; I know I’ve made mistakes. But I can’t stay there – that would be too easy. I can’t keep one foot in the past and expect to make it into the present…I’m just not that flexible. I have to live my teaching life forward.

backstory
Early parenthood, 1996.

Twenty-two years after my first child, I’m definitely understanding life in reverse. She finshed college, launching now into her adult life. My baby is leaving soon, moving across the country. I’ve almost got an empty nest…isn’t that a perfect excuse for understanding life backwards? Second guessing everything I didn’t do? Seeing where a + b didn’t exactly = C, but realizing that it’s ok? I understand fully Catlin Tucker’s comparison of teaching and parenting as a ‘delicate dance’. Suddenly, I’m realizing that the 22 years of parenting have really become the backstory of my teaching life.

Life must be understood backwards.

That one, short moment of kindness by a flight attendant – a moment like so many others that we don’t even realize can define our future selves and inform how we see ourselves. And as parents how many of those moments define our children; how does our back story cause our children’s reflection to shimmer or shatter?

backstory

Life must be understood backwards, yet lived forwards. I don’t think we can avoid it – or embrace it. It just is. It’s the gift of aging. Maybe all we can do is just choose kindness – simply asking someone what you can do for THEM. You never know whose story you might be changing.

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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