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Thinking routines & Project Zero. Your first round draft choice.

I admit it. I’m a fan. And watch it every year.

Especially this year. Held in downtown Kansas City, home of the world champion Kansas City Chiefs, the NFL Draft is my spring booster shot that holds me through until August’s preseason.

And I know you’re all locked into the last few weeks of the semester but you need to take a few minutes to explore Project Zero, developed by the Harvard Graduate School Education. Because if you’re looking for next fall’s first round draft pick of resources, the thinking routines you’ll find at Project Zero should be at the top of your list.

We want our students to make sense of content, be engaged, and see connections to contemporary issues. That’s why we’re so bought into the idea of using primary sources. But we also know that using primary sources can be difficult. We should always be on the lookout for handy primary source analysis tools and other strategies that provide structures that can help our kids make sense of content.

Project Zero’s work explores the development of thinking, the concept of thinking dispositions, and the many ways that routines can be used to support student learning and thinking across age groups, disciplines, ideals, competencies, and populations. Thinking Routines originated in their Visible Thinking research initiative and over the years, their experts have enhanced and expanded the list of tools we can use.

The Thinking Routines are short, easy-to-learn mini-strategies that extend and deepen student thinking and can become part of the fabric of your everyday classroom life.

Think of Project Zero Thinking Routines as any procedure, process, or pattern of action that is used repeatedly to manage and facilitate the accomplishment of specific goals or tasks. You probably already have routines that structure the way students go about the process of learning. These learning routines can be simple structures such as reading from a text. But they can also be designed to promote deeper student thinking, such as asking students what they know, what they want to know, and what they have learned as part of a unit of study.

Project Zero’s Visible Thinking research makes extensive use of those learning routines that go beyond simply reading from a textbook and are rich in critical thinking. And while simple, these routines are structures that can be used across grade levels and social studies disciplines. What makes them routines, versus mere strategies, is that they get used over and over again so that they become part of the fabric of your classroom culture.

And the cool thing about Project Zero? All of their stuff is free. Yup. All free.

Be sure to explore their simple filtering system to find just the right routine for your lesson.

Need an example of what this can look like?  The See Think Connect strategy is one of those all purpose thinking routines that can be use across grade levels and content areas. And it’s perfect for helping kids break down primary sources, especially images, artwork, and political cartoons.

The beauty of STC is that it encourages students to make careful observations and thoughtful interpretations.

STC is perfect for when you want students to think carefully about why something looks the way it does or is the way it is. Start thinking about photographs or political cartoons or portraits or artwork or maps or . . . well, just about anything. So it makes sense to use it as a hook activity at the beginning of a new unit to motivate student interest. It’s especially powerful when used with visual sources but it can also work well with text. And I love it for introducing actual artifacts or photographs of artifacts.

Because it works with so many different things, you can also use it to make connections to content during your unit of study. You might even consider using the STC routine with an interesting source near the end of a unit to encourage students to further apply their knowledge and make connections to contemporary issues.

So . . . what does it look like?

The process is simple. 

Give kids access to your primary source. Ask students to make an observations about the image, object, or text and to complete the chart. Encourage students to back up their interpretation with reasons and evidence. Ask students to think about what this makes them wonder about the object or topic. (This is great practice for supporting historical thinking skills, especially making a claim and supporting the claim with evidence.)

Project Zero experts suggest that the routine works best when a student responds by using the three stems together at the same time, i.e., “I see…, I think…, I can connect… .” You might find that students begin using one stem at a time, and that you’ll need to scaffold each response with a follow-up question. The routine works well in a group discussion but in some cases you may want to ask students to try the routine individually on paper or in their heads before sharing out as a class.

There may be a need to provide even more scaffolding for your students. For many younger students and even those in middle and high school, this sort of thinking is new. So providing a list or chart of possible sentence starters is a simple way to jumpstart their thinking. 

Download a four page PDF that includes the graphic organizer and a bunch of scaffolding questions for each column in the organizer.

Student responses can be written down and recorded so that a class chart of observations, interpretations, and wonderings are available for everyone to see and come back to later. Using those big Post It posters, white boards, or a Google Doc works for this. I especially like using Google Jamboard for this.

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