doing and thinking – routines matter

Talk to any teacher and you’ll learn how important it is to establish procedures and routines from the first day of school. When kids learn early (and are reminded often) of expectations, and especially when they have a voice in creating and maintaining them, they often exceed them with flying colors.

Routines exist for lots of reasons. They save time. They can lower the need for behavioral interventions. They can make students more comfortable and able to learn. They also teach kids transferable skills. Learning to whisper in a busy hallway teaches kids to be mindful of their volume in public spaces. When children color-code folders or write assignments in homework notebooks, they are practicing positive organizational patterns.

This year, while I am working with students to set routines and norms for classroom sharing, listening, checkout, and more, I am also establishing thinking routines. Thinking routines are sets of questions or prompts that encourage learners to follow a pattern in thinking deeply about whatever concepts or questions are being explored. I’ve been a fan of thinking routines for some time, but only recently did I realize the benefit of introducing TRs alongside other beginning-of-year procedures and using the same routines often throughout the school year. (The repetition is what makes it a routine-*Duh!*) I’ll admit that I used to worry about using the same routine over and over with students: Wouldn’t it get boring? Aren’t I supposed to use a variety of strategies? But mixing things up only goes so far. The process of participating in a thinking routine-whether it’s taking a different perspective, looking at something up-close, or just engaging in metacognition-can be internalized with practice. Just like learning to line up for the bathroom or how best to ask for help from a teacher, thinking deeply can become habitual.

At Project Zero Classroom this summer, Mark Church said something that I just can’t get off my mind. I’m paraphrasing here, but he talked about the flood of “Is this right?” or “Do you like this?” questions teachers are often asked. He suggested that this phenomenon is a result of years and years of teachers telling students to “Go back to your desk and THINK about it.” How is a six-year-old supposed to know what that means? Perhaps in asking questions with more simple (yes or no) answers, students are stepping away from the more difficult challenge of being vaguely told to “think” without being given the process or tools to do so meaningfully. If instead, I can say to a child, “I’d like for you to engage in a Think Puzzle Explore about your topic,” and that is a routine the child knows well, expectations will be clear. The child can skip the guesswork and step right into the thinking.

In establishing TRs, I believe I am giving students the ability to think about their thinking and also to make their thoughts known to others in our community.  It is only after one’s thinking is made visible that we can know it, celebrate it, and grow from it together.



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