Rolling back on a concept: Thinking Routines

I wanted to write a bit about Thinking Routines. As a person who is pretty new to them myself, I often wonder how much “common knowledge” there is around these funny little things we do. When I first heard of them, they were definitely spoken of as though a “thinking routine” was like an apple: something that obviously everyone understood what is was, why it was, and what it did. This absolutely wasn’t true for me, and I had to spend some time working with them, using them, researching and understanding them. I thought I would share what I learned, just in case it triggers any interesting thoughts for any of you. If not, my apologies and please carry on to more interesting areas of the internet!

Here’s my first epiphany: “Thinking Routines” isn’t a name for some special tool, it’s just literally a “routine” that you carry out to help you “think.” That’s the most important part. Every day we train our brains to do things, it’s like a muscle so if we work with specific parts of it, those are the parts that get stronger (biology friends please don’t be mad, I mean this as a metaphor). If we train small brains to “think” then they will. The routine helps learners access the process of deeper thinking easily, by strengthen the learning muscle/pathway, and by providing a framework through which to understand new things.

Okay, but some “Thinking Routines” are specific. There are all kinds! At Museum School we use the ones that Harvard developed to promote artful and creative thinking, but anyone can make up a thinking routine for use with learners. There might even be some cases when your made up routines work much better, because you know the needs and interests of your students. So don’t be shy about developing your own.

There’s lots of different ways we can use those routines. Some promote creative thought, others analytical thought, others visual thought… the list goes on. A class that is totally ready when they walk in the museum doors, has been using a few different routines, and is comfortable with 3-4 different ones that serve different ends. We can adapt a lot of our plans to whatever routines you’ve been working on, and you can suggest them when we partner-teach at the museum.

The best routines are adaptable; they can be quick data gathering exercises, or they can be drawn out with detail. We’ll have a variety of time constraints here, so ideally thinking routines also help us be flexible.

There’s a world of literature on how routines help learners, but the most impactful things to my practice has been learning how routines build confidence (learners know what is expected of them so they are able to build independence and self-assurance), and how they establish healthy patterns so that there’s less conflict (less opportunity for rebellion if everyone knows and is comfortable with routines).

We’re always eager to learn about thinking routines, so if you’ve tried some or made up your own, we’d love to hear about it!

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