New Thinking Routines

Thinking routines are an adjustable collection of practices to nurture thinking skills and help learners become more independent, active, enquiring, and engaged. The concept of thinking routines emanates from Harvard’s Project Zero. New routines are regularly developed and I have enjoyed incorporating some of these newer routines into my teaching practice.

Global thinking routines are patterns of thought that are used to facilitate the development of global competence. The 3 Ys is a global thinking routine which helps determine the significance of a topic or issue, keeping global and local connections in mind. It asks learners to move across the personal, local and global and uncover connections across different geographical spheres.

The 3 Ys

  1. Why might this [topic, question] matter to me?
  2. Why might it matter to people around me [family, friends, city, nation]?
  3. Why might it matter to the world?

I use the 3 Ys routine in my Year 9 History class when we conclude the Civil Rights and Freedoms unit. Students read the article White Privilege by Peggy McIntosh and then use it as the topic for their thinking. This year the ensuing discussion focused on: multiculturalism, that white privilege is something that white people don’t realise they have, hidden prejudices towards different races, the role of different times, different opinions, different values, and the potential of knowledge to lead to a worldwide solution.


I also enjoy using the Parts, Purposes and Complexities thinking routine coming out of the Agency by Design project to conclude a Year 11 unit on the causes of World War One. Agency by Design is a combination of design thinking, systems thinking, and the maker movement. This routine asks us to choose a system and ask:

What are its parts? What are its various pieces or components?

What are its purposes? What are the purposes for each of these parts?

What are its complexities? How is it complicated in its parts and purposes, the relationship between the two, or in other ways.

I find that by asking students to view the causes of World War One as a system they come to identify the complexities of the various parts and start to look beyond the impact of individual leaders and countries.

Education Research

I have commenced several research degrees before giving up on the idea completely. On each occasion I was quickly bored out of my head. I prefer the immediate feedback loop in teaching. The Project Zero work on visible thinking and visible learning makes use of the concept of the teacher as researcher. Instructional Rounds are designed with similar intent. I believe that high school teachers have much to learn from the concept of documentation emanating from the Reggio Emilia early childhood approach.

Yesterday I noticed this blogpost from Harry Webb: a critique of PBL and the new pedagogies. The comments following the post are really interesting. Is education a research-based profession? I know that Richard Elmore claims that teaching is a profession without a practice.

I saw a tweet a few weeks ago that stated that nothing kills innovation faster than the words, “Prove it.” So what evidence do we need that something works? Where does this leave classroom teachers in the ‘my research is better than your research’ debate? For instance, I’m drawn to Ron Ritchhart’s criticism of John Hattie’s work:

“Outcomes are all that matter. And of course there is no questioning of the “outcomes” so we see this all the time in schools. As long as your students get good test results we’ll leave you alone. But there are other outcomes. Hattie is essentially say (ing), so you spoonfeed kids, so you tell them the answers, so you don’t let them think for themselves. Good test results? Great.

Also Hattie is a statistician, not an educator. He looks at outcomes. So in his world this is all there is.”

In February we are hosting researchED Sydney, a conference for educators interested in research- how to become research literate, how to tell the good from the bad, and how to find research that actually helps students in the classroom…

“the focus is on research as a tool- not a set of handcuffs- for improving practice in education. Teachers often find themselves at the end of a chain of authority, usually the bottom. What if teachers engaged directly with research, and researchers, instead? What if researchers reached out to teaching communities and listened to their practical concerns? What if teachers were research literate enough to know the difference between the snake oil that sometimes creeps into the classroom, and research that was robust, cautious and sensible?”

Hope to see you there on Saturday 21st February.