Competency-Based Learning & Thinking Routines

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Now that constructivist theory has eroded some educator reluctance and inched its way into classrooms, the move toward design thinkingproject-based learning, the ‘Maker Movement,’ and the push of STE(A)M has begun to grip our education nation.  The need to evaluate student cognition around these differentiated outcomes has presented an uncomfortable conundrum for teachers. How do we gauge what students are learning when they are permitted to experience new ideas through exploration and discovery?  How can teachers be assured that the concepts they are obligated to ‘cover’ in the course of the school year, the ones that are sure to be tested, have found a home in the students’ long term memories?  How can teachers know for certain that learning has occurred unless our students parrot back – orally or on some paper and pencil task – exactly what instruction has presented?

Project Zero (PZ), despite its null-set of a name, offers a great deal of help in the form of a series of thinking routine templates. These quickly created thinking guides provide questions and provocations designed to capture student critical thinking in ways that satisfy teachers’ deeper needs for evaluation of student learning. These same templates encourage in-depth student-teacher dialogue about a particular task or idea; conversation that often results in surprising insights for both. These THINKING ROUTINES are at the core of PZ’s ‘cultures of thinking’ mission.

“Cultures of Thinking” (CoT) as places where a group’s collective as well as individual thinking is valued, visible, and actively promoted as part of the regular, day-to-day experience of all group members.”

Broken into a series of four domains, Project Zero’s thinking routines are a great fit for the wide variety of performance tasks circumscribed by constructivist activities. Domains include: CORE or subject based routines for deep investigative dives; CREATIVITY routines for discerning parts, purposes and audiences, and for decision making; FAIRNESS routines for exploring viewpoints, or considering attitudes and judgments; and TRUTH routines to clarify claims of truth, or reliability of sources.

Let’s look at a few routines from each of the four domains:

Thinking Routines – CORE

Thinking Routines – CREATIVITY

Thinking Routines – FAIRNESS

Thinking Routines – TRUTH

Integrating these visible thinking templates into familiar instructional activities will trigger deeper, more thoughtful engagement for students, provide a more comprehensive picture of what students have actually learned, and expose a more meaningful means of assessing that learning.

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