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A Brief Guide to Thinking Routines

As I wrote in my last post, I have spent the past year developing a new programme at the Tropenmuseum using thinking routines from Visible Thinking as a method of engaging and interacting with museum objects. The resulting programme ‘Stories Around the World‘ uses these routines  as the structure around which students can explore objects in the museum in a slow, careful and detailed way.

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Focusing on thinking routines is one of the easiest and most accessible ways to start working with Visible Thinking. A routine is simply defined as a sequence of actions or pattern of behaviour that is regularly followed or rehearsed. Thinking routines are tools specifically designed to help, support and guide student’s mental processes or thinking. They consist of short, easy to learn and teach steps that get used in a regular fashion. No training as such is required before starting working with these routines. With habitual use, teachers can modify and use the routines as needed for different applications and students are able to cue the steps of the routine themselves. They have catchy and appealing names too – See-Think-Wonder or Think-Puzzle-Explore – to help students learn them by heart and recall them independently when required.

Thinking routines can be used across a variety of contexts and environments from schools, universities, private institutions and corporations and , of course, museums. They are also not subject-specific either – thinking routines have a wide appeal and application across a variety of disciplines including arts, history, maths and science contexts. Their flexibility means that they can be used on an individual as well as a group basis.

Unlike other strategies designed to cultivate thinking skills, thinking routines are short and memorable with only a few steps based on carefully crafted questions – ‘What do you see?’ ‘What do you think about that?’ ‘What does it make you wonder?’. These routines loosely guide the analysis of a wide variety of materials such as photographs, documents, newspaper articles, museum artifacts and so on.

There are currently 21 thinking routines (although the number is growing…) divided into 3 categories: Introducing and Exploring, Synthesising and Organising, Digging Deeper. Each routine encourages certain types of thinking and the name of the routine helps to guide the student as to the type of thinking required – for example, observing closely and describing, reasoning with evidence, making connections, perspective taking etc. In order to be effective, it is first important to establish the type of thinking that you would like to elicit from the students and then choose the correct thinking routine for that task.

In my next post, I will look at how thinking routines can be employed and applied within the museum environment. In the meantime, if you want to read more take a look at the links below! Happy reading.

Further Reading:

One Comment

  1. […] tour at the same time as my tour. Our tour of the Stedelijk was to be slightly different. I use thinking routines and inquiry methods to enter into discussions with my groups. We always start with some slow, […]

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