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The Magic of Thinking Routines

The Magic of Thinking Routines
I’m on holiday at the moment and completely out of my normal routine. This is not a bad thing – I love the freedom to change things up on holiday but there know there are plenty of everyday situations where having a routine is really beneficial.
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 mental processes or thinking. They consist of short, easy to learn and teach steps that get used in a regular fashion.
Having routines helps us generally to do things well, to be creative and productive. A good routine can be very freeing as it will allow headspace and get rid of constant decision-making about what to do next. 
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you’ll know that I believe thinking routines are incredibly useful and beneficial tools for museum educators, guides and creatives to use to structure their discussions and conversations around artworks or objects.
But did you know that they are magical too (😀)? In this blog, I’m focusing on 5 simple reasons why thinking routines are magical to use.

1. Thinking routines are easy to learn and use immediately

Thinking routines are typically 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?’. They are easy to set up and use – there aren’t any complicated instructions to get going with thinking routines. I’ve been on many a training course for a new ‘method’ where there are lots of moving parts and processes to absorb before you can get started. Any strategy you use should be memorable enough for you to easily recall where you are in the discussion. This is true for thinking routines – they are short, memorable and available for immediate use.
Thinking routines are intended for repeated use, which enables you as an educator to easily recall them and use them creatively in no time at all.

2. Thinking routines are the backbone of the discussion

Thinking routines provide a loose, flexible structure around which to base the discussion of an artwork or object. This flexible structure organises thoughts and serves as the backbone and helps museum guides (and visitors) to know what to expect.  No need for constant decision-making about what’s coming next or what you should do – you plan what you’re going to do in advance, select the thinking routines and follow the steps. It helps the discussion become a rounded whole rather than a loose muddle of open-ended questions. Having a routine ‘internalised’ frees up time and head space to be more creative with your groups and gives you more mental energy to really focus on what the participants are saying.

3. Thinking routines will improve your questioning skills

Developing better questioning skills is something we can all work on. Yes, it takes practice and effort, but over time we can all develop the ability to formulate better questions that get good responses. The questions of each thinking routine are carefully worded to allow for multiple interpretations and to open up discussions. The wording of the questions in the routines also helps guides or educators format their own open-ended questions. With repeated use, you will find yourself automatically phrasing questions in the same way. In this post I look at how you can practice formulating better questions by using thinking routines in more detail.

4. Thinking routines will teach you to master how and when to add information

Factual or supplemental information can be added as and when required. Thinking routines allow information to be offered to your group in small amounts and at appropriate times, rather than as a lecture by the educator or guide. The routine See-Think-Wonder, for example, allows for participants questions during the ‘wondering’ part. You can answer these questions at any point during the discussion or you can flip the routine as Wonder-See-Think to get a list of things that participants are curious about right from the start. Think-Puzzle-Explore, The Explanation Game and Layers, also work well as routines through which you could selectively add information at key points. 

5. Thinking routines are incredibly flexible

There are a huge number of thinking routines (I’ve collected 90+ thinking routines in my Ultimate List here). They can also be adapted or modified to suit the needs of the group or educators can even create their own routines based on the Visible Thinking ones. A selection of different thinking routines can be used throughout a programme to target different areas of thinking and keep the programme lively – unlike with Visual Thinking Strategies, you are not using the same routine at every stop. The diversity and flexibility of Visible Thinking Routines makes them ideal for exploring ideas, sparking curiosity and provoking debates in a huge variety of contexts and environments – e.g. in all types of museums (art, history, ethnographic, science, etc), historic houses, nature and conversation, zoos, theatre and dance and so on.

What have you found to be magical about using thinking routines as a teacher, educator or guide? Let me know in the comments!

The Ultimate Thinking Routine List

I’ve been working on an ultimate list of ALL 90+ thinking routines as a handy instant reference guide for educators, guides and creatives working with Visible Thinking. Get inspired!

If you’d like to receive a free copy, then click on the button below.