In this article, we’re diving into the world of thinking routines and exploring their application in museums.
If you’re eager to get started with thinking routines, enhance engagement with art and objects, and to learn how to incorporate these routines effectively in museum settings, you’re in the right place.
With numerous thinking routines available, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s also tempting to try them all at once!
As I’ll explain in this post, it’s important to take a step back and slow down. Enjoy the process!
In this post I’ll share essential tips for getting started – like focusing on one routine at a time, allowing time for looking, embracing silence for thinking, and understanding that the routine is a tool for exploring content.
We’ll also discuss the collaborative nature of learning, the absence of ‘right’ answers, and the importance of trusting the routine.
Whether you’re new to thinking routines or the VTM approach, this guide will provide valuable insights to enhance your museum programmes, engage participants and help create meaningful experiences with thinking routines in museum settings.
1. FOCUS ON ONE THINKING ROUTINE FIRST
Although I have compiled a list of over 100 thinking routines as a reference tool, I don’t advise trying to get to know all the thinking routines at once. This can be overwhelming.
Instead, start with a single routine, such as See Think Wonder or See Wonder Connect. Use this routine multiple times until you feel comfortable with it.
Use it with different groups, in various circumstances, and with a variety of materials and different artworks or objects.
Take note of what works and what doesn’t, and identify areas for improvement. The key is to regularly and repeatedly use this one routine until you are entirely happy and confident with it.
Once you reach that point, you can gradually introduce more thinking routines into your repertoire, taking one step at a time. Don’t rush ahead!
2. FOLLOW THE STEPS OF THE ROUTINE CLOSELY
When you start using a thinking routine, follow the steps exactly as they are written. Avoid making changes or adaptations at this point.
Instead, wait to see what you learn from using the routine in its original form.
Once you feel comfortable and confident with how the routine works, you can begin to explore different variations. For example, you can change the order of the questions or combine multiple thinking routines.
This post on How to use See Think Wonder in your Art Discussions provides insights into the various variations of this thinking routine. See Think Wonder is a great thinking routine to get started with.
3. ALLOW TIME FOR LOOKING AT THE ARTWORK OR OBJECT
It’s crucial to provide enough time for participants to observe and explore the artwork or object before jumping into discussions.
At the beginning of each art or object discussion, create space and time dedicated to looking. This can be done in silence or in pairs. Alternatively, you can guide their observation by using words to direct their attention to specific colours, shapes, or lines.
Starting with a period of looking before moving on to describing what is seen and stating observations allows everyone to see the “whole picture” and make meaningful connections. It also ensures that everyone feels included in the discovery process, regardless of their prior knowledge.
Moreover, this approach sparks wonder and curiosity among participants.
Remember, don’t rush into asking questions until the group has had ample time to carefully observe the object or image. Allow at least 20 seconds of looking time before initiating the discussion. You can guide the looking process, let participants look in pairs, or conduct a silent observation. The key is to let them look first before engaging in further exploration. For a variety of ways to explore observation with your group, see my free guide How to Look at Art (Slowly).
4. CREATE THINKING TIME
Transitioning from a more traditional approach to a discussion-based one can be challenging, especially when it comes to giving participants sufficient thinking time.
After asking a question in the thinking routine, resist the urge to immediately fill the silence with more words.
Instead, provide a pause to allow everyone to process and formulate their responses. It’s important to give each participant the opportunity to think about and respond to the question.
Open-ended questions naturally lead to more thoughtful responses, but these responses may require time to develop in participants’ minds.
To create this thinking space, count to 5 silently before considering speaking again.
Be patient and comfortable with the silence, viewing it as valuable thinking time for participants.
5. VIEW THE THINKING ROUTINE AS A TOOL FOR EXPLORATION
Understand that the thinking routine serves as a vehicle for exploring the content, rather than being the main focus itself.
Each artwork or object holds multiple interpretations waiting to be discovered by participants. The routine provides a structured approach with carefully crafted questions that facilitate exploration and uncovering these interpretations.
As you gain experience, you may find it valuable to add your own open-ended questions or adapt the routine to suit specific contexts. However, always keep in mind that the routine provides a flexible structure that guides the exploration of content and encourages participants to think critically and deeply.
6. UNDERSTAND THE POWER OF COMBINED PRACTICES
Visible Thinking in the Museum is not solely about thinking routines. It encompasses a combination of practices, including slow looking, questioning skills, facilitation techniques, collaborative learning, and thinking routines.
Recognise that the power of this approach lies in the synergy of these practices working together. Incorporating thinking routines as an ad-hoc activity is insufficient.
Visible Thinking in the Museum is a holistic approach: each practice complements and enhances the others to create a meaningful and engaging learning experience.
7. MAKE YOUR PROGRAMMES PARTICIPANT-CENTRED
As a facilitator, your role is to orchestrate and facilitate discussions, allowing participants to discover information for themselves.
Focus on creating an environment where participants actively engage in exploration and meaning-making rather than passively receiving content or facts. Adopt the role of a guide-on-the-side rather than a sage-on-the-stage.
When tempted to overshare or monologue, challenge yourself to ask questions that enable the group to discover the information independently. Encourage dialogue and empower participants to discover answers for themselves.
8. FOSTER THINKING WITH LANGUAGE
As the facilitator, model the language of thinking and encourage its use within the group. Employ thinking-specific vocabulary to name participants’ actions and highlight their thinking processes.
For example, acknowledge connections made by saying, “I see you made a connection,” or comment on the variety of theories by stating, “We have a variety of theories here.”
Words like guess, hypothesis, conclude, investigate, believe, claim, reason, justify, reflect, evidence, question, doubt, and interpret are all examples of thinking words.
Regular and repeated use of thinking routines can help build this language of thinking and enable participants to articulate their thoughts more clearly.
Over time, both you and your participants will naturally adopt the language of thinking in your discussions.
9. EMBRACE MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES
Thinking routines are designed to generate discussions, explore connections, and expand knowledge. Emphasise that there is no single “right” answer when engaging in these routines.
Encourage participants to generate a wide variety of ideas, hypotheses, interpretations, and inferences. The goal is to foster a diverse range of perspectives and insights.
Remind yourself and the participants that the value lies in the process of exploring and considering multiple interpretations, rather than arriving at a definitive, final answer.
10. EXPECT SURPRISING INSIGHTS
Be prepared to be amazed by the connections, ideas, and thoughts participants bring to the discussion.
Even if you have doubts about the chosen artwork or thinking routine, trust that participants will offer unique perspectives.
They may notice things you haven’t considered, sparking new insights and enriching the conversation. Embrace the surprises and be open to learning from your participants.
11. COLLABORATE FOR LEARNING
Incorporating thinking routines facilitates collaborative learning, tapping into the collective intelligence of the group.
Through group discussions and dialogue, participants build upon each other’s experiences and interpretations.
Encourage the group to reason together, share new ideas, respond to others’ thoughts, and generate further questions collectively. Emphasise the value of collaborative exploration and knowledge creation.
12. EMBRACE THE PROCESS, NOT THE OUTCOME
Acknowledge that discussions may not always lead to a final, definitive interpretation or conclusion.
Embrace the process of the thinking routine and the rich discussions it sparks.
Remember that the act of thinking and engaging with the material is more important than reaching a specific destination.
Allow the journey to unfold naturally, appreciating the diverse pathways of thought.
13. TRUST IN THE ROUTINE
Have faith in the thinking routine, even if you’re unsure where the discussion will lead.
Trust that the routine is designed to promote engagement and deep thinking. Instead of doubting its effectiveness, focus on exploring how to make it work.
Spend time familiarising yourself with the routine, pondering its questions and noting your thoughts and ideas. While it may not unfold exactly as you envisioned, trust that the routine will still yield valuable insights.
Reflect on any unexpected outcomes and use them to refine your approach. Remember that embracing a new method takes practice, but the rewards for both you as an educator and the participants are worth it.
The Ultimate Thinking Routine List
Use my list of 100+ thinking routines as a handy instant reference guide. Suitable for educators, guides and creatives working with Visible Thinking. Get inspired!