Source: Sherman Publications

Words from the Sup't
Cultures of thinking of Project Zero

May 16, 2012

As the school district works to overcome its biggest challenge of updating its educational infrastructure with limited resources, it continues to thrive and strive toward excellence.

Highlights of the outstanding district include high quality professional learning for all teachers and administrators, excellent literacy programs, outstanding curricula, advanced offerings, premier athletic programs, the world’s best teachers, and the highest quality facilities.

Clarkston is a destination place, both for its wonderful and charming amenities, its beautiful homes and neighborhoods, and the outstanding quality of its schools.

This fall, Clarkston will play host to nearly 1,000 educators from around the globe as they engage in a Project Zero Conference, Nov. 1-3.

The site of this conference is Clarkston High School and all of the CCS teachers will participate. Saturday morning will include a parent session.

Project Zero is a research and professional learning institute and think tank at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.

Founded over 40 years ago by preeminent scholars, Howard Gardner and David Perkins, it now reaches around the globe offering profound insights into learning and teaching.

This is a tremendous honor for Clarkston as this is the very first time in the history of Project Zero that the entity has offered a conference at a public school.

In the past, Project Zero has held conferences on Harvard’s Cambridge, MA campus and at private, international schools in Amsterdam, Atlanta, Washington DC, New York City, Australia, and elsewhere in Europe. This honor will bring both world-wide recognition and amazing opportunities to Clarkston.

Project Zero researchers presenting at the Clarkston conference include Gardner, Perkins, Ron Ritchhart, Shari Tishman, Tina Blythe, Daniel Wilson, and Veronica Boix Mansilla. Local, regional, state, national, and international educators will also present sessions during the conference.

A culture of thinking is a learning space where every member's thinking is honored, made visible, and advanced each day. The theory behind a culture of thinking is that learning is a product of thinking and that students whose minds are deeply engaged in thinking will perform well on standardized tests and beyond.

Much of present day education is about obtaining basic skills and memorizing facts.

Of course, skills and facts are important, but they are not enough. Students also need thinking skills, such as creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, communication, application, analysis, and evaluation.

As students use their basic skills and knowledge of facts in combination with their thinking skills to solve problems and create products, deep understandings result.

As an example, suppose you are teaching your child to cook a soup for the very first time. You begin with water, stir in vegetables and meat, add spices and broth, and--stirring occasionally—allow the contents to boil, simmer, and become soup.

Afterward, when your child ladles the soup into a bowl, he or she better understands soup as a combination of parts and processes compared to having simply seen the finished soup poured from a can to a pot to a bowl. Without the basic skills, knowledge of facts, and thinking skills, the full understanding of soup may never have developed in the child.

The same could be said of building a motor, starting a fire, or climbing a tree. The understandings go from parts to wholes and back to parts again. The basic skills and knowledge combine with thinking and experience to become solid understandings.

In a culture of thinking, teachers use structured thinking routines to help students slow down their thinking so that they can fully notice the parts and wholes.

As they engage in these routines, their teachers pose questions, asking students to dig more deeply into the problems and issues at hand. As students use these routines over and over again in their educational experiences, patterns of recognition, slowing down, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, collaboration, and communication develop into habits.

These thinking habits then transfer from the school setting to settings beyond school where students possess the motivation, inclination, skill, and awareness to put these habits to use.

During the 2010-2011 school year, members of the Clarkston Community Schools’ Board of Education, teachers, administrators, and community members engaged in a comprehensive analysis and rewriting of the district’s vision, mission and learner profile.

The resulting strategic plan framework now provides direction for all of the decisions made within the district.

In the fall of 2011, a teacher and principal team from each of Clarkston’s 12 schools came together four times with Project Zero researcher, Ron Ritchhart, for day long sessions of studying cultures of thinking. Between these sessions, teachers and principals practiced thinking routines with their fellow teachers and their students.

In the winter of 2012, four additional teachers from each school joined the teams in four additional sessions with Ron Ritchhart. Members of these teams then returned to their schools and utilized thinking routines with their students and fellow teachers.

In each school, additional professional learnings, such as book talks and examination of students’ thinking during delayed starts, also took place.

Please check out the district’s webpage for Cultures of Thinking perspectives from building principals.

Rod Rock, Ed.D., is superintendent of Clarkston Community Schools.