In a league of our own: SPW joins Harvard program

20 June 2022

With fake news and the spread of misinformation on the rise, teaching young learners how to think about the world around them has never been more important.

Not only does critical and creative thinking allow children to respond to the environmental, social and economic pressures of the world we live in today, it is also a central component of effective learning.

While it sounds like an abstract concept, learning ‘how to think’ is something that can be taught — and has been a key research focus for Dr Ron Ritchhart, of Harvard University’s Project Zero initiative.

In 2008, Dr Ritchhart developed the revolutionary ‘Cultures of Thinking’ program, used by hundreds of schools across the globe.

This month, St Peter’s Woodlands was proud to become South Australia’s only ‘Cultures of Thinking’ school currently, kicking off our partnership by hosting Dr Ritchhart for a series of professional development sessions for staff.

Developing a culture of thinking at St Peter’s Woodlands

St Peter’s Woodlands’ Principal, Mrs Helen Finlay, has been a passionate advocate for the “transformational” impact of the Cultures of Thinking program since its inception.

“At its core, Cultures of Thinking is dedicated to teaching students ‘how to think’, and aims to improve learning and collaboration in the classroom by honing group and individual thinking processes,” she said.

“I came across the program back in 2008, when Project Zero was starting out.

“I undertook two days of professional development in Sydney about the program, which absolutely transformed my teaching.”

Cultures of Thinking has its origins at the prestigious Harvard University, which is known for being one of the top schools of education in the United States.

The program is based on the eight characteristics of true understanding.

“These characteristics include language, time, environment, opportunities, routines, modeling, interactions, and expectations,” Mrs Finlay said.

“Teachers then develop what we call ‘visible thinking routines’ to strengthen those areas within the map.

“As a result of using visible thinking routines, I personally noticed that my students became more engaged, better able to collaborate, they were persevering, critically evaluating, and grappling with new ideas and concepts.

“I loved that I could see kids making connections, and they were able to articulate their thinking.”

Making thinking ‘visible’ in the classroom

After undertaking professional development with Dr Ritchhart in June, reception to Year 6 teachers at St Peter’s Woodlands will be focusing on creating Cultures of Thinking in their classrooms.

This will be undertaken in a variety of ways, Mrs Finlay said.

“Our teachers will be making sure that the eight characteristics of true understanding are always present in our classrooms,” Mrs Finlay explained.

“To do this, they will use a variety of methods, including making time for thinking, developing and using a language of thinking, making the classroom environment rich with the documents of thinking processes, and making their own thinking visible, to name a few.”

In practice, parents can expect to see evidence of thinking routines in the classroom, as well as a richer dialogue among children.

“A Cultures of Thinking classroom has evidence of thinking routines plastered all over its walls; things like ‘I used to think, and now I think’,” she said.

“You’ll hear a richer dialogue; you’ll see children grappling and really thinking deeply about things – not just reciting facts.”

Creating powerful thinkers and learners

In education, there’s an old saying: ‘after students have left the school, it’s what’s left behind that’s the marker of education.’

With a focus on developing each childs’ critical thinking skills, the Cultures of Thinking program delivers lasting benefits for students.

Research has shown that cultures of thinking classrooms are more focused on thinking, learning, and understanding, and are more likely to be collaborative in nature than those of teachers not in the project.

“It’s developing a child’s ability to really think through things that’s a lasting quality,” Mrs Finlay said.

“The Cultures of Thinking program will help develop students’ curiosity, courageousness and open-mindedness, it’ll help them develop as autonomous thinkers and collaborative learners, as well as build tenacity.”

“We want to make our students powerful thinkers and learners.

“We want to create deep and meaningful learning, not surface learning.”

To learn more about the rich and varied education on offer at St Peter’s Woodlands, contact Ms Jo Gray, St Peter’s Woodlands Enrolments Manager.

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