Thinking Deeply in Kindergarten


As part of our county’s effort,  a fabulous network of schools exploring Harvard University’s Culture of Thinking framework has been created.  Participants are able to attend “walk throughs” at a dozen or so schools implementing a Culture of Thinking.  This is a reflection on my second of many.  We were at  Way Elementary in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

First, we walked the halls, the classrooms and the common areas.  Every classroom was open to impromptu visitors.  I snapped pictures of the visible artifacts I saw along the way.

I then spent an hour in a kindergarten classroom at  .  The class was engaged in a thinking routine called Tug of War .  This is routine builds on children’s familiarity with the game of tug of war to help them understand the complex forces that “tug” at either side of a fairness dilemma. It encourages students to reason carefully about the “pull” of various factors that are relevant to a dilemma of fairness. It also helps them appreciate the deeper complexity of fairness situations that can appear black and white on the surface.

Here are some takeaways:

  • The depth of thinking in these young children surprised me
  • The students thought independently; weren’t swayed by other people’s responses
  • The students could support their claims in logical ways; creative responses were plenty
  • The students exhibited a great deal of self control considering their age;  thinking WAS inside their head.
  • Everyone participated

*Note:  In discussing with the teacher, there were about 5 months of practice using these routines before students developed the self control to “think inside their heads” and to support their claims, logically.  Practice DOES make perfect!  : )  

Supporting students with language impairments

It was time for a little boy to share his thinking.  It was immediately apparent that he had tremendous difficulty organizing thoughts and communicating them verbally.  When the teacher prompted him, he gave a response that was confusing to everyone.  However, she skillfully supported him in ways that allowed his thinking to become heard.  It was clear that he understood the concepts.  Here is their discussion:

Teacher:  “Roy, is a car a ‘want’ or a ‘need’? ”

Roy:  “Want”

Teacher:  Can you tell me your thinking?

Roy:  ” Sidewalks?”

Teacher:  “I need to THINK about your thinking for a minute.  (pause)

“Can you tell me how the sidewalk makes cars a “want” and not a”need” ?”

Roy:  ” CAN walk.  ”

Teacher:  “Thank you Roy.  Since you CAN walk, a car is not necessary, to you.  Is that correct?  ”

Roy:  “Yes.  We don’t NEED cars.   We WANT them.”

I believe that with a bit of thought, these routines will allow for easy differentiation.  Teachers can probe a bit for formative assessment and adjust the content as needed.

This will be true for AP Gov as well as general kindergarten.  Thinking deeply benefits everyone, everywhere.



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