Rob Levit | February 2014

Are you getting MYST-y?

I just returned from Memphis, Tennessee presenting at the Harvard Project Zero Perspectives conference where I delivered two hands-on and interactive arts integration workshops that incorporated concepts like “teaching for understanding” and “thinking routines” to help make learning visible. Along the way, I heard some great keynote addresses from Harvard researchers.

Thinking routines are designed to bring how and why we think into the foreground. For example, when a students answers a math problem, we should investigate his or her process on how they arrived at the answer. So, even if an answer is incorrect, both student and teacher can learn a lot from exploring and articulating the thought process behind the answer. This is kind of a radical idea: the thinking, in some ways, is more important or as equally important as the correct answer. Thinking routines abound and here is a link to them for your own use: Thinking Routines.

One new one that I learned is called MYST and I like it because it involves reflective practice for teachers – the core of my educational philosophy. Here are the key elements of MYST with some of my notes:

Me: How do I make my own thinking visible?

  • Look around your classroom. Where and how have you placed key vocabulary, class rules, lesson outcomes, agendas, art, etc.? Why is this important and what message does it send to your students?
  • If you asked your students to describe what’s important to you, as their teacher, about learning, what do you think they would tell you? How would they know?
  • When teaching a lesson, how do you invite students into your thought process? In your subject area, do you go beyond the lesson explore at least of the few deeper areas of learning and how they not only are important but how they relate to you? The Connect-Extend-Challenge Routine is great for this.

You: How do I make my students’ thinking visible?

  • Do students have the opportunity to create art, writing, mock-ups, blueprints, etc. in content areas?
  • How are these artifacts displayed and featured?
  • Do students have the opportunity to share how and why they made the creative decisions and choices involved in the project?
  • Do students have a basic portfolio and documentation of their creative and visible work in all content areas?
  • Are you giving students the opportunity to use “thinking language” that goes deeper than the correct answer? Are you asking them questions like “What makes you say that?”

Space: How is space in the classroom organized to help facilitate thinking?

  • Do students have space to collaborate and move around?
  • Is your classroom cluttered with stuff that isn’t relevant to thinking and learning?
  • Are your displays static or do they change to create curiosity, involvement and interaction?
  • What role do your students have in designing the classroom? Should they have one?

Time: How do I give thinking time? How does thinking develop over time?

  • As and educator, do you have a reflective practice?
  • Do you take five minutes in the morning before your students enter to center yourself and gather your thoughts?
  • At the end of the day, do you take a few moments to review highlights, challenges, breakthroughs, triumphs and breakdowns?
  • Are you objective and rational in your self-assessment or are you your toughest critic?
  • In what areas could you use better organization and thinking routines?

To  very loosely paraphrase Harvard researcher David Perkins: “We have routines for meals, recess, bell schedules, etc. but when it comes to thinking, the most important activity we engage in, we have no visible routines.” I think that’s fascinating. So many areas of our lives are organized around routines EXCEPT thinking. Food for thought.

About the Author

Rob Levit, an acclaimed musician and artist and 2013 Innovator of the Year from the Maryland Daily Record, has created award-winning innovative "Life-Skills Through The Arts" programs for adults with mental illness, the homeless, adults in drug and alcohol recovery, youth in domestic/sexual abuse counseling, foster children, hospital patients, veterans and many more. He is currently Executive Director of Creating Communities and was the first Artist-In-Residence at Hospice of the Chesapeake, where he created and infused healing activities for the well-being of staff, families and patients. Email Rob.