by Heather Blanchard, IB PYP & MYP Coordinator

As an educator, thinking has always been the most interesting and most important part of what I do, and it’s something we often take for granted in life. Thinking is supposed to be natural, right? Everyone can do it! But just like any other skill, thinking can be honed, taught, and developed — especially when we take the time to isolate thinking as a skill itself.

An integral part of both the IB Primary Years Program (PYP) and IB Middle Years Program (MYP) is something called Approaches to Learning, or ATL. Essentially, it’s how we teach social, self-management, communication, research, and thinking skills to our students in explicit, transferable, and meaningful ways. It’s making metacognition tangible. As our teachers teach ATL skills in every classroom, our students learn how to think about their own thinking, receive feedback, apply it to new situations, and grow.

As a former English teacher, I liked to use Harvard’s Project Zero (PZ) Thinking Routines* to jumpstart literature discussions around the big ideas, fuel close reading activities, and inspire collaboration. Thinking Routines are easy and fun ways to get students thinking on a deeper level while also building all of the other ATL skills.

Using Thinking Routines puts the focus on the students and their thinking, and the teacher becomes more of a facilitator of that thinking and learning. One of my favorite Thinking Routines is also the simplest: “See, Think, Wonder.” The act of looking is not something we often consider. But what if we took the time to really look at something closely and carefully, asking ourselves and each other what we see, what we think about in it, and what we wonder about in what we see? Might we notice different content and perspectives as well as building our transferable capacity to see beyond surface level assumptions?

Another one, my all-time favorite Thinking Routine, is the absolute easiest to implement in any situation. It’s this question: “What makes you say that?” Think about it…how often do we question why we think certain things? And how might it change us if we did? Learning how to think, not what to think, is the best part of an IB education. At Harrisburg Academy, we believe in teaching our students these important skills in order to become reflective, creative, critical thinkers — in school and for the rest of their lives.