The Language of Thinking

In the last blog post that focused on Ritchhart’s book on Creating Cultures of Thinking, I commented on Chapter 3 (Language:  Appreciating Its Subtle Yet Profound Power and ended that post with the following comments:

The next post in this series will explore the “Language of Thinking.”  It will be interesting to see how these introductory examples of “language use” (choice of words, ways of joining the conversation, asking questions about connections, possibilities, and reasoning) do or might play a role in the Language of Thinking.

The Language of Thinking (pp. 68-71)

Ritchhart begins this section (1 of 7 kinds of classroom “languages”) by referring to work of Costa (l991) on teachers using a rich vocabulary of thinking words, words like “inquire, generate, question, puzzle, theorize, to name a few of a very long list.”  He expands that idea by citing work by Tishman and Perkins (l997), who made a further distinction  of “thinking vocabulary” by subdividing the words into words about process (justify, examine), product (a hypothesis, a judgment) and attitudes toward an idea (agreement, doubt).  And, Ritchhart added a fourth category: states (confusion, awe).

Like most of our learning goals, we don’t just want students to “know” the vocabulary of thinking, we want them to use it in discriminating ways—to be specific about the cognitive tasks they are engaged in.  It matters that students understand that they are to “describe” rather than “infer” or “conclude,” for example.

For Ritchhart, “the language of thinking assists metacognition in both its reflective components as well as its planning aspects.  ….this helps us identify those processes for examination.” ….Metacognition isn’t merely backward looking, however.  Metacognition involves ongoing monitoring and directing of one’s thinking.” (p. 69)….Having a language to identify thinking processes is a requirement for us to call them into play.  If we cannot name the processes, then we can’t easily and effectively activate them.” (p. 70)

The main way students develop a language of thinking, he says, is by being in situations where others are using it….. “Noticing when and where students are thinking and specifically naming the thinking being demonstrated is a key move that teachers, parents and mentors can use to develop awareness, direct attention and reinforce processes.” (p. 70)

It starts with teachers highlighting and reinforcing what they want students to notice.  “For instance, in Lisa Verkerk’s class, the routine See-Think-Wonder asked students to look closely, notice details, observe carefully, make interpretations, build explanations, reason, generate alternatives, provide evidence, make connections, and raise questions….Rather than just telling students they had done a good job, she used language to notice and name something specific that they had done well: observing.” (p. 70)

Obviously that type and range of cognitive activity (thinking processes) is a lot to pay attention to at one time.  “Thus we need to identify what kinds of thinking we are looking for in a particular lesson.  Ritchhart notes that when the targeted thinking is missing, it can be scaffolded by the teacher.  “When it is present, we can …make it visible to them.” ….”Think of students as apprentices trying to develop a set of skills that allow for more and more independence.  We want to draw attention to those skills and processes that are authentic to the learning task at hand and not just the completion of the work.”(p. 71)












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