We’ve been noticing that our design lab is already so much more successful this year than it was last and we’re wondering why. The students seem more involved in the work and at ease with the expectations. When we look across the landscape of the classroom, all of the students are engaged purposefully in the process. The classroom composite runs the usual bell curve; these students aren’t more skillful than last year’s cohort; so the question we’ve been fumbling with is WHY? What’s different?
We suspect that in becoming more intentional about the project design, the lesson flow, we’ve alleviated some of the usual stress factors. As the parts of the design lab experience become known and familiar, as we establish predictable patterns to the work we do, the more deeply we find the students engaging in the creative process. As we approach each design session, the students know that there will be time to brainstorm sketches, talk with a partner, solo think, collaboratively share, prototype, and reflect.
As we delve more into “making learning visible,” we discovered that a lot of the work being done resonates with our own findings from our classroom experiences. Thinking routines are an important part of a learning culture; they both save time and deepen the quality of the metacognitve work being done.
"Visible Thinking makes extensive use of learning routines that are thinking rich. These routines are simple structures, for example a set of questions or a short sequence of steps, that can be used across various grade levels and content. What makes them routines, versus merely strategies, is that they get used over and over again in the classroom so that they become part of the fabric of classroom' culture. The routines become the ways in which students go about the process of learning.” Visible Thinking
Another routine that’s important to keep in mind is the consistency of the inquiry experience; the students know there will be a “next time” in design lab as the work is done routinely, every week for several hours. We hear students saying, “Tomorrow I’m going to try...next time I’d do…” Once they know that they will have predictable opportunities to build on their thinking and modify their designs, they begin to envision the possibilities.
“When thinking is visible in classrooms, students are in a position to be more metacognitive, to think about their thinking. When thinking is visible, it becomes clear that school is not about memorizing content but exploring ideas.” Visible Thinking