Do you have any wonders?

Part Three- Cultures of Thinking and SSW Practice Blog

Remember when you were a student?

For some of you it was not too long ago, but for others of us it was in an age before email, cable TV and the internet. “Just Google it” was not an option. Years ago in class our teachers had us read from the textbook, write about what we learned, and led us in a discussion about the topic. At the end of the lesson, the teacher would always say, “Does anyone have any questions?” At that moment most of the students in class were hoping that no one raised their hands to ask a question. It was almost time for lunch, for recess, for getting the work done so we could play when we got home, for being done with the lesson. The questions asked were usually to clarify the concept or to have the directions repeated. The word question was often not looked upon favorably. Now, fast forward to a culture of thinking community where the word question is replaced by the word “wonder”. Do you have any wonders?

I was observing in a third grade classroom when I first heard the teacher ask, “Do you have any wonders about our lesson?” It was an “aha” moment for me. Just the word wonder opens up so many possibilities. It gives permission for the students to start thinking and brainstorming ideas. While the word question often supposes that we do not know something that we should already know, the word wonder encourages students to hypothesize, try out an idea, be brave, take risks, guess, try. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be in an environment where our wonders were valued and encouraged to be said out loud? Cultures of thinking classrooms (and social work offices) do just that.

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As school social workers we are often tasked with teaching new skills to students; social skills, friendship skills, steps for emotional regulation; drug and alcohol prevention. The thinking routine, See-Think-Wonder, lends itself perfectly to engaging students in the learning and wonderings of the new skills. It chunks down a new idea or skill in a way that helps the students to deeply understand the concept being taught. It encourages observation as an important process in learning something new. Then it follows with interpreting and wondering about those observations.

Here's how it works:

Pick your image/object you want to explore

It can be anything. Photographs, video clips, book covers, charts, cartoons, text, poems, etc. Show it to your students. In my kindergarten social skills classes I focus in the fall on feeling identification. I use a photograph of a face to launch my See-Think-Wonder routine.

What do you see?

In this section of the routine, students will explore the image with their eyes to share their observations. Students will want to start telling you their thinks and wonders, but it is important to focus this section of the visual aspect and observations. I always start off giving an example or two for the students to understand what I am asking. “I see black hair.” “I see teeth.” The kindergarten students easily catch on and add their observations to mine. “I see a smile.” “I see puffy cheeks.” “I see squinty eyes.” With older students they would dig deeper into this picture to notice the crumbling bricks behind the girl and the scar on her forehead. These more detailed observations will lead them to deeper thinking and wonderings as they go through the processes.

What do you think?

Next students will explore their thoughts to what is going on in the image. “What do all of the things we saw lead us to think about this picture?” The goal is for the students to use what they saw to form the premise of their thinking. “What do you think is happening?” “What do you believe is going on?” With the kindergartners, I sum up their observations and ask them what those observations tell us about how the child is feeling. This connects the feeling word with the observational data. It is teaching the kindergartners what to look for in a face to identify how someone is feeling. It is sometimes helpful to give a sentence starter; I think…, I believe…

What are you wondering?

Wonder, my new favorite word. When students are allowed to wonder their creativity blooms. When I show this picture to my kindergarten students and ask them to wonder why this girl is happy, I will get more ideas than I have time to listen to before I need to go on to the next classroom. (I admit it. I used to do this lesson differently. I would show the picture to the class. Ask them to identify the feeling. Have the students share their observations from the picture. Then I would tell them why the child had the feeling. “Amy is happy because she just played with a puppy.” “Mark is sad because his friend couldn’t come over.” Why did I do it this way? Because that’s what the lesson plans said for me to do in the social skills program.) But now the students are sharing their wonderings with me. It is a much richer discussion as they hypothesize why the child has that particular feeling and then relate it to their own experiences. I love when the other students join in and say “I felt that way too when…..!” By more actively participating in the thinking/wondering process, they are gaining more from the lessons. For older students the thinking and wondering sections allows them to look at broader issues, generate more interest/excitement in a topic, and to ask more questions/wonderings.

Any elementary social worker has taught feeling identification hundreds of times, but this routine flips the teaching process. It starts with the observations and then leads the students to identifying the feeling. It focuses in on the small details, the noticing, and encourages students to broaden their thinking until they are free to openly wonder and share those ideas. It is the structure of this routine that makes it so powerful.

Think how powerful the discussion would be when projecting the image (shown below) on the board and using the See-Think-Wonder routine with high schoolers. I wonder what they would say and the things they would share. This compelling image and a STW lesson would be an effective beginning to a substance abuse unit.

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See-Think-Wonder is a routine for introducing and exploring ideas. It is ideal for young students, but captivating for older students as they stretch the boundaries of their thinking. What do you See, Think, and Wonder about this routine?

Here are more examples of See-Think-Wonder thinking routine lessons. Go ahead – try one out!

A high school social worker that I know uses See-Think-Wonder when working individually with students whose grades are concerning. She has the student look at his/her report card and share what s/he sees, thinks, and wonders related to the grades. The ideas that are generated enable the social worker to have more insight into the student and then create a plan together toward academic success.

Remember these books from the Step Inside blog (part 2)? The book covers are the perfect way to introduce lessons on targets, upstanders, and bullies. There is so much detail on these covers that I had to halt our classroom discussion from just one book cover after 20 minutes so we could go on with our lesson. Once the students had invested so much energy into exploring the cover, they could not wait to open the book and dive into the story. They were thrilled when their “thinks” and “wonders” were confirmed and truly connected to the characters and plot of the book.

Jennifer Hollander, LMSW

Jennifer has over 23 years experience as a school social worker and is currently employed by the Huron Valley School District. She has facilitated Cultures of Thinking Presentations in her district and at the MASSW State Conference. She is currently receiving advanced training in CoT with the founder/author of the model.

Weird, Dare, Tough book series, (