Saturday, April 6, 2013

Intellectual character: What it is, why it matters, and how to get it

Posted by Tara Della Rocca

Ritchhart, R. (2002). Intellectual character: What it is, why it matters, and how to get it. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The subtitle of this book basically says it all in terms of what the book is about. Ritchhart defines intellectual character, makes a case for teaching for the development of intellectual character in our schools and then describes, using real situations from actual classrooms, ways that this can be done.

What is intellectual character?
"an overarching term to describe a set of dispositions that not only shape but also motivate intellectual behavior" (p.31) 
"In contrast to viewing intelligence as a set of capacities or even skills, the concept of intellectual character recognizes the role of attitude and affect in our everyday cognition and the importance of developed patterns of behavior." (p.18)

The use of the word "disposition" is meant to "invoke the volitional, acquired, and overarching nature of patterns of behavior... we tend to understand a disposition as a tendency toward a general type of action." (p.20)

"Thinking dispositions represent characteristics that animate, motivate, and direct our abilities toward good and productive thinking and are recognized in the patterns of our frequently exhibited, voluntary behavior. Dispositions not only direct our strategic abilities but they help activate relevant content knowledge as well, bringing that knowledge to the forefront to better illuminate the situation at hand... collectively, the presence and force of these dispositions make up our intellectual character." (p.21)

Ritchhart discusses the various dispositions that different groups (schools or organizations) aim to develop and arrives at a list of six broad categories of dispositions (further grouped into three overarching categories) that he feels captures the most important ones:
1) Creative thinking: looking out, up, around and about
     Open-minded
     Curious
2) Reflective thinking: looking within
     Metacognitive
3) Critical thinking: looking at, through, and in between
     Seeking truth and understanding
     Strategic
     Skeptical (p. 27)

Dispositional behavior... is the marriage of inclination, awareness, motivation, and ability." (p.37) "Dispositions are about more than a desire or inclination to act. They consist of general inclination consisting of values, beliefs, and underlying temperaments; an awareness of occasions for appropriate action; motivation to carry out action; and the requisite abilities and skills needed to perform." (p.51)

Why it matters?
"When all is said and done, when the last test is taken, what will stay with a student from his or her education?... the knowledge and skills teachers have worked so hard to impart? Surprisingly, we don't have much evidence that these have a very long shelf life. so what sticks?... I contend that what stays with us from our education are patterns: patterns of behavior, patterns of thinking, patterns of interaction. These patterns make up our character, specifically our intellectual character. Through our patterns of behavior, thinking, and interaction, we show what we are made of as thinkers and learners... This is the kind of long-term vision we need for education: to be shapers of students' intellectual character." (p.9)

"Intelligent performance is not just an exercise of ability, It is more dispositional in nature in that we must activate our abilities and set them in motion. Dispositions concern not only what we can do, our abilities, but what we are actually likely to do, addressing the gap we often notice between our abilities and our actions. As John Dewey noted in his observations of the poor thinking of well-educated persons, "Knowledge of methods alone will not suffice; there must be the desire, the will to employ them. This desire is an affair of personal disposition."" (p.18)

"In my study of teaching, I have defined effective, good, and successful teaching as that which produces thoughtful environments and promotes students' thinking and development of intellectual character." (p. 218)

How to get it?

A) Create a culture of thinking in the classroom.
"Dispositions aren't so much taught as they are enculturated... acquiring the thinking dispositions that embody intellectual character depends on the presence of ongoing salient models of thinking, consistent expectations for thinking within the environment, explicit instruction in thinking to develop ability, and the opportunity for practice and reinforcement within meaningful contexts." (p.51)

"Thinking is largely an internal process. However, we reinforce and in some cases acquire patterns, approaches, styles, and types of thinking through social interaction and participation... Barbara Rogoff (1990) describes this process as an apprenticeship in thinking. The power of apprenticeships is that one learns in context. Thus, not only does one cultivate abilities but the expectations of the situation cultivate inclination, and through the authentic work, one becomes sensitive to occasions. In this way, patterns of thinking are enculturated." (p.74-75)

Ritchhart carefully selected teachers to use as examples for enculturating thinking. He describes specific situations in which each teacher develops the thinking or creates an expectation for thinking in the classroom.

Interesting lessons:

  • When having students express their viewpoints in class, the challenge is "getting students to listen to and respond to each other's arguments" (p.98) The teacher encourages students to listen to one another, challenge each other, and build upon or contradict other's arguments.
  • Use journal entries to develop thinking. "First, there is the need to communicate fully so that one's notes can be understood, to both oneself and others. Second, it is important to go beyond one's first thoughts and initial response to elaborate and add information." (p.103)
  • "Thinking routines act as a major enculturating force by communicating expectations for thinking as well as providing students the tools they need to engage in thinking." (p.114)
  • "Through practicing new ways of talking, students develop new ways of thinking... private thinking mirrors public argument"(p.122) "Students develop modes of thinking by internalizing classroom patterns for discussing ideas. Sometimes these patterns are explicit, as in reciprocal teaching, the leaderless discussion, or the public issue discussion. These structured interactions teach specific mental moves, such as asking clarifying questions or connecting ideas, that students can adapt for use in their own thinking." (p.143)
Use the language of thinking...
"When we tell students to think, I imagine that many of them are completely puzzled about what we are asking them to do. For many students, the word think seems to be interpreted as: Be quiet for about ten seconds, look downward in the general direction of the floor, then look up and nod when the teacher asks, "Well did you think about it?" If we want students to do more than fall silent at the word think, we need to be more directive and explicit in our use of language. We can use the language of thinking itself." (p.131)

Thinking language: words related to processes, products, states, and stances of thinking
(examples on p.136-137)

B) Create opportunities for thinking by focusing on big ideas, ensure that work demands thinking and active exploration and that thinking demanded of students is authentic in that it serves particular ends, and providing choice and independence to students (p.151)
Also: "1) teachers must provide adequate time for thinking to take place; and 2) thinking needs to be appropriately scaffolded to ensure student progress." (p.158)

C) Honor students' disposition toward thinking by "showing interest in their thinking, using it as a springboard for class discussions, or giving students the time an space to pursue their thinking." (p.165)

D) Teachers' thinking dispositions matter - teachers must attend to their own understanding of thinking and the processes involved; develop awareness of thinking opportunities and their own inclination to think

2 comments:

Stacey said...

Tara~
This looks like a really rich article (and I love Barbara Rogoff's work cited here) and I love how you have captured so many of the quotes and ideas that struck you! I'd love to hear more about how you see these ideas influencing your research! What particularly stood out to you? What do you wonder? Were there any other authors/articles cited that you want to follow up on?

Stacey said...

Tara~
This looks like a really rich article (and I love Barbara Rogoff's work cited here) and I love how you have captured so many of the quotes and ideas that struck you! I'd love to hear more about how you see these ideas influencing your research! What particularly stood out to you? What do you wonder? Were there any other authors/articles cited that you want to follow up on?

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