Category Archives: Lesson 2 Undestanding

Critical thinking: American Art and the American Dream. Lesson two: Understanding.

Dear students,

welcome to lesson 2.

First today, let me summarize some of the kinds of thinking that we might consider useful when we want to understand something. Then we’ll return to the artful routines that we started in last week’s lesson.


Ron Ritchhart and his colleagues (see reading 1) argue there are at least 8 types of thinking that are useful for understanding.

  1. Observing closely and describing what’s there

Q. What does observing and describing well require us to do?
A. If we are trying to understand something, we have to notice its parts and features, being able to describe it fully and in detail.

2. Building explanations and interpretations

Q. What does building explanations and interpretations require us to do?

A. Identifying, breaking things down into their parts and features. Drawing on and reasoning with evidence to support our positions and try to arrive at fair and accurate positions. Thus it require 1 + 3.

3. Reasoning with evidence

Q. What does reasoning with evidence contribute to understanding?

We draw on and reason with evidence to support our positions and try to arrive at fair and accurate positions that can be supported. If we didn’t provide evidence, provided inaccurate evidence, or used evidence in a biased way (for example, cherry picking some evidence and omitting or downplaying other relevant evidence) then our explanations and interpretations might be said to be badly supported, unreasonable, and biased.

4. Making connections.

Q. What does making connections contribute to understanding?

A. It allows us to make use of the new and the known, our present observations and past knowledge and experience, to link ideas and see where they fit and do not fit. To see where new ideas or skills  might be applied. Making connections helps ensure that new information is used actively, brought to life in engagement with the old. It also allows us to consider comparisons, either in terms of the subject itself, or the context of the subject.

5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives

Q. What does considering differing viewpoints and perspectives contribute?

A. It allows us to avoid limited and biased thinking (seeing things from just one point of view). It allows us to test perspectives against each other. It allows us to keep doubt alive (for example, in science, scientific facts are not actually facts as such, but merely our best, or generally held hypothesis.

6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions.

Q. What does capturing the heart of the matter contribute to understanding?

A. Capturing the heart or core of a concept, procedure, event, or
work ensures that we understand its essence, what it is really all about. We want to make sure we haven’t lost the forest for the trees and that we notice the big ideas in play (Ritchhart, p14).

7. Wondering and asking questions.

Q. What does wondering and asking questions contribute to understanding?

Curiosity, the desire to wonder about something, gives us a kind of emotional engagement. It is much easier to learn about things we have an interest in. So understanding is partially based on desire and emotion.

Asking questions is an ongoing part of developing understanding. The questions we ask at the outset of a learning journey change, morph, and develop as that journey moves forward. Even after extensive efforts to develop understanding, we find that we may be left with more questions than when we started. These new questions reflect our depth of understanding (Ritchhart, p14)

8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things

Q. What do uncovering complexity and going below the surface of thing contribute to understanding?

A. They allow us to go beyond looking for or accept easy answers, to go beyond the superficial. Instead they allow us to engage with the richness, intrigue, and mystery that texts, events and ideas offer us as learners.

Routine 1. See, Think, Wonder.

Let’s continue from where we left off last week, with an artful thinking routine, and begin by reminding ourselves of how this routine supports artful (critical) thinking dispositions/types of thinking, particularly in relation to the aim of understanding.

Seeing, thinking, and wondering are things we already know how to do. They’re important, not just for looking at art, but for developing understanding in any discipline.

In the See/Think/Wonder routine

  • the first step “See” gives us the time and space to observe and notice.
  • The second step “Think” gives us the opportunity to build on the observations that were made and asks us to reason and find meaning in the work of art.
  • The third step “Wonder” asks to engage in a process of ongoing learning and investigation through inquiry. It does not take us to an endpoint, but rather sketches a path forward for further inquiry.

So, let’s continue, using the painting we started with last week.



We had a long look at the above painting, gave some words to describe what we saw, and recorded our descriptive words.

Let’s have another look at our descriptions of what we saw in the painting:


OK, some interesting seeing there, but let’s try it one more time. This time, again, take a good long look at the painting. Come up close if you want.

Then think of what you can see in the painting. Give us three nouns, three verbs, and three adjectives (everyone).

I’ll give you a few minutes, and then we’ll write them on the board again.


  • Now that you’ve looked carefully and taken time to describe the painting, what concept, feeling, or idea does this painting make you think of?
  • Talk in your small groups first and then we’ll discuss altogether.
  • Let’s put some of your ideas up on the board.

 Wonder Discussion

  • What does the painting make you wonder? What questions does it raise in your mind?

Reflecting on artful thinking methods from this routine: Slowing Down, Being a learning community, multiple forms of thinking

  • In our fast-paced world, thinking routines provide opportunities for students to slow down, to take a moment to focus on one thing–in this case, the work of art (but we could use a report, a newspaper article, poll results, a short story, a tv or film clip, etc.,).
  • Then, by taking time to discuss with each other you get to exchange points of view, testing your own and learning from others. That reflective discussion is also a form of thoughtful slowing down (thinking-speaking still focused on the one artwork).
  • As your teacher, this routine allows me to slow down and focus on your thinking. We used the board to capture our observations, interpretations, and questions. Together, we could see the thinking that is happening around this work of art, form connections, pose contrasting ideas, and work through misconceptions. We did all of this together, as kind of learning community.
  • Specific thinking routines are designed to support specific thinking dispositions. See/Think/Wonder supported several types of thinking dispositions: Which ones do you think it supports in particular?


The ‘What’s Routine’

Let’s try another  thinking routine called the What’s routine.

  • Have a long and careful look at another artwork (in class).

Take a few minutes to look and think about the following three questions.

  • What’s going on (in this artwork)? [What’s it about?]

Let’s record your ideas on the board. Then I’ll ask you the second question,

  • What makes you say that?

Again, let’s record our ideas on the board.

Now, the third question. Recall Ron Richhart and colleagues talked about ways of thinking that aid understanding. They suggest at least 8 types:

Thinking to Understand
1.Observing closely and describing what’s there 2. Building explanations and interpretations
3. Reasoning with evidence 4. Making connections.
5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives 6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions.
7. Wondering and asking questions. 8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things

What types of thinking did we use to answer the questions?

Thinking with context

Now, let’s learn a little about the artists, and the contexts of their works (videos/explanation in class).

The first  artwork we discussed was made by George Bellows, and is titled New York 1911.Let’s watch the beginning of the National Gallery’s (Washington) video George Bellows (part one). The narrator is Ethan Hawke.

Bellows arrived in New York City in 1904 and depicted an America on the move. In a twenty-year career cut short by his death at age 42, he painted the rapidly growing modern city—its bustling crowds, skyscrapers, and awe-inspiring construction projects, as well as its bruising boxers, street urchins, and New Yorkers both hard at work and enjoying their leisure. He also captured the rugged beauty of New York’s rivers and the grandeur of costal Maine.

The second was designed Auguste Bartholdi by made by Gustave Eiffel, and is titled the Statue of Liberty.

The Statue of Liberty is a colossal neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island in New York Harbor in New York City, in the United States. The copper statue, a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States, was designed by French sculptor Frédéric  and built by Gustave Eiffel. The statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886

  • How does that information change your perspective on the artwork (if at all)?
  • Now, choose one of your five artworks (last week’s homework). Working in your small groups do the what’s exercise, using that artwork.

Next week: Reasoning with evidence


 Please do the following readings (sent to our class we chat group today).

  • Ritchart, Ron, et al., Making Thinking Visible, How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners, Wiley, Chp. 1., 3-22.
  • Tishman, Shari, Added Value, 72-75
  • Tishman, Shari, Slow Looking, Chp.1., 4-7.