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A Change in Thinking: COT Part Four

A Change in Thinking:  COT Part Four


(Editor’s Note:  At SSWN we are excited to continue Michigan SSW Jennifer Hollander’s Cultures of Thinking (COT) series, with “A Change in Thinking.” This is the 4th of 5 articles drawing on the COT framework and her innovative applications of it in her daily SSW practice.  COT is a still-emerging theoretical framework, mostly supported by intensive and small-scale qualitative research e.g. focus groups, whole-school case studies. For more information on the evidence base for CoT, click here for their site at the Harvard School of Education. Now on to some thinking together…)

I used to think….,Now I think….

The beginning of any new school year is often a time of reflection. What did I do last year that I want to change? (Stop procrastinating writing my IEP goals.) What worked for me last year? (Turning the radio off in the car for the last 5 minutes of my commute to and from school.) Reflection gives us insight and helps to shape our future.

As social workers we often want our students and colleagues to reflect on school concerns. We guide discussions at staff meeting that address challenging issues. We help students see their role in the event that led them to a seat in your office. Furthermore, the language of social work and our active listening builds skills and bridges to assist staff, parents, and students maneuver successfully through life. But at the end of our time together, whether brief or on-going, we want the staff member, parent or student to reflect on the conversation.

The thinking routine I used to think…, Now I think….was created to help individuals reflect on their thinking and examine how and why their thinking has changed. Different than the other routines, this one requires no lesson plans or pre-planning. It is a quick and easy routine that can be put into place whenever you determine the moment is right.

Here’s how it works:

First, let the individuals know that this routine is designed to help them examine their thoughts, determine if their thinking has changed, and reflect on the reasons behind the changes. This routine can be used at the end of an individual lesson or after a few weeks focusing on a topic with one student, a small group, or whole classroom.

I created ¼ sheets of paper that are ready to go sitting next to my desk for when I want students to complete the reflection.


Name_________________________         Topic_____________________

I used to think__________________________________________________


and now I think__________________________________________________



At the end of the lesson, I grab the number of sheets I need and pass them out to the students. The students take a few minutes to write down their thoughts about how their thinking has changed. For instance, in my communication groups with students on the autism spectrum, we were using the SuperFlex books to look at expected and unexpected behavior. The students wrote down “expected and unexpected behavior” as the topic for this routine. Then they shared how their thinking has evolved over the past month of our lessons.

  • I used to think that I was doing the same as everyone else, and now I think that I sometimes am not being part of the class.
  • I used to think that it was okay to put my head down in my group & not talk, and now I think that I need to look up and be part of the group.

Finally, after the writing is completed, it is time to share their reflections and give information to explain their shift in thinking. This explanation can be a challenge for some, but as you use this routine more often, students become more comfortable and able to share . I usually let everyone know up front that we will be sharing our thoughts out loud as a whole group or in smaller groups.

This routine is so easy to use and gives me a lot of information.

It lets me know if my lessons hit the target. Also it gives me awareness into the thinking of my students. Often what is shared is very insightful. I am amazed at the deep level of thinking of my students and staff colleagues. Of course, not all of the answers are beautifully written with a deeper meaning, but enough are connected to my intentions that I use this routine on a regular basis. Because the students participate in this routine regularly with me and in class, it needs no explanation when I pass out the papers.

That is the beauty of thinking routines. If you use them on a routine basis, your students will grow to anticipate them, look forward to expressing their thinking, and discover that thinking routines are a safe place to share their thoughts.

Here are examples of I used to think.. now I think.

Go ahead – try it out with your students!

Examples of how thinking has been changed after attending social skills classes on anger, learning differences and substance use.

New Social Emotional Lesson Plan Website!

Looking for more ideas for I Used to Think….Now I think…. and other Cultures of Thinking Routines, check out the new Social Emotional Thinking Routine website for ideas and specific lesson plans.

About The Author

Jennifer Hollander

Jennifer Hollander has over 26 years of experience as a school social worker and is currently employed by the Huron Valley School District in Milford, Michigan. She earned her MSW from Jane Addams School of Social Work at UIC in 1991. Always passionate about discovering new ways to engage students, Jennifer integrated the principles of Cultures of Thinking (CoT) into school social work, combining Thinking Routines and Social-Emotional Learning. She received advanced training in CoT with Ron Ritchhart the founder/author of the model. Since 2015, Jennifer has facilitated multiple Cultures of Thinking presentations in her own district, at the county level, at the Michigan Association of School Social Workers State Conference, and at the 2018 National School Social Work Association of America Conference. Jennifer was awarded the School Social Worker of the Year award in Oakland County, Michigan in 2017.

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