The Visible Thinking website from Harvard Graduate School of Education has to be one of the most powerful and fun websites for teachers. The routines are innovative and work in classrooms from K to Masters! The ideals are important ways of thinking that as teachers we wish to see established in our students. The documentation processes helps us as teachers to be accountable. Win, win, and win!

I discovered the Visible Thinking website back in 2009 whilst still working at UTAS. And subsequently used it extensively with my university education students, introducing them to this wonderful resource and the skills it contains to help making thinking visible in their classrooms. Over the next few posts I am going to share this and some of my other teaching activities – activities that have worked well for me in the classroom, whether at university or at school. Why make thinking visible? What is that all about? Let me quote directly from the website:

“Thinking is pretty much invisible. To be sure, sometimes people explain the thoughts behind a particular conclusion, but often they do not. Mostly, thinking happens under the hood, within the marvelous engine of our mind-brain. As the name suggests, the basic strategy is to make thinking visible in the context of learning.” The Visible Thinking website is a past project from the Project Zero team out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, so you know it has an excellent pedigree.

The website includes a number of great routines for getting students thinking, and becoming aware of their thinking – meta-cognitive processes that help them to engage with the content in new ways, helps them to really start to think about what it is they are learning. And it takes account of the many types of learners. Let me give an example from practice. This was an activity I conducted in my Year 9 Social Studies class. My unit was based on the Japanese Tsunami. And I used the Think Puzzle Explore routine from the website.

I love this routine, it is a great way to open up a topic. We began by asking the question “Where is Japan?” And as a sub-question – “How do you move an island?” I love the Understanding by Design work of by Wiggins and McTighe – and a leading question can be a great hook. I used post it notes – in different colours, colours are great engagers, and students came up with some widely varied ‘this is what I think’ comments about the topic. Then went onto puzzling about the disaster and as this was not the first time I had used this activity, they knew already to think wider – beyond the obvious. And so, many questions were raised as they thought deeply about the crisis, questions such as how does it happen? How do tsunami’s happen, what other countries were affected, did Japan move back (remember it moved 8 ft), how did the world respond, what other disasters have happened, can you stop a tsunami? There were more puzzling questions than our class could possible answer!

We then went on to do some reading about the topic, watched some videos on the interactive whiteboard. Then we went back to the questions and refined them into an Explore board. We asked the question, What did we as a class wish to explore? Eventually, I collected all  the information, took it home, sorted it and came up with 8 group topics based on their post-it-notes. There are times when I will let groups choose themselves and other times when I mix it up a little. This time I assigned the groups. How they worked on those projects! The projects were followed by a personal response assessment, group work followed by individual work, and at the end a group work self-reflection, asking them to rate themselves, how they went on their project, their time management, their work as a team member – I am all about making students take responsibility for their own learning!

Go on have a go and explore this wonderful website – you will be surprised at how well it works in the classroom!

Visible Thinking in the classroom
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