Visible Thinking

The four learning principles identified by How People Learn consistently refer to making thinking visible.  This is important in a learner-centered environment, because a teacher needs to elicit the students' preconceptions.  It is important in an assessment-centered environment as it encourages students to develop meta-cognitive skills by having them write questions and reflect on their own understanding.  Finally, it is consistent with a community-centered environment as it instills ethics of listening to one another, sharing, fairness - all of which are important to create a safe, academic classroom and school.  

Visible Thinking was developed from a project called ATLAS, which is based in Harvard's Project Zero.  (More  can be learned about them by visiting their website.)  The basic idea is to make certain thinking moves into routines by completing them repeatedly and in many different subjects and grades.  The general routines below are based on developing students' understanding.  There are others that deal with fairness, truth, and creativity.  While oftentimes routines can be used as is, sometimes thay must be adapted to the specific content being taught. 

Core Understanding Routines:

What Makes You Say That?
  • What's going on?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
Think Puzzle Explore
  • What do you think you know about this topic?
  • What questions or puzzles do you have?
  • How can you explore this topic?

Think Pair Share
  • Think Pair Share involves posing a question to students, asking them to take a few minutes of thinking time and then turning to a nearby student to share their thoughts.

Circle of Viewpoints
  • Brainstorm a list of different perspectives then use this script skeleton to explore each one.
  • I am thinking of... [the topic] from the point of view of... [the viewpoint you've chosen]
  • I think... [describe the topic from your viewpoint.  Be an actor.  Take on the character from your viewpoint.
  • A question I have from this viewpoint is... [ask a question from this viewpoint]
  • Wrap up: What new ideas do you have about the topic that you didn't have before?  What new questions do you have?
I Used to Think... Now I Think
  • Remind students of the topic you want them to consider.  It could be the ideal itself - fairness, truth, understanding, or creativity - or it could be the unit you are studying.  Have students write a response using each of the sentence stems:
  • I Used to Think...
  • Now I Think...

See Think Wonder
  • What do you see?
  • What do you think about that?
  • What does it make you wonder?

Compass Points
  • E = excited
    • What excites you about this proposition?  What's the upside?
  • W = worrisome
    • What do you find worrisome about this proposition?  What's the downside?
  • N = need to know
    • What else do you need to know to find out about this proposition?  What additional information would help you evaluate things?
  • S = stance or suggestion for moving forward
    • What is your current idea or stance on this proposition?  How might you move forward in your evaluation of this idea or proposition?

Connect Extend Challenge
  • How are ideas connected to what you already knew?
  • What new ideas did you get that extended or pushed your thinking in new directions?
  • What is still challenging for you to get your mind around?  What questions, wonderings, or puzzles do you now have?
Explanation Game
  • The routine focuses first on identifying something interesting about an idea or object. 
    • "I notice that..."
  • And then following that observation with a question:
    • "Why is it that way?  Why did it happen that way?"

  • The routine draws upon the idea of newspaper-type headlines as a vehicle for summing up or capturing the essence of an event, idea, concept, topic, etc. The idea asks one core question:
    • If you were to write a headline for this topic or issue right now that captured the most important aspect that should be remembered, what would that headline be? 
  • A second question involves probing how students' ideas of what is most important and central to the topic being explored changed over time. 
    • How has your headline changed based on today's discussion?  How does it differ from what you would have said yesterday?

Question Starts
  • Brainstorm a list of atleast 12 questions about the topic, concept, or object.  Use these question starts to help you think of interesting questions:
    • Why...?
    • How would it be different if...?
    • What are the reasons...?
    • Suppose that...?
    • What if...?
    • What if we knew...?
    • What is the purpose of...?
    • What would change if...?
3-2-1 Bridge
  • Provide 3 thoughts/ideas, 2 questions, and 1 analogy based on your initial responses to a topic.
  • Provide 3 thoughts/ideas, 2 questions, and 1 analogy based on new responses to a topic (after it has been presented or worked on).
Color, Symbol, Image
  • As you are reading/listening/watching, make note of the things that you find interesting or insightful.  When you finish, choose 3 of these items that most stand out for you.  
  • For one of those, choose a color that you feel best represents or captures the essence of the idea.
  • For another one, choose a symbol that you feel best represents or captures the essence of the idea.
  • For the third one, choose an image that you feel best represents or captures the essence of the idea.  
  • With your partner or group, first share the color that you chose along with the reading that it represents.  Tell why you chose that color as a representation of your idea.  Repeat this process until every member of the group has shared his or her color, symbol, and image.  
Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate
  • Select a topic, issue, or concepts for which you want to map your understanding.  
  • Generate a list of ideas and initial thoughts that come to mind when you think about this particular topic/issue.
  • Sort your ideas according to how central or tangental they are.  Place central ideas near the center of the page, and tangental ideas toward the outside.  
  • Connect your ideas by drawing connecting lines between ideas that have something in common.  Explain and write a short sentence about how the ideas are connected.  
  • Elaborate on any of the ideas or thoughts you have written so far by adding new ideas that expand, extend, or add to your initial ideas.  
  • Continue generating, collecting, and elaborating your ideas until you feel like you have a good representation of your understanding.  

Peel The Fruit
  • Put some version of the map up in a convenient location or give learners copies. See example below and notes about different ways of using the map
  • Briefly state that the group will be tracking progress and planning with the map from time to time. Note how the map uses the metaphor of ‘peeling the fruit’, getting familiar with the surface of something, seeking puzzles and mysteries to investigate, and pursuing these in various ways to arrive at core understandings.
  • Refer to the map to choose next steps and mark progress from time to time during the exploration of a topic (no need to do everything every time). Use it as a way of thinking about what routines to use or simply what kind of conversation or other activity to have.
  • When the map is used collectively by a class, you may want to invite students to put up Post-its on the map over time to mark insights associated with any of the map elements.