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I can still remember Algebra class in high school. This class was different from other math classes. It was as if I went from being taught in a foreign language to entering a classroom where English was spoken. I could not believe that I understood what the teacher was saying, and followed my notes to be successful on homework assignments and tests. As I worked through Algebra, I felt powerful. I understood how to handle challenges that would arise and felt like I had the skills to figure any problem out.  

Before this Algebra class, something was always missing for me in math. I worked hard, memorized formulas but couldn’t help but think that there was more. In earlier classes, teachers would go through problems, do examples and explain how to solve problems, but I never completely connected with the content.  

As I reflect on my experience 20 years later, I realize that my Algebra teacher made her thinking visible. Reasonably new to Algebra, I benefited a lot from hearing an expert model her thinking. Instead of simply saying, “Do this step, then this step, and so on,” she kept a running dialogue of how she saw the problem and the best way to attack it. As she held a piece of chalk in her hand, she started to think out loud. It went something like this, “Okay, problem number 1. This problem won’t be tough because we already did one in our notes. So, I see that we need to solve for X. I will work left to right. So, I notice that the first number is a four, and is not part of the parentheses, so that means...”

Making thinking visible involves risk-taking. Making thinking visible is an opportunity for students to preview a possible struggle and consider possibility rather than fear when a challenge arises. 

As I create more videos and lessons for my students, I realize that making my thinking visible is critical. Screencastify allows me to film my screen, so as I talk through a writing assignment and begin to do part of it as an example, I can show students my thinking.  I often start out reading the directions and walk through the process of finding evidence by searching through different websites and then typing out my response on a document, only to quickly rearrange the order of sentences.

Making my thinking visible helps students realize how to begin an assignment and offers suggestions about what to think about rather than focusing on assigning work. It is essential for students to see what happens when something does not go as planned and requires an extra step. Students need to see someone move through the process of applying strategies to authentic situations. 

We often tell students when writing, “Show, don’t tell.”  As teachers, showing is critical for some students to understand.  When teachers can show; or make thinking visible, students are given an inside look at how to enhance the depth of their thinking. 

In the book, Making Thinking Visible, by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, Karin Morrison offer several thinking routines that can be immediately applied to a learning environment.  These routines help teachers model thinking and help students observe the thought process from peers and professionals. In this way, students can learn from their peers, as well as teachers have an opportunity to create mini-lessons, and make adjustments to how content is delivered when an inside look into the mind of a student is a possibility.  

The following Routines come from Harvard’s Project Zero.

 Project Zero has done an incredible job laying out the rationale and specifics to each routine and several strategies to make thinking come alive.

I Used to Think/ Now I Think

*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?

Circle of Viewpoints

*Brainstorm a list of different perspectives. 

*Choose one perspective to explore, using these sentence-starters:

  • I am thinking of ... the topic ... from the viewpoint of ... the viewpoint you’ve chosen
  • I think ... describe the topic from your viewpoint.  Be an actor—take on the character of 

   your viewpoint

  • A question I have from this viewpoint is ... ask a question from this viewpoint

Think Puzzle Explore

*What do you think you know about this topic? 

*What questions or puzzles do you have? 

*What does the topic make you want to explore?

Claim Support Question

*Make a claim about the topic     

 Claim: An explanation or interpretation of some aspect of the topic.

* Identify support for your claim 

Support: Things you see, feel, and know that support your claim. 

*Ask a question related to your claim Question: What’s left hanging? What isn’t explained? What new reasons does your claim raise?

Compass Points

 E = Excited    What excites you about this idea or propositions? What’s the upside? 

W = Worrisome   What do you find worrisome about this idea or proposition? What’s the downside? 

N = Need to Know   What else do you need to know or find out about this idea or proposition? What additional information would help you to evaluate things? 

S = Stance   or Suggestion for Moving Forward What is your current stance or opinion on the idea or proposition? How might you move forward in your evaluation of this idea or proposition?

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.

Connect Extend Challenge

* How is the artwork/ object/story connected to something you know about? 

*What new ideas or impressions do you have that extended your thinking in new directions? *What is challenging or confusing? What do you wonder about?

Making thinking visible requires extra work in the short term.  Demonstrating how to work through a process requires vulnerability.  However, it is the visibility that allows for greater understanding and processing on a much deeper level. Making thinking visible sets up an environment that is okay for taking risks and reminds students that they have the skills to navigate difficult situations. Offering new learners an opportunity to preview the struggle and feel ready with what to do when a problem arises transfers a feeling of power to the student.  

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