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Visible Thinking: a framework for reflective practice DEN 2013 Santa Sabina College Catherine Arends Ravenswood School for Girls. Visible Thinking.

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Visible Thinking: a framework for reflective practiceDEN 2013Santa Sabina CollegeCatherine ArendsRavenswood School for Girls
visible thinking
Visible Thinking
  • Visible Thinking is a flexible and systematic research-based approach to integrating the development of students' thinking with content learning across subject matters. An extensive and adaptable collection of practices, Visible Thinking has a double goal: on the one hand, to cultivate students' thinking skills and dispositions, and, on the other, to deepen content learning.

Visible Thinking

  • A teaching and learning framework that places emphasis on encouraging students to become disposed to think wellGood thinkers have an ability to thinking creatively and critically + attitudinal and affective dimension
  • thinking dispositions - include proactive attitudes like mindfulness, paying attention and being open to new information; curiosity, concern for truth and understanding
  • a creative mindset, not just being skilled but also alert to thinking and learning opportunities and eager to take them
visible thinking1

Focuses on the interconnection between dispositions and overall classroom culture

  • Focuses on recognizing and embracing cultural forces in the
  • classroom
  • staffroom
Visible Thinking
cultural forces
Cultural forces
  • Classroom routines and structures for learning
  • use of Thinking routines
  • 2. Language of thinking
  • ‘reason’, ‘hypothesis’, ‘evidence’, ‘ new plan’, ‘speculate’
cultural forces1
Cultural forces
  • 3. Implicit and explicit expectations
  • Explicit expectation that students will give reasons/ evidence for their ideas or look at the other side of the case
  • 4. Time allocation
  • give ample time for discussion and analyzing ideas or use ‘wait time’ signaling that it takes time to think through a good response
cultural forces2
Cultural forces
  • 5. Modeling by teachers and others
  • Teacher pauses to think or thinks aloud ‘this is a guess to start with, but let me see if I can find some evidence for it
  • 6. Physical environment
  • seats are fixed in rows or reconfigurable to allow small group conversations. Bare wall or walls rich with words and images
cultural forces3
Cultural forces
  • 7. Relationships and patterns of interaction
  • Teacher-student, but is there also student-student?
  • 8. Creation of opportunities
  • Some of the time do students get a chance to pursue individual subtopics of special interest to them?

Summary of 8 cultural forces

Within a culture of thinking, students experience school as a place where thinking is valued and given time, rich opportunities for thinking abound in their day-to-day classroom experience, models of thinking are present in the form of seeing teachers and peers as fellow thinkers, and the environment is full with the documentation of thinking.


Cultural forcesThinking routines and structures

  • Thinking routines help students to externalize the processes of thought so that they can get a better handle on their thinking and ideas. Most students are not sharply aware of how they go about figuring out a problem or coming to a position on an issue
  • A good general approach to establishing a positive, engaged and thoughtful Culture of learning in the classroom is to begin your planning with the questions:
cultural forces thinking routines and structures
Cultural forcesThinking routines and structures

"what kinds of thinking do you value and want to promote in your classroom?"

  • "What kinds of thinking does this lesson force students to do?”
observing and describing routines
Observing and describing routines

See Think Wonder

What makes you

say that?

Year 11 Ancient History and the 18th century image of the Forum

  • Year 8 history learning about meeting between Wangal and colonists at Breakfast Point. A routine for synthesizing ideas. Eg. "Wangal meets whites, peaceful encounter over Breakfast".

Circle of viewpoints

Routines engage in complex thinking

Routines can be used by the group or by the individual

  • Routines are really just patterns of action that can be integrated and used in a variety of contexts. You might even use more than one routine in teaching a single lesson.
  • Thinking routines don’t detract from time spent teaching content, they should actually enhance what you are trying to do in the classroom.
visible thinking means documenting
Visible Thinking means documenting
  • Documenting Students thinking
Documentation can be sophisticated using digital recordings and media or low tech using post-its. These can support performances of understanding (assessments)
  • Jing – screencasting
  • Weebly
  • PollNow – instant polling

Differentiation is automatic: thinking routines provide an entry point for students of all abilities:

  • Observing and describing routines through to exploring viewpoints and reasoning.

Evidence that students are thinking well?


Thinking routines can be helpful in avoiding rapid fire questioning that rewards the same students who can answer quickly

  • Thinking routines encourage elaboration, clarification supported by evidence.
  • Students have been surprised by their own confidence in responding

Many Thinking routines encourage students to frame their own questions. When students frame their own questions they often come up with more ideas than I would have expected, different angles of thinking to me

  • Diagnostic tool - it becomes really clear when understanding isn't being achieved. Misconceptions are highlighted and can be used by teachers to focus on gaps in knowledge, understanding or skills
  • Using thinking routines helps to create a place where thinking is valued, there is TIME to think, to listen and to reflect in each lesson
visible thinking2
Visible Thinking
  • also provides thinking routines and structures for teachers to collectively reflect on student achievements.
  • In staffroom gatherings, it is often helpful to use a set of protocols—that is, structures for conversation—to keep the group clearly focused. Two useful protocols are MYST, and LAST.


Me, You, Space, and Time.

  • Me, how am I, as a teacher, modeling my thinking and making it visible to students?
  • You, how am I bringing forth and capturing students’ thinking to make it visible to everyone?
  • Space, how am I using the space of the classroom to make thinking more visible?
  • Time, how am I providing time for thinking in my lessons?

This protocol can be used for both individual reflection as well as group discussion. In a study group, individuals might come to the group having spent a few minutes reflecting on and gathering evidence for each of the four areas. Within the study group, individuals can pair up and use the four areas as a structure for sharing what is happening in their classroom. From time-to-time, the group might brainstorm strategies for addressing each of the four areas and for getting a broader sense of what is happening at the whole-school level.

  • The protocol can also be used as a structure for peer observation.