Making Thinking Visible


The concept of “making thinking visible” is not new.  In fact, it is a core component of schooling and learning – students externalize their thoughts through speaking, writing, drawing, or some other method.  An ASCD Educational Leadership article titled “Making Thinking Visible” is dense with good information and strategies.  The article describes a Project Zero initiative called “Visible Thinking”, explaining the six key principles of Visible Thinking, strategies to promote it, and effects on learning.

A couple of the key principles:

  • Learning is a consequence of thinking.  Or, in other words, thinking through concepts results in learning.  And, thinking through concepts is best done collaboratively.
  • Good thinking is not only a skill but a disposition.  Open-mindedness, curiosity, and creativity need to be encouraged.

Strategies to promote making thinking visible:

  • Thinking routines offer structure to support thinking.  A couple of examples:
    • “Think-Puzzle-Explore” prompts students to share what they think about a topic, identify questions they puzzle about, and target ideas to explore.  While this strategy is similar to the KWL strategy, by using the term “think” instead of “know” a shift occurs from absolutes to possibilities and openness.  This gets back to the principle that good thinking is not just a skill but a disposition.
    • “See-Think-Wonder” routine sparks creativity and inquiry by prompting students to make observations about an object, image or event by answering these three questions:  1) what do you see?  2) what do you think about that?  3) what does it make you wonder?
  • Consistent teacher prompts – after a student states an idea or opinion, ask the student “What makes you say that?”  Soon, students will naturally justify their ideas without prompting.

Effects of Making Thinking Visible:

  • Classroom activities become more learning oriented than work oriented.
  • All students feel they have a voice and participation is enhanced (in quantity and quality).
  • Long Lake Elementary school in Michigan has been implementing Visible Thinking ideas since 2004 and student scores have significantly increased on state and district tests in reading, writing, and social studies.

Using Interactive Whiteboards to support making thinking visible:

  • An IWB can serve as a shared collaboration space, a notational system that makes collective thinking visible.  With collective thinking visible, memory is freed up for more complex tasks.
  • The tools and functions of the IWB support varied forms of expression – text (typed or handwritten), images (drawn or camera), audio, and video – and supports the layering of expression over time.  In a classroom this promotes time for reflection.
  • An IWB offers teachers a way to save all thinking documented on the board.  In this way, it captures learning over time and supports teacher in more accurately assessing students’ understanding.

I always come back to this key question – “Are you asking students to think or to remember?”



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