|Making Thinking Visible|
Me: “What is God?”
Three-year-old daughter: “God is a spirit and does not have a bottom like people.”
This was part of a series of simple questions and answers about Christian faith that we taught our children when they were small. But the answer I got on this particular day was not the answer I was expecting to hear. I was expecting to hear “God is a spirit and does not have a body like people.”
After checking to be sure I had, indeed, heard right, I was curious. “What makes you say that, honey?” She explained about the picture in her story Bible of Jesus ascending into heaven, the one where a cloud covers him from the waist down.
Now instead of thinking she was just being silly, I realized she was doing a lot of intense thinking, connecting all the things she heard and saw in a way that made sense to her. I’m glad I didn’t just correct her answer without making her thinking visible. Since this day 20+ years ago, I have been in awe of how much hard, sense-making work little kids’ minds are doing.
How do we keep that sense-making, problem-solving, theory-developing work central as kids get older, enter school, and there seems to be so much content to cover? How do we keep the focus of learning on the thinking that is done about and with content, and not just on amassing facts? How do we make thinking visible so we can give value to it, identify when it is happening, define what makes weak or strong thinking, uncover misinformed theories, and encourage the development of sophisticated ones?
The authors of Making Thinking Visible start by identifying the activities that make up the thinking we want to happen:
- Observing closely and describing what’s there.
- Building explanations and interpretations.
- Reasoning with evidence.
- Making connections.
- Considering different viewpoints and perspectives.
- Capturing the heart and forming conclusions.
- Wondering and asking questions.
- Uncovering complexity and going beneath the surface of things.
Then they explain and describe 21 thinking routines that can make these 8 invisible activities visible and foster their development. What is a thinking routine? Have you ever done a group decision-making exercise like “Keep-Start-Stop” or “Helps/Hinders”? That’s what a thinking routine is—a simple question or short list of questions, general enough to be used in a variety of situations, but specific enough to prompt deep thinking.
The idea is not just to use the thinking routine as a one-time activity, but to use it enough that students become good at it (understanding what shallow vs. deep connections, questions, or conclusions are) and internalize, using the routine on their own.
Of the 21 thinking routines they name, here are several I will definitely be using this year:
- See-Think-Wonder (p. 55). Looking at an image or object, ask the following 3 questions: What do you see? What do you think is going on? What does it make you wonder? I will use this in AP Language and Composition as we learn to interpret visual arguments, from political cartoons to graphs to ads to works of art. This routine starts with observing closely without being blindered by premature interpretations, then goes into building explanations and interpretations (reasoning with evidence can also be brought in here with the follow-up question, “What makes you say that?”), and finally expands into connection, application, evaluation, “so what?” One distinction to draw here is to be sure that the wonders aren’t just another form of thinking, but a broadening out.
- What Makes You Say That? (p. 165). As shown above, this question is so useful, the authors have made it its own thinking routine, but it can also be incorporated into any other thinking routine. Why is this a useful question? It emphasizes reasoning with evidence. When employed as a follow-up to any statement, assertion, or opinion—right or wrong, nascent or mature, complex or shallow—it sends the message that the reasoning is at least as important as the answer. It doesn’t telegraph the answers that teachers are “looking for,” but signals our curiosity about the reasoning behind the answer. In this way, it is also a good routine for any conversation in life.
- Connect-Extend-Challenge (p. 132). In this thinking routine, participants consider what they have just read, seen, or heard, then ask themselves the following questions: (1) How are the ideas and information presented connected to what you already knew? (2) What new ideas did you get that extended or broadened your thinking in new directions? (3) What challenges or puzzles have come up in your mind from the ideas and information presented? I will use this with all of my English students as we read a new piece around a unit theme in preparation for a synthesis essay. I will also use this when I facilitate faculty book discussions or present new instructional strategies in secondary faculty meetings.
- Claim-Support-Question (191). My first thought was that this thinking routine is perfect for AP Language and Comp because it uses the argument concepts of claims, support, and counterclaims. Then I thought it is also a perfect fit for exploring questions of literary interpretation in honors English 10, such as, “Who or what is the man with no face in Haruki Murakami’s postmodern novel After Dark?” And that will make for a good connection between the classes! Here’s how the routine goes (it can be used for a claim made by an author we are reading, or a claim made by a student): Drawing on their investigation, experience, prior knowledge, or reading, participants do the following:
- Make a claim about the topic, issue, or idea being explored.
- Identify support for the claim.
- Raise a question related to the claim. What may make you doubt the claim? What seems left hanging? What isn’t fully explained? What further ideas or issues does your claim raise?
Everybody in education these days is talking about critical and creative thinking. It’s one of the 21st Century skills! It’s engaging, rigorous, and what employers are looking for. But what exactly is it, and how do we foster it in our classrooms (and lives)? In Making Thinking Visible, the authors give teachers some much-needed traction on this question, identifying 8 activities that are components of critical and creative thinking, and then naming and explaining 21 routines for making those components that most often take place invisibly, inside our heads, visible. This is important so we can identify, value, and cultivate the thinking that is the motivation and the goal of learning.
I loved that the book gave examples of these routines being effectively used in all subject areas at all grade levels. Read the book to identify which handful of the 21 routines you can practically implement in your classroom—no one can effectively use them all. I’m glad I had to write this blog—it made me identify the few I’m going to use this year.
Stay tuned to see how it goes!