Course 5 Final Project: Making Thinking Visible

I remember being near paralysis when I sat down to write my first blog post. What would I say? What would people think about what I said? Who would read it? I had so many questions so I created Ideas that Float as a forum for my wonderings. I knew that I was going to learn, stretch, and grow in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined at the start. I predicted that some questions I would eventually answer, others I would gladly ponder for months, possibly years, to come, and some might surface as influential thoughts that I wouldn’t know where or how they would lead me. This is exactly what unfolded. As I look back over my posts here, I can see that my learning is chronologically recorded, focused through specific lenses (courses), and has other thinkers responding to and contributing their own wonderings. I now have a record of how my thinking is influencing my wonderings and how my wonderings are guiding my actions. This blog has become my own vehicle for making my thinking visible! I have accomplished exactly the same question I asked of my students:

How can you use technology to make your thinking more visible? 

This was my plan:

As usual, some things went according to plan, while others didn’t. When the learning and teaching did go according to plan we had a guide of where we were headed, why we were aiming for that horizon, and how we were going to get there. When things didn’t go according to plan, we discovered new learning, we asked questions we wouldn’t have otherwise wondered, and we developed new plans. Based on that journey, here is the experience my students and I shared and we are pleased to now share it with you.

So now after fifteen months of recording and noticing what floats to the surface for me, I have joined more online communities, become a more curious thinker, honed my observation and listening skills, become a blogger, worked with and learned from colleagues around the world, and I have stretched what I now know about teaching and learning to encompass new dimensions involving technology. So my final COETAIL wonderings are:

  • Where do you see this experience leading to next?
  • How does my journey spark, influence, impact your own journey?
  • What floats to the surface for you? 

Thanks to all of you who have undertaken this journey with me and to all of you just beginning, enjoy the ride . . . you never know what will come up!







What Exactly is Visible Thinking?

I have spent the past two weeks trying to clarify what we mean when we say “Visible Thinking.” So far what I have found is that the tangible tools to making thinking visible come from Harvard’s Project Zero and are referred to as Thinking Routines. So in the spirit of trying out what I am asking my students to do I thought I would try their 3-2-1- Bridge thinking routine which is used to activate prior knowledge and to make connections. This routine asks students to record their initial thoughts, questions, ideas, and understandings about a topic first. After engaging with the topic, they repeat the same thinking routine and then make a connection between their understandings.

My topic is Visible Thinking and here is my 3-2-1 bridge:

3 Thoughts or Ideas: this is a buzz word in education today; teaching students to make their thinking visible might help me to become a better teacher; making my own thinking visible as I teach would help my students.

2 Questions: how do you make thinking visible? how do you explain this concept to students?

1 Analogy: Making thinking visible is like water, it is needed to hydrate and activate our brains

The next step of this thinking routine is to engage in learning about the topic through reading an article, watching a video, engaging in an activity, etc. I chose to read the following in an effort to gain a clearer definition of Visible Thinking:

  • In “Making Thinking Visible” by Ron Ritchhart and David Perkins they outline the following six key principles of Visible Thinking:
    • “Learning is a consequence of thinking
    • Good thinking is not only a matter of skills, but also a matter of dispositions
    • The development of thinking is a social endeavor
    • Fostering thinking requires making thinking visible
    • Classroom culture sets the tone for learning and shapes what is learned
    • Schools must be cultures of thinking for teachers.”
  •  In  “Visible Thinking” by Shari Tishman and Patricia Palmer Visible Thinking is defined as “any kind of observable representation that documents and supports the development of an individual’s or group’s ongoing thoughts, questions, reasons, and reflections. Mind maps, charts and lists, diagrams, worksheets all count as visible thinking if – and this is an important if– they reveal learners’ unfolding ideas as they think through an issue, problem or topic.” Tishman and Palmer go on to state why this is so powerful in the classroom: ” Visible thinking expresses a powerful view of knowledge, demonstrates the value of intellectual collaboration, and changes the classroom culture.”
  • In Visible Learning for Teachers, John Hattie defines Visible Thinking in this way: “The ‘visible’ aspect refers to making student learning visible to teachers, ensuring clear identification of the attributes that make a visible difference to student learning . . . it also refers to making teaching visible to the student, such that they learn to become their own learners . . . The ‘learning aspect’ refers to how we go about knowing and understanding, and then doing something about student learning.”
  • In Harvard’s “Visible Thinking Resource Book” the authors state, Visible Thinking is a broad and flexible framework for enriching classroom learning in the content areas and fostering students’ intellectual development at the same time . . . some of its key goals are: deeper understanding of content, greater motivation for learning, development of learners’ thinking and learning abilities, development of learners attitudes toward thinking and learning and their alertness to opportutnities for thinking and learning, and a shift in classroom culture toward a community of enthusiastically engaged thinkers and learners.”

After reading these definitions and essential characteristics of Visible Thinking my 3-2-1 bridge now looks like this:×662.jpg

3 Thoughts or Ideas: Thinking routines are tools I can use in the classroom to make student thinking visible; making student thinking visible can help me to immediately see student strengths, interests, and misconceptions; making student thinking visible directly and positively impacts the culture in my classroom.

2 Questions: Who is already doing this at my school? Is there a twitter group for Visible Thinking that I could follow for more ideas?

1 Analogy: Making thinking visible is like breathing air, once it becomes a part of your teaching and learning you almost foroget it’s there

and my final step, the bridge, looks like this: I used to think that Visible Thinking was difficult to wrap my mind around as a teacher and was going to require lots of new “activities” but now I think that there are many practical approaches and methods to make student thinking more visible which could easily become a part of the fabric of the teaching and learning in my classrooom

So . . . you might be wondering what’s floating to the surface after becoming a visible thinker myself . . . I am wondering how am I going to integrate technology into this new fabric of teaching and learning? Stay tuned . . .

The Seed of an Idea

The summer has come and gone and I can now return to my final project, Using Technology to Make Student Thinking Visible, with fresh eyes. Looking back over the proposal I submitted in May, a few things float to the surface . . .

  • this project has the potential to redefine my students learning and my teaching
  • developing a partnership with our technology integration specialist is essential to my own growth and the growth of my students
  • I still love the focus I have chosen and am excited to give it a try
  • My Course 5 video will document my own visible thinking using technology, I will be doing exactly what I ask my students to do, just as Kristy said in one of her comments, “The nice thing about it not being a unit is that you can truly develop it over the course of the year. Essentially, you could go through the process right along with your students; documenting your thinking through out the year and reflecting on what you would change or do differently going further.”

In my original proposal, I wondered: Who can I contact/learn from that already has knowledge/experience about this? and What can I try/read/look into over the summer to support this project starting in August? I have started to take steps towards those answers.
  • Kim helped connect me with Matthew at ACS, Abu Dhabi who was interested in my project and thought we might be able to team up. As a result of this connection, I have set up my Twitter account and am continuing to establish my own PLN. I also connected with a recent COETAIL grad, Matt McGrady, who commented on my post and I found out is also going to be taking the Harvard course.

    Over the summer, I read John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers which built my more foundational understanding of Visible Thinking supported by lots of data from classrooms.

  • I attended the following Saturday session offered by our tech integration specialists that has really given me a head start apps wise: “Creative and Dynamic ways to use an iPad for Documenting Learning: In this session you will learn how to capture student learning by making a short booklet in Book Creator. You will also learn how to create images in Drawing Pad and make a Math animation in Explain Everything. Using Pic Collage you will create a Picasso inspired masterpiece where you become the artwork and you learn how to photograph yourself and filter that image to create a digital artwork. Lastly you will learn to create a short movie documentary simply in Book Creator. We will use Google Drive to demonstrate how files can be shared across a class and even how to use the new Google Photos which is not only free but very easy to use. This session will be aimed at beginners but also open to those people wanting a repeat of these core apps and perhaps to experience some iPad art created work.” 

So what’s next? Specifically, what will I aim for over the next three weeks before our fall break:

  1. Summative assessment for our first inquiry unit: My students will use the Explain Everything App on the iPads to place their two pictures of their brains (drawn on google drawing before and after the unit) side by side. They will then narrate using the Visible Thinking Routine “I used to think but now I think” to show how their thinking has changed about how their brain works.
  1. Opinion Pieces: The students will mark their opinions down in response to a statement on a timeline from agree to disagree. They will then physically line up on the field and we will take a photograph to illustrate where they stand in their thinking. We will do this exercise as a tuning in activity before the unit and then as a summative activity after the unit. Students will use the visible thinking routine of “What Makes you Say That?” to explain their thinking.
  1. Minecraft After School Activity:  I will begin leading 17 students across grade 3-5 in our Minecraft club. I’ll intentionally set up our world, give them parameters about what we are trying to achieve, and use the visible thinking routine of either Question Starts or Connect Extend Challenge to capture how they are using this technology to deepen their own inquiries.
  1. Building Learning Power Video: We always start the year off focusing on our 4Rs here at JIS: We develop Resourceful, Resilient, Reflective, and Related students. I am going to task my 5th graders, as leaders of the elementary, with making a Public Service Announcement Announcement for each of these Learning Dispositions. They will work in groups, developing these skills, and use iMovie to create and edit their final video. These videos will then be shared at assembly with the rest of the school.

In closing, I am thankful:

  • that my enthusiasm for this project remains high.
  • that I have connected with resources and people who will support and guide me.
  • that I will be in the shoes of my students.
  • that I am lucky enough to learn from students everyday who are 21st century literate, enthusiastic, and ready to show what they are thinking.


No time like the present, time to get started and see where our thinking takes us, one and all . . .


Course 5 Proposal: How can technology make thinking visible?

Where I am on my COETAIL journey:

  • I am really excited about most of the ideas we have learned about in Courses 1-4.
  • I am looking forward to implementing our course 5 project  next semester.
  • I have an idea for the project, combining tech with one of my professional areas of growth.
  • I have written down lots of possibilities and initial thoughts to bring this project to life.
  • I will need critical feedback from the COETAIL community to make this possible.
  • I am starting to wonder how I will continue such professional growth once I have completed COETAIL course 5.
  • I feel ready to go from ideas to implementation and am looking forward to that adventure.

Below is my UBD planner for the the Course 5 project. My question that has floated to the top is: How can I use technology to make student thinking more visible?

There are obviously still places that need polishing and most likely scrapping and reinventing. But actually that’s exactly the heart of the unit. Tracking how our thinking develops, justifying the changes, and reflecting on the whole process throughout. My students and I will be experiencing the same journey of making our thinking visible.

Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 9.06.29 PMThere are two main reasons why I want to try this yearlong unit for my Course 5 project:     1. I am really excited about it! I want to know more about how visible thinking works, how I can implement it, and how I can use technology to enhance it.

2. I think my students will be more engaged, will acquire and hone their technology skills, and will develop deeper understandings both about the content and themselves as thinkers.

What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 9.09.40 PMMy main concern is that I am starting from scratch. I have chosen to create a unit rather than integrate into an already exisiting one. I have also decided that this will be a year long unit rather than having a clear start and end date. On top of that I am selecting technology tools that I have minimal experience with so yeah, I have some concerns. Basically what it all comes down to is: am I biting off more than I can chew or am I making this harder than it needs to be? I sure hope not.


What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 9.11.57 PMThis project will require two major shifts:         1. I will need to challenge myself and my students to consciously think about our thinking. There will now be an added layer to our learning. I will need to design experiences to facilitiate and nurture that metacognition.    2. I will need to work closely with our tech integration specialist to match content lessons with appropriate tech tools. I will need to learn about these tools, play around with them on my own, and then introduce and support my students in their application.

What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?

Skills: flexibility, creativity, collaborating, explaining, applying, modifying, comparing, examining, revising, critiquing, justifying, writing, labeling, drawing, explaining, describing, discussing, evaluating, synthesizing, assessing, summarizing, metacognitive, problem-solving, predicting, describing, identifying, matching, sharing, demonstrating, recording, outlining, determinig, selecting, publishing, creating, recognizing, managing time . . .

Attitudes: positive thinker, honest, articulate communicator, reflective, resilient problem-solver, resourceful, active listener, ethical, growth-mindset, passionate, engaged.


So after all that thinking about thinking, these wonderings now float to the surface:

  • What am I not thinking of?
  • How do I teach students to articulate their thinking?
  • What is a feasible balance for 5th graders between thinking and thinking about thinking?
  • Who can I contact/learn from that already has knowledge/experience about this?
  • What can I try/read/look into over the summer to support this project starting in August?
  • and finally . . . What do others think?