Using strategies to make thinking visible can be incredibly powerful. Their power, however, hinges almost entirely on how willing teachers are to learn about their students.
Far too often, I see visible thinking strategies used as an “activity” or as a way of decorating the walls. In some cases, I think teachers believe that just by doing a visible thinking strategy they are automatically finding out what their students think and that by displaying the results their thinking has been made visible.
However, in order to make the most of the opportunities that visible thinking strategies provide us to delve deep into the minds of our students, we need to be willing to scrutinize their responses. We need to be incredibly curious about the way they are thinking. We need to probe further when we’re not sure a student has responded fully. We need to try different strategies to see if different ideas are revealed. Most importantly of all… we need to be doing all of these things with them.
By showing them how interested we are in their thoughts – and by involving them in the way we respond to their thoughts – we honour them, we give them pride and we let them know their thinking is important. By basing the subsequent planning – ours and theirs – on their responses and reactions, we show them how their learning is constructed… how it builds on their existing knowledge, their ideas, their misconceptions and their questions.
This is inquiry.
So, next time you decide to use a visible thinking strategy, ask yourself if you are genuinely interested in how your students respond. If you are… great. If you’re not… try your hardest to make yourself interested. Its worth it.
A couple of years ago, I made a posting and video about the power of setting up classrooms to suit the nature of the learning going on at the time. The context, at that time, was visual art and each student was involved in their own visual art project. They were artists. Turning the classrooms into art studios was a natural step towards making them really feel like artists.
You can do this for any context.
In this clip, the Grade 5 classrooms at my school are becoming art studios and the students are creating their own workspaces and innovation boards. One student said “its organized… but its organized in our own way”.
I find it really exciting to walk into a room – even when the students and teachers are not there – and be able to get a real sense of what the students of that class are thinking about, and how they are thinking. Recently, when walking around NIST, I was really impressed by the amount of visible thinking I found, and the variety of ways that teachers are “extracting” that thinking from their students and then displaying it so that the walls do actually speak.
How wonderful for students to be immersed in their own thoughts, interacting with displays and surrounded by relevance at all times!
What visible thinking strategies have worked well for you?
One thing I’m always on the look-out for is evidence of student thinking. I love to walk into a classroom or down a corridor and be able to get a sense of what the students are thinking about and working on even when they’re not there to explain it to me. The sort of displays that achieve this are often not the beautifully perfect, mounted, manicured displays that we have all been forced to do at various stages in our careers – the kind of displays that take so long to put up that we leave them up for months – long after they are relevant! They are usually messy, imperfect, full of errors and would give one or two heads of school I have worked for nightmares!
However, when teachers use their walls and windows to make thinking visible, they immerse their students in thought, they affirm and give value to the students’ thoughts and they map out where students have come from and where they head to. It is very powerful to see students walking up to a display board to remind themselves of something they put on a post-it note two weeks previously, or pulling a tag off the wall to help them write a reflection or to assess how much their conceptual understanding has developed in a unit of inquiry.
Here’s a slideshow of some examples of making thinking visible that I saw today: