from Ann Jurewicz, Lower School director

Editor’s Note: Periodically, you will find a guest Head’s Message here from one of MPA’s administrators. We hope you enjoy reading their thoughts and reflections about life at MPA.

Do you like to doodle while listening to new information? Perhaps you like to chart your ideas as you are explaining them to another person. Or maybe you like to “talk your ideas” out loud, finding someone to be your sounding board for a great hunch that nevertheless is an idea still not fully formed. (You may be praising the patience of your “thought” partner or significant other as you read this!)

What all of these activities have in common is “visible thinking.” When we are thinking, we are learning. The more we explicitly engage in thinking, the more we learn. “Visible Thinking” has become the life’s work of Ron Richhart of Harvard’s Project Zero. He explains, “If we take seriously the notion that learning is a consequence of thinking, then thinking—in all its forms: critical, creative and reflective—needs to be part of every lesson we teach.

When schools promote inquiry learning, the goal is to expand thinking, which in turn expands learning. For example, when a student asks a teacher a question, the “visible thinking” response is to rephrase the question back to the student, such as, “What do you think?” This extends learning. It also shifts the classroom environment from teacher-centered to student-centered.

An important aspect of visible thinking is the use of thinking routines. These are purposefully structured protocols that call students engage more robustly in thinking for learning extension. A few examples include:

  • Think-Pair-Share: After being presented with material, students are asked to jot down notes on their own ideas; then they pair with a partner and share their ideas.
  • See-Think-Wonder: After being presented with material, students engage in three prompts:
    1. What are you noticing?
    2. What does that make you think?
    3. What are you wondering now?
  • Headlines: After being exposed to material, students are asked to synthesize the information into a newspaper headline; they share their ideas and their reasoning for the headline.
  • Looking 10×2: Students examine and image for 30 seconds and write the 10 things they notice; after sharing their noticings one or two other students, they return to the image and note 10 more things. This routine asks students to consider the ideas of others and slow down to see more complex aspects than first impressions.

Other understandings of Visible Thinking include that:

  • Good thinking promotes open-mindedness, curiosity, and imaginativeness in addition to skill.
  • Thinking is a social endeavor in which students benefit from multiple peer perspectives and collaboratively build on each other’s knowledge.
  • Teachers can intentionally set a culture of visible thinking through room arrangement, modeling, use explicit routines, cultivating student conversation and interaction, and purposefully structuring time.
  • To foster visible thinking in students, schools must foster visible thinking in teachers; professional learning communities and dedicated time for teachers to be visible thinking learners will cultivate visible thinking classrooms.

Traditionally, when we consider the act of thinking, we imagine it happening mostly inside our heads. However, truly effective thinkers move thinking from an internalized activity to an open and shared endeavor visible in charting, drawing, writing or talking. These visible thinking activities should also be documented and collected to use later in reflection and revision. Visible thinking strives to transform and accelerate learning. So keep up that doodling and keep those thinking conversations going! And we will do the same here at school.

Parent Tip! When asking students about school, consider asking how and why questions about their classes and their learning. These are open-ended and prompt the need for deeper responses. If you want to practice visible thinking with your child, consider asking the following in conversation, or when your child is engaged in an activity:

  • What makes you say that?
  • Say more.
  • Talk to me about what you are doing.
  • Where are you going with that?
  • I’ve noticed…(followed by, “What have you noticed?)
  • Let’s debrief.
  • WOW!
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