Engagement Made Visible

What surprised me most was the level of engagement with the teacher, the learning and with their  peers.  This was a bonded tribe.

Today I was fortunate to observe a class of seniors at Clarkston High while they worked on an assignment in their IB Theory of Knowledge course.  The teacher was a master (and a funny one, too, which was a delightful bonus).  During the entire session, all kids were engaged in thinking, learning and collaborating.  The discussions  were collaborative.  They pushed the thinking of their peers.  They developed consensus.  They were truly thinking deeply and completely engaged.  They laughed and wrote.  Wrote and talked.  This was real collaborative learning.  

The observation  was part of the classroom walk through( pre-conference) for  Project Zero Michigan’s professional learning  in Clarkston.  People attending had come from  Singapore, Brazil and many  US states.  All were here to learn how to make thinking visible for their students.  

The purpose and goals of Visible Thinking:

“Visible Thinking is a flexible and systematic research-based approach to integrating the development of students’ thinking with content learning across subject matters. An extensive and adaptable collection of practices, Visible Thinking has a double goal: on the one hand, to cultivate students’ thinking skills and dispositions, and, on the other, to deepen content learning. By thinking dispositions, we mean curiosity, concern for truth and understanding, a creative mindset, not just being skilled but also alert to thinking and learning opportunities and eager to take them”.  

As Donna Roman states in her blog entry  Making Thinking Visible:  “This is an incredible way to use fairly simple classroom teaching routines to help us become better teachers and to promote deeper thinking, and creative, independent, problem-solving in our K-12 students.”

A significant story emerged during the adult reflection period after observations.    One biology teacher, who was among the last to buy-in to Cultures of Thinking at the high school,  told how the first routine she tried allowed her to understand one of her learning disabled students better.  The student typically scored low on all tests in the past.  One of the “routines” used in Cultures of Thinking allowed students to set the stage for deeper inquiry by essentially helping them formulate questions about new concepts.  The teacher was astounded by the deep thinking this routine exposed in her student.  She remarked how her assessment will need to change because current methods fail to paint an accurate picture of her students.   Visible thinking helped her see who this student really was as a learner and thinker.  

I am at the ground level of understanding of Visible Thinking and the Cultures of Thinking, but the vivid picture painted today leaves me hopeful and curious.  I want more time to see this in action with kids.  I want to participate in the county  labs.  I can see application in every class, including  the learning experiences I have with adults.  

Moving from traditional teaching styles to those that are more progressive, student-centered will certainly change the dynamics of engagement.  My learning continues to evolve.  


Starting with Routines  The ways in which students go about the process of learning

Starting With Ideals collection of routines designed to develop appreciation for important ideals

  • Thinking Ideals  Help students gain deeper understanding of content (using the four ideals)

Starting with Documentation  How to  capture, record, and reflect on the thinking students are doing in your classroom.

Study Group Materials Set of protocols—that is, structures for conversation—to keep the group clearly focused

Looking At Opportunities   A tool for assessing Culture of Thinking

Making Thinking Visible (blog entry by @donnaroman



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