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Professional Education

Visible Thinking: Building Understanding through Critical and Creative Thinking

Visible Thinking online course page

Course Outline

Visible Thinking is an approach to teaching thinking that was developed by Project Zero over a decade ago and is now used widely by educators in a range of settings around the world. Designed to be used in all subjects and all grades, Visible Thinking has two goals: to cultivate students' thinking dispositions, and to deepen content learning. This course explores three themes that are at the heart of Visible Thinking: thinking routines, thinking dispositions, and documentation of student thinking. The course sessions consist of a series of experiences in which educators try out practices related to these three themes — first among themselves in their learning group, and then in their classrooms, or learning environments, with their learners. Along the way, participants gain knowledge about research related to Visible Thinking, they are provided with support to help them integrate Visible Thinking practices into their curriculum, and they have opportunities to collaborate with their colleagues to assess student thinking.

The core questions we will investigate during this course are:

  • How can thinking routines be used to foster thinking dispositions?
  • How can we make students’ and teachers’ thinking visible?
  • How can thinking routines help learners uncover, appreciate and make visible the complexity of ideas and artifacts related to the curriculum?
Session 1 (Orientation)

Session 1: Orientation

In this session, you will become acquainted with the course site and the role of instructors, coaches, and learners in this course. You will meet your fellow course participants and learn about each other’s goals for the course, their backgrounds and work contexts and prepare for the six two-week content sessions.

Session 2

Session 2: Thinking Routines: Diving In and Trying It Out

In this session, you will begin by using a reflection tool for teachers called MYST (MYST stands for Me, You, Space, Time). The tool will help you reflect on how you already make your own and your students’ thinking visible. You will also get acquainted with thinking routines, a basic tool of Visible Thinking, by using a thinking routine with your colleagues to explore a work of art. Thinking routines are short, easy-to-use mini-strategies that encourage learners to surface their own ideas and build on them to explore and understand complex topics. Thinking routines are designed to scaffold thinking as it unfolds. They are also designed so that they can be used without a lot of background knowledge about a subject or intensive instructional support by the teacher.

Session 3

Session 3: Pair Up: Connecting Routines to your Curricular Goals

In Session 2, you tried out one thinking routine, See|Think|Wonder, with your colleagues, and made a plan to try it out with your students. In this session, you will follow through with your plan. Then you will begin to familiarize yourself with additional Visible Thinking resources — specifically, a gallery of student work related to thinking routines, a packet of core thinking routines (these are often-used routines that are highly transferable across contexts and subjects), and a procedure called Thinktrack for tracking your use of thinking routines. After that, you will work with a partner to try out two different routines yourselves, and to develop a plan for using at least one of these routines with your students in an upcoming lesson.

Session 4

Session 4: Thinking Routines in Context: The Theory and Research Behind Thinking Dispositions

In Session 3 you explored one thinking routine, Connect|Extend|Challenge more deeply in addition to looking at several other routines. In this session you will be introduced to research about thinking dispositions and continue to plan for thinking in your classroom with dispositions in mind. To aid you in your planning, you will try out THREE new thinking routines in this session (the first during Week 1 and two more during Week 2), so think ahead about your schedule and the opportunities to incorporate thinking routines.

Session 5

Session 5: Documentation: Making Learners' Thinking Visible

Session 4 focused on some of the research behind Visible Thinking, particularly the concept of thinking dispositions. In Session 5 you will continue to explore more thinking routines that support learners as they cultivate specific thinking dispositions. Additionally, this session will address the third theme of the course: documentation. You will continue to learn about how to make thinking visible while considering the forms of, and purposes for, documenting student learning. Finally, you will begin to develop a ‘VT Window,’ the final course project.

Session 6

Session 6: Reflective Practice: Looking Closely at Student Thinking Together

Session 5 had a focus on documentation. In Session 6 you will continue to explore the power of documentation as you use a protocol to look at student thinking with your colleagues. Throughout the session, you will continue to use different thinking routines and determine what elements to include in your VT Window.

Session 7

Session 7: Looking Ahead and Reflecting Back

In Session 6 you had an opportunity to look at student work with your colleagues using a protocol. In this final session, you will have a chance to share and view the documentation you created in order to demonstrate your understanding of some aspect of the Visible Thinking Framework. Additionally, you will look ahead and plan to incorporate Visible Thinking strategies in the future, and look back to reflect on the throughlines of this course.