Developing Thinkers


How do we deepen students’ thinking? And by deepening their thinking, also deepen their understanding? A group of elementary teachers are exploring these ideas through the shared experience of taking the Harvard Graduate School of Education online course, Making Thinking Visible: Building Understanding Through Critical and Creative Thinking. When I visited the classroom of one of these teachers this week, I experienced the impact that their study is having on students. And it was amazing.

I arrived toward the end of a read aloud session. The book was The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. As the teacher read, every student – each and every student – was engrossed in the story. When she finished the chapter, the teacher reviewed the questions that students had at the end of the previous chapter, asked if any of those questions were answered, and then prompted them for new questions and thinking.


What happened next was the exciting part. I’ve visited many classrooms and experienced many book discussions… many perfectly good book discussions. This one was different. The teacher played the role of true facilitator. She didn’t teach or instruct, but rather prompted students to think through her questioning. The voices in the discussion were overwhelmingly those of the students. They questioned, responded, wondered, inferred. They pushed their thinking to those higher levels that all teachers aspire for their students to reach.

A student's reading notebook

I chatted with the teacher to learn more about the work she’s doing with the students and why she thinks it’s having such a positive impact on their thinking. She explained that since implementing the thinking routines that she’s learned in the online class, she’s seen a definite increase in students’ ability to think more deeply and critically. She also credited the work they’re doing in their reading notebooks as part of the Readers Workshop model that we use in the elementary school.

I’ve had the Making Thinking Visible book in my Amazon shopping cart for months. After this classroom visit and learning more from the teacher, I purchased the book and can hardly wait for it to arrive. To tide me over, I found this article from Educational Leadership on the Visible Thinking website. What I noticed is that the thinking routines are similar – and in some cases nearly identical – to some of the Student Reform Initiative (SRI) protocols we use in our professional meetings. I’m looking forward to learning more.


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