VisibleThinking In Action

Every committed educator wants better learning and more thoughtful students. Visible Thinking is a way of helping to achieve that without a separate ‘thinking skills' course or fixed lessons.

Visible Thinking is a broad and flexible framework for enriching classroom learning in the content areas and fostering students' intellectual development at the same time. Here are some of its key goals:

  • Deeper understanding of content
  • Greater motivation for learning
  • Development of learners' thinking and learning abilities.
  • Development of learners' attitudes toward thinking and learning and their alertness to opportunities for thinking and learning (the "dispositional" side of thinking).
  • A shift in classroom culture toward a community of enthusiastically engaged thinkers and learners.

Toward achieving these goals, Visible Thinking involves several practices and resources. Teachers are invited to use with their students a number of "thinking routines" -- simple protocols for exploring ideas -- around whatever topics are important, say fractions arithmetic, the Industrial Revolution, World War II, the meaning of a poem, the nature of democracy. Visible Thinking includes attention to four "thinking ideals" -- understanding, truth, fairness, and creativity. Visible Thinking emphasizes several ways of making students' thinking visible to themselves and one another, so that they can improve it.

The idea of visible thinking helps to make concrete what a thoughtful classroom might look like. At any moment, we can ask, "Is thinking visible here? Are students explaining things to one another? Are students offering creative ideas? Are they, and I as their teacher, using the language of thinking? Is there a brainstorm about alternative interpretations on the wall? Are students debating a plan?"

When the answers to questions like these are consistently yes, students are more likely to show interest and commitment as learning unfolds in the classroom. They find more meaning in the subject matters and more meaningful connections between school and everyday life. They begin to display the sorts of attitudes toward thinking and learning we would most like to see in young learners -- not closed-minded but open-minded, not bored but curious, neither gullible nor sweepingly negative but appropriately skeptical, not satisfied with "just the facts" but wanting to understand.

A bit about our research

Visible Thinking is the product of a number of years of research concerning children's thinking and learning, along with a sustained research and development process in classrooms.

One important finding was that skills and abilities are not enough. They are important of course, but alertness to situations that call for thinking and positive attitudes toward thinking and learning are tremendously important as well. Often, we found, children (and adults) think in shallow ways not for lack of ability to think more deeply but because they simply do not notice the opportunity or do not care. To put it all together, we say that really good thinking involves abilities, attitudes, and alertness, all three at once. Technically this is called a dispositional view of thinking. Visible Thinking is designed to foster all three.

Another important result of this research concerns the practical functionality of the Visible Thinking approach -- the thinking routines, the thinking ideals, and other elements. All these were developed in classroom contexts and have been revised and revised again to ensure workability, accessibility, rich thinking results from the activities, and teacher and student engagement.