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Thinking Made Visible

by Sandra L. Love, Ed.D.


Effective teaching includes many components, but one of the most important is visible thinking. By making the thinking of students visible, educators enhance thinking and learning.


Engage, Think, Learn

Thinking cannot and should not be left to chance. The provision of thinking opportunities will not ensure that thinking is visible. Educators must model thinking to guide students to engage with ideas, to think, and to learn. When students see how others monitor and challenge their own thinking and then make progress in learning, even from mistakes, students understand that thinking and learning mean more than just recalling information they read, hear, and see. Visible thinking reveals a shift in the classroom culture toward engaged learners and thinkers.

Facilitate and Clarify

When teachers concentrate on thinking and learning rather than coverage of content or concepts, they take time to facilitate and clarify student responses rather than use the traditional question, answer, evaluate routine. The questioning sequence helps students accept responsibility as active participants in learning and better grasp that visible thinking is much more than memorizing information and giving a correct answer.

Sequence of Questions

Uncovering how students think provides teachers with evidence of what students understand, how students understand, and any misconceptions students may have. One technique to move learning forward and clarify student thinking is a sequence of questions. When students comment, ask: What makes you say that? If the meaning remains unclear, ask: Can you say more about that? Can you say that in a different way? The teacher can further encourage students to elaborate and justify their thoughts by asking What did you base that on? What does that tell you? This deliberate practice of questioning to uncover thinking engages students with ideas and wguides their thinking about ideas.

Student Thinking

It is essential that teachers remain cognizant of how students’ thinking is developing throughout instruction. Teachers must expose thinking or make it visible to the thinkers and others, revealing the thinking processes that take place when students learn or problem solve. When thinking is made visible, it can serve as an assessment tool to promote student understanding.

Visible thinking can be incorporated into any content area to show how students reason and process information or to illustrate students’ thoughts. When teachers understand the process of how learning takes place, then they can deepen engagement and better support student learning.

 When teachers understand the process of how learning takes place, then they can deepen engagement and better support student learning.

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