Days 12 and 13: Making Thinking Visible

The twelfth day of our journey was pretty uneventful. We drove from Richland, WA to Portland, OR. Most of the drive was along the Columbia River, including the Columbia River Gorge, which led to some beautiful scenery but not a lot of activity. It felt great to get to Portland, though, and settle in with friends we hadn’t seen in over a year.

The next day, Friday, they had some obligations so we took a trip to the Oregon coast. The coast is amazing, with beautiful beaches surrounded by cliffs that afford amazing views: 

It was also pretty chilly, with temperatures in the mid-60s and a cool breeze blowing. Still, we toughed it out and set up a couple of chairs and some sand toys here:


For the first time since we started our trip I was able to sit down and open a book, so of course I chose something school-related. Our department is reading a couple of books this summer, including Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison. While I don’t know that I’ll share my thoughts on every chapter of the book, the first one had some interesting points that I think are worth summarizing and synthesizing.

As one might expect, the first chapter of the book is dedicated to establising the basis for the arguments to follow. In this case, this means defining  what the authors mean by “thinking.” The authors quickly and convincingly establish that “understanding” is not a type of thinking, as Bloom and his students contended, but is in fact the goal of thinking. This allows them to establish, from their research, six kinds of thinking that lead to understanding:

  1. Observing closely and describing what’s there
  2. Building explanations and interpretations
  3. Reasoning with evidence
  4. Making connections
  5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives
  6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions (pg. 11)

While I’m not sold on the phrase “capturing the heart” I think this is a pretty reasonable list. The authors go on to add a couple of other kinds of thinking, and then a second list of six other types of thinking that are useful in problem solving and decision making. I won’t reproduce those lists here, but I will say that I did find them compelling as well.

The most interesting part of the chapter for me was in the discussion that followed the list presented above. A team of sixth grade teachers at the Interational School of Amsterdam was involved in the authors’ research. This team of teachers decided that if these were the thinking skills they wanted their students to develop, then they should make these skills explicit. These teachers had their students create porfolios that demonstrated the ways in which they had used each of these skills.

I love this idea, but I think I would take it even further. Why not post these skills on the wall of the classroom? As the students are working through a problem and question, I think that these skills should be visible as reminders of the things they might try. I can’t think of a better way to make these skills visible than to literally make them visible, to discuss them regularly, and to reinforce their importance when working with individuals or groups. Understanding is my goal for my students, and if this is what it takes to get them there then I think I should be as explicit about it as I can.

I’ll be working my through this book slowly over the next few weeks. I’m interested to see how my thinking on this evolves as I continue reading, and if anything really grabs me then I’ll share it here. 


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