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How to use Visible Thinking Routines in your classroom

Of all the skills that we want students to gain from their educational journey, the ability to think for themselves is possibly the most important.

Thinking, in its truest sense – of questioning, challenging, exploring, solving – is an indispensable life skill to take forward, for both their professional and personal futures.

‘Visible Thinking’ brings together a series of techniques that simultaneously help students in two ways:

–  Enriching the classroom ‘content learning’ experience.

–  Enhancing their intellectual development.

One of its key advantages is that it can be incorporated into other teaching methods, and doesn’t need to be standalone. Here’s a guide to how you can put it to use in your classroom.

What does Visible Thinking achieve?

Visible Thinking has five key goals:

  • Getting students to understand content more deeply.
  • Increasing their motivation for learning
  • Developing their thinking and learning abilities.
  • Also developing their attitudes toward thinking, and how alert they are to opportunities for using it.
  • Helping create a classroom culture of enthusiastically engaged thinkers and learners.

When Visible Thinking is successfully deployed, students should:

–   Show more interest in and commitment to learning.

–   Find more meaning in topics, and also more meaningful connections between school and their everyday life.

–   Be open-minded rather than closed-minded, and be curious and questioning. They shouldn’t be satisfied with ‘just the facts’, but should want to know more and understand better.

How does it work?

To achieve these goals, Visible Thinking involves several practices and resources, all in a broad and flexible framework. Many of these can not only be delivered through a solution such as WinjiGo, they can actually be enhanced by it.

As a teacher, your role is instill and nurture four ‘thinking ideals’ in your students: understanding, truth, fairness, and creativity.

Whatever the topic, you should pose questions and run exercises that explore that topic against these four ideals. Crucially, these questions and exercises should be visible. In other words, can students see ‘thinking in action’ in what they’re doing? For example:

–   Are they explaining things to one another?

–   Are they offering creative ideas?

–   Is there a brainstorm of alternative interpretations to share – either up on the wall, or as a wiki or similar?

–   Are students debating a plan, perhaps through a online discussion group?

Making sure that thinking is happening in these kinds of ways elevates it. It helps thinking achieve the two things we described at the beginning of this blog – enriching the classroom experience, and enhancing students’ intellectual development.

How often should you use it?

The final point to remember is the importance of routines in Visible Thinking. If techniques like those listed above are just used as learning strategies, they won’t achieve the same result. What makes them succeed is repetition, and making them a core part of your classroom culture, embedded in how you approach learning.

The routines you use should be relatively simple, with only a couple of steps. They should also be transferable from one topic to another. And you should have a mix of techniques: some for students to do as groups, and some for them to do on their own.

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