DISCUSSION: Making thinking visible – What is visible thinking?

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 9.02.40 PM.png

Do you believe that learning is a product of thinking?

As educators, we do not generally hear other peoples thinking, just the results and so we only get to see half of the conversation.

We have to ask ourselves “Where did that come from?” From time to time we may even need to ask this question of ourselves. By trying to externalise the thinking, we can get a better handle on our thoughts and in turn, learn to think better. Visible learning is not only learning to think, but thinking to learn. Sometimes this involves putting ourselves or our learners in a zone of discomfort for the greater good – more meaningful learning.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 7.58.43 PM.png

The Harvard Project Zero project drew on lines of research to develop  set of simple thinking routines which could be woven into a teacher’s classroom practice. These routines formed the foundations of what Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, Karin Morrison and David Perkins called “visible thinking” that encourages rich communities of practice. They is shared with the world at: www.pz.harvard.edu/vt and led form the basis of the Cultures of Thinking project (the forces shaping classroom culture) at Bialik College, Melbourne.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 7.57.50 PM.png

Also see: Visible thinking for a systematic research-based approach to integrating the development of students’ thinking with content learning.

The word ‘think’ is ranked by the Oxford English Dictionary as the twelfth most used verb in the English language. Therefore, it must play an important role in our speech and writing, but how well do we actually understand what it means to think? What do we as educators intend when we use the work think in class? How does it get interpreted by our students? What actions, if any, does it lead to?

We need be clear about what it is we mean, expect, believe, when we use the word ‘think’. Let’s look through the lens of thinking; we need to make “the various forms, dimensions and processes of thinking visible to ourselves”.

Thinking is messy, complex and interconnected. Ron Ritchhart et al, identified thinking moves that they felt were integral to understanding:

  • observing closely and describing what’s there
  • building explanations and interpretations
  • reasoning with evidence
  • making connections
  • considering different viewpoints and perspectives
  • capturing the heart and forming conclusions
  • wondering and asking questions
  • uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things

This is not an exhaustive list.

As students become more aware of their own thinking and the strategies and processes  they use to think, they become more metacognitive: Ritchhart, Turner & Hadar, (2009). Uncovering students’ thinking about thinking using concept maps. Metacognition and Learning, 4(2), 145-159.

See posts: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 for information on specific thinking routines.

When we make thinking visible, we “draw attention to the mechanisms by which individuals construct their understanding”. (Ritchhart, Church & Morrison, Making thinking visible, p.22).

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 8.54.32 PM.png


It might also be worthwhile checking out this piktochart:  Routines to Lead Professional Discourse.


** UPDATE:  Please see:

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 4.58.39 PM

for alternative organisation of thinking routines. This website is specific for art, however, art can come into any inquiry and so this is a relevant website and has highly effective examples of using thinking routines. There are also some additions to the routines by the “Making thinking visible” group.

The video below gives you a tour of the above website.





3 thoughts on “DISCUSSION: Making thinking visible – What is visible thinking?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s