Making Thinking Visible in Math and ELA Instruction: Part 1Lindsey Cermak, Numeracy Coordinator Kristine Kelly, Literacy & ELA Coordinator
Oftentimes we ask students to “show their work” in math or to “explain why or why not” in response to a question in an ELA classroom, but learner responses to these questions can frequently display shallow thinking, even if their thinking is in reality much deeper. These “shallow” responses can be frustrating!
- But why is it that students don’t know how to show their thinking, whether verbally or on paper?
- As teachers, what can we do to help our learners better communicate their thoughts on a topic or question?
We believe the answers to both of these questions point back to us as instructors. We need to empower our learners to be able to make their thinking visible more efficiently. It is up to us to employ strategies in the classroom that model how to make thinking visible and create spaces for learners to share their ideas in new ways.
What is “thinking”?
Before we can really encourage our students to make their thinking visible, we have to first understand what we mean when we say “thinking.” So what does thinking mean? Some examples include:
- observing and describing what one sees
- reasoning with evidence
- making connections among ideas
- asking thoughtful questions
- drawing logical conclusions
- going beneath the surface to uncover complex and subtle meanings
- and more!*
Why is it important to help our students make thinking visible?
There are several reasons why we should make this practice a priority in our classrooms.
- For better learning – Students develop a deeper understanding when sharing and expressing their thoughts, thereby solidifying new knowledge and developing skills and strategies transferable to other contexts. When students are able to articulate their own “mental moves” (their own problem solving process), they can apply those moves to other areas of their lives!
- For better teaching – When students make their thinking visible, teachers are given a window into how students are processing information. This information tells us how/when to intervene, challenge, or move on. Visible thinking can act as a means of formative assessment, which then improves transferable skills for learners, particularly when students reflect on what they’ve learned, how they’ve learned, and what strategies helped them to persist through challenges.
- To build academic language – Thinking is an internal, individual process. In order to “see what someone is thinking,” the thinker has to be able to express him/herself clearly. This requires productive language either through speaking or writing. In other words, thinking is made visible through effective communication, both orally and in print. Obvious examples include a student telling a classmate their steps to a math problem, or writing a response to a reading. More subtle examples that show us what’s happening in our students’ heads include listening and noting their clarification questions and observing their collaborative work. These tasks show us how and what students are processing, and they provide excellent opportunities to practice academic language.
- To build both CCRS and TIF skills – Engaging with and achieving mastery with the standards requires deeper-level thinking and understanding of content. Being able to articulate thinking will naturally help students along this process. Furthermore, if students can articulate what they are thinking, they are practicing important TIF skills related to Effective Communication, Critical Thinking, and Learning Strategies.
In Part 2 of this newsletter series, we will discuss “making thinking visible” strategies to model and use in the math and/or ELA classroom. Look for that article in the next newsletter!
For more information, check out the archived MN CCRS TA webinar from October 31, 2019: Making Thinking Visible. It is archived on our MN ABE Professional Development YouTube channel.
*Ritchhart, Ron, Church, Mark, Morrison, Karin. (2011) Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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