Sunday, 27 October 2013

Visible Thinking

Visible Thinking is a flexible and systematic research-based framework stemming from Project Zero, an educational research group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Principal Investigators are Veronica Boix-Mansilla, Howard Gardner, Tina Grotzer, Carrie James, David Perkins, Ron Ritchhart, Steve Seidel, Shari Tisman, Daniel Wilson and Ellen Winner. Its original aim is to study and improve education in the arts. Visible Thinking has a double goal: a) to cultivate students' thinking skills and dispositions and b) to deepen content learning. 

The basic idea is to make thinking visible within the context of learning thus fostering cultures of thinking. Post-it notes, construction papers on the walls, any sort of visible documentation within the classroom can be used for this aim where students’ individual and collective thinking is valued, revealed and promoted. By making thinking visible, students regulate, monitor, guide and reflect on their learning hence their metacognitive skills are developed.    

Thinking Routines are at the core of the Visible Thinking programme. The underlying idea is that classroom life is structured upon routines which regulate diverse aspects such as student behaviour management, organization of the work and the process of learning, and the establishment of rules for interaction, communication and discourse. Thinking Routines can be conceived as flexible, simple structures, a set of questions or a short sequence of steps that can be used systematically to promote the development of students’ thinking and the classroom culture. They target specific types of thinking, are easy to learn and teach, can be used across a variety of context and can be subject to group or individual work. 

Many of the proposals put forward in Art least explore the possibilities of integrating the Visible Thinking approach in the efl classroom as a means of developing critical thinking and critical reflection.  

Thursday, 10 October 2013


Description: This lesson proposal is organized around the theme of school through the use of four (4) paintings of the late 19th early 20th century and 2 short videos. Students compare schools in the past and present and reflect on their own experience and feelings towards school. The Visible Thinking routine used is Circle of Viewpoints.    

Level: Intermediate-Upper intermediate
Learners: Teens and adults
Theme: School
Language: Simple Present, Present Continuous, there is/there are, past forms, used to, school related vocabulary 
Skills: Describing paintings, speaking, writing, exploring diverse perspectives, watching 2 short videos 
Materials: 4 coloured photocopies, worksheet, PowerPoint presentations, 2 short videos 

Step 1
Show visual prompt and brainstorm various viewpoints about the topic of school. Try using the following questions if needed:
  • How does it look from different points in space and time?
  • Who (and what) is affected by it?
  • Who is involved?
  • Who might care?
Ask each student to choose one of these viewpoints. Give them time to prepare to speak about the topic from that perspective and to embody the viewpoint using the script skeleton to structure what they say. Try to move your students to consider thoughts and feelings of the character they’ve chosen.
1.   I am thinking of ... school... from the point of view of ... a teacher/ student/ head teacher/ school advisor/ education policy maker/ parent/ business owner
2.   I think ... describe the topic from your viewpoint. Be an actor - take on the character of your viewpoint
3.   A question I have from this viewpoint is ... ask a question from this viewpoint

Step 3
Let students act out their various perspectives. They should speak briefly about their chosen viewpoint using the script skeleton. There will probably, and hopefully, be a broad and distinct array of responses, as each student produces a unique viewpoint. If some students opt for the same character, encourage them to perform differently. For example, if several students choose the viewpoint of a student, one may be trying to seek out distinction in school; another student might be disaffected or just want to make friends; a third one may be a first grader; a fourth one in his last year. Ask them to raise different questions in order to elaborate their viewpoints. Keep a visible record of their ideas so that a class list of perspectives is created. 

Step 4
Once everyone in the circle has spoken, you can lead a discussion by asking: What new ideas do you have about the topic that you didn’t have before? and What new questions do you have?

Step 5
Organize students in 4 groups. Give each group a coloured photocopy of a painting and ask them to cooperate and write a short descriptive text about it. Ask them to reflect on the following issues: students, teacher, classroom arrangement, objects, era, country, points that cause puzzlement, title for the painting. Allow 15 minutes for the groups to complete the activity.
Step 6
Get feedback. Divide the board in four (4) parts. Show the Power Point Presentation below. Pause at each painting while one student from each group reads out their joint text. Write in the equivalent part of the board the relevant information (title, students, teacher…) making visible the answers of all groups.

                                             School paintings from hrysa

Step 7
Show the PowerPoint below. Reveal information, make comparisons with students' answers and hold a plenary discussion.

School paintings 2 from hrysa

Step 8
Discuss with students how these works of art make them feel. 

Step 9
Write the following words on the board: in the past-school-used to. Ask students to write 5 sentences reflecting on the previous discussion. After 10 minutes get feedback. 
Possible answers:
In the past teachers used to hold a cane/ In the past there used to be corporal punishment/ In the past they used to have metal bells/In the past they used to heat classrooms with a woodstove/In the past they used to write with quills/In the past there used to be no central heating or air conditioning in schools. 

Step 10
Write on the board: one-room schools. Tell students that they were commonplace in rural (country) and small town schools in various countries (the USA, Canada, Australia, the UK, Ireland, Spain, Greece) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tell students they are going to watch a short video about country schools in the 1900s in the USA. As they watch they should fill in the blanks in the text (video: 4:15-5:41).

Step 11
Show the video again and get feedback. 

Step 12
Write on the board: Past-Present: how have schools changed? Tell them that they are going to watch a short video about Past and Present Schools. They should note down changes.

Possible answers
Blackboard-whiteboard-interactive board/ Technology assisted learning (computers/ipads/laptops)/ Individual work-group work / Ways of punishment

Ask students to write a short text about either a good or a bad school experience of their own.

I hope you find this proposal worth experimenting.