Wait, What? You Wanted Me To Do What? The Importance of Visible Thinking Routines For Student Clarity

I strongly believe that the more transparent and explicit we are in communicating with students in what we view as exemplar work, the more equipped they will be as we apply the gradual release of responsibility. And isn’t that the end goal? To have students independently applying strategies explored in class, synthesizing data and stories, and ultimately creating new meaning? How we say it and what we say will determine the span of our reach, the authenticity of the message we construct and communicate, and eventually the gauge in whether we were successful or not as educators. I continue to be fascinated by the work and research from Harvard’s Project Zero: Visible Thinking Routines.  The work is a product research stretched across years of work concerning children’s thinking and learning, along with a sustained research and development process in classrooms.  Let’s take a look at just one strategy: SEE | THINK | WONDER through the lens of how reading workshop may look in an elementary classroom. Of the many visible thinking routines educators may find applicable to their instruction, this one speaks loud and clear to one aspect we all need to be aware of: close reading!

As educators continue to seek out authentic best practices for influencing student learning, close reading is often on the agenda. I’ve often overheard conversations where it is misinterpreted or misunderstood.  But what is it? And what does it look and sound like? Forget all of the Common Core stamped books and resources, because here’s the thing: there is no one-stop shop for teaching students how to think critically of a text.  The real answer lies within a varied approach centered around visible thinking routines.  According to Beth Burke, NBCT, close reading is, “thoughtful, critical analysis of a text that focuses on significant details or patterns in order to develop a deep, precise understanding of the text’s form, craft, meanings, etc.”  When students are engaged in visible thinking routines they are more likely to create meaning in the content while also fostering meaningful connections between school and their own lives.

The routine has its highest impact when a student responds by using the three stems together consecutively, “I see…, I think…, I wonder….” Implementing or launching this routine in a shared reading or in partnerships can also prove to be a worthy venture because students will quickly see how others use it and apply it to their own use. Another implementation idea is to create a class anchor chart that displays the three driving questions students will need while engaged in their book or text passage.

  • What do you see?
  • What do you think about it?
  • What does it make you wonder?

As students enter the intermediate grade levels, the ability for them to use and cite text evidence becomes an important skill. Each of the three question stems can be further supported through text evidence which will result in a deeper understanding of the text.

For teachers that use myON within their literacy instruction, the use of the embedded literacy tools are all students need to apply this visible thinking routine! By color-coding each of the three stems, students can be clear and transparent what they see, think, and wonder. See below for one example taken from a book of a 5th grade student who was reading about states of matter within a physical science unit of study.

About author: 

Billy currently teaches in Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 in suburban Chicago. After spending a decade teaching 3rd thru 5th grades, Billy served students and teachers as an instructional coach. He recently spent time in the Bahamas with the Shedd Aquarium where he lived on a research vessel for a week conducting scientific inquiry. Prior to teaching in Lake Zurich he worked at Walt Disney World as a member of the Animal Programs department in entertaining, educating, and inspiring conservation action. He facilitates a passion for literacy, passionate learning, and social media to discover creative ways for students to meet their individual learning needs. Authentic and purposeful technology integration is a non-negotiable aspect in providing students with the tools to be successful. Billy earned his BA in Elementary Education at Illinois State University and a MA in Literacy and Reading from Benedictine University. He also enjoys hot dogs, coffee, and his ever growing collection of records. To learn more about his interests and passions in and out of the classroom, follow him on Twitter-@MrBillySpicer