Learning to Think, But Thinking to Learn

When I held the position of teacher leader, part of my job was to provide the staff with professional development opportunities.  Since “engagement” was the big buzz word at the time (I think it always is), I started reading Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhardt.  Designed by researchers at Harvard, Making Thinking Visible stresses the importance of teaching students how to think and how to make that thinking visible to others.

I would put it in my own words, but it is done so well in the book that I will let it speak for itself.  Below are just a few quotes from the book that really resonated with me.

test-986935“We judge teaching effectiveness based on student absorption of material, and teaching becomes defined as the delivery of that material.  The educational system becomes distorted, being more concerned with producing effective test takers than successful learners (Gallagher, 2010).”

“Instead of covering the curriculum and judging our success by how much content we get through, we must learn to identify the key ideas and concepts with which we want our students to engage, struggle, question, explore, and ultimately build understanding.”

“Retention of information through rote practice isn’t learning; it is training.”

“Rather than seeing learning as the passive taking in of information, we must honor the fact that learning occurs as a result of our thinking and active sense making.”

“The mission addressed by this book is not only learning to think, but thinking to learn.”

“Uncovering students’ thinking gives us evidence of students’ insights as well as their misconceptions.  We need to make thinking visible because it provides us with the information we as teachers need to plan opportunities that will take students’ learning to the next level and enable continued engagement with the ideas being explored.”

I’m hearing more and more that we need to teach students to think critically.  While I completely agree, it’s not as simple as it sounds.  Especially when most school curricula don’t include teaching students to think for themselves.  Typically, students are told what they need to know to pass a test and then asked to complete an activity based on that information.  The problem is this often doesn’t require the students to think.  They’re basically regurgitating information without an understanding of why it is important or how it connects to other aspects of their life.

Fortunately, the Making Thinking Visible book provides teachers with the tools needed to develop students’ thinking and therefore their understanding.   It includes detailed instructions of 21 different routines, or strategies, designed to emphasize the key thinking moves that are vital to understanding.  The definition of a routine is “a practice of regularly doing things in a fixed order.”  Just as we have routines for sharpening pencils or using the restroom, teachers will also have a routine for students thinking.

The only problem with this book, is that it gives so many great routines that teachers can easily implement in their room, that it can be a little overwhelming at first.  The trick is to pick your favorite one and just start there.  I’ve seen many teachers, and been tempted myself, to want to introduce a new routine each week.  The problem with that, is that they never become a routine for the students because they aren’t seen consistently enough.


If you can’t tell, I highly recommend getting the book.  Or you can also learn more about Making Thinking Visible routines at http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org/  In my future blog posts, I will be reviewing my favorite routines and including links to my TPT store where you can purchase resources to supplement them.   

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