Over the course of about 10 weeks this Spring 2017 I took a Visible Thinking course through the Harvard Graduate School of Education along with a cohort of three other friends and colleagues from ICS Addis.

Our learning journey is summarized in this Google Slideshow.

However, for me what really stands out as the big idea after taking the course is a paradigm shift in how we as educators approach thinking in our classroom (both our own and that of our students).  Visible Thinking routines are called such because that is what we should strive for thinking to become – a habit, a routine, something that we do over and over again.  A best practice.  We have expectations for the habits of good readers, writers, and mathematicians – yet no such expectations exist for thinking in our classroom.  How do we think?  What does it mean to think?  How can we make this thinking visible to others?  What difference does it make?

This was really the big “aha” moment for me.  Visible Thinking routines such as See-Think-Wonder, Puzzle or Sentence-Phrase-Word, or Connect, Extend, Challenge are not merely something we ‘do’ in the classroom, rather they are tool to uncover the thinking process.

So after going through it all this is what we came away with


  • Rush through the routines.  You’ve heard it before … good things take time.  Visible thinking routines included.
  • Worry about messiness–not all routines are going to be pretty.
  • Give up.  The routines (to be done properly and not as showpieces) take time.
  • Think because a routine didn’t work the first time, that it won’t work.  The first few times both the teacher and the student are learning the “form and function” of the routine.  Once you get over that hump is when the magic really starts to happen.
  • Minimize the importance of the artifact you use in the routine.  What is going to provoke and stimulate the thinking?  Try it yourself first.
  • Forget to reflect.

DO …

  • Set aside a good amount of time in your schedule if you want to do it properly, otherwise don’t bother.  You’ve heard it before … good things take time.  Make sure you schedule the time for going through the whole Visible Thinking routine and not just as a “filler” when you have a gap of time of where it might “fit in.”
  • Ask “why am I doing this?”
  • Remember that the purpose of the routine is to get at students’ thinking – not just for the sake of doing a routine.
  • Select the right routine – and what purpose it is going to serve.
  • Model the routine.
  • Repeat routines so that both teachers and students are comfortable with them.
  • Allow for mistakes.
  • Share and compare your thinking.
  • Reflect.  Always ask “How did this routine change your thinking?” and “What new ideas did you form from this routine?”

If you want to learn more Visible Thinking and Harvard’s Project Zero here is the link.

Screenshot 2017-06-23 23.13.22