An Interesting Perspective: The Importance of Windows

Howdy bloggers,

I apologize for the gap in my posts, but today marks the sixth installment of An Interesting Perspective. In this post, we will discuss some of the aspects presented in Ron Ritchhart’s Making Thinking Visible.

Image result for science is a way of thinking carl sagan

Imagine this. You’re on a trip of a lifetime sailing the seas of the Alaskan coast. You can’t wait to see the coastal landscape, and maybe even catch a glimpse of some marvelous humpback whales. But, when you show up to your charter boat, there are no windows to be seen and the boat is made of solid metal. At this point, you’re probably pretty disappointed that you spent all this time preparing and planning for this trip, but won’t get to experience it the way you had hoped.

Image result for alaskan coastline

The same thing can be said about the classroom if teachers don’t make their students’ thinking visible. This idea of making thinking visible allows students to understand the processes behind the conclusions they draw. If students are unable to see the way in which they think, they will likely struggle to understand concepts. This can lead to disinterest in the topic, and, ultimately, disappointment in the class, just like the disappointment you experienced along the Alaskan coast.

So, how do we make thinking visible?

As an educator, you need to be able to construct windows into your students’ minds so they can make their own thinking visible. Here are a few strategies that you can use to build those windows.

1. Chalk Talk

This is a method in which students have a pseudo debate. You start with some sort of prompt, either a word or a phrase and write them on either the board or on large papers around the room. You then ask the students to write their reaction to the prompts on the board or on the paper anonymously. Students then move around the classroom writing their responses to the other prompts, or writing reactions to their peers’ comments. Make sure that students draw boxes around their original comments or draw circles around their reactions to their peers’ comments with an arrow connecting them.

An example of this in your own classroom could look like this. You start with two posters hanging on either end of the classroom. The one at the front has a prompt of, “GMOs should not be produced commercially,” and the second has a prompt of, “Global warming isn’t influenced by humans.” You then allow students to move around the classroom to respond to the prompt, and have a silent debate with their peers through the anonymous comments. Make sure to give adequate time for students to engage in the anonymous discussion on each of the two posters.

2. 3 – 2 – 1 Bridge

In this method, you again present a word or phrase and have your students come up 3 thoughts, 2 questions, and 1 analogy relating to that word or phrase. Once they come up with those, present a new piece of information, such as an article, comic, picture, video, etc. to get them thinking in a new way. Ask them to, again, come up with 3 thoughts, 2 questions, and 1 analogy based off of the new information that was presented. After both of these 3, 2, 1 activities have been completed, have the students draw connections (bridges) between the two.

An example could be this. When discussing ecosystems, use plants as a prompt. Students will then come up with their 3 thoughts, 2 questions, and 1 analogy. Then show them a short clip of animals interacting with plants in an ecosystem. Afterwards, have your students come up with a new 3 – 2 – 1 and make connections between the two.

3. The 4 C’s

In this method, students start by reading a text or watching a video. Once completed, they then come up with connections, challenges, concepts, and changes that were felt while reading or watching. For connections, have the students share their thoughts on how the material connected. Then, prompt them to explain and expand upon why it was they chose that specific connection. For challenges, invite students to find ideas which may raise red flags for them. Again, have them explain the questions and discuss from there. For concepts, have them find the key ideas and themes that were presented in the material, and ask them why it is they believe those are the key ideas. Finally, for changes, have the students reflect on the material and identify any changes in thought that may be a result of the material.

An example of The 4 C’s could be this. Show your students a clip of video on pollution and climate change. Then, have them discuss how they believe pollution and climate change connects to them personally. Identify any issues or questions students may have on the effects of pollution and climate change. Have them describe the main concepts brought about in the video, and then discuss if their thoughts on pollution and climate change had changed as a result of watching the video.

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These are only a few strategies that can be used to make thinking visible, but they provide a nice starting place to try it out. As you can see, in each of these strategies students have to think about the material, but also have to reflect on their own thinking as well. They give students the opportunity to truly understand why they are coming up with their ideas. This idea of making thinking visible is crucial for the learning process and can truly transform your classroom.



  1. Billy,
    Awesome post! Your descriptions and examples for the strategies were great! I think I understand each of them a lot better now compared to before. The part about making sure that students are reflecting on their thinking is what makes MTV such an effective tool in the classroom; this is where we can catch the kids that don’t understand and how we can keep track of their learning.

  2. Naomi,
    I thought making thinking visible was extremely similar to constructing windows. It is imperative to have those windows so you can see what it is and how it is you are thinking. If you are unable to see the Alaskan coast because there aren’t any windows after putting in all the time, effort, and money to take the trip, it kind of defeats the purpose. The same can be said for learning. If you cannot see your thinking after putting in all the effort to try to learn the material, it probably won’t resonate for very long, if at all.

  3. Meghan,
    You’re absolutely right! Making connections to the material is so crucial to the formation of knowledge. If students are unable to connect the material to their own life, it won’t mean much to them.
    Sometimes finding those windows can be difficult, but it is important to do so to give your students the best chance for success.

  4. Billy–
    I loved your description of how visible thinking is like learning with windows–it’s so true, and such a good analogy for the classroom! I really enjoyed your strategies as well, but I would like to hear why those strategies are important for the classroom as well. You gave excellent descriptions, but it would be cool to see how you’d wrap them in timeline-wise to the classroom. Great post!

  5. I like your strategy selections, especially the 4-C’s activity you described. If students can’t connect the content to their own life, it’s really not worth much to them. I also really appreciated the analogy you made in the beginning. As teachers, we want to see students’ thinking, but sometimes it can be difficult to find that window.

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