We Can’t Read Their Minds, But We Can Make Their Thinking Visible!

What is the importance of Making Thinking Visible in the science classroom?

In science especially, there are complex topics and ideas to be uncovered in a rather short period of time. Students in any one classroom all have different educational pasts, different experiences, and come with their own knowledge. It is important to meet students where they are in order to make their educational experience in your classroom meaningful and to maximize the learning happening throughout the year as material is uncovered.

Meeting students where they are in terms of their own learning and the knowledge they have on a topic is essential to maintaining an engaging and productive environment for students.

  • If students are far behind where your content starts, they will quickly become frustrated and their confidence will dwindle, and before we know it, students are checked out and disengaged in the classroom.
  • If students are far ahead of where your content starts, they will become bored. This will also result in disengagement in the classroom and the student will not meaningfully learn the content.

Both of these scenarios result in students becoming disengaged in the classroom, and their performance and experiences with the content will reflect it. There are several strategies to make students’ thinking visible to you, to themselves, and to each other, that will help their engagement, retention, and overall meaningful learning in the classroom!

In addition to seeing inside students’ minds before concept introduction, make thinking visible strategies allow us to check in with students while content is being actively uncovered in the classroom. This might allow us to identify confusion and misconceptions, which can then be addressed before moving on.

While we can’t read students minds and see exactly where they are coming from or where they are, we can use a variety of strategies in the classroom to see students thinking, both prior knowledge and how they apply new knowledge, as they uncover science concepts throughout the year!

What are some of these strategies we can use to make their thinking visible?

  • Think – Puzzle – Explore

This Making Thinking Visible strategy activates students’ prior knowledge and encourages wonder about the topic of interest!

It is a simple and engaging activity to do with students, and only uses sticky notes and a wall or white board! The words “think”, “puzzle” and “explore” should be written or posed around the room, and students should respond to a prompt about what they think they know about a topic and what questions (or puzzles) they have about the topic. The class (or individuals) select a “puzzle” to explore further through experimentation or other research!

I think that this strategy is a really great way to introduce a topic and allow students to follow their own interests and discover the content through inquiry!

One specific example for a chemistry classroom could be about endothermic and exothermic reactions. I feel that this would be an easy one for students to explore on their own as well, experimenting (safely) with different salts to examine the different reactions taking place.

Think-Puzzle-Explore is easily adaptable as well, and can be used throughout the unit in addition to at the beginning. Students can follow their own interests and their discoveries can be enhanced with additional instruction and guidance as needed!

  • Chalk Talk

Chalk talk is another good option for uncovering prior knowledge. This one is a conversation done silently, on paper, and ensures that each student has time and the opportunity to share their thoughts.

Materials for this strategy involve butcher paper or chart paper placed around the room with prompts written on them. Students should walk around the room, respond to the prompts with their thoughts and feelings and questions, and add to other students’ responses as well.

Students can build upon their thinking, other students’ thinking, and prior knowledge is activated and uncovered! The different prompts can be discussed as a class as well, and ideas can be built upon throughout a unit or topic!

In science, this could be really useful for introducing topics that might have been uncovered before, like types of chemical reactions, physical or chemical changes, or even different aspects of the periodic table! This is another strategy that is very useful and adaptable, and can be used for several topics!

  • I Used to Think… Now I think…

This strategy is great for encouraging students to reflect on their thinking and improve their metacognition! It allows you and your students to see how their thinking has developed throughout topics and over time. It is also an easy strategy to implement, students just need something to write on! It is recommended that students use a journal or some other form of documentation so they can see how their thinking develops over time.

After students get a chance to reflect on their thinking and learning, they will have the opportunity to discuss their growth with others around them and reinforce their metacognitive abilities.

What are some of the other benefits of using Making Thinking Visible strategies?

Throughout the post this far, we have discussed a few things that come with these strategies to make thinking visible in the classroom. Those benefits along with others are summarized below:

  • Metacognition – Making Thinking Visible strategies allow and encourage students to think and talk about their own thinking! Practicing these strategies allows students to develop their metacognitive skills in a way that will follow them beyond the classroom.
  • Prior knowledge – prior knowledge will be activated and discovered through these strategies, and teachers will be able to assess students and see where they are in terms of content. Newer knowledge can also be assessed, and teachers can see the connections the students are making throughout a unit.
  • Differentiation – teachers can implement these strategies as a way to assess which students need more help in an area with others, something that can be really helpful when it comes to differentiating instruction to increase meaningful learning for all students at all levels of knowledge.
  • Engagement – these strategies take a different approach to introducing instruction, and students will be more engaged and curious about the topic from the very beginning! This will increase the likelihood that students stay interested throughout the unit of discovering the content, and they will have more meaningful learning and connections as a result.
  • Inquiry – Many of the strategies in Making Thinking Visible take an approach to learning that encourages inquiry and discovery. Students will make meaningful connections between ideas and topics as they discover the learning on their own through curiosity and experimentation.

How do you Make Thinking Visible?

Do you have any go-to strategies for your science classroom? What benefits do you see when utilizing these strategies? Let me know in the comments below!

That is all for now! -McKenna

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