Understanding is not a precursor to application, analysis, evaluating, and creating but a result of it Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church & Karin Morrison ‘Making Thinking Visible’

Visible Thinking is an approach to learning developed by Project Zero, a part of Harvard Graduate School of Education. Project Zero was created in 1967 by Nelson Goodman to improve education in the arts. As the website explains:

Project Zero, housed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, began in 1967. It was founded by the philosopher Nelson Goodman and—facilitated by Dean Theodore Sizer—was initially funded by the Old Dominion Foundation. The initial purpose of PZ—as it is widely known, along with HPZ—was to carry out fundamental research on education in the arts. As Goodman famously quipped, “The state of general communicable knowledge about arts education is zero. We’re starting at zero, so we are Project Zero.” The whimsical name has stuck, though we trust that we have moved well beyond zero systematic knowledge.

Source: About by Project Zero

Some of the achievements have been Howard Gardner’s work around multiple intelligences and the promotion of educational philosophies developed in Reggio Emilia. A core theme throughout has been thinking and its place within learning.

Central to the act of Making Thinking Visible is a series of routines designed around authentic questions. Rather than focus on the retention of information through rote practice, the routines are intended to be tools which students can draw upon to support their learning at any time. Although it can be easy to see them as activities or worksheets to be handed-out, the focus is on repeated use, in a range of situations, in the effort to create a culture of thinking.

Divided up into understanding, fairness, truth and creativity, some of the routines include:

This however is not a set list, for there are some like Cameron Paterson who have stretched it, both bringing in new routines and borrowing from elsewhere. Some of these routines include the 3 Y’s and Parts, Purpose and Complexities.

The focus throughout is the development of understanding, rather than as some sort of by-product. Central to this is the notion of documentation. This can be split into four practices: observing, recording, interpreting and sharing. What is important about documentation is that it, “must serve to advance learning, not merely capture it. As such, documentation includes not only what is collected but also the discussions and reflections on those artifacts.” Gary Stager suggests that one of the easiest ways to document learning is through the use of photography. However as Silvia Tolisano touches on, there are many different ways. Whatever the form, documentation not only helps advance students’ understanding of their learning, but also provides a powerful assessment tool to help guide practice.

So what about you? How do you deepen understanding and help make learning more visible? Feel free to share in the comments.


Making Thinking Visible – The first place to start is to read the book by Ron RItchart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison. This provides a thorough introduction and gives practical suggestions for each of the different routines.

Visible Thinking on Youtube playlist – A collection of videos, these short pieces provide a different entry point into understanding Project Zero, Visible Thinking and the various routines.

Visible Thinking website – From resources to thinking ideals, this space has everything needed to get going.

It’s All About Learning – Cameron Paterson is a great proponent of Visible Thinking and has written several posts reflecting on the different iterations in the classroom.

40 Years of Teaching Thinking – A discussion by David Perkins of the history associated with thinking and the challenges that have arisen over time and still need to be faced in the future.

Langwitches – From documentation to thinking routines, Silvia Tolisano has created a range of resources to support thinking in and out of the classroom.

Originally published at Humanities at Brookside

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I recently wrote about powering up blogs by adding video, audio and GIFs. Another form of content which you can add is an interactive map by embedding a Google My Map.

Google Maps has been a staple of Google’s applications for a long time. However, something that is often overlooked is the potential of creating your own maps. In the past, the place people often went was Google Earth, using features such as Tour Builder, while more recently Maps Engine Lite offered a way of customising traditional Google Maps.

One significant changes in rebadging Maps Engine Lite as My Maps has been to house the files within Google Drive. This has made it easier to create, collaborate and share various creations of space. You are able to easily make layers, add place marks, draw shapes and create directions. To take this to the next step, you can also import information via a spreadsheet. Uploading can be good if you have a long list of coordinates. While you can also export data from My Maps as a KML file. This can be useful if you want to add information into Google Earth.

In addition to this, you can add content to the place marks or shapes, whether this be a description, image and video. This then comes up when you click on the marker. In addition to this, you can also change the place marker icon and colour of the shape. Therefore giving you with another layer of meaning.

Some ideas for using Google My Maps include:

What is good about My Maps is that it provides a different way for communicating information and telling a story. So what about you, how could you use My Maps? As always, comments welcome.

Additional Resources

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I was in an electrical store the other day waiting to be served. Standing there I looked out across the room that was full of televisions all playing the same video in order to provide some sort of contrast. As always, the high-end models stood out with their large screens and crisp view. This is somewhat obvious, of course a store is going to work out how to promote its most expensive product the best. However, I was left wondering, as a consumer is this necessarily the most useful way to measure what is the most useful product or is there more to it than that? For example, in a different setting where space is a question, the biggest screen is not always best. Also, there are times when making big purchases we feel that we need to stick with this even though our circumstances may change.

Reflecting on this, I started thinking about education and the way in which we measure success and decide on our solutions. It is so easy to get sucked into the big picture offered by NAPLAN tests and PISA results, but it feels like something is lost with this. So often such focuses portray the wider view at the sacrifice of context and diversity.

Too often we want everything to scale. The problem is that not everything works that way, that simply isn’t how change works. Instead, we need to look at solutions and strategies with the lens of our own context and environment. This is why the Modern Learning Canvas is so useful, for it provides a way of talking. Addressing such questions as the sequence of learning, the various enablers, the role of students, the expected outcomes and the overall pedagogical beliefs. With this image created we are hopefully better able to identify the smaller steps of development.

Maybe sometimes this might mean buying the biggest and the best television on display, but more often than not it means considering what works best in the various constraints within our contexts and starting there.

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I have been wondering about the idea of leadership with a little l for quite a while now. I first came upon Alma Harris’ distributed leadership in an article within ACER’s Teacher magazine. This then led me to Harris’ book Distributed Leadership Matters.

What stood out was the focus on conditions of learning and trust, rather than particular actions and attributes. Coupled with Disciplined Collaboration, Harris provides something of a vision for empowering staff to lead the change from the ground on up. It clearly addresses the how and why, leaving the what up to you.

Although not designed to replace traditional leadership structures and expectations, it is hard to imagine that things remaining the same. Below then is a collection of my notes and quotes from reading.


Dynamics of Leadership @almaharris1


Learning Conversation @almaharris1




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Image created with Google Drawings
Image created with Google Drawings

One of the best things about a blog is the ability to add different types of content. I have written about creating images and visualisation. However, the next step in powering up is incorporating different content, such as video, audio and gifs.

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There are so many different options when it comes to making video for a blog. Whether it be a telling a story with images using PhotoStory, creating an animated presentation with Powtoon, celebrating voice with Adobe Voice or simply using a camera to make a live recording.

When it comes to adding video content to a WordPress blog, the easiest way is to simply add it via the media library. The issue with this though is that whatever blogging platform you are using, there is always a limit to how much you can store. In addition, there are also limits associated with the size of single files. For example, the limit with Global2 is 50mb. The solution then is to store the videos somewhere else and embed them within the blog.

The most common platforms used in education are YouTube and Vimeo. The problem is that even with potential to have videos unlisted, there are still some that have issues with housing video within such public spaces due to privacy issues

One alternative is to store content within Google Drive and embed it. To do this you upload the video file in question then click to pop it out. Once it is open in a separate space, you click on the options tab where you will find the embed code. Other than having more control over the content, a benefit of using Google Drive is that you are able to apply restrictions as to who can and can’t view the content through the ‘share’ settings if that is a concern.

(Another option that I have not explored is FUSE. This may well be another solution. However, I have yet to properly explore this at this stage.)


Often we associate adding audio to a blog with creating an episodic podcast. However, the process does not always have to be that complicated. You can easily create a one off recording and add this to a post. This can be useful when it comes to musical creations or one off interviews. See for example Doug Belshaw’s interview with Bryan Mathers or Dean Shareski’s response to Bud Hunt.

In regards to producing audio, Alan Levine recommends a range of applications including:

  • Levelator to even out the volume.
  • Audacity to cut-up and remove unwanted parts.

It is also suggested that you use a proper microphone rather than the in-built microphone within a computer or tablet if recording, as this will improve the quality of the audio.

In relation to adding to a blog, you can embed using sites like Soundcloud and Audio Boo. However, the easiest option is often just adding an MP3 file to the media library and inserting this. You can use a plugin to add further feeds and functionality, but this is not always needed.

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A GIF is a is a type of loop-able image that lasts for only a few seconds. It stands for graphic interchange format. Originally designed for icons, these silent images can be used for a wide range of purposes. For some they are used to tell stories, while for others to present a quick tutorial. You only have to look at platforms like Vine and Instagram to see the power and potential of GIFs (although technically speaking, neither of these platforms produce GIFs).

Some programs that you can use to create a GIF including:

  • GIFS a website which allows you to turn just about any YouTube clip into a 15 second GIF
  • Format Factory a program which provides the means to change the format of any video file into a GIF
  • Photoshop a program which allows you to both create and edit
  • Ezgif a website which allows you to easily create and edit GIFs online

There are more, it just depends on what device you are using and what you are trying to create. I have written more about GIFs here.

Overall, there are so many other different options for embedding content that helps to power up, for more details see the long list at Edublogs.

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In his book, A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger provides a framework for driving inquiry. As he suggests:

A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.

Whether this be a pushing innovation or creating a new product, Berger argues that the process of solving a problem focuses on three key questions: why, what if and how. Like Simon Sinek, Berger begins with why, a focus on seeing and understanding in order to identify any errors or issues. The next step is imagining different possibilities through the what if stage. It all then culminates with ‘how’ we will get the job done.

The book shares many stories from different people and organisations. Within these stories, there are examples of different strategies used to support, strengthen and structure questioning of all types. Here is a list of some of them:

Beginner’s Mindset

This involves seeing things from the perspective of someone who may not know or get what you are talking about. A part of this strategy is taken from the tendency of young children is to ask why again and again. The aim is to be open to all possibilities.

Stupid Questions

Sometimes described as ‘naive questions’, the purpose of this strategy is to explain things more simply. This also provides a means to rethink things.

Habits of Mind

In developing her own school in New York in the 70’s, Deborah Meier created five ‘habits of mind’ or questions which existed at the core of all learning:

  • How do we know what’s true or false? That is, what evidence counts? (Evidence)
  • How might this look if we steppted into other shoes, or looked at it from a different direction? (Viewpoint)
  • Is there a pattern? Have we seen something like this before? (Connection)
  • What if it were different? (Conjecture)
  • Why does this matter? (Relevance)

Like a set of values, all learning should come back to these questions. These are not though to be confused with Art Costa’s Habits of Mind.

Right Question Formation

Following a series of steps, the ‘right question formation’ involves refining a question by breaking them down. Firstly you design a focus, then brainstorm questions, allow for some time to improve them and finally prioritise these. You can find out more at The Right Question Institute, while Cameron Paterson has also written a great reflection about using it in class here.

Vuja De

Unlike déjà vu, where everything we see seems familiar, vuja de is about training ourselves to always look at the world with fresh eyes. Like the beginner’s mindset, the purpose is to be open to new possibilities.

Five Whys

Credited to Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota, the ‘five whys’ involves asking the question why five times in a row as a way of getting deep into a problem. Berger describes this as an, “excavation-by-inquiry.”

Opening and Closing

Developed by the Right Question Institute, this strategy involves challenging assumptions by turning a frustrating open-ended questions into a closed question. This can be useful when revising original question.

What If

A brainstorming strategy which helps to develop a range of ideas. It can be used to remove constraints and restrictions, to free up the mind in order to identify the best possible ideas. It can also be used to impose constraints on a particular situation.

Contextual Inquiry

Focusing on the situation at hand, this involves making observations, listening to and making connections in order to better appreciate the context. For this to work, it requires a certain commitment to the question. In some respect, this is what the IOI Process tries to capture in regards to education.

Thinking Wrong

In order to develop those creative ideas that are formed through long distance connections, we are forced to think wrong. This involves mixing and matching different ideas. This strategy allows us to go beyond the obvious and predictable paths.


Whether it be random word generators online or cutting up a newspaper article, the idea is to forcibly create new ideas. Although such activities do not necessarily create solutions in themselves, they do help force us to think differently and consider a wider range of possibilities.

Rapid Test-and-Learning Approach

Maybe a physical mock-up or something like a blog, the purpose of the rapid test is to get the idea out there in order to gain feedback as quickly as possible. This is a central tenet of Design Thinking (see the work of IDEO and NoTosh). In her own way, Jackie Gerstein touches upon this with the idea of the iterative and agile learner.

How Might We?

The purpose of ‘how might we’ questioning is “to ask the right question and use the right wording.” Uncomplicated, it helps focus on the task at hand. NoTosh add even more structure to this strategy, ‘how might we action what for whom in order to change something?’

Unusual Perspective

Seeing something from someone else’s point of view can be used to wonder how someone else may approach a problem in order to start a different line of thinking and generate new ideas. Sometimes this includes wondering how a completely different company might respond, other times it might be taking an outsider’s perspective.

Five Years

This is a strategy used to help make decisions based on how the outcome may look in reflection. John Hagel suggests asking the question, “When I look back in five years, which of these options will make the better story?”


Whether it be your tortoise enclosure, a black ops or tech-shabat, the purpose is to find a time and place to digitally disconnect in order to reconnect with the problem at hand. This time-out does not have to be lengthy and can be as simple as going for a walk or having a short nap. As an alternative to this activity is to put your decisions to the side for a day and simply spend the time questioning everything.


I think it must be noted that A More Beautiful Question is more than just another collection of strategies. Berger’s book is best understood as a personal inquiry into questioning and all of its different facets. It began with a question, grew into a blog and then turned into a book. One of the greatest lessons learnt is that questions can only go anywhere if we allow them to. For as Berger suggests, “to encourage or even allow questioning is to cede power—not something that is done lightly in hierarchical companies or in government organizations, or even in classrooms.” The challenge then is not only fostering foster questioning, but also allowing them to flourish.

For more information, go to the A More Beautiful Question website or for a different introduction, watch the following.

While for a summary, here is an infographic I made using Canva

flickr photo by mrkrndvs http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/22867976141 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license
flickr photo by mrkrndvs http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/22867976141 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Darrell turned up. Shorts, shirt and pie. There to sit back and enjoy the match. Next minute, there he was standing at full back, wrestling with his opponents, wondering how he got into this situation.

I really didn’t intend on participating in #DigiWriMo, but I somehow seemed to have dragged myself into it. Partly out of curiosity, but really because I am intrigued by the possibilities of transmedia.

One of the first tasks was to create an ‘unofficial CV‘. I find this such an interesting topic. It feels like we spend so long crafting out a slick list of qualifications and achievements, see LinkedIn for example. However, this list of events and attributes often overlooks the stories that lie in the margins.

My creation then is some sort of attempt to unpack some of these threads:

Unofficial CV

This is in no way complete, it never can be, but it does touch on some of the other realities that often remain unspoken.

So what about you, how would you convey your unofficial CV? Feel free to share.

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I recently got in a conversation with some colleagues about the future of education. It was the end of a long day and we pondering on how schooling might be different in ten years time. These are some of the ideas that were bandied around:

  • Detentions: If we have to depend upon daily detentions to maintain learning then who is really in control?
  • Workbooks: Is there really a place for endlessly answering other people’s questions?
  • Notion of Pass and Fail: If students focus is on whether they will pass or fail something then have they already failed? Maybe the focus should be on creating beautiful work?
  • Rubrics About Growth: Too often rubrics come to measure specific content and skills that are being covered at that point in time, how can these be adapted to be more growth minded? With an towards development rather than improvement?
  • Facilitators not Teachers: Instead of being the font of all knowledge, how can change the role of the teacher to being that of a facilitator, helping students find their own problems and solve them? The meddler in the middle, rather than the sage on the stage.
  • Projects not Menial Tasks: Why aren’t units of work focused on building and creating meaningful projects?

What was interesting was that all of the predictions made about the future, have already been enacted somewhere in the past. The question then is why are they not more mainstream? Why are such thoughts too often seen as the exception to the rule?

Will Richardson’s argument is that we are in need of drastic change in education. For some this means a revolution, while for others it is about support. Whatever the change is, it starts with one person trying to make a difference. Richardson suggests 10% at a time. Maybe this is bringing a new practice into the classroom, working collaboratively as a team on a problem or simply flipping the roles and becoming more of a learner. The next step after this is to scale the change and help it grow and spread.

Richard Olsen’s suggest that many of the challenges with change in education often come down to our belief about learning. Something that far too many take for granted. It is here then that the conversation needs to be had, to make visible as far as possible our thoughts, inconsistencies and beliefs. This then is part of the purpose of the Modern Learning Canvas. Not as a tool that pushes people in any specific direction, but rather helps them understand their present context and clearly plot the next iterative step forward.

As Matt Esterman highlights, we know the future is coming, next we need to seriously act on it. The first step with any change though is calling out the elephant in the room. Identifying the perceived problem and talking about the issues. However, the question remains, how might we make the changes for students today, rather than wait for another tomorrow?

For those looking for ideas and inspiration, here are a some books that have helped guide my thinking along the way:

Feel free to suggest more.

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Space has been something that I have wondered about for a long time. If I am honest, it is probably the last thing that I consider when planning. Maybe because it feels like it is given, already dictated by someone else, or maybe because I lack the imagination to think about what it could be and why. Some people have challenged me, suggesting that I simply need to ask the students. This may well be the case and there are often times when I allow students to move things around depending on what they are doing. However I think that when it comes to wholesale change, that even students are limited at times by what they know.

In a recent chat on Voxer, Jon Corripo provided his suggestions for redesigning a classroom space which again sparked my imagination. His list included:

  • Better Lighting: Blow out the T-Bars and get down lights, which you can get in LED format now making them a lot more cost efficient.

  • A Stage for Students: Does not have to be much, just something that allows them to stand above everyone else when needs to.  

  • Built-in Green Wall: Every room needs a green wall and with this built in lighting.

  • 360 Whiteboard: Removing the focus on ‘the front’ by having whiteboards all around the room. This can be interrupted with versatile slat walls.

  • Flexible Furniture: Get a mixture of skinny flippy flop tables which can be nested when needed, as well as standing cafe tables.

  • Versatile Power: Instead of disrupting the floor space, get electric cord reels that you pull down from the roof.

  • Project onto the Floor: Rather than projecting onto a whiteboard or IWB, mount an interactive projector so that it projects onto the floor and students can sit around it. For example, Epsom now have an LED projector which is only $350.

Moving beyond ‘flexible’ spaces, Corripo provides a clear vision for a different learning space that is still within the confines of solitary classroom that for too many is still the norm.

Although this vision would not necessarily be the answer for every classroom, what Corripo’s list does do is provide a picture for how classrooms can be different. Another interesting perspective is that of Michelle Hostrup who provided a reflection on how she went about changing up her early years space on the TER Podcast. Such examples help develop an idea of how things could be different. What is most important is that in today’s culture of changing work spaces, we owe it to our students to iterate and develop the learning spaces that in some environments I would imagine have become stagnant over time. This starts by asking the question, is the best possible set-up and if not, then what?

So what about you, how are you restructuring your spaces? What steps do you take to extend your imagination beyond the usual. As always, I would love to know. Feel free to comment below.

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