Listening to and trying to understand student thinking which has been made visible

The school in which I work strives to create a culture of thinking. By adopting many of the simple, yet hugely effective strategies from we can make our student’s thinking visible.

Unless encouraged to do so, most of our student’s thinking is invisible, sometimes students explain how they reached an answer, but often they do not.  But by making their thinking visible, they can build on each other’s ideas and understand concepts better.

However, for a large part, this rich data gets lost somewhere in the classroom and visible thinking risks becoming just ‘one of those’ classroom activities which we do.

As teachers, we are all busy, but how often do we stop and reflect on the thinking of our students which we have made visible?

I have the rare opportunity of having a trainee teacher in my classroom, who already has heaps of classroom experience, yet who is eager to learn more.  At the start of our unit, we spent 3 days gathering as much information about our student’s prior knowledge before we began our unit on time.  We used the visible thinking strategy of ‘Headlines’ along with 8 different card sorts.  We recorded 14 different discussions using the Harkness method.

Then, most importantly, my colleague and I spent over 1 hour over reviewing, analyzing, discussing the ideas, knowledge and misconceptions of our students which we had gathered.  This final step is the one which is most often neglected.  But this is the most important step of all!

We lay out all of our data on the floor, and we examined each student one by one…

One of our most surprising findings, was a conversation by two young boys over the moon cycle:

We actually saw, how through discussion, this one child was able to change his own thinking and overcome his own misconception.  At the beginning of the discussion Juan stated that the moon cycle changed every day “This is the beginning (points at crescent moon) when it’s morning, then as the sun gets bigger the moon gets bigger.”  Two big misconceptions there.  But wait, here is the turning point, after an interesting conversation with his peer, who states “I know that the full moon gets bigger and bigger up to TET and then it gets darker and darker again.” Juan then says “I see a full moon every month… I now think it takes 30 days”.  For me this conversation showed that Juan did not have a large amount of prior knowledge about the topic, but that his reasoning skills and his ability to make connections to make sense of information is incredibly strong.

As a teacher, the understanding that we can reach through listening to and actually reflecting on the data of each of our student’s thinking should not just be considered an opportunity, but rather as an integral part of the ‘visible thinking’ approach.

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