It Needs to Be Part of Every Lesson

Making Thinking Visible: An Introducton

Visible Thinking

Harvard’s Project Zero: Part 3

Visible Thinking is a flexible and systematic research-based approach to integrating the development of students’ thinking with content learning across subject matters. An extensive and adaptable collection of practices, Visible Thinking has a double goal: on the one hand, to cultivate students’ thinking skills and dispositions, and, on the other, to deepen content learning. By thinking dispositions, we mean curiosity, concern for truth and understanding, a creative mindset, not just being skilled but also alert to thinking and learning opportunities and eager to take them” (Source).

“Visible Thinking is a broad and flexible framework for enriching classroom learning in the content areas and fostering students’ intellectual development at the same time. Here are some of its key goals:

  • Deeper understanding of content
  • Greater motivation for learning
  • Development of learners’ thinking and learning abilities.
  • Development of learners’ attitudes toward thinking and learning and their alertness to opportunities for thinking and learning (the “dispositional” side of thinking).
  • A shift in classroom culture toward a community of enthusiastically engaged thinkers and learners” (Source).

“The idea of visible thinking helps to make concrete what a thoughtful classroom might look like. At any moment, we can ask, “Is thinking visible here? Are students explaining things to one another? Are students offering creative ideas? Are they, and I as their teacher, using the language of thinking? Is there a brainstorm about alternative interpretations on the wall? Are students debating a plan?”

When the answers to questions like these are consistently yes, students are more likely to show interest and commitment as learning unfolds in the classroom. They find more meaning in the subject matters and more meaningful connections between school and everyday life. They begin to display the sorts of attitudes toward thinking and learning we would most like to see in young learners — not closed-minded but open-minded, not bored but curious, neither gullible nor sweepingly negative but appropriately skeptical, not satisfied with “just the facts” but wanting to understand” (Source).

A proven program for enhancing
students’ thinking and comprehension abilities

“At the core of Visible Thinking are practices that help make thinking visible: Thinking Routines loosely guide learners’ thought processes and encourage active processing. They are short, easy-to-learn mini-strategies that extend and deepen students’ thinking and become part of the fabric of everyday classroom life” (Source).

About the Research

“Visible Thinking is the product of a number of years of research concerning children’s thinking and learning, along with a sustained research and development process in classrooms.

“One important finding was that skills and abilities are not enough. They are important of course, but alertness to situations that call for thinking and positive attitudes toward thinking and learning are tremendously important as well. Often, we found, children (and adults) think in shallow ways not for lack of ability to think more deeply but because they simply do not notice the opportunity or do not care. To put it all together, we say that really good thinking involves abilities, attitudes, and alertness, all three at once. Technically this is called a dispositional view of thinking. Visible Thinking is designed to foster all three.

“Another important result of this research concerns the practical functionality of the Visible Thinking approach — the thinking routines, the thinking ideals, and other elements. All these were developed in classroom contexts and have been revised and revised again to ensure workability, accessibility, rich thinking results from the activities, and teacher and student engagement” (Source).

Thinking Routines

Visible Thinking makes extensive use of learning routines that are thinking rich.

Technology Integration

Visit this overview of Making Thinking Visible with Technology by Clif Mims, then enjoy the many exemplary lesson plans and wonderful resources at (See screenshot below).

Making Thinking Visible with Technology (

* Much of this content courtesy of Project Zero at Harvard University.


Students Think They Are “Lucky” to Have Teacher of the Year [Video]

Hather Fisher“Dogwood Elementary 3rd grade teacher Dr. Heather Fisher was named the 2012-2013 Shelby County Schools Elementary Teacher of the Year. The classroom veteran is a life-long learner whose passion for education rubs off on her students and co-workers” (Source).

I became acquainted with Heather just over a year ago when she was selected as a 2012 Martin Institute Fellow to Project Zero. The impact that experience at Harvard has had on her teaching is evident in the video clip below. In addition to spending time together at the Project Zero Institute last July, Heather was also an active participant in our study group during this past school year. She has been committed to learning more about teaching for understanding and has a desire for her students to thrive. Heather has also taken advantage of opportunities to share her expertise with others through presentations and workshops. There’s no wonder why her students feel “lucky” to be in her class.

Event Tags: #pzc2013 #hgsepzfol

Project Zero at Harvard University: Information and Strategies Every Educator Needs

Harvard’s Project Zero: Part 1

I had the privilege of participating in Harvard University’s Project Zero Classroom last summer. We (the Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence) were able to send 6 local teachers to participate in the institute thanks to the generosity of Presbyterian Day School here in Memphis. It was undoubtedly the best professional development in which I have ever been involved. I took notes, gathered resources, and spent time documenting my thoughts and reflections with the intent of sharing some of it with you here on this blog. The experience impacted my beliefs about learning and teaching and has been a catalyst for the redesign and enhancements I’ve made in the graduate courses and professional development that I teach and facilitate. In the midst of implementing those instructional modifications, and balancing my work and personal lives this school year, I just haven’t had much time to share much of anything on the blog.

This past February Harvard invited me to be a Project Zero Faculty Fellow. I’m excited for the opportunity to work more closely with “the experts in learning” and look forward to all the ways that I will grow and all that I will learn. With the school year behind me and the summer before me, I’ve begun to steer my mind towards all-things-Project Zero. I’ve been reading and watching videos about learning, teaching for understanding, making thinking visible, thinking routines, cultures of thinking, multiple intelligences, making learning whole, and more. These are just some of the components of the work that the Project Zero research group has produced in it’s more than forty year existence. I intend for this to be the first in a series of Project Zero related posts in which I hope to introduce you to some of PZ’s research, frameworks, strategies, terminology, and big ideas, while sharing some of my own experiences, ideas, and classroom connections. With that in mind, let’s start at the beginning.

Project Zero

“Project Zero is an educational research group at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University” (Source). “Project Zero was founded in 1967…by the philosopher Nelson Goodman to study and improve education in and through the arts. Goodman believed that arts learning should be studied as a serious cognitive activity, but that “zero” had been firmly established about the field; hence, the project was given its name.

“Today, Project Zero is building on this research to help create communities of reflective, independent learners; to enhance deep understanding within and across disciplines; and to promote critical and creative thinking. Project Zero’s mission is to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts, as well as humanistic and scientific disciplines, at the individual and institutional levels.

“Project Zero’s research initiatives build on and contribute to detailed understandings of human cognitive development and the processes of learning in the arts and other disciplines. They place the learner at the center of the educational process, respecting the different ways in which an individual learns at various stages of life, as well as differences among individuals in the ways they perceive the world and express their ideas. Many of these initiatives involve collaborators in schools, universities, museums, or other settings in the United States and other countries” (Source).

Learn more about the history and research of Project Zero.

Project Zero Classroom

Participants in this week-long immersive institute will learn to “create classrooms, instructional materials and out-of-school learning environments that promote deep learning and understanding…The Project Zero Classroom details various frameworks that enable you to look at teaching analytically, develop new approaches to planning and make informed decisions about instruction. You will learn to recognize and develop students’ multiple intellectual strengths; encourage students to think critically and creatively; and assess student work in ways that deepen learning. In a Project Zero classroom, teachers are also learners who model intellectual curiosity and rigor, interdisciplinary and collaborative inquiry, and sensitivity to the ethical and aesthetic dimensions of learning” (Source).

The institute addresses fundamental educational questions, such as:

  • How can we best inspire and nurture creative thinking and problem solving in our students and ourselves?
  • What is understanding, and how does it develop?
  • What are the roles of reflection and assessment in student and teacher learning?
  • How can participants continue to share and pursue their understanding of Project Zero’s ideas with others after the institute?

The Project Zero Faculty Chair is comprised of Howard Gardner, David Perkins, and Steve Seidel.