What If Students Assigned Their Own Homework?

“Some may say homework is good practice, and practice makes perfect. Others insist homework is unproductive and pointless.

“What benefit is there in doing 20 of the same type of math problem? If students didn’t understand the lesson from the day, not understanding 20 problems may make them feel that math is inaccessible. This is how children begin to struggle in math and decide it’s not for them. And if they did understand the lesson, repeating similar problems is pointless. Worse still, students begin to believe math is boring, irrelevant, a set of mundane rules, and maybe even a waste of time.

“What if homework could be a means for promoting self-efficacy, agency, and motivation to learn? Teaching students to actively pursue knowledge and see it as valuable is critical to their success both in and out of school.” — Margie Pearse, Edutopia

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Image Source: Learning & the Brain

Tech-Based Formative Assessment

“When we use formative assessment strategies, we’re on a fact-finding mission. As educators, we work to figure out who understands the teaching point of a lesson, who has mastered a new concept, who needs extra help. Formative assessment happens naturally as we walk around the room and listen in on student conversations or examine their classwork after the bell rings. But how can you use technological tools to check for understanding in meaningful, sustainable, and scalable ways?” — Monica Burns, Edutopia

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Image Source: globaldigitalcitizen.org

It Needs to Be Part of Every Lesson

53 Strategies for Checking for Understanding

This quick-reference list of assessment strategies will help you identify a variety of ways to check students’ thinking and learning.

Click on the screenshot below to download this resource from Edutopia.

53 Strategies for Checking for Understanding


Making Thinking Visible: Parent Testimonials

Parent TestimonialIf you have been in one of my graduate classes, conference keynotes or presentations, or professional development workshops or institutes in the past three years then you have likely heard me promote the Teaching for Understanding (TFU) framework and the idea of making thinking visible. I likely shared evidence intended to encourage you to give the TFU framework and thinking routines strong consideration. I may have provided examples of student projects that demonstrated creativity, deep reflection, and provided “evidence” of thinking. I may have also shared interviews with some of the Project Zero faculty and researchers, video testimonies from teachers and students, photos and videos of lessons demonstrating thinking routines in action, photos and videos of schools and classrooms that are developing a culture of thinking, and a variety of resources to help you learn more and begin implementing all of this in your classroom. Thanks to Bemis Elementary School we now have video testimony of parents sharing their praise for visible thinking routines. These mothers describe how they regularly witness their children thinking deeply and pursuing their curiosities. I love that these moms are also familiar with the thinking routines and further promote thinking when their children are at home.

CASIE parent testimonial from Courtney Miarka on Vimeo.

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Learning with Web 2.0 and Social Media #idt7078

IDT 7078I’m very excited to be starting another learning adventure with graduate students here at The University of Memphis. For the next seven weeks I’ll be teaching IDT 7078: Seminar in Instructional Design and Technology. This semester’s topic is Learning with Web 2.0 and Social Media. Many of you may recall (because you were active participants) that I previously taught this course with a similar topic (Teaching and Learning with Web 2.0) in the Summers of 2008 and 2009. In both of these instances the students collaborated to publish the first two editions of the ebook Teaching and Learning with Web 2.0. Their exemplary work earned nominations for the international Edublog Awards (2008, 2009).

I also offered this course during Spring 2013 and the seminar topic was Learning with Web 2.0. It was the first time that I’d incorporated my work from Harvard, the idea of making thinking visible with technology, into a course. It pushed everyone’s ideas about thinking, learning, understanding, and technology. This experience as well as the work and research I’ve continued to do in the past year have resulted in the development of the class that starts today.

This semester’s class promises to be another outstanding experience for all of us. It has been designed utilizing some of the best practices and student feedback from the earlier offerings, and now incorporates many of the innovations in technology that have been developed in recent years. As we consider all the “cool” technologies and social media we will always keep the focus on their contributions to learning. These technologies can help us go a long ways in making thinking visible.

It’s going to be a different sort of experience and a wildly fun journey into learning. We invite you to join us!

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Making Thinking Visible with Technology at #TNLEAD

Workshop Description

Visible Thinking from Project Zero at Harvard University includes methods for making students’ thinking visible to themselves, to their peers, and to the teacher. Visible Thinking makes extensive use of learning routines that are thinking rich. Thinking Routines are mini-strategies that extend and deepen students’ thinking and become part of the fabric of everyday classroom life. These routines encourage the development of a culture of thinking and can be used across all grade levels and content areas.

Workshop participants will learn to develop opportunities for students to make their thinking visible with technology. With freely available technologies students can engage in Thinking Routines and provide evidence of their thinking and demonstrate their understanding of course content in multiple ways (images, audio, video, presentations, artwork, and more). When thinking is visible in classrooms, students are in a position to be more metacognitive, to think about their thinking. When thinking is visible, it becomes clear that school is not about memorizing content but exploring ideas. Teachers benefit when they can see students’ thinking because misconceptions, prior knowledge, reasoning ability, and degrees of understanding are more likely to be uncovered. Teachers can then address these challenges and extend students’ thinking by starting from where they are.

Strategies for designing lessons and practical tips for implementation will be shared.


The content of this professional development workshop builds on the research and work of Project Zero at Harvard University. Participants will be introduced to Making Thinking Visible and the use of the Visible Thinking Routines. This is a research-based approach to integrating the development of students’ thinking with content learning across subject areas and grade levels. Before we begin focusing on technology integration, it is important that we have a framework of understanding for these topics as we will build on them later.

  • Making Thinking Visible – 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
  • Visible Thinking Routines – Thinking routines are short, easy-to-learn mini-strategies that extend and deepen students’ thinking and become part of the fabric of everyday classroom life.

Workshop Resources

You can view the workshop slides by clicking below. The handouts, resources, and in depth information are also available.

Making Thinking Visible with Technology

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Making Thinking Visible with Technology

Making Thinking VisibleBackground

Last week I taught a 3-day institute for a school district near Memphis. The forty teachers participating in the professional development represented the full spectrum of grade levels and subject areas. I enjoyed having several special education, PE, and music teachers participate as they helped push everyone’s thinking about teaching every child and broadening our ideas about the classroom environment.

Big Ideas

You can see from the title slide (the slides are embedded below) that the name of the institute is long, but it conveys the three big concepts that were woven through this immersive experience.

“I believe that if we keep the focus on learning, embrace the thinking routines,
and dedicate our efforts to teaching for understanding
then learners will exceed the benchmarks.”

Making Thinking Visible (MTV)

The Teaching for Understanding framework provides a nice frame for a deep exploration of teaching and learning. It helps put the primary focus back on thinking, learning, understanding, and creativity, rather than on technology, standards, etc. which sometime seem to drive teaching and learning. The Visible Thinking Routines are excellent strategies for encouraging deep, reflective thinking and making it evident. While engaging with thinking routines students can make their thinking visible through conversation or the use of pen and paper, art supplies, Post-It notes, music, drama, etc. The routines are easy to use because the reflection and higher-order thinking are “baked in.” The instruction and management are also integrated into the routines.

MTV with Technology

Technology provides many additional possibilities for making thinking visible. When connected with the visible thinking routines word clouds, digital posters, videos, podcasts, slideshows, digital sketches, online concept maps, cartoon strips, timelines, and much more can be used to help students provide evidence of their thinking and understanding. With a bit of strategic planning it’s possible for teachers to integrate the curriculum, use of technology to promote thinking and learning, digital citizenship, and 21st century skills into a single activity built around a thinking routine. These can sometimes be seemingly disparate items that many teachers describe struggling to “fit in” to the school year. Integrating them around thinking routines as described and exemplified in the slides below can minimize these obstacles.

Exceeding Standards

I have never been a teacher that wanted students to simply “meet” the standards. I may be oversimplifying things a bit, but I view standards as benchmarks — as the minimum level of “acceptable.” Simply meeting the minimum isn’t what we should be aspiring to achieve; it won’t make one competitive when it comes to some extracurricular opportunities, advanced course placement, college admissions, scholarship opportunities, or in the marketplace. I admit that my point-of-view can cause even more anxiety for some teachers who already feel overwhelmed by all the transition to and expectations of the Common Core Standards. However, I encourage teachers to consider what it means to cultivate a culture of thinking with their students. I believe that if we keep the focus on learning, embrace the thinking routines, and dedicate our efforts to teaching for understanding then learners will exceed the benchmarks. They won’t just be minimally proficient, but rather they will develop true understanding. This isn’t simply a pep talk, my opinion, or platitudes. I make these recommendations based on the decades of rigorous research from Harvard and on the personal stories I’ve heard from many teachers that have embraced these principles — two of whom helped me develop this workshop and you can “meet” in the slides below.

Share Your Ideas and Examples

I’m always looking for examples of student thinking being made evident through the use of technology. This can be accomplished through the use of software and websites, but it can also be done with connections to more traditional means. For example, students might demonstrate their thinking with markers and poster paper, or they may accomplish this with modeling clay, wooden blocks, and pipe cleaners. These wonderful, non-electronic artifacts can be captured (archived, curated) and shared through digital photos, videos, or even through an audio narrative or interview. I invite you and your students to consider sharing examples of thinking being made visible through technology, so that it can serve as examples and inspiration to other educators.

There’s More

I intend for this to be part 1 in a series of posts around these ideas. Keep an eye out for upcoming posts with recommended strategies for implementation, a discussion of some of the implications for professional development, the connections to multiple intelligences, and more.


I’d like to acknowledge the important contributions that Amy Lange, Julia Shaffer, and Fair Wicker made as guest speakers and teaching assistants during the institute.

I would also like to thank Sande Dawes, Par Wohlin, and Jessica Ross for being thought partners as I’ve batted these ideas around for the past couple of years. I’ve enjoyed the conversations, meals, and phone calls. Each of you have impacted my ideas about learning in significant ways and I am greatly appreciative.

Thanks also goes to Philip Cummings for helping me make some of the practical classroom connections and for sharing some of his ideas and experiences.

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