Reflective Practices a Powerful Tool for Teaching

Reflection = Learning Image
My 4 Steps Learning The Role of Reflection

Reflection As A Powerful Tool for Teaching

“Critical reflection is one of the four fundamental ways in which we learn and improve. This holds true for learning in the workplace and in life.” written by Charles Jennings, author of the article “The Power of Reflection in an Ever-Changing World.”(2016)

Jennings suggests it is always helpful to spend some time reflecting individually and in small teams regularly, quite apart from any specific project process.

Jennings provides learning in 4 steps – The Role of Reflection below:

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4 Steps Learning The Role of Reflection

I will explain what they are and how they apply to teaching.

Learning in 4 Steps – The Role of Reflection

Jennings (2016) boils down the learning process into 4 key components:

  • Step 1: Learning Through Experience: we learn a huge amount through exposure to new and challenging experiences. Work that stretches’ is often the best teacher any of us will ever have. Research tells us that immersive learning and learning in context provides the most memorable learning experiences. This is one reason for the increased interest and activity in experiential and social learning in the past few years. However, experiential learning is still often under-valued and under-exploited by learning professionals. As the late professor Allan Tough said, ‘most of the learning is under the waterline’.
  • Step 2: Learning Through Practice: we learn through creating opportunities to practice and improve. Without practice, we can never hope to become high-performers. We can’t, for a minute, imagine our great sportsmen and women rising to the top of their game without hours and hours of practice, even when they are world champions. What makes us think becoming high performers in our work is any different?
  • Step 3: Learning Through Conversation: we learn through our interactions and dialogue with others – through informal coaching and mentoring, and building social networks inside and outside work. Conversation is the ‘lubrication’ of learning and development. Jerome Bruner, the greatest educational psychologist of our era, once said ‘our world is others’. We often forget this fundamental fact.
  • Step 4: Learning Through Reflection: Reflection is the ‘glue’ that we need to exploit the other forms of learning. Charles Handy, the management ‘guru’, writer and observer, points out that ‘experience plus reflection is the learning that lasts’. We learn through taking the opportunity to reflect both in the workflow and away from our work. We can then plan further activities that will incorporate our learning and improve our performance further.

How I Apply the 4 Steps to Teaching and Learning

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Learner Agency as Challenges

Learning Through Experiences:

I thought of learning through experiences as challenges I faced in understanding Standards-Base Learning. I saw the challenges through the Learner Agency. As a teacher, how can I advocate voice, choice and ownership of learning for the students I teach? What does an effective instruction look like? These are some of the questions I still have, and I am trying to find the answers through my research.

Learning through Practice:

Teachers are all ways practicing their craft. To master the craft of teaching, the strategic learning practice from the Developing Student Ownership book is a wonderful guide to help teachers. The key components are: Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment, and Climate.

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An Example of Learning Through Practice

Learning Through Conversation:

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As an example of Learning through Conversation

How can I provide activities that allow students voice and choice in their learning?

I believe teachers can provide a learning environment that encourages a learner voice that moves from participation to leadership. Yet to do this effectively, the right amount of teacher participation is crucial. Too much direction from the teacher and the learner’s voice loses its authenticity, and the learner has difficulty developing agency. Too little support or direction can impact the effectiveness of voice and the ability to own and drive their learning.

I am in the learning process to learn how teachers and learners can work together to develop a partnership that supports the learner, building confidence, self-awareness, and the ability to self-advocate for agency.

Learning Through Reflection:

Jennings suggests a good starting point for embedding reflection into daily workflow is to approach the practice at two levels: individual reflection, and then reflection with colleagues and team members. Reflective practice itself doesn’t ‘just happen’. It is a learned process. It requires some self-awareness and the ability to critically evaluate experiences, actions and results.

My key takeaway is that my blog post writings are a learning  process that continues to evolve.


I created a The Power of Reflection Journal that teachers can use. Charles Jennings article inspired me to truly think about reflection as a learning process. Everyone learns differently, and I hope this tool will help you in your journey.


Jennings, C. (2016, July 28). The Power of Reflection in an Ever-Changing World. Charles Jennings Workplace Performance.

Mistakes You Don’t Want To Make: Effective Instruction

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The Elements of Effective Instruction

According to the article “The Elements of Effective Instruction” by Great Schools Partnership, these 5 elements of instructional practice are intertwined to foster student engagement with the ultimate goal of improving student outcomes and achievements. So, what happens if you don’t follow any of the 5 elements? Classroom Chaos!

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Classroom Choas.

5 Elements of Effective Instruction – Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

Let’s consider the first element: Student Engagement

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Engagement: Part of Student Agency

You can see that engagement is part of the student agency. When you have meaningful activities relevant to learners, given by their interest, and self-initiated with appropriate guidance from teachers, it gives students voice and often choice in how they learn.

The elementary school setting I was in the school culture is more of compliance. If you don’t do your homework, there will be consequences. It is more of a traditional teaching style. The big disadvantage is no motivation to learn. On the other hand, students are compliant.

When you don’t have student engagement, you are doing disservice to students, because “engagement is more about what you can do for your students,” said George Curos. Without student engagement, there is no way students can figure out what they can do for themselves (Empowerment).

If you want to learn more about Engagement vs Empowerment, read the article “Student Engagement vs Empowerment“. I found this chart from the article that gives advice on empowerment:

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Empowerment Table Advice Offered by George Curos

What happens when students do not feel safe and respected in the classroom? There is no engagement and risk taking from the students.

This leads to the next element: Learning Environment

According to “The Elements of Effective Instruction,” article the learning environment is a shared domain between students, teachers, families, and other partners. Positive and meaningful relationships are the foundation of a productive learning culture. I understand this is a big task for teachers to take on, considering the pressures from COVID-19 in the past 3 years, and teachers are feeling burnt-out.

I experienced burnt-out myself in the last few years of my teaching career. You feel depressed and alone. You cannot think straight. It is just a vicious cycle. I do not want any teacher to experience burnt-out. So, please take care of yourself mentally and physically.

The key here is to establish positive relationships with families and students. I found this Brain Blast Teacher-Student Relationship Building Graphic from Twitter. It gives ideas, do’s and don’ts.

Teacher Student Relationship Image
Teacher Student Relationship Building

My Blog Post: How to Develop Student Ownership What They are Learning mentions Strategic Learning Practice Curriculum 1 and it states:

“Each and Every student is supported by relevant standards with Measurable and Achievable Outcomes that are Accessible and Drive ALL Learning.”

You notice the words “Measurable and Achievable Outcomes” in the strategic learning practice. This is another element of effective instruction: Clear, Shared Outcomes.

I mistakenly focused only on activities and not on outcomes when I was teaching.

Outcomes anchor and guide the choices of instructional activities, materials, practice assignments, and assessment tasks. Teachers and students need to share and internalize it. When students understand outcomes, they can use them to set goals, guide learning, and prompt self-reflection.

The two key traits of outcomes to remember are:

  • Learning outcomes are clear – both long-term (e.g. graduation standards and performance indicators) and short-term (e.g. learning targets)
  • Clear descriptions of what success-criteria looks like are established and shared

If you are struggling with success criteria, check out my blog post: 3 Effective Ways to Help Students Achieve Criteria for Success or read The Success-Criteria Playbook by Doug Fisher.

Varied Content, Materials, & Methods of Instruction is another element of effective instruction.

From the Developing Student Ownership book, Rober Crowe and Jane Kennedy (2017) state in Strategic Learning Practice Curriculum 2:

“Each and every student is supported by units and lessons that provide an Integrated Approach and that support conceptual redundancy of the Learning Outcomes.” (pg. 26) Students must own their learning, but they must answer the following questions:

  • How does learning in various ways – listening, speaking, reading, and writing – support mastery of the skill?
  • How does the current learning relate to previous and subsequent learning?
  • How can I use this learning in the future?

All this is related to varied content, material, and methods of instruction. This element of instruction is about teachers selecting content and materials to engage and meet the needs of all learners. Students explore ideas and information in various ways, and access learning through multiple entry points.

You can access learning through listening, speaking, reading and writing to support mastery of the skill. I know that materials sometimes provided by the district can be limited, and teachers have to buy materials themselves. But when you think about if students are not supported by units and lessons that provide an Integrated Approach, what would happen? Students are not able to achieve outcomes.

Here are the Key Traits provided by Great Schools Partnership for this element:

Key Traits:


  • Instructional materials and activities reflect the identities of learners in the community and the diversity of our world.
  • Content is selected and explored in ways that foster and reflect an understanding of multiple perspectives and critical issues.
  • Teachers select materials for instructional activities to meet the needs of a variety of learners.
  • Students have choice in materials and topics in order to meet learning outcomes.


  • Students make meaningful choices about their learning, and are taught how to make those choices well.
  • Students learn new information in different ways–inquiry, investigation, presentation, etc.
  • Student groupings are flexible, varied, and intentionally matched to the activity and learner.
  • Students use a range of methods (differentiated homework, reading, activities) and supports (including technology) to advance their learning.
  • Time and structures support reteaching and extension of learning, as needed.
  • Resources and materials improve accessibility for a variety of learners.


  • Students have choices about how they demonstrate their learning.
  • Students use multiple and varied pathways to reach common ends.
  • Students use varied tools and supports (including technology) to demonstrate learning.
  • Assessments are relevant, authentic, and purposeful.

Do you see what it takes to create units and lessons? So far, these elements are intertwined, but there are two more elements to consider:

Complex Thinking & Transfer:

This element has to do with Rigor. My blog post: What You Need to Know Two Components in Path to Rigor I use Marzano’s definition: complexity is the cognitive load required by the standard. Marzano’s taxonomy has 4 levels: Retrieval, comprehension, analysis, and knowledge utilization.

All this has to do according to the Great Schools Partnership are:

  • Every student is capable of complex thought and transfer of learning.
  • Higher order thinking promotes student engagement.
  • Learning that promotes transfer of knowledge and skills prepares students for the future.
Achieving Rigor Image

You can see from the chart above that most student learning occurs at the comprehension and retrieval level. This is at the low end of the spectrum. I mentioned in the post that rigor is important to planning, because taxonomy is the tool teachers must use to scaffold learning, from introducing new content at the foundational level to helping students deepen that content. The end goal is for students to reach higher levels of cognitive complexity with autonomy.

The 5th and last element of effective instruction is Practice & Feedback.

Key traits of practice and feedback are:


  • Routines, strategies, and instruction support student learning of essential skills and knowledge by providing opportunities for practice.
  • Opportunities for practice allow students to work independently, cooperatively, and with teacher guidance.
  • Students practice applying complex skills over time within and across disciplines.


  • Teachers give students feedback that is timely, specific, and actionable.
  • Students are taught how to give, interpret, and use feedback in their learning.
  • Students have opportunities to give, receive, and use feedback to revise essential pieces of work.

We know these key traits are the essential elements of the feedback loop. Without it, you would not close the gap between what students know and what they are able to do.


With this blog post, I try to pull in my blog posts on Standards-Based Learning and Student Ownership of Learning to give you a big picture of how effective instruction works. It took over a year to put information on the Teacher Clarity Website, to where I think it makes sense. It is a process you have to reflect on and put into practice.


Great School Partnership. The Elements of Effective Instruction. Retrieved from:


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6 Truths Why Empower Student Learning So Important


Student Agency Image
Empower Student Learning

Making Shift From Engagement to Empowerment Video

6 Truths Why Empower Student Learning So Important came about when I read Spencer and Juliani use the Louis Braille story to focus on giving kids the knowledge and skills to pursue their passions, interests, and future.

Louis Braille as a young kid was trying to make some holes in the leather using a sharp-pointed tool called an awl. According to John Spencer and A.J Juliani, authors of Empower, while Louis was pressing it into a piece of leather, the awl slipped and caught Louis in the eye. He was rushed to be seen by surgeons, but the doctors could not save his eye, and they put a patch on it. Weeks later, Louis’s other eye became infected, and by the age of five he had lost all sight.

Louis’ parents did not treat him like a disabled, instead his father created various canes for Louis to travel around the village. Louis continued to learn, tinker and create despite the loss of sight.

Why empower student learning is so important? Lets find out.

6 Truths Empower Student Learning According to Spencer and Juliani

Truth # 1: Every child deserves to own their learning. Teachers can empower student ownership of lifelong learning.

Authors (2017) believe this is the reason we educate students for their benefit. Spencer and Juliani support the idea that “When we give students choice, allow for inquiry, and foster creativity, we see the amazing things they can do.” (pg 10) This only matters when students own their learning.

Technology, as Spencer and Juliani put it, is where students can learn, collaborate, and connect to anyone in the world. Authors (2017) note “As teachers, we have to embrace the notion that technology can open up a world of learning opportunities, and then give our students the chance to own those opportunities.” (pg 10)

Truth # 2: Every child in your class is someone else’s whole world. Empowering students transforms our social/human connections.

Every child in your class is someone else’s whole world hits home for Juliani, because he watches his daughter go to school everyday. He believes that empowering learning brings us closer through communication, collaboration, and sharing meaningful work that brings the learning to life. More than that, “it transforms our social/human connections with little moments that can make a kid’s day or make a parent proud.” (pg 10)

Truth #3: Stories will always shape us. They will always help us learn. Empower students to create and share their learning stories.

As I write more blog posts, I begin to believe that stories that authors (2017) write are “one of the best ways to teach and a favorite way of ours to learn.” (pg. 10)

Spencer and Juliani (2017) write that story telling transforms our world because technology has expanded our depth of story and allows us to share stories wider and farther than ever before. So, as teachers and students, we can use technology to transform our story telling and how we learn.

Spencer and Juliani (2017) write, “The true power of a story comes from two things: learning from the story and then sharing your story with an audience and with the world. Empowered learners know stories are the gateway to pursuing their passions and future.” (pg. 10)

Truth #4: The only thing you can prepare students for is an unpredictable world.

Authors strongly believe that as teachers, our job is to prepare our students for anything. Teachers are the guides, and our students are the heroes of the story.

Authors (2017) consider “Teachers can be guides who empower learners, because we can be free of always having to be the content experts (especially as content continually changes). Instead, we share with our students that we too are master learners. Knowing how to learn is a skill we can share with our students to help them learn anything.” (pg. 10)

Truth #5: Literacy is about learning. And learning is about unlearning and relearning.

Spencer and Juliani (2017) support “Empowered students are part of a learning environment where unlearning and relearning is the norm. This type of environment is where we can get new information and analyze it, apply it, and use it to create or evaluate. Empowered learners adopt a mindset that praises unlearning and relearning, and treats the process as a continuum.” (pg.10)

Truth #6: As teachers, we have a huge impact on our students’ lives. Empowering our students amplify that impact.

As teachers, we all know that we can make a huge impact on our students. One statement Spencer and Juliani write made me think about education today: “These six truths help us to stand firm against the fads and next “best thing” in education, while focusing on what works to make our learners’ experience both meaningful and relevant while they are in school.” I believe the emphasis is on what works to make our learners’ experience meaningful and relevant, while they are in school.

Take Away

I searched for information about students’ ownership of learning on Pinterest. I found the website. I perused some of his articles and am impressed by his passion on this subject. I am convinced that the goal of teaching is to empower student ownership of lifelong learning. To do this, we need to share the knowledge and skills of how to learn with our students. So, I started a series of blog posts on how to develop student ownership of learning. I provided the links below to how to develop student ownership of learning series so far:

What is the Look and Sound of Student Ownership?

How to Develop Student Ownership What They Are Learning


Spencer, J., & Juliani, A. (2017). Empower. Impress, LP.

How to Develop Student Ownership What They are Learning

Strategic Learning Practices Image
What Students Know and Do


To ensure students demonstrate an increase in ownership of learning, authors Crowe and Kennedy focus on practices in curriculum by using Strategic Learning Practices, which research shows increase the opportunities for learning – by increasing the opportunities for student ownership.


In my previous Blog Post, What is the Look and Sound of Student Ownership?, I mentioned that students with an ownership mindset know they have the authority, capacity, and responsibility to own their learning, according to the Developing Student Ownership book. Authors Robert Crowe and Jane Kennedy define curriculum as what students need to know and do at the end of a lesson, unit, or course. Crowe and Kennedy emphasized that students must demonstrate an increase in ownership by clearly articulate answers to the following questions:

  • What am I learning?
  • Why am I learning?
  • How will I demonstrate I have learned it?

So, how does a teacher build the authority, capacity, and responsibility needed for student ownership of their learning? Crowe and Kennedy suggest that a teacher must model the thinking behind ownership, explicitly teach the skills of ownership, and most importantly, be willing to delegate the authority, capacity, and responsibility to the students.

In this blog, I will show you how authors move students towards ownership by having teachers strategically decide when to offer the following three learning practices:

  • Strategic Learning Practices, Curriculum 1: Each and every student is supported by relevant standards with measurable and achievable outcomes that are accessible and that drive all learning.
  • Strategic Learning Practices, Curriculum 2: Each and every student is supported by units and lessons that provide an integrated approach and that support conceptual redundancy of the learning outcomes.
  • Strategic Learning Practices, Curriculum 3: Each and every student is supported by access to curriculum materials that match the content and rigor of the learning outcomes.

Strategic Learning Practices

In Strategic Learning Practices, authors lays out the following:

  • Clearly define each learning practice
  • Describe what implementation looks and sounds like in the classroom
  • Share teacher planning questions and offer examples of how students have been supported with these learning practices in various content areas and grade level
  • Explain how these practices directly lead to increased student ownership

Curriculum 1

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Curriculum Strategic Learning Practice 1

Authors (2018) define each aspect of this practice:

“Relevant standards are the skills or content from the standards that are both appropriate for the students’ grade level and for the time of year. The verb or action of the standard is key. Identifying the verb and action helps the teacher recognize the appropriate level of learning, both in terms of where students fall in the course of their education (grade level) and where they fall in the instructional sequence (time of year).” (pg 17)

“Measurable and achievable outcomes clearly define what students are learning and how they will know they have learned it. What students are learning is the skill or content directly derived from the standard. It incorporates the language of the standard itself. How students will know they have learned it is directly related to the product or demonstration that shows the learning. This demonstration measures the level of application and is the measurable aspect of the objective. The measurable outcome must be achievable in the time parameters of the lesson.” (pg. 17 and 18)

“Outcomes that are accessible allow all students to understand and articulate what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how they will know they have learned it. Accessibility is dependent on the student. For example, visual learners will need to read the outcome, auditory learners will need to hear the outcome, and social learners will need to discuss the outcome with peers.” (pg. 18)

“Outcomes that drive all learning imply that learning time is precious and should not be squandered. In other words, every minute in the lesson is utilized for the teaching and learning of that outcome.” (pg.18)

The Practice in Action

What does this practice look like in the classroom?

Mrs. Lavetti’s high school American History Class:

On the board she wrote the outcome:

“Students will connect insights gained from the specific details to develop an understanding of a primary source, in order to accurately take Cornell notes on Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address.”

When you talk to students and ask them questions:

You: “What are you learning?”

Student: “I am learning to make connections from specific parts of a text to gain insights about and better understand the primary document Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address.”

You: “How do you gain insights?”

Student: “I gain insights when I not only look at the parts of a text, but also pull the pieces together to understand the document as a whole. In this case, we are looking at the specific details that Abraham Lincoln used and how they connect together to express his larger idea.”

You: “How will you know that you have learned this?”

Student: “I will use Cornell Notes to accurately cite evidence from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, which I will use later to analyze Lincoln’s overall meaning.”

You: “What are Cornell Notes?”

Student: ” Cornell notes are a way to take notes that help me remember what was in Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. There is a place for the main ideas – see here I have the headings for each of the four paragraphs – and a place for my notes from the speech to remind me what the important ideas are in that section.”

You: “Why are you learning this?”

Student: “After we finish reading Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, we are going to write an essay about the overall purpose of this speech. Finding specific evidence from this source will help me write a better essay.”

You asking Mrs. Lavetti this question: “How was the student able to answer your questions so clearly and with confidence?”

Mrs. Lavetti: “My students did not answer questions at this level, because I simply posted a strong objective on the board. I had to intentionally plan how I would support them. First, I need to know what skill they would learn, how they would show it, how they would use it in the future, and how I would explain every step of the way what we are doing – what, how, and why I am teaching and what, how and why they are learning.”

Mrs. Lavetti used the Strategic Learning Practice Curriculum 1 as a frame to help her plan how she wanted to offer this support, according to Crowe and Kennedy.

Authors offer the following planning questions (Table 1.6) that helped Mrs. Levetti her support focus:

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Questions to Guide Implementing Strategic Learning Practice Curriculum 1

Implementing the Practice

What does the standard call for?

Reading standard 1 for literacy in History/Social Studies at Grades 11-12:

“Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.”

Which component of the standard will students learn in the lesson?

The standard is divided into 3 teachable parts (the what, or the skill aspect of the outcome):

  1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources
  2. Connect insights gained from specific details
  3. Connect insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole

Mrs. Levetti reviewed the learning progression for Reading standard 1 at the earlier grades to find out what has been learned.

11-12 RH1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

9-10 RH1: Cite specific textual evidence to support the analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

6-8 RH1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

The continue practice of the skill is to cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources while the new learning for 11-12 grade students is to connect insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

This provides Mrs. Levetii with the academic language students need to learn of this skill.

How will my students demonstrate the learning?

Write an explanatory essay that answers the question “What was the purpose of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address?” Students gather evidence while reading.

Why are my students learning this skill?

Students will need to take explicit notes – Cornell Notes

Mrs. Levetti used planning questions to help her plan the curriculum aspect of the lesson. She is ready to determine how she will teach this, because she has decided the two most crucial aspects of her lesson:

  • The skill her students are learning.
  • The demonstration of the learning

To ensure her students own this information, so that she can increase the probability of their learning, she must ask herself the following questions:

How will I share this information with my students?

Introduce objective at the onset of each lesson, and review it throughout the lesson as needed. For visual learners, the objective is posted. For auditory learners, the objective is stated out loud. And for social learners, the objective is discussed with peers.

How will I check that my students understand the goals of the learning?

Periodically throughout the lesson, students share with a partner and remind each other what they are learning (skill), how they will know they have learned it (demonstration), and why they are learning it (future use of learning).

Ensure students understand the value of owning their own learning:

How will my students understand that knowing these aspects of the learning will support ownership of their learning?

  • It involved student participation.
  • Everyday we reflect on our learning. Once a week, students reviewed the learning progressions and rank themselves.
  • The ranking determines:
    • What skills could they teach another student?
    • What skills do they feel with a little more practice they would master?
    • What skills do they need more support with?

My Take Away

After more than a year of reading and searching for books that offer a good explanation of the unpacking process, I believe I finally found a book that I am impressed with. My website Teacher Clarity is built on the premise of the components of clarity, by using various books to explain the premise and give clarity to teaching. Developing Student Ownership has opened my eyes to how important the unpacking standards process is.

My understanding of unpacking standards changed when I read the Strategic Learning Practice for Curriculum 1. I never thought about outcomes because I only see activities which is not the big picture presented in the standard. I had to rethink about the planning process and how I go about it. Strategic Learning Practice help me do just that. It provided guiding questions to help teachers support student learning.


In the next blog I will show Student Learning Practice Curriculum 2. I am excited to learn more of Student Learning Practice.

What is the Look And Sound of Student Ownership?

Student Ownership

Student ownership is defined as a mindset, according to Robert Crowe and Jane Kennedy, authors of Developing Student Ownership Supporting Students to Own Their Learning through the use of Strategic Learning Practices. Authors describe students with an ownership mindset who know they have the authority, capacity, and responsibility to own their learning.

The Look and Sound of Student Ownership

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Student Ownership

Crowe and Kennedy focus on increasing the opportunities for learning and increasing the opportunities for students ownership. Authors use practices in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and climate to do this. Crowe and Kennedy briefly shown how it works in curriculum. They define curriculum as what the student needs to know and do at the end of a lesson, unit, or course. Students must demonstrate an increase in ownership by clearly articulate answers to the following questions:

  • What am I learning?
  • Why am I learning this?
  • How will I demonstrate I have learned it?

Teachers must begin by determining the answers to the following questions:

  • What will my students learn?
  • Why are my students learning this?
  • How will my students demonstrate they have learned it?

Authors (2018) ask us to imagine walking into a third grade classroom and asking a student, “What are you learning today?” Now imaging hearing this:

“Today I am learning how to describe characters by their traits, motivations, and feelings. We are reading Charlotte’s Web, and I am describing Wilbur in chapter 3. I will know that I have done a good job taking notes on this by filling out my character map accurately. I am learning how to do this because, when we finish this book, I am writing an opinion essay on which character was most admirable: Charlotte, Wilbur, or Fern. I will take notes on all of the characters to use as details in my essay. I am checking with my friends in my group, because they will help me figure out if I have left any important information out of my notes. I will help them, because that’s how we help everybody in the class get smarter. —” (pg 1)

Can you imagine if that were the response of most students in your class? Do you believe a student could take this much ownership of their own learning? Crowe and Kennedy do.

Authors believe the most effective way for students to understand their role in learning is to take ownership, and it is a skill that can be taught directly and mastered.

Student Engagement vs Student Ownership Image
Engagement vs Ownership

True success in education requires students to go beyond just doing or understanding school – they must own their learning. Crowe and Kennedy (2018) describe “a student who owns their learning can state what they are learning and why, and can explain how they learn best, can articulate when they are learning and struggling, and understand their role in any academic setting”. (pg 4)

Empowering Students To Take Ownership of Their Learning

Empowering Students to Take Ownership of Their Learning is a video that gives what ownership looks and sounds like.

A Review of Student Engagement in my blog post How to Strengthen Student Engagement using Balancing Model

Teacher’s Role in Student Ownership

I mentioned previously that Crowe and Kennedy’s focus is to increase students’ opportunities to learn and take ownership of their learning. This is done by developing a set of strategic learning practices offered to students daily.

Authors explain that students are offered support, as they have the authority, capacity, and responsibility to own their learning. So, how can teachers support students to cultivate an ownership mindset? Crowe and Kennedy believe by delegating their authority, capacity and responsibility.

Authors paint a picture of successful students who have the authority to make decisions regarding their own learning. This means students learn something new, and have the authority to determine what they need to master a certain skill, i.e., frequency and types of practice, specific opportunities to authentically apply learning, and more opportunities to transfer learning into new situations. Crowe and Kennedy point out that teachers must ensure that students have the authority to make decisions about how they learn.

Students have the authority to make decisions regarding their learning, but also need to own their learning. Crowe and Kennedy explain that students have capacity when teachers provide them with the knowledge and skills to challenge themselves and self-reflect on their growth. Authors believe these are the skills that lead to meta cognition.

Teachers provide students with capacity by supplying students with the skills needed to succeed, sharing why they need them, and explaining how they will use them in their current and future learning. So, once students have the authority to make decisions about how they will learn, teachers must ensure they have the capacity to analyze and reflect on their own learning.

Lastly, it is the responsibility of students to understand their role in their own learning and take responsibility for their success and mistakes. Authors point out that students cannot be held responsible if they have no understanding of what they are learning, how they will be taught, and how they will demonstrate their learning. Crowe and Kennedy emphasize that educators cannot demand students take responsibility for their own learning if they have not given them the authority and capacity to do so.

How does a teacher build the authority, capacity, and responsibility needed for student ownership? Authors suggest a teacher must model the thinking behind ownership, explicitly teach the skills of ownership, and most importantly, be willing to delegate the authority, capacity, and responsibility to the students.

Strategic Learning Practices of Student Ownership

Strategic Learning Practices

The purpose of strategic learning practices is to offer students the opportunity to increase their learning by offering support for students, giving authority, capacity, and responsibility to own their learning. Crowe and Kennedy focus on practices in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and climate that increase the opportunity for learning and student ownership.

Here is a preview:

Strategic Learning Practices Image
Strategic Learning Practices
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Strategic Learning Practices Continue

I will address the Strategic Learning Practices in each area in the subsequent Blog Posts.


Authors believe each decision regarding curriculum, instruction, assessment, and climate will impact other decisions, because these decisions cannot be made in isolation. Crowe and Kennedy point out that it is the teacher’s job to decide how these four areas work together to ensure that student learning is occurring. They emphasize these decisions support increase student ownership is paramount.

What You Need to Know Two Components in Path to Rigor


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The Path to Rigor has two components-complexity and autonomy. This is according to authors Carla Moore, Michael D Toth, and Robert J Marzano, The Essentials for Standards-Driven Classrooms.

Complexity, authors define, is the cognitive load required by the standard. There are four levels in Marzano’s taxonomy: Retrieval, comprehension, analysis, and knowledge utilization.

Authors also describe four levels of student autonomy: low, medium, medium-high, and high. Most teaching occurs at low levels of complexity and autonomy, while the newest standards require high levels of both. Authors note there is still a gap between the standards and actual instructional practice. See Chart Below:

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Achieving Rigor

Complexity A Defining Feature of Rigor

Simply stated, complexity refers to the cognitive demands of the tasks in which students are expected to engage. Authors show how to determine the complexity of a task you are designing by using Marzano Taxonomy. The taxonomy has two dimensions: complexity of the task itself and the type of content knowledge embedded in the task.

Carla Moore, Michael D Toth, and Robert J Marzano explain that by moving from the most complex to the least complex, the levels of complexity are knowledge utilization, analysis, comprehension, and retrieval. You can see this in the above chart.

Authors note each level involves many cognitive processes, i.e. retrieval (lowest level) involved recognition, recall and execution.

There are two types of knowledge: Declarative and Procedural. Declarative is informational, and has its own hierarchy in terms of complexity. Authors note that terms and phrases are important at the lowest level. Details are a level up, and the highest level are generalizations, principles, and concepts.

Authors explain that the complexity of a given task is then jointly determined by the cognitive complexity of the task itself and the complexity of declarative knowledge in the task. So, a retrieval task focused on an important principle might be more difficult than a comprehension task focused on details.

Procedural knowledge includes mental and psychomotor procedures. Authors explain that these two types of procedural knowledge have their own internal hierarchies.

Mental procedures are the lowest level of procedural knowledge, i.e. single rules such as spelling rules. Above the single rules are algorithms and tactics-also referred to as strategies, i.e. how to perform subtraction and how to read a specific type of map. At the highest level are the big procedures called macro-processes, which involve many interacting with single rules, tactics, and strategies, i.e. the process of writing an expository essay.

According to the authors, the complexity of a task that involves its cognitive complexity jointly determines mental procedures and the type of mental procedure it is focused on.

Autonomy in the Classroom

Carla Moore, Michael D Toth, and Robert J Marzano believe teachers need to gradually release responsibility for learning to the students to achieve true cognitive complexity and autonomy – the intent of the standards.

Authors (2017) explain that students value reflection and learning when they have true autonomy, and take initiative to learn more. The responsibility for learning must move from the teacher to students. Carla Moore, Michael D Toth, and Robert J Marzano emphasize this shift hinges on the teacher’s ability to shift from teacher-supported learning to peer-supported learning. “Students become self-guided and take control of their learning,” (pg. 45-46) written by authors. Students know when they have met their learning targets, and how to seek help when they struggle.

Authors (2017) believe there is a balance between teacher as coach who offers supports and guidance, and teacher who asks guiding questions as a facilitator. “The teacher monitors the temperature of the learning. Teachers know their students well enough to know how and when support and guidance might be needed.” (pg. 46)

Planning Instruction Important Part of Rigor

Rigor is important to planning, because taxonomy is the tool teachers must use to scaffold learning, from introducing new content at the foundational level to helping students deepen that content. The end goal is for students to reach higher levels of cognitive complexity with autonomy.

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Marzano Taxonomy

So far, authors have explained how students reach higher levels of cognitive complexity with autonomy. Now the focus is on performance scale. Carla Moore, Michael D Toth, and Robert J Marzano emphasize that the scale drives your planning, instruction, and the design and timing of your assessments. They believe The Essential Model maps the process to create a clear pathway to rigor for you and your students.

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The Essential Model

As you can see from The Essential Model above, Standards-Based Planning is discussed in my blog post What You Need to Know Standards-Based Planning Process. The focus now is on teachers’ work together to create common, standards-based scales for their lessons. Authors define performance scale as a continuum that articulates district levels of knowledge and skills relative to a specific standard. This will allow teachers to use minute by minute, day by day formative assessment strategies to track individual student progress and adjust and differentiate instruction. Plus, prioritize feedback and celebrate learning progress when they have evidence of it.

Clustering Targets into Lessons

The key concept is that a cluster of targets will become your lesson plans. When clustering targets, we look for connections of concepts, or themes, between standards, often called strands. Then, we consider how to weave these learning strands for our students, while intentionally planning gradual release. Learning targets that will build foundations are the lower levels of complexity at level 2 on the scale. This is where building the academic vocabulary, connecting to previous learning, and building on the foundational learning by connecting to the higher levels of the scale, according to the authors.

In the Essential model, a lesson is not about span of time, but a chunk of content. Authors note it might take a day or two days. It is the target, or group of targets, that drives your lesson now. Figure 3.2 and Figure 3.3 This is another big shift in the way you think about a single lesson, according to the authors.

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Performance Scales

Fig 3.2 Scale for 4th grade ELA

Authors note that the scale and clustering of targets for each lesson is sometimes as one target, and sometimes there are several targets. Teachers make these instructional decisions depending on cognitive demand and autonomy for that lesson.

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Performance Scales

Fig 3.3 Learning Targets for 4th ELA

Authors note the sequence of lessons builds from lower levels of taxonomy (level 2 of the scale) to the highest level of taxonomy (level 4 of the scale). At the same time, the teacher is planning for increased autonomy.

Lesson 1, from Fig. 3.4, has three targets that come from level 2 on the scale, but we can still see within the lesson a building of knowledge from retrieval (recognize, recall, execute) to comprehension (describe).

You can see lesson 2, Fig. 3.5, follows the same pattern, but with a different strand of knowledge.

Lesson 3 is explained in the chart above.

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Performance Scales

Fig. 3.7 and Fig. 3.8

Bring the analysis back from the previous lessons to build autonomy in lesson 4. Lesson 5 takes students to level 4 of the scale at the taxonomy level of knowledge utilization, where it truly brings all the learning together, from focus individual targets to the full intent of the standard where rigor lives.

Lesson Planning

Authors reiterate that we are no longer planning lessons around an activity or chapter in a textbook. In other words, you are not starting with something for students to do, because when we start with activities, it is often the case that we never do entirely reach the standard. Authors (2017) note that the standards are driving the way we teach, and every lesson is designed to meet one or more learning targets. So, “By breaking down the standard into learning targets, and aligning instruction to the taxonomy, we can feel more confident in our students’ ability to achieve the intent of the standard.” (pg. 55)

Planning Instructional Strategies

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Instructional Strategies

Carla Moore, Michael D Toth, and Robert J Marzano present the 13 Instructional Strategies in the Essential model, which provide a learning path for students to ultimately engage in complex tasks. According to the authors, the first six strategies are generally used for foundational learning or introducing new content. Authors note this learning is usually lower in complexity, and includes the basic knowledge and processes that are more complex thinking is built on.

The next six strategies are applied to learning targets devoted to taking content previously learned and engaging students in deep thinking. Authors explain the purpose of the lessons for those learning targets is to have students think deeply about the content. These lessons require students to be analytical.

The final strategy is that students are thinking critically with full autonomy and knowledge utilization level. However, authors emphasize that this depends on the taxonomy level of the standard.


Marzano Resources provides a webinar A Guide to Standards-Based Learning. The webinar introduces key steps for transitioning to standards-based learning, and explains how teachers and leaders can leverage concrete tools to navigate the transition one step at a time. Viewers can expect to:

  • Learn about the rationale for standards-based learning
  • Understand how standards-based learning looks in hybrid, online, and in-person environments
  • Discover tools that will help you successfully navigate the transition to standards-based learning


Carla Moore, Michael D Toth, and Robert J Marzano believe teachers will need to achieve classroom rigor. Teachers will need to plan instruction carefully, beginning with unpacking their standards and cluster learning targets on a scale aligned to the taxonomy. Once the scale is developed, it becomes the backbone of the teacher’s lesson plan. Teachers then create lessons using the instructional strategies suited to the targets and taxonomy levels of the targets. It is hard work, but you do not have to do it alone.


Moore, C., Toth, M. D., Marzano, R. J. (2017). The Essentials for Standards-Driven Classrooms A Practical Instructional Model for Every Student to Achieve Rigor,

Marzano Resources.  A Guide to Standards-Based Learning

How to Strengthen Student Engagement Using a Balancing Model


Strengthen student engagement, author Dr. Richard D Jones, is based on Engagement-Based Learning and Teaching. It is an approach that provides the foundation for developing and strengthening student engagement and the learning process.

Dr. Jones built the foundation through specific principles, habits, skills and strategies. There are three domains of student engagement: Cognitive domain – beliefs and values, Emotional domain – motivation and feelings, and Behavior domain – habits and skills. Teachers and parents work together across all three domains to cultivate and support student engagement at the highest level.

There are six objectives or steps in Engagement Based Learning and Teaching:

1. Cultivate one-on-one relationships. The one-on-one relationship between student and teacher is the critical element that can lead to increased student motivation and higher levels of engagement in academics and school life.

2. Learn new skills and habits. Teachers can learn new skills and habits that help them develop, polish, and enhance their already natural inclination to motivate and engage students.

3. Incorporate systematic strategies. Teachers can learn systematic strategies that facilitate student engagement. Students can develop behavioral skills and habits that lead to increased academic achievement and greater involvement in school life.

4. Take responsibility for student engagement practices. It is primarily the teacher’s responsibility to engage the students, rather than the teacher expecting students to come to class naturally and automatically engaged.

5. Promote a school-wide culture of engagement. The best way to promote high levels of student engagement is to develop and maintain a school-wide initiative dedicated to creating a culture of student engagement, involving students in school activities, and providing a rigorous and relevant education program for all students.

6. Professional development is an important part of increasing student engagement. Staff development, combined with staff ownership and recognition, is critical to developing and maintaining a culture of effective student engagement.

I find Dr. Richard D Jones 6 objectives in Engagement Based Learning and Teaching are a good foundation for strengthening student engagement. I like to go further with Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Russel J Quaglia, authors of Engagement By Design, where they discuss The Engagement Equation by bringing the pieces together and moving toward the ideal engagement by design for students and teachers.


The Engagement Equation

The authors of Engagement By Design represent Dr. Jones’ three domains of student engagement below:

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Dimension of Engagement

Authors define “engagement by design” as teachers must intentionally tend to the behavioral, cognitive, and emotional engagement of students in the learning experience. This is the same expectation Dr. Jones has in his Engagement of Learning and Teaching.

Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Russel J Quaglia bringing it all together using the Balanced Model for Optimal Learning, where it highlights the student, the teacher, and the content. Authors emphasize that these factors must operate in harmony, and have a significant impact on academic and personal outcomes.

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Balanced Model.

Authors point out there are four intersections that lead to the heart of this model. It comes to life when the teacher, student, and content are meaningfully connected. Authors explain the intersection between student and teacher, where relationships are formed, and addressed the concept of teacher clarity, which is critical within the intersection of teacher and content. Authors also address the importance of challenge – the intersection between student and content.

Now the authors will focus on the middle intersection: Engagement.

Authors consider the student engagement equation, as the pieces are brought together and move toward the ideal engagement by design for students and teachers.

Engagement Equation Image
Engagement Equation

Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Russel J Quaglia break down the equation into components. They consider every component of the equation of great importance. The first component, STC, represents the three factors discussed:

  • Students (S) enter the classroom to gather, discover, process, understand, integrate, and ultimately learn information.
  • Teachers (T) enter the classroom to share, present, guide, instruct, scaffold, and facilitate students in gaining knowledge. They must know content and possess the skills necessary to present information in a format that is understandable and relevant.
  • Content (C) represents information to be learned, and how that information is discovered and shared by both the student and the teacher.

Authors show the top variable in the equation, R + TC + CH represent:

  • Relationships (R) are healthy between teachers and students, built upon trust and create an environment of safety in which students can focus on learning, and the teacher can learn more about the student and his or her interests.
  • Teacher Clarity (TC) is the combination of teachers knowing what they are supposed to teach, informing students about what they are supposed to learn, and reaching agreements with students about success criteria.
  • Challenge (CH) is the balance of difficulty and complexity that affords students a range of experiences that foster fluency, stamina, strategic thinking, and content expertise.

Authors now want to address the components that ensure students are at the heart of the engagement process, SW + P:

  • Self-Worth (SW) exists when students know they are valued as individuals in the school community, and when they have someone in their life who believes in them.
  • Purpose (P) exists when students take responsibility for who and what they are becoming.

Authors are putting stake in the ground and declaring Student Voice (V) the most critical component in the entire equation. Without Student Voice, we cannot help students develop Self-Worth and identify purpose in their life, build long lasting relationships with students, determine how to provide the appropriate level of challenge and support, and ultimately deliver the clarity in teaching that allows us to reach all students

  • Voice (V) means students can express their thoughts and opinions, and they also take responsibility for turning their voice into action to advocate for themselves.

What Does Engagement Look Like and Feel Like?

Authors (2018) describe students and teachers begin to describe what engagement is not:

When students engage in learning, they often begin with statements like, “I don’t look at the clock even once,” and “I don’t want to poke my eyes out with a pencil,” and I am not thinking about all the other things I would rather be doing.” (pg. 151)

Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Russel J Quaglia (2018) believe “We need to start focusing on what engagement is, so we can model it, experience it, and identify desired results.” (pg. 151)

Authors identified the consistent behaviors in engaged students:

  • Engaged students lose track of time and space
  • Engaged students are not afraid to fail or succeed
  • Engaged students can express their honest opinions and concerns
  • Engaged students are deeply involved in the learning process
  • Engaged students are emotionally, intellectually, and behaviorally invested in learning


Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Russel J Quaglia (2018) believe “there is a delicate balance between the student, teacher, and content that, when achieved, allows children to flourish with a clear sense of purpose”. (Pg. 158) They reflect on the Summative Equation for Student Engagement, and they are:

  • Content Demands and Student Interest
  • Accountability and Responsibility
  • Talking and Listening

Authors left us with this thought:

“Each and every one of you possesses the ability to be a master of engagement by design. It is time to challenge yourself to balance the scales for your students. Never forget that wonderful surprises are just waiting to happen, and that all your hopes and dreams for an engaged learning environment are well within your, and your students’ reach.” (pg. 159)

Expectations: Recognize how our Beliefs Shape our Behavior

Expectations is a belief that shape our behavior. Understanding is a goal will take students further and demand more of them. Only then is our teaching focused on deep rather than surface learning.

Ritchhart’s focus for expectation is school will be about learning, rather than the mere completion of work and merely accumulating enough points to score a top grade.

Ritchhart makes two distinctions between two types of expectations: directives and beliefs. Directives are a top-down hierarchy where the aim is to clearly define what the person in charge desires with respect to another’s performance.  Nothing wrong with communicating behavioral standards or criteria for assignments to students. Effective teachers and leaders do this all the time and with consistency.

Beliefs operates on a deeper, more systemic, and more powerful level. The expectations are rooted in our beliefs about the nature of teaching, learning, thinking, schools, or the organization itself.

Five Beliefs of Expectation

Ritchhart lays a foundation for our expectations in learning groups by exploring five belief sets that act as action theories. They are:

Five Beliefs of Expectations
Five Beliefs of Expectations

Ritchhart explores how these specific expectations for students (as opposed to of students) are important to establish a culture of thinking. 

Ritchhart emphasizes that having clear expectations – the kind of expectational beliefs that guide our own and students’ actions – requires a conviction on our part.

Learning Vs. Work

The first expectation is to focus on learning versus the work. The main point is when teachers and students focus their attention on learning as the priority. Letting the work exist in the context and serve the learning, then work becomes a means to an end, not an end to itself.

What does this look like in practice? Ritchhart states teachers normally introduce a task or assignment by highlighting the learning that can potentially arise from it. Next, teachers sustain and support the learning through their interactions with groups and individuals. When the purpose of the task is on learning, teachers are also more likely to provide choice and options in completion of assignments if it is being achieved.

When teachers are focused on learning, they spend their time with students “listening for the learning: ‘Tell me what you have done for far.’ ‘What questions are surfacing for you?’ ‘What does that tell you?’ We see learning oriented classrooms where mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn, grow, and rethink.

Learning Oriented classrooms, teachers often provide more descriptive feedback that informs learning.

Teaching for Understanding Vs. Knowledge

Teaching for understanding Versus Knowledge is the second expectation. It requires exploring a topic from many angles, building connections, challenging long-held assumptions, looking for applications, and producing what is for the learner a novel outcome.

Ritchhart uses metaphors for knowledge and understanding, and they are:

The metaphor for knowledge focuses on possession, storage, and retrieval. Knowledge is seen as something you have. This leads to a notion of knowledge as something one either has or doesn’t.

The metaphor for understanding focuses on action: applying, performing, adapting, and so on. Understanding is viewed as performance; it is something you do.

I thought Ritchhart metaphors sound profound. He emphasizes that knowledge, skills, and information play an important role in understanding, and are a necessary component of it.  Ritchhart explains further that knowledge is presented while teaching for understanding, with an expectation that the knowledge will be used, applied, discussed, analyzed, transformed, and so on. Ritchhart believes the pressure is applied when the teaching of knowledge becomes the primary goal, and it can impede students’ understanding.

There are four essential elements teachers need to attend to when teaching for understanding:

  1. Generative topics focusing on the curriculum around big ideas with understanding
  2. Understanding goals by identifying a small set of specific goals for understanding
  3. Performance of understanding by designing a sequence of ever more complex performance tasks that require students to use their skills and knowledge in novel contexts
  4. Ongoing feedback by providing a steady stream of ongoing feedback and assessment information that students can use to improve their performance.

Ritchhart suggests the key to developing understanding is through activities that allow for development and demonstration of understanding. To help you do it, you can ask yourself this question: What will I ask students to do with the skills and knowledge they are acquiring that will develop their understanding and push it forward?

Ritchhart explains understanding is built up of many small performances of ever-increasing complexity stitched together. By asking yourself, what will learners do with the information and knowledge? How will I ask them to process it – that is to interact, use, manipulate, or change it? You can design performance that builds understanding.

In working with teachers, Ritchhart has found the simple language of “surface” and “deep” thinking to be useful. He notes “Surface strategies focus on memory and knowledge gathering, whereas deep strategies are those that help students develop understanding.” (Ritchhart 2015 pg 52)

Encouraging Independence vs. Dependence

Encouraging Independence Versus Dependence is the third expectation that helps shape culture of thinking. Ritchhart points out some potential downsides to student dependence and they are: 

  • Deterioration of problem-solving strategies
  • A focus on extrinsic motivation
  • Diminished enjoyment of learning
  • Lack of resilience when faced with difficulties and challenges
  • Decreased creativity and motivation

Ritchhart cites Rose-Duckworth and Ramer (2008) definition of student-independence: “independent learners are internally motivated to be reflective, resourceful, and effective as they strive to accomplish worthwhile endeavors when working in isolation or with others-even when challenges arise, they persevere (pg. 2)” (Ritchhart 2015 pg. 55) Ritchhart points out additional benefits of independence as a goal and they are:

  • Resilience in the face of difficulty
  • Openness and willingness to accept challenges
  • Greater motivation, engagement, ownership, and “drive”
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Interdependence and independence
  • Development of a learning or mastery orientation in oneself
  • Enhanced self-esteem and sense of efficacy
  • Development of lifelong learners

Growth Mindset vs, Fixed Mindset

Developing a Growth VS. fixed mindset is the final belief set. This belief exerts a profound impact on the culture of a classroom, organization, or group. It concerns how individuals view intelligence, ability, and talent. Ritchhart points out Carol Dweck, a psychologist, refers to as one’s mindset and how that view shapes the way one approaches learning opportunities. Ritchhart points out Dweck’s focus is on ongoing growth and development through the situation, and a lack of feeling threatened, beaten down, or counted out by difficulties and challenges. This facilitative approach is different from people who are a fix mindset. People who are a fixed mindset gravitate toward situations that validate their perceptions of themselves and avoid those that will threaten it.

Ritchhart believes mindsets are powerful shapers of our experience, but people aren’t born with them. He notes people develop through one’s interactions with others, particularly in learning situations and in the feedback and input one receives in those situations. Ritchhart explains that our mindset develops through the subtle messages we encounter in the classrooms and from teachers, mentors, and parents.

Ritchhart gives examples of teachers and parents who deliver implicit messages to learners about the nature of abilities through praise and feedback. Comments like “You are so smart,” “You are a really good reader,” and “You are very talented,” define you and that these are inherent in who you are as a person. Comments that focus on a person’s efforts, something that is controllable, tend to aid in fostering a growth mindset: “You really worked hard at this, and it shows!” “That was really difficult, but you stuck to it and accomplished something.” “I am noticing that as you push yourself, your reading just keeps getting better and better.”

You Can Explore and Develop Expectations

Ritchhart emphasizes that taking the five beliefs together lays a foundation for teachers’ expectations in the classroom and forms the basis for action theories to guide instructions.

Ritchhart suggests possible actions teachers can take to better leverage and understand that particular cultural force:

  • Evaluate the five belief sets. Each belief set exists as a natural tension for educators, meaning that although we might intellectually embrace the more facilitative end of each continuum, we might sometimes find an individual expectation hard to implement. Where are the tensions in each belief set for you? What conditions give rise to that tension? How do you resolve or lessen those tensions?
  • Focus on the learning. Talk with your students about the distinction between work and learning. Tell them that because your goal is always to focus on the learning, they should let you know if they are not clear where the learning is in a given assignment. Make sure you introduce new assignments and tasks by highlighting their purpose and what you want students to learn. Pay attention to your own language and the use of the words “work” and “learning.”
  • Identify key understandings. Developing a true understanding of anything is a complex, ongoing endeavor. If you could pick only three things that you want your students to understand after their year with you, what would they be? Why are those three things worth understanding? What future learning does understanding these three things enable?
  • Analyzing understanding experiences. Identify one unit you teach that you feel does the best job of developing students’ understanding. Analyze that unit to pinpoint the elements that helped build students’ understanding. Look at that unit through the four elements of the Teaching and Understanding framework. Do those elements easily map onto your plans? How can you take “what works” from this unit and apply it to other units you teach?
  • Look for deep vs. surface learning in assignments. Working either on your own or with colleagues, collect all the assignments given to students over the course of a week. Look through the assignments to determine the level of processing each requires of students. It is likely that an assignment might require both surface and deep levels of processing, but try to determine where the greater emphasis is in the assignment.
  • Identify the most independent students in your class. What actions do they exhibit that made you identify them as independent? Divide a sheet of paper into three columns and make a list of these actions in the center column. In the left hand column, identify things that make it hard for other students to engage in these behaviors. What stands in the way? In the right hand column, identify things you do or could do that would provide opportunities for or facilitate the behaviors you identified in the center column.
  • Numerous resources exist for exposing students to the idea of a growth mindset. For example, see “Brain is like a Muscle” lesson plan (Ferlazzo, 2011). Typically such instruction focuses on how the brain literally grows as a result of learning. You might use a short article or video clip that describes this growth using Youtube. More elaborate teaching resources can be accessed at Carol Dweck’s own Brainology program

Check out Language Moves for the second part of 8 forces of culture.

Language Moves: Appreciating its Subtle yet Profund Power

Language Moves

Richhart condenses several keys “language moves” that facilitate the creation of a culture of thinking in schools, classrooms, and organizations. They are:

  •  The Language of thinking

  •  The Language of community

  •  The language of identity

  •  The language of initiative

  •  The language of mindfulness

  •  The language of praise and feedback

  •  The language of listening

 Richhart helps us better understand how each operates in context, what it might look like and sound like, and how it can shape the learning of individuals and the group.

Ritchhart shares his understanding of the vocabulary of thinking with his colleagues Shari Tishman and David Perkins suggesting that the language of thinking is sorted by those words defining processes such as justifying, examining, reasoning, products such as hypothesis, a question, a judgment, and epistemic stances that reflect one’s attitude toward a bit of knowledge or an idea such as agreement, doubt, confirmation. Richhart adds states such as confusion, awe, wonderment that describes one’s mental status or state.

Language of Thinking

The language of thinking helps cue action and provides a means to regulate activity in the classroom. Richhart wants our students to consider alternative actions for the characters, not just thinking about the text they read, but to make predictions about what might happen next, raise questions about the characters’ motive, and so on. Ritchhart believes this is helpful to students who are struggling to engage mentally.

The language of thinking supports meta-cognition in both reflective components as well as planning aspects. It helps us examine the processes we used or did not use.

Meta-cognition involves ongoing monitoring and directing of one’s thinking. This is seen in the process of reading. As we read, we monitor our comprehension, and when we notice it flagging, we slow down and direct ourselves to do something about it.

Ritchhart emphasizes that having a language to identify thinking processes is a requirement for us to use and activate them effectively.

Ritchhart examines how do students develop a language of thinking. He notes the main way is by being in situations where others are using the language. Ritchhart believes a key move that teachers, parents, and mentors can use is noticing when and where students are thinking, and specifically naming the thinking being demonstrated.

Ritchhart often shares a practice called noticing and naming with parents as a keyway they can make their child’s thinking visible. When this practice is used in the classroom, it makes the thinking visible to both the child demonstrating the thinking as well as to others.

How does noticing and naming work? Ritchhart says “it starts with us as teachers or leaders of a group, being aware of what it is we want to highlight and reinforce.”(Ritchhart 2015 pg.70) He gives an example of the See-Think-Wonder routine where students are asked to look closely, notice details, observe carefully, make interpretations, build expectations, reason, generate alternatives, provide evidence, make connections, and raise questions. Getting students to do all of this is the key to making See-Think-Wonder a powerful learning opportunity. A teacher can use the language to notice and name something specific that students had done well: observing, rather than just telling the students they had done a good job.

Noticing and naming are likely to be more effective and productive in building a culture of thinking because we are looking for a particular lesson. What kinds of thinking are needed to be successful? What do I want to reinforce? What do I want to call students’ attention? Ritchhart notes “Becoming more aware of thinking ourselves and identifying what is needed to facilitate learning helps us be more responsive teachers.” (Ritchhart, 2015 pg.71)

See Think Wonder Example Imgage

The Lanugage of Community

Lisa Verkek, a fifth-grade teacher, uses See-Think-Wonder routine throughout the year as a part of a Visible Thinking pilot project. She had volunteered to demonstrate the routine in action so others could see how it worked. Ritchhart captures her teaching on video. His focus is on the activity itself and wants to capture the various aspects of the routine that would help other teachers learn how to use it.

Below is an excerpt of what Lisa’s lesson about:

“Using a photograph of children in a school hall taken at the end of the nineteenth century in America, Lisa modeled and set up the routine easily and effectively for her students. After her quick whole-group introduction, students began using the routine to structure their conversations in pairs as they examined different sets of photographs taken of children from around the world. Each set highlighted some type of hardship or inequity a child might experience, forming a connection to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. As I moved around the room with the cameraman, I was pleased that we were capturing good footage of students talking and sharing their thinking at each step of the routine. We also got ample footage of Lisa as she interacted with the student pairs and discussed their thinking with them. It was a very smooth and productive class. I knew we would be able to use her lesson to showcase the See-Think-Wonder routine effectively, and I left Lisa’s classroom pleased that we had captured on tape a well- executed lesson. It wasn’t until we began the process of turning the raw footage of that hourlong lesson into a six-minute video that the true power of Lisa’s teaching began to emerge, however.” (Ritchhart, 2015 pg. 63)

Ritchhart examines how Lisa’s language served to effectively guide and direct the students’ learning and thinking. He carefully attends to Lisa’s language, so he can begin to understand how all these aspects of expert teaching took shape.

Ritchhart shows the subtleties and power about language that shapes our behavior, interaction, thinking, attention, and feelings by analyzing how Lisa introduced the lesson:

“To model for her students, she holds up the photograph of schoolchildren from the late 1800s and asks, “What do we see?” Students identify several concrete things they notice in the picture, such as children, flags, desks, people standing, chalkboards, and so on. Lisa then asks the class, “What do you think might be going on with those children?” Students immediately begin to offer possibilities and alternatives: “They’re singing,” “Maybe they are in an assembly,” “Maybe they are singing the national anthem because of the flag.” Students put forth possibilities, add on to one another’s ideas, and connect to things that had been seen. Good responses. Good engagement. Good collective sense making. But what did language have to do with this?” (Ritchhart, 2015 pg.64)


Ritchhart analyzes Lisa’s choice of pronoun when she asks, “What do we see?”. Ritchhart notes the pronoun “we” sends a subtle signal to students that the group is working on this together and that the activity is a cooperative endeavor rather than a competitive one. He states “Students respond accordingly and find it easy to build on others’ ideas. When Lisa asks, “What do you think might be going on with those children?” her choice to use the words “might be” rather than “is” cues students that they are seeking alternatives, possibilities, and options rather than trying to definitely name the activity of the picture. Consequently, we notice students responding in this open manner. Furthermore, students build on one another’s ideas without anyone complaining, “That was my idea!” Thus, the spirit of cooperation and collective sense making continues.” (Ritchhart, 2015 pg.64)


Ritchhart has a clear sense of Lisa’s classroom being a learning community. He listens closely to the talk of both students and the teacher and finds it is peppered with the use of words like “we,” “our,” and “us.” Look at the example below:

“LISA: Folks, thank you very much for sitting so quietly. What we’re going to do is: you’re going to come with your table and your photograph, your recording sheet,

and the “Rights of the Child” [handout]. Come with all three pieces of paper. Come and sit up at the board. And we’re going to see what conclusions we can draw about the pictures, and you’ll get a chance to look at each other’s pictures as well.” (Ritchhart, 2015 pgs. 71-72)


Ritchhart examines Lisa’s use of the pronoun “you” to praise students and then to indicate exactly what they are going to do. He believes this allows students to recognize that there are directions for them to attend to individually. Next, Ritchhart states in his examination of Lisa switches to the pronoun “we”:

“This shift places the next endeavor as a collaborative one and signals to the students that Lisa is now a part of the new endeavor as well. Notice that she also makes explicit the thinking that students will be doing: “we’re going to see what conclusions we can draw about the pictures.”” (Ritchhart, 2015 pg.72)

Language of Identity

Ritchhart believes that there are expert teachers who help their students come to see themselves not as an outsider looking in on a subject but as members of it. He states “

 They help their students not only to see the whole game, as Perkins describes it, but also to play the game.” (Ritchhart, 2015 pg. 74) Ritchhart emphasizes that rather than learning history, students become historians; rather than learning about science, students become scientists; etc.

The language of identity is one tool to help students come to see themselves as members of a field. It goes beyond merely having a certain knowledge base but to help students engage in thinking and the key processes that are important in literature, science, social studies etc. When using the language of identity in the classroom, it signals to students that they need to activate certain applicable ways of thinking.

For example, Ritchhart provides two alternative ways of learning an identical hands-on lesson in science: (1) “Today we are going to learn about chemical reactions.” And (2) “Today as scientists, we are going to be investigating how chemical react under various circumstances.” Ritchhart asks Does one of the framings prompt a more active response and engage a different set of mental processes? Does one framing feel more exciting than the others to you? What roles do you imagine for both the teacher and students under each framing? I think you know the answers to these questions.

Ritchhart believes to reject the role of teacher as deliverer of information and student as passive receivers, we need to help students envision and take on a new role: Process-based roles such as thinkers, researchers, data collectors, analysts, commentators, advocates, inventors, and the like.

Language of Initiative

A key aspect of initiative, or what researchers in sociology and psychology refer to as “agency” is the ability to make choices and direct activity based on one’s own resourcefulness and enterprise according to Ritchhart. He says “This entails thinking about the world not as something that unfolds separate and apart from us but as a field of action that we can potentially direct and influence. As a person develops initiative, she comes to see the world as responsive to her actions. This direction and influence involve identifying possible actions, weighing their potential, directing attention, understanding causal relationships, and setting goals, among other things.” Ritchhart believes it demands learning to be strategic and planful. He cites Peter Johnson (2004) “If nothing else, children should leave school with a sense that if they act, and act strategically, they can accomplish their goals” (p. 29).” (Ritchhart, 2015 pg. 76)

Ritchhart answers the question of how language relates to the development of initiative. He believes in our interactions and questioning of learners, teachers, leaders, or mentors can use language to direct a learner’s attention. Teachers help students identify, weigh, and plan potential courses of action. Ritchhart notes that our language can draw students’ attention to the strategies being deployed and their consequences, whether students are aware of them or not.

Ritchhart gives examples from Lisa’s questions:

“What do you think you were basing that idea on?” or the frequently used “What makes you say that?” asks students to identify their reasoning and make their thinking visible. In doing so, students come to see that ideas don’t merely pop into one’s head but are under one’s control and influence and act to shape one’s reasoning.” (Ritchhart, 2015 pg. 76)

Ritchhart (2015) suggests the following:

“One way to know that we are using the language of initiative and independence, rather than rescuing students and furthering their dependence on us, is to ask ourselves, “Who is doing the thinking?” Reviewing the snippets of language from Lisa’s class, we see that in each instance, Lisa frames her contributions to ensure that students are doing the thinking. Our goal as educators, parents, and mentors is to encourage those whom we are trying to nurture to be the thinkers and to see themselves as thinkers, planners, and doers.” (pg. 78)

Language of Mindfulness

Ritchhart uses experiments to prove that conditional words help keep the mind open and flexible. 

He cites Ellen Langer’s ground breaking research (1989) on mindfulness. Langer’s definition of mindfulness is an open, flexible state in which new categories and possibilities can be created.

Here is how Langer sets up her experiment and the results:

 “Langer sought to identify what types of environmental cues might cause someone to remain more open and mindful versus those that might produce more rote, fixed, and mindless kinds of behavior. In an early study (Langer & Piper, 1987), she set up an experiment in which subjects casually encounter a rubber object in a room where they are working with an experimenter. The experimenter comments to some subjects that the object before them could be a dog’s chew toy (conditional language) and to others that this is a dog’s chew toy (absolute language). The experimenter then sets the object aside and begins to interview the subjects, writing down their responses with a pencil. At some point, the experimenter claims that she has made a mistake and needs to erase what she has written. When this happened, subjects who heard the conditional language (this might be a dog’s chew toy) were much more likely than their counterparts to consider using the rubber object as an eraser. By hearing that the object could be a dog’s chew toy, the participants were able to remain mentally open and consider using the object in a new way once the conditions changed. In contrast, labeling the object definitively tended to produce cognitive closure.” (Ritchhart, 2015 pg. 78-79)

Ritchhart conducted another experiment, where he and his teams designed an experiment to teach university students an invented mathematical concept and procedure called “pairwise”. Here is the procedure and results for “pairwise”:

“The procedure didn’t involve more than the use of basic operations with integers. Some of the students were introduced to the new procedure by hearing the statement, “One way to solve a pairwise equation is… (conditional language) and then shown the designed method. Another group was told, “This is how you solve a pairwise equation” (absolute language), and the same method was shown. In a posttest, students who received the conditional instruction were more accurate in solving pairwise problems, used more workable methods likely to yield accurate results, were more able to produce accurate workable alternative methods for solving the problems, and were less likely to misapply the pairwise procedure in circumstances where it didn’t apply. In this scenario of learning a new bit of mathematics, we theorized that participants receiving instruction using absolute language were more likely to turn off their prior knowledge and frame their task as trying to memorize a procedure that might not have made sense. They became passive recipients of information. In contrast, the conditional language allowed students to integrate their prior knowledge and seek to understand the mathematics, rather than simply try to learn a procedure.” Ritchhart, 2015 pg. 78)

Ritchhart concludes that conditional language almost invites others into the conversation to offer their opinion, and the group begins to pool information and make sense of the situation. Conditional language is not about forgoing answers: it is about forgoing early closure to the process of finding answers.

Language of Praise and Feedback

Ritchhart (2015) writes “Praise is not feedback, as Harris and Rosenthal note. This is in part due to the lack of information praise typically conveys. “Good job” hardly gives one much to go on. To truly be considered feedback, our words have to take on an instructional role, providing the learner with information related directly to the learning task at hand (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). Furthermore, this information has to be received and actionable, guiding future learning. This suggests that our comments should identify what has been done well as much as what still needs improvement and then give guidance in helping the student achieve that improvement. If our words don’t achieve this, then our comments are probably best understood as evaluation rather than feedback.” (Pg. 81)

Ritchhart believes it is important for the language to be specific, descriptive, and informative so that it tells learners about what they did correctly and should continue to do so in the future. He (2015) cites examples from Lisa, a fifth-grade teacher:

“Lisa’s words to students Andrea and Miran after they had conducted their See-Think-Wonder routine convey these qualities as she comments, “You’ve done a really good job of looking at those pictures. I can see you’ve really tried to find an explanation for what’s going on. And I really like the way that you used what you already know, things that you’ve already seen, maybe on television or news reports.”

(pg. 82)

”Lisa then directs their attention to the next task, again highlighting the thinking to be done: “So, now you can turn over to the other side, and you can find out what’s going on with these pictures. And then, when you know that, you can carry on down here [points to the lower half of the recording sheet] and look at the rights, yes? And see what rights might be being respected and which ones might be being neglected. And what makes you say that?”

(pg. 82)

“Notice that Lisa begins with global praise to assure the students, “You’ve done a really good job,” but then quickly moves to specifics. She notices and names the thinking they did (“tried to find an explanation”) and then goes on to name several other specific actions they undertook (“[using] what you already know”). Lisa then connects what the students have done already to the next learning task: “So, now you can turn over to the other side . . .” All of this is offered in a sincere tone and demonstrates that Lisa has really attended to what the students have been doing and where they need to go next in their learning.” (pg. 82)

Language of Listening

Ritchhart (2015) states “listening is one of the powerful ways we show respect for and interest in our people’s thinking.” (pg. 82)

He believes listening starts with genuine interest in others. It means we must pause our own talk and give students time and space to air their thoughts. Ritchhart notes there are specific skills and actions we can learn and a language of listening we can use to demonstrate out interest.

Ritchhart captures the sentiment of Stephen Covey’s expression “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” which is a common linguistic move made by the listeners: clarification. Ritchhart (2015) gives example of this from Lisa’s class:

“We witnessed this when Lisa probed Alex and Hung-Joon about their statement, “I wonder if the kids are working for their families.” Good listeners ask authentic questions to clarify points, unearth any assumptions they may be bringing to the situation, and be sure of the speaker’s intent. To verify their understanding, good listeners may paraphrase what speakers have said and ask speakers to verify that they have correctly represented their ideas” (pg. 83)

Ritchhart says once the clarification is achieved, a teacher or leader may want to connect what was said to other points people have made or to other ideas being discussed. He believes these connections help to thread various ideas together and to facilitate a conversation. Ritchhart believes threading is important for anyone in the role of facilitating learning in groups because it builds coherence and move the agenda of learning forward. He notes threading requires us to listen for the expression of key ideas, questions, or issues that might not yet be well formed in the speaker’s mind. By highlighting these ideas for the group and by noticing and naming them, we bring them forward for further discussion.

Ritchhart (2015) highlights a couple more language moves such as the following:

“Challenge ideas being presented, not in terms of correctness or accuracy, but in the exploratory sense, as in a Socratic dialogue: “How do you think that idea would play out in another context?” “Let’s follow that line of thinking; what’s the action that might follow from it?” In addition, we can advance the discussion further by inviting others in: “Joaquin, what do you think about what Marcy just said?” “Kate, how does Clinton’s idea connect with yours?” Questions such as these don’t come from some preplanned lesson; they emerge from our careful listening to students.”

(pg. 83)


6 Ways to Make Thinking Visible A Powerful Practice

6 Ways of Making Thinking Visible Title Image
6 Ways of Making Thinking Visible

The 6 Ways to Make Thinking Visible A Powerful Practice are, according to Ron Ritchhart and Mark Church authors of the The Power of Making Thinking Visible:

  • Foster deep learning
  • Cultivate engaged students
  • Change the role of students and teachers
  • Enhance our formative assessment practice
  • Improve learning
  • Developing thinking dispositions

Ritchhart and Church examine what is it about making Thinking Visible practices that helps establish this power? and how can teachers realize that power in their own classrooms?

Foster Deep Learning

According to Ritchhart and Church the two ideas-understanding and thinking- are core to conceptions of deep learning which is The Visible Thinking project, began in 2000, built on the preceding Teaching for Understanding project from the 1990s.

The authors define the meaning of deeper learning according to “The Hewlett-Packard Foundation defines deeper learning as the significant understanding of core academic content, coupled with the ability to think critically and solve problems with that content.” (Ritchhart and Church 2020 pg 6)

There are core elements of what it means to learn deeply. Authors states “Based on extensive research in schools and classrooms where deeper learning was occurring assert that deeper learning emerges at the intersection of:

  • Mastery: the opportunity to develop understanding
  • Identity: the opportunity to connect to the domain and develop as a learner with a place in the world
  • Creativity: the opportunity to produce something personally meaningful

These opportunities are infused with critical thinking, grappling with complexity, challenging assumptions, questioning authority, and embracing curiosity-all core elements of what it means to learn deeply.” (pg 6, Ritchhart and Church 2020)

Erik Lindemann, 3rd grade classroom teacher, from Osborne Elementary school in Quaker Valley, Pennsylvania, observed “The story of our classroom learning is dramatically different when we use visible thinking routines. The routines build learners’ capacity to engage with complexity while inspiring exploration, As my students begin internalizing and applying these thinking tools, I become a consultant in their ongoing investigations. Curiosity and excitement fuel deeper learning as my students take the lead.” (pg 6, Ritchhart and Church 2020)

Example of Thinking Routine
Thinking Routine Essentials

When using a thinking routine, teachers need to situate its use within the larger context of building understanding according to Ritchhart and Church. How does this particular lesson fit within the larger enterprise of understanding I am striving for? When teachers begin to focus on the goals of a particular lesson: With which ideas do I want students to begin to grapple? How can I push students’ understanding and move it forward? With these questions answered, the authors note, teachers are ready to identify the source materials and the kinds of thinking that might best serve the exploration of that material. Only then are teachers in a good position to select a thinking routine as a tool or structure for the exploration.

Cultivating Engaged Students

There are three types of specific engagement when it comes to cultivating engaged students:

  1. Engagement with others
  2. Engagement with ideas
  3. Engagement in action

We recognize that learning unfolds in the company of others and is a social endeavor. We learn in, from, and with groups. The group supports our learning as well as challenges that allow us to reach a higher level of performance. At the same time learning demands a personal engagement with ideas. Building understanding is an active process that involves digging in and making sense instead of receiving information passively. The authors note that sometimes this is identified as cognitive engagement, to distinguished from just mere engagement in activity. Authors emphasize that it is cognitive engagement with ideas that leads to learning.

When students explore meaningful and important concepts that are connected to the real world often means students want to take action. This will provide opportunities and structures for them to do so and encourages studentship and power while making the learning relevant.

Katrin Robertson, a lecturer at the University of Michigan, says she experienced it in her arts education class “For many years I used question prompts to engage my university students in discussing texts and it usually end up being asked-and answer sessions where students simply responded to me but did not speak to each other.” She made a shift when she was not content to blame her students for this pattern of behavior. “When I began using routines everything changed. Students were given space to make their thinking visible—. The room became energized with conversation. Students’ ideas blossomed, new perspectives were revealed, wrestled with, and shared in a multitude of forms —” she said. (Ritchhart and Church 2020 pg 7)

Changing the Role of the Student and Teacher

Teachers begin to see shifts in their role-play by teachers and students when they embrace the goal of making their students thinking visible and begin to make associate practices. Authors note that these shifts might be small at first but overtime has the potential to become seismic. When many teachers start using thinking routines they may be merely tacked on to the traditional transmission model of teaching, however, teachers must embrace this potential and cultivate it through regular, thoughtful application of making thinking visible process.

Mary has shifted her role from that of deliverer to orchestrator who works hard to establish a supportive culture and to create conditions for inquiry and opportunities for meaningful exploration. The dominant voice of the classroom has shifted from teachers to students. Her students are no longer passive receivers of knowledge but active creators, directors, and community members. Mary now celebrates this new level of engagement and seeks to promote it, empowering her students and creating a sense of agency.

Another way Making Thinking Visible change the role of the teacher, is that teachers become students of their students. They become curious about their students’ learning, how they are making sense of ideas, what they are thinking, and what ideas engage them. Making Thinking visible both allows and asks teachers to know their students in a different way. When focusing on students’ thinking, we become interested in how they come to know what they know, what questions they have, and what challenges they face. No longer, we see these challenges as deficits but as interesting opportunities for exploration.

Enhancing Formative Assessment Practice

Authors point out that formative assessment is not a task. It is a practice. “If you rely on and design formal tasks for the purpose of providing yourself and your students with “a formative assessment, chances are you have a weak formative assessment practice from which your students benefit little.” (pg 11 Ritchhart and Church 2020)

True formative assessment is the ongoing and embedded effort to understand our students’ learning according to the book Making Visible Learning Powerful. Authors note that it is a two-way street actively involving students and teachers in dialog about learning. Authors states “Formative assessment lives in our listening, observing, examining, analyzing, and reflecting on the process of learning. —It is driving by our curiosity about our students’ learning and the desire to make sure our teaching is responsive to their needs as learners.” (pg 11 Ritchhart and Church 2020)

If we want to know not just what students know, but how they know it we must make their thinking visible. Therefore, making students’ thinking visible is a formative assessment practice, according to the authors. Shehla Ghouse, principal at Stevens Cooperative School, explains, “Insights into student thinking provide teachers with invaluable information that can be used to plan next steps for individual students. It also helps us better understand the individual learner and ways in which to reach them more effectively to further their learning.” (pg 11 Ritchhart and Church 2020)

Improving Learning (Even when Measured by Standardized Tests)

Way Elementary in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, saw students’ performance on the new state writing assessment far outpace district peers who were using the same writing program with 82% of their students scoring proficient or above versus 66% in the district as a whole. Authors noted. Richhart and Church believe that the only difference was that Way was dedicated to being a “Visible Thinking” school starting in 2008. Both authors do not have new assessment data, but they have the comparative data between Way Elementary and schools having a similar student population in the district and using the same writing program. Authors said “What we think the data do tell us is the efforts to make thinking visible can, in the right hands and pursued over time, greatly enhance students’ performance – even on standardized tests” If we want to know not just what students know, but how they know it we must make their thinking visible. Therefore, making students’ thinking visible is a formative assessment practice, according to the authors. Shehla Ghouse, principal at Stevens Cooperative School, explains, “Insights into student thinking provide teachers with invaluable information that can be used to plan next steps for individual students. It also helps us better understand the individual learner and ways in which to reach them more effectively to further their learning.” (pg 17 Ritchhart and Church 2020)

Authors found that regular use of making thinking visible practices had a dramatic effect on the development of students’ meta-strategic knowledge, that is students’ awareness of the strategies they had at their disposal. Authors believe making thinking visible practices facilitate students’ development as thinkers and learners.

Developing Thinking Dispositions

The Visible Thinking Project’s main goal was to develop students as thinkers and learners by cultivating their dispositions toward thinking. Authors describe a disposition that captures one’s personal pattern of interaction with the world. The thinking disposition reflect who we are as thinkers and learners and it goes beyond merely having the skill or ability. It implies that an individual is also inclined to use those abilities, is aware of and sensitive to occasions for the use of those abilities, and is motivated in the moment to deploy the skills.

Students develop their ability to think and building up a repertoire of thinking moves when teachers use thinking routines. Authors recommend that by having the Understand Map posted in the classroom or in student notebooks for easy reference, students have a repertoire of thinking moves at their disposal. Sandra Hahn, a fifth grade teacher at the International School of Bangkok, remarked “My fifth graders became quite the expert in identifying the thinking moves they used and describing how it was used to help them find a solution to our weekly math problem. Some went even further to create a personal question prompt they could use in another situation to access that thinking move.” (pg 17 Ritchhart and Church 2020)

Example of Understanding map

Authors states that when we make thinking visible as a regular part of the classroom through our use of thinking routines, documentation, questioning, and listening, we send a message to students that thinking is valued. It is infused in everything we do and becomes part of the fabric of the classroom. When students come to see the value in their thinking and become more inclined toward thinking as an important part of their learning this will change who they are as learners.


We as teachers will become better listeners, learn to encourage student initiative, and gain new insights into our students’ learning that help us plan responsive instruction. If we use make thinking visible practices actively and engage students with each other, with ideas, and in action than student will experience deep learning.