Category Archives: education

Making Thinking Visible – Part Three

What can a teacher do to help create a classroom where thinking becomes visible?

Question. Listen. Document.


Good questions help students to construct their understanding.

Questions need to be thought through to help students think about the content not simply to outline the facts.  I think asking good questions is one of the toughest parts of good teaching.  This is at least the second time I’ve read about the importance of questions in creating teaching excellence.  It seems strange that something so simple can be so difficult.  It’s easy to ask who, what, when, where questions but to ask questions which ask them to make interpretations, make connections, focus on the big ideas requires thoughtful planning and deep understanding of the content and intent of your lesson.


Once a teacher asks the good questions, what do they do with the responses?  Really listening to the responses students give and figuring out what they mean and what they might have missed in their understanding is another task which takes care and deliberate thoughtful preparation.  I’m not sure I’ve figured this one out.  Often I listen for the answer I think I want as opposed to listening for the thinking the students are doing and learning about them from those responses.  I think the third part of this trio probably would help me with that.


Recording what students say during a class helps track what has been said, demonstrates the value of the students’ ideas,  gives an object for further discussion and reflection.


Three simple actions to take in order to make thinking the work of the classroom and learners within the classroom.

I know I’m going to use this.

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Making Thinking Visible – Part Two

Looking at student responses to thinking.

In Making Thinking Visible, the authors outline four different types of responses students give when asked to thinking or write about their thinking:  emotional, associative, meta and strategic.  Emotional responses indicate how the students feel about their thinking – unsure, hurried, stressed.  Associative responses indicate accompanying features when students are thinking – while traveling, in math class, when reading.  Meta responses have to do with student awareness of the purpose of thinking and complexity of the process – there is always more to know, knowledge is partial, you need to know something in order to create something.  Strategic responses indicate how the student goes about thinking – practice, look for information, organize my ideas.  These strategic responses can be broken down into four further categories – memory and knowledge development, generalized strategies, specific processes, self-regulation and monitoring processes.

While all thinking about thinking is useful for learners and their teachers and coaches, learning which strategies to use to monitor and regulate our learning, to commit things to memory and to complete specific tasks are of particular help for learners when creating independence and understanding.


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SPS Inquiry Project

My partner and I have not done what we thought we would do. As a planner and pleaser, I am completely disappointed with us but I’m also aware of what we have accomplished and the strides the class has taken as we worked through the challenges of the first term of the year.

We had hoped to use our inquiry to learn more about what the students knew about reading and giving them some more strategies to try. We had hoped we would be able to get them to write about their thinking and explain what they are doing when they read. We haven’t done any of that.

We did do some inquiry and some writing and started to get the students ready to use technology, so there has indeed been much accomplished and much learned both by the students and by us.

We have started a blog for the students and for the teacher. The students have learned how to login to the computers on their own and how to login to the blog by themselves. They are excited to be writing online and have had some great ah-ha moments. On the first day, we blogged a pair of boys were starting their first post. They typed it in and stopped to re-read their work. They couldn’t read it. One of the boys said, “Oh, we need to put in spaces!” It was great re-enforcement of one of those key first writing skills.

It has been fun to see some of the students who excell at handling the computers helping their peers. Particularly when some of the students who excell at computers are not the ones who excell at traditional school tasks.

The class has done some informal class inquiry into the nature of eels and snakes. They were able to work through from questions to searching to sharing of their ideas and learnings. Although this process was largely, off the grid, it fostered some great curiousity and allowed for an excellent writing opportunity.

The students have really learned about writing and being self-critcal during this term. They have worked together to develop a writing continuum which they can use for all kinds of writing throughout the year. It has been particularly helpful for the students who are writing well to challenge themselves to improve.

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SPS Inquiry Collaboration

My teacher partner and I got together today to work on our project. We were glad we had waited until we had learned a bit more about the students we are working with and where they need us to spend time. We have discovered through some testing that althought the students work well to understand when they are reading they are struggling to decode and read with fluency. This has helped us to set a slightly different focus for our technology and learning inquiry.
Using Debbie Miller’s work as a guide, we want to foster a community of learners in the classroom who are curious, reflective and thoughful. We want them to be absorbed by their learning experiences and eager to share them with others. We are going to focus on giving them a real audience and practical reasons to read and write.
Each student will partcipate in having a blog and using drawing and writing to think about how good readers decode text.
We have deliberately not chosen another curricular topic as the focus of our inquiry so that we may continue to work on the inquiry as the curricular content changes throughout the term.
We are planning on using Pixie and MS Paint as tools for communicating about words and reading.
It’s going to be fun to see where things go and what kind of products we can make to communicate with others the interesting things we read about and how we are becoming better readers.

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Inquiry Work SPS

Today my learning partner and I had a day of time to work on starting our inquiry project sponsored by our SPS central office. We decided on our area of study which will be English Language Arts and Social Studies. We found some really good links between our student work and our own professional work on literacy. We are feeling good about the alignment of our goals. We are needing to work on what the details will look like as we move forward and are concerned that we not pick off too much at once.

We think our inquiry question will be: How can I make my non-fiction writing exciting? We will be able to use the question throughout the year and move forward with both ELA curriculum outcomes as well as fold the question into our other areas of study.

We will be exploring using blogs and photography to develop our voice and our writing skill.

We are wondering, how we will best collaborate and divide up the work load.

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Shining Willows 2012

The busy beaver by Nicholas Oldland 

Beaver is always busy but rarely careful.  He makes a big mess of things in the woods. When his carelessness causes an accident in which he is the main victim, he learns his lesson. Is it soon enough to turn things around?

Nicholas Oldland’s beaver and friends are a delightful crew. The story is a bit pat but the humour keeps things lively. A picture book story for K-2 which may be enjoyed by older readers as well. Highlights the themes of responsibility, caring for the environment and the art of apology.  A decent addition for the K-6 library.

Rating: good

Ella May and the Wishing Stone by Cary Fagan and Geneviève Côté

Ella May finds a special stone at the beach and brings it home. Her wishing stone creates a stir among her friends and neighbours and soon she is wondering if having a wishing stone is what is cracked up to be.

Cary Fagan and Geneviève Côté team up to create a light and enjoyable story on friendship and sharing. Although the topic lends itself to didacticism, Fagan manages to avoid the pitfalls of being preachy.  A cheerful addition for the K-8 library. Well-worth purchasing.

Rating: very good

The Flute by Rachna Gilmore 

A baby girl is born beside a rushing river under the light of the moon.  Her mother names her “Chandra” after the moon which watched over her birth.  The moon keeps watch as the girl grows and life brings challenges.  When it appears things can not get worse, the girl experiences care from an unknown source.  Could it be the Moon?

The Flute is a picture book for older readers.  It has denser text and harsh life experiences.  It has the feel of a folk tale. Gilmore’s text is simple but rich which sounds paradoxical but fits. The illustrations by Pulak Biswas compliment the cultural overtones of the text.  A worthy addition for the K-8 library which will likely be appreciated by teachers and older students although it may be used in earlier years when studying Canada’s diversity and folk tales.

Rating: very good

I know here  by Laurel Croza and Matt James

Moving can be a disorienting experience and difficult for families. “I know here” relates the story of a girl who needs to move to a new place and is afraid of what is coming and leaving everything she knows behind.

Laurel Croza’s story is evocative and heart-warming. Matt James’ illustrations are breezy and child-like; matching the text and tenor of the story.  This story will speak to Canadian newcomers and families on the move for work. A great addition to Canadian literature for children and any library collection.

Rating: excellent

In the Bag!  by Monica Kulling and David Parkins

In the late 1800’s, women were not inventors, at least not very many.  Margaret Knight was not content to be an ordinary woman.  She looked at her work and its problems with an inventor’s eye and thought about what could be done.

Biography can be dull but Monica Kulling brings to life the story of Margaret Knight while still letting the facts of her life uphold the story.  David Parkins illustrations are detailed and full of character.  They bring richness to the text and information collected by Kulling.

This non-fiction selection is a great addition to any library.  Teachers will find the material helpful for units on early North America, and inventors and inventions.  Definitely worth purchasing for a K-8 collection.

Rating:  excellent

Loon by Susan Vande Griek and Karen Reczuch

Early in June baby loons hatch.  Over the next year, they grown and learn and mature.  Susan Vande Griek tells the life cycle of  the loon in this beautiful poetic picture book.  Karen Reczuch’s paintings are lovely.  The information about loons is detailed and descriptive.  I wish there might have been a way to tell more about how people can put baby loons at risk when they are hatchlings but perhaps it would have broken the poetry of the telling.  A book worth having as loons are such a well-known symbol of Canada.

Rating: very good

Picture a Tree by Barbara Reid

Barbara Reid captures the varied seasons and shapes of trees in this visual and textual poem.   I approached this book with caution knowing that perhaps it got chosen because the committee were fans of her work but this one belongs on the list.  My only critique is of the text about mid way, it seems to lose flow for a time, still this is a wonderful, beautiful picture book.  I will be interested to see if children love it as much as I do. Worth adding to your school library or home collection.

Rating: excellent

Small Saul by Ashley Spires

Small Saul was born for the sea when the Navy won’t take him. He counts on pirates to make him at home.  Things don’t work out quite as well as Saul would hope as he isn’t tough and crazy about treasure. Still Saul and his pirate friends learn that all kinds of skills and aptitudes can be appreciated.

Ashley Spires has written and illustrated this light-hearted and whimsical story of a boy finding his way and learning how to make a contribution. Although the book could be used to teach lessons about appreciating each others differences, it is not preachy or didactic. A good addition to the K-8 library.

Rating: very good

Tooter’s Stinky Wish by Brian Cretney and Peggy Collins

Tooter is a skunk with a problem.  Tooter can not make stinky spray.  After much trial and error, research and thought, Tooter is ready to give up.  Then Tooter meets a bug.  Will his new friend be able to help him?

Brian Cretney’s story is light-hearted and somewhat in the style of Melanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel.   Peggy Collins’s illustrations take the story from average to very good.  I found the story a bit didactic and will be interested to see how children like it.  I think it is a story which may play very well.

Rating: very good

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Tyger Tyger by Kersten Hamilton

The very spooky woods
Well-written and exciting fantasy book for teens.  Tyger, Tyger taps into the wealth of material in Irish myth stories.  Our romantic couple is fighting goblins to rescue the girl’s father from Fear Dorich – a fallen angel otherwise known as a devil.  The book is filled with literary references to other works and is intended for sophisticated readers.  Probably better suited to a high school library rather than a K-8.

Kersten Hamilton website

Girls in the Stacks

Rhapsody in Books

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