Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Raindrops on Roses & Whiskers on Kittens

"Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens...bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens...
brown paper packages tied up with string...these are a few of my favorite things..."

Ahhhh. Shades of my 6th grade talent show performance.  I'm overcome with nostalgia!
I'm linking up this month with Southern Fried Teachin' to write about my favorite holiday things.  In keeping with the seasonal song "The Twelve Days of Christmas," there are, of course, twelve items on my list.

#1  Favorite Holiday Song:
            "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by the Bare Naked Ladies and Sarah McClachlan

I love the harmonies they create together.  I also love the history of this song.  Did you know it is over 500 years old and was created by peasantry?  It contrasted starkly with the Latin Christmas hymns of the day.  Yes, I am a musician AND a history freak.

#2 Guilty Pleasure Holiday Food:
            Pepperoni rolls!  No, I do not mean pizza rolls or calzones.  I am talking about homemade bread baked with sticks of pepperoni in it.  This delicacy is made in communities in West Virginia where I was born, and where my father is from.  The greasy goodness from the pepperoni bakes into the bread.  It is eyes-roll-back-in-your-head good.

#3 Favorite Holiday Tradition:
             My mom and I always go to the choral service on Christmas Eve.  We are usually singing in the choir together, or I'm performing on the piano.  This Christmas, with mom being sick, the tradition will change.

#4 Favorite Holiday Book:

I love this story and its lesson.  We are happiest when we are giving.  If you're not familiar with this book yet, you need to be!

#5 My Favorite Act of Kindness:
             There was a man at the gas station I had stopped at.  He was elderly.  He asked the cashier if he could pump gas and pay him a few days later. The cashier told him it was okay to do this.  When I got up to the counter, the cashier explained how this elderly man supplemented his social security by delivering papers.  That's why he needed the gas.  I paid for his $16 worth of gas.  When the cashier told him that it was taken care of, the man burst into tears.  I cried watching him from my parked car.  Anyone of us could be that man.  Sometimes, we forget.

#6 My Favorite Holiday Memory:
             I must have been about 11 years old.  We had gone to the midnight choral service on Christmas Eve.  I came out to the parking lot by myself while my mom put away choir robes.  It had begun to snow, and when I looked up into the sky, I couldn't tell what was stars and what was snow.  I felt so much happiness in that moment.  I still remember throwing my arms up and open and spinning until I fell over.  Isn't it strange, the things we remember from our childhoods?

#7 My Favorite Holiday Gift:
            My mom took my marathon t-shirts and had a quilt made for me.  It means so much to me, because it was her way of cheering me on.

#8 My Favorite Holiday Craft:
            Seriously? COOKIES. I've never met a cookie I didn't like. Enough said.

#9 My Favorite Holiday Movie:
            "It's a Wonderful Life." Who doesn't want to know that they've made a difference in the world?

#10 My Favorite Place to Shop for Holiday Gifts:
            T.J. Maxx!  I'm a garage-sale-loving, antique-hunting kind of girl.  T.J. Maxx is A LOT like a scavenger hunt.  I enjoy finding the unexpected treasures!

#11 What I Want Santa to Bring Me:
             What I really, really, really want is to be able to complete one more marathon.  I'd like to be healthy enough and injury-free enough to have that experience just one more time. There's nothing else like it.

#12 My Favorite Product:
              I LOVE this math project, and have for many years.  It's creative, challenging, and fun.

I'm hoping your holidays, regardless of what you might celebrate, are filled with peace, hope, and light.  Until we meet again, teach on, my friends!

                                                                               Tracy @


For more fun holiday reads, click here!



Tantalizing Tessellations: Critical Thinking Moves & Problem Solving

"Ms. Willis, this is hard!"

I was looking for a way to cement my students' learning in geometry, one that would include exploring spatial relationships, patterning, and translations, rotations, and reflections (slides, flips and turns). I also wanted to include some of my own new learning and implement some critical thinking moves from Making Thinking Visible (Ritchart, Church, & Morrison).  This was a 4-day process.  I hesitated because of the amount of time I knew it would take up, but I'm so glad I pushed forward with my idea.  The rewards were well worth the time.
 Day 1
I began by showing examples of tessellations.  I used a mini-definition poster that I created to explain what a tessellation is and then gave each student a tessellation photo card.  These tag cards are photos from nature and man-made structures, as well as computer-generated patterns, and they all are examples of tessellations, except for one card.  I used that card to challenge students to use the mini-definition poster to determine whether or not it was a tessellating pattern.  They determined that it isn't, and they would be right!   Each student received a numbered card.  We spent some time looking at each other's cards. 

Then I put my tessellation card on the document camera to project it on the Smart Board.  Using a response sheet, I modeled my thinking about my tessellation.  The response sheet used questions combining "See, Think, & Wonder" and "3-2-1"  thinking moves.  For example, we wrote three math words that described our tessellating pattern.  We also wrote two questions we had about what we were seeing.  We described what we were seeing on our cards, as well as what we were thinking about what we were observing.  Doing this gave students an opportunity to practice using their math vocabulary, and it gave me an opportunity for a formative assessment as I wandered the room conducting my own observations.  We also wrote a simile for each of our patterns.

After using the response sheet, students sat in groups of three to share their thoughts, questions, and observations. 

Day 2

Day 2 was eagerly anticipated by my students.  I issued "the challenge" to them: Create your own tessellating pattern using pattern blocks; your tessellation MUST include rotation, reflection, and translation.  I gave each student a paper on which to create so they had boundaries for their tessellations. 

I allowed students time to explore with the pattern blocks while I watched.  One of the things I noticed that the majority of them were struggling with is that they began to make pictures instead of patterns. I approached many students, asking them the question, "What comes next?"  When they couldn't answer the question, it was a tip off for them that they were not creating a pattern. 

I called students together and modeled the difference between making a cool picture and making a pattern.  As I made my pattern, I repeated it out loud for students to hear, "Hexagon, parallelogram, parallelogram, trapezoid...hexagon, parallelogram, parallelogram, trapezoid..."  This seemed to turn the collective light bulb on for them. They went back to their own workspaces to complete their patterns. 

At the end of this session, all students had a pattern block tessellation.  I took pictures of these on my phone and uploaded them to my classroom computer so I could print copies for them to refer to the next day. 

Day 3

By the time day 3 rolled around, student excitement was pretty high.  We revisited the photos of our tessellations from the day before.  Then, I gave students the direction guide for making their paper tessellations, as well as the rubric I developed.  I wanted them to know the learning targets for this assessment BEFORE they began their final project.  After we read through both of these documents together, students began coloring and cutting their paper pattern blocks. The paper pattern blocks are another resource I created.  They arranged these on an 8x8 inch square of black construction paper, gluing only after they had practiced their patterns again.  

This took all of our math session for day 3.  As I walked around monitoring, I reminded students to keep their rubric in sight so they would remember the learning targets. 

Day 4

Day 4 was spent writing about our tessellations.  I provided a writing page on which students recorded their thinking and descriptions of their tessellating patterns.  They were required to use math vocabulary from a word bank in their explanations.  This gave students another opportunity to practice using math vocabulary in their writing.  It also allowed me to check, once again, for their understanding. 

Finally, I asked students to take out their rubric sheets and self-assess their tessellation projects and writing. 

I am very please with how this project went.  One of my students who is very high in math ability gave me the ultimate compliment.  He said, "Ms. Willis, this is hard!"  What is always interesting to me is WHO finds this project difficult.  Many of my students who are average math students, or even lower, loved this project and found it to be "just right" for them.  Some of my very high math students were challenged by it!  I love this.  That same student told me that "open-ended assignments are harder" for him.  I love that he knows this about himself.  Projects like this leave room for everyone to succeed, don't they?  I saw very complicated patterns over the four days of this project, but I also saw very simple patterns.  Project learning allows for flexibility with differentiation and gives us, as educators, a window into students' thinking that we might not see otherwise. 

Another student asked at the end of the fourth session, "When can we do another math project, Ms. Willis?" I can hardly wait.  I've got isosceles, scalene, and equilateral Christmas trees and transformational snowflake symmetry on my brain!

                                                                                 Teach on, my friends!

                                                                                           Tracy @

If you liked reading about this critical thinking project, then you should check out these products in my store!

I hope you have found a few ideas here to make your critical thinking classroom more powerful. For more December ideas from some of my favorite bloggers, please visit more December Teacher Talk posts! I hope you will find a few more ideas here to help make your teaching powerful and impactful.



ZOOMING Into Critical Thinking... & Exhaustion

We've all been there.  We all have had moments of extreme clarity and hindsight...moments when we wish we could knock back a shot of tequila and ask ourselves, "What the heck was I thinking?"  Lately, I'm having too many of these moments.  This week, in particular, was filled with this type of soul searching. After 24 years of teaching, I still haven't learned.

I had returned home on Sunday from Thanksgiving with my family.  I love my family. I adore them.  But, my mom has Alzheimer's disease, and the sorrow and grief we collectively feel is overwhelming, at best. At its worst, it is paralyzing.This weekend, it felt paralyzing.   My first day back from Thanksgiving break, I had scheduled my evaluative observation with my principal (insert head-banging on the wall here).

Sunday night, I sat at my computer to draft my plan for my observation, taking special care to notate common core standards and Marzano domains.  I identified a "Making Thinking Visible" thinking move I wanted to implement in my writing lesson.  I massaged it for my purposes.  I focused in on "ZOOM" which was designed to be used with images, and I modified it so I could use it with informational text. I spent an hour writing my lesson plan, thinking carefully through my pedagogical choices...and then the computer monitor went black.  I sat in stunned silence with the metallic taste of desperation rising in my throat. I tried everything.  I pushed every imaginable button...nothing.

I reached for my Chrome Book and began again.  I lost my document, again, 30 minutes into my rewrite.

 There are moments in our teaching lives when we question our sanity, moments when we question our career choice, and moments when we sob loudly as we hold ourselves and rock back and forth in our chairs.  I will let you imagine which kind of moment this was for me.

I awoke Monday morning at 5:00 a.m., on fire with determination.  I drove to school in the morning darkness so I could sit in my 50 degree classroom, huddled over my computer keyboard, to type my lesson plan for my impending observation. When I was done writing, I was ready.

We're in the middle of a nonfiction writing unit so students are entrenched in writing about their expert topics.  My teaching point was to explore compare and contrast text structure in a mentor text in order to explore how writers write about topics. The "ZOOM" thinking move is designed to be used with an image.  The image is revealed in stages to students.  As each new section of the image is revealed,  students delve deeper into their understanding of what they are seeing.  I took this strategy and applied it to a text on crocodiles and alligators that I found on .   I began my lesson with storytelling about my father and how he uses binoculars when he hunts.  Each time he looks through his binoculars, he sees something new about his surroundings.  He uses them to "zoom in." Then, I put my own zooming-in goggles on (see above picture) and away he went.

I began by reading the first page. I stopped at the end of that page and asked students to name and notice how the writer wrote about her topic.  Initially, students noticed the hook she had included in her lead.  They identified her topic sentence.  I asked them to describe any ideas they were formulating about what kind of book this was going to be based on her writing thus far.  They responded that it would be informational, not super funny, but not boring, either.

I put the goggles on a second time, and read further into the text on the document camera, revealing more of the author's writing. This time, I asked my students to reflect on how she organized her writing...what kind of transitions did she use?  What was the purpose of this new chunk of text?  They agreed that this was comparing crocodiles to alligators because it tells how they are the same.  They noticed words like both, also, similar,  and another similarity.  

I put the goggles on one last time, and read another chunk of text.  This time the text compared AND contrasted crocodiles and alligators.  My final question to students was, "Think back to what you were thinking while you read the first has your thinking changed about this writer's writing and purpose?"  This third round of questioning was really difficult for them.  But, it was revealing for me!  This was the first time I had asked this type of question this school year.  I don't think they had encountered it before.  So, I took a step back, pedagogically speaking, and modeled my own response to it.  I now know where I'm headed next with my questioning strategies.

The lesson went on, my principal beamed and stayed longer than usual...I think she was having a good time.  After she left and my kids went out for recess, I collapsed into my chair and tried to put the weekend, and my computer meltdown into perspective.  I had survived...I had done better than survival.

The end of the day finally arrived.  I left my teaching partner with the kids in the classroom and ran to the bathroom before dismissal.  Funny thing, stress.  While taking my bathroom break, I discovered that I had worn my pants backwards the entire school day.  Sigh.  I will live to teach another day.

                                                                             Teach on my friends,
                                                                                       Tracy @

Products that I use to support myself during evaluation season or writer's workshop can be found below! Check them out.  They're on sale until Friday!

Check out this link for more awesome teaching sagas and ideas. It's a great resource!


An Easy Finish

I'm pretty excited about the Cyber Monday & Tuesday sale on TPT! I have a long wish list prepared because 28% off is too good to pass up. 

I'm also excited about my newest products, all built around metacognition, problem solving, and student talk.  I've used all of these in my teaching.  My students have loved each and every one of them. Enjoy!

Teach on, Friends! And, enjoy race to the finish for Christmas vacation! Tracy @


Making Thinking Visible: See, Think & Wonder

I used to be a long-distance runner.  One of those people who wouldn't drink more than two beers on a Friday night because I had an early morning training run (usually 10 + miles) in the morning.  Many marathons, races, and injuries later, I am a walker and hiker. 

I walk an historic neighborhood close to my house.  Out of necessity, I walk either at night or early morning. My dog, Gracie and I, hoof it through the same routes day after day after day.  There is something comforting about the routine of seeing the same strangers leaving for work at 6 a.m. or returning at night...seeing the warm glow of a lamp in the same window each evening...the same neighborhood dogs heralding our passing by everyday. The familiarity of my route enables me to observe and notice things that I might have overlooked the first time along.  

That's the beauty of many of the thinking strategies in Making Thinking Visible and the practice of conducting CLOSE Reads in the classroom...the familiarity one gains with a text helps the observer go deeper. My last post, I wrote about how I used the CSI strategy to wrap up novel studies with my guided reading groups.  This week, I used "See-Think-Wonder" (STW) to begin novels with new reading groups. The purpose of STW is to engage students in looking closely at an image or object.  I zeroed in on this strategy because we were in the "looking at the cover of the book and talking" stage of our small group discussions.  This thinking move focuses on the importance of observation and uses the observation as a foundation for thinking and interpretation.  

I created a triangle-shaped graphic organizer with each corner labeled either "See, " "Think," or "Wonder."  I gave each of my students this organizer before I began modeling how to use it on a poster-sized version.  Here's what I did:

(I showed the cover of Because of Winn Dixie, a former mentor text from a previous unit). Friends, I'm going to hang out here at the top of my triangle where it says, "See."  I'm going to name what I see.  I see a girl and a dog.  I see what looks like a dirt road.  I see a lot of gold or yellow on the cover illustration.  I see the title of the book. I encourage students to add to my observations, correcting them when they fall out of observing and begin telling their thoughts.  I write all observations on my organizer for them to see.
Now I'm going to go to the left corner of my triangle where it says "Think."  I'm going to say what I think about my observations.  I think the dog belongs to the girl.  I think they live in the  country because the road doesn't look paved.  I thought Winn Dixie was a grocery store down south (Students add their thoughts).  I write down all of our thoughts.
Lastly, I'm going to look at "Wonder," the final angle of my triangle.  I have some wonderings about my observations that I'm going to record on this angle.  For example, why is there so much gold or yellow on the cover?  What happened at the Winn Dixie?  Where are the girl and dog going?  Etc.

After modeling this strategy, I asked students to work together with partners in the small group to do the same thing for the cover of their new books (City of Ember & Digory the Dragon Slayer).  After students worked with partners, we came back together as a whole group and discussed each corner of the STW triangle.  

I was very happy with how this thinking move went.  It was the first time I've used it for this purpose.  Previously, I've used it for reading diagrams in nonfiction text, graphs in math or nonfiction text, and illustrations in picture books.  It reminded me of doing CLOSE reads with my students because we "read" the cover illustrations on the books three times, each time delving deeper into the meaning of the illustration and title.  In fact, the next Close read I do with my students, I will be combining the two (See, Think & Wonder and close reading). 

To see the organizers I developed as well as the fabulous Close Read bundle I use from Rainbow City Learning, click the pictures below. 
                                                        In the meantime, teach on my friends!


If your interested in reading more about metacognition, check these links out:


Making Thinking Visible & The Characteristics of 21st Century Learners

Happy Monday, Teaching Friends. I'm hoping MY Monday is better than my last two Mondays were as they were bad enough to make a saint swear!  This morning, I still have metacognition on my mind. Last week, I wrote about using the 3-2-1 strategy in my math workshop.  I used another powerful strategy later on in my teaching week: CSI.  This little tool is powerful because it allows students to talk through their thinking, as well as gives the teacher a "formative assessment view" into students' reading comprehension. In addition, it develops, as do all the strategies in Making Thinking Visible, students' ability to think creatively and critically, communicate and collaborate with others, and create, evaluate and utilize information.

CSI: Color, Symbol, Image
The purpose of the CSI strategy is for students to summarize their reading or capture the heart of a big idea.  Through its use, students learn how to make visual connections to their thinking.  It begins as a nonverbal routine.  
My guided reading groups were wrapping a novel at the end of last week.   I zoomed in on the CSI strategy in order to discuss theme with them.  One group was finishing Wolf Shadows by Mary Casanova, while another group was finishing How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor.  We had been talking about possible themes for a few days when I introduced the assignment.  I used our mentor text Because of Winn Dixie (whole group workshop lessons) by Kate DiCamillo to model the thinking move. Here's a snapshot of how it went:
T: Colors can have many different meanings for different people.  For example, when I think of the color black, I think of extreme sadness or hopelessness.  What do you think of?
S: I think of scary stuff because scary movies always happen when it's night outside.
S:  Yeah, I think about something dying.   Like when my grandma died, everyone wore black to the funeral.
T: So black is an unhappy color for many of us, it sounds like.  If you were going to assign a color to the book Because of Winn Dixie, knowing what you know about Opal and the other characters as well as the theme of that novel, what color would you pick to represent the book?
S:  I'd choose pink because pink is a friendly color and she makes a lot of friends in the book.  She's not lonely anymore.
S: I'd choose yellow, like those lemon drops, because the book is bitter and sweet at the same time.
T: What do you mean by that?
S:Well, it's sweet because Opal makes friends and her dad starts to pay attention to her finally.  But it's bitter because the problem of her mom missing isn't solved.  Opal still misses her mom.
S:Yeah. Good idea.
At this point, I went on to ask them to think about their novels in the same way: What color would they choose to represent the "essence" of their novel?  I introduced a peace sign organizer that I had created for this purpose.  We then talked about symbols...what they are and how they are used in our everyday lives.  Some symbols we discussed were: The American flag...freedom: dove...peace;; an X O for kisses and hugs, etc.   I explained that I wanted them to also try to come up with a symbol for their book and record it on the organizer.
Finally, we talked about image.  One student said that a rain cloud with the sun poking out behind would be a good image for Because of Winn Dixie because real life is both rain and sun.  I asked them to think about what image they might sketch to represent the essence of their novel. Then, I sent them on their way to do their thinking. 

The next day, we reconvened.  Students began talking with a chat buddy, showing their CSI wheels to each other and describing their color, symbol, and image choices.  It was interesting to listen to students because I heard some unexpected "stuff."  For example, students had a pretty easy time assigning a color to their novels.  They were able to explain their choices, using the text for evidence.  They really focused on the overall mood of their book.  They were able to explain their sketches, too, although these tended to be illustrations about the book and not a sketch that represents the essence of the book.  For example, see the pictures and captions below:
This student sketched a house because this was the need of Georgina in How to Steal a Dog.  The student did not think of the house as something that symbolizes safety, warmth, family, or a sense of belonging.   He simply saw it as what the character wanted in the story.

This student drew a car because it was Georgina's home in How to Steal a Dog.  The student was able to explain the importance of the car but had difficulty explaining why this picture was THE picture to represent the essence of the novel.

The Wolf Shadows reading group, which is a higher level reading group, was able to think and talk about symbols with greater ease.  This was really interesting to watch.  I wonder what would happen if I were to bring the two groups together...if the How to Steal a Dog group's understanding of symbolic representation would be changed?

This student is from my Wolf Shadows (higher) group.  He explained his wolf symbol as representing the choices we make in life...that we're free like the wolf to make our own choices, but that they have consequences!

This student is an "outlier" in our classroom.  His thinking and drawings show it. Focus in on the symbol on the top right of his organizer.  He created this symbol like a family crest, and it shows three characters' varying viewpoints on wolves in the novel.  He included a smiley face, an angry face, and a neutral face.  He explained each face, relating them to the characters and citing evidence from the text.

This activity was a great first step into thinking about symbolism in text.  The CSI thinking move allowed students to create nonverbal representations of their thinking and then share their thinking orally.  It gives me a "leaping off the comprehension cliff" point with my students for next time.  Give it a try in your own classroom.  If you do, please let me know how it goes!  Be sure to stay tuned for my next adventure into Making Thinking Visible!

                                                                   Until then, teach on , my friends!

If you're interested in this graphic organizer, you can check it out below.  Just click the pictures!