Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

REASON #5: Purposeful Fun

Reason #5: Purposeful Fun!  I love teaching because it is creative, challenging, and yes...FUN!  In today's educational climate, it is hard to remember that learning should be fun. There is NOTHING wrong with fun.  Frankly, as a teacher, if I'm not having fun then my students won't learn effectively.  One of the most powerful ways that teachers motivate students to learn is by translating their own passion for learning.  My number one rule is that it has to be fun for me, because if I'm bored, my students are bored.  Brain researchers have taught us that boredom actually kills brain cells! HAVE FUN!
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#6 REASON: Reinvention

#6 Reason I Love Teaching: Reinvention.  Learning is an act of  change.  When we learn, we are constantly reinventing ourselves.  I love watching students set goals for themselves. I love watching them achieve those goals.  But what I love the most is that I get to be part of that goal-setting conversation.  Not only do we get to imagine together, but we think about the steps necessary to make the dream a reality.  However, my students also help me set goals.  Their needs define my learning as a teacher.  They facilitate my “pedagogical stretching, “ and at the end of each teaching year, I am a different person than I was in September. 
A mystery sale is on! Check it out at .

Grandma, Mom & me: Before Alzheimer's Disease.

Reason #7

#7 Reason I Love Teaching: Teaching is challenging.  It is blood. It is sweat. It is tears.  It is exhausting.  It is exhilarating.  When I finish a school year, I am reminded of how I felt crossing the finish line of my first marathon.  I felt beat up.  I could barely walk, much less run, one more step.  Rigor mortis set in quickly.  However, I couldn’t stop smiling.  I couldn’t stop beaming, and I couldn’t wait to do it again.  Like distance running, teaching educates us about ourselves and the human spirit.  I get to encourage students as they engage in their own learning marathons.  What could be better than that?

A new mystery sale is on at  . Check it out!


Reason #8

#8 Reason I Love Teaching: TRYING ON DIFFERENT HATS. Who hasn’t wish they could just “take a break” from their lives and try something new?   Being a teacher means I get to try on “different hats.”  In the course of a day, I am a scientist, a writer, an historian, an engineer, a mathematician, and a book critic.  I never get bored.  And, if I’m modeling those different hats for my students, then they are more apt to try them on for themselves.  It’s a win-win!

Be sure to check my store at
  to view the mystery sale item! It's a big one this time!


Reason #9

#9 Reason I Love Teaching: KID-VISION! One of my favorite days of the school year is the first day it snows here in Michigan.  I teach third and fourth graders. It’s not like most of them haven’t seen snow before, but they act as if they HAVEN’T!  See the world through the eyes of my students keeps me excited about life.  Seeing kid-vision in action cultivates my curiosity about the world.  This makes me EXTREMELY HAPPY and grateful, on a regular basis! 

Be sure to check out my store at  for the mystery sale item!


Reason #10

This week, I'm taking a break from metacognition in the math workshop to celebrate the start of school. Even though I don't begin school until after Labor Day, this week is filled with trainings and classroom set up.  I am a third generation teacher.  I can remember sitting in my grandma's 4th grade classroom as a kindergartner, waiting for the big kids to come in after the bell rang so we could play hangman on the chalkboard.  I spent countless hours waiting for my mom to be finished with checking papers or "running dittos."  I learned how to be a teacher from these two ladies.  My grandma made books come alive for me and countless other children.  My mom transformed her classroom in an ocean, a rainforest, the Sonoran Desert, and on and on and on. These memories are especially poignant to me.  My grandma passed away three years ago after suffering from Alzheimer's Disease for 20+ years.  Now, my mom, with whom I used to sniff crayons and fondle post-its every fall, has the same disease.  So in honor of my two teacher heroines, I will be blogging my top ten reasons that I love teaching for the next ten days! There will be a surprise at the end of each blog post, so be sure to stay tuned every day.  So without further ado, let's get started!

Top Ten Reasons I Love Teaching

#10 Reason I Love Teaching: IMAGINATION!  I was that kid in class who was either talking a blue streak to her neighbor or I was in my own little world, writing stories in my mind.  I love teaching because I get to see kids’ imaginations at work EVERY DAY and that is a way cool thing to observe.   In fact, one of my favorite things to do is help students imagine themselves in a different way…not unlike what my personal trainer does for me at the gym.  Seriously, if you can see it, you can be it! 


 To celebrate going back to school, I’m running a MYSTERY SALE in my store at  .   As I count down the top ten reasons I love teaching, a different item in my store will be on sale each day. Make sure to visit it to find the MYSTERY SALE ITEM! 


Half Way There

"When we ask teachers in workshops, 'What kinds of thinking do you value and want to promote in your classroom?' or, 'What kinds of thinking does that lesson force students to do?' a large percentage of teachers are stumped." Ritchart, Church, & Morrison, Making Thinking Visible
As I read this on the first page of my new "favorite" book, Making Thinking Visible How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners, I questioned whether I could answer those questions.  I picked up this book to further my thinking on student metacognition (see   When we educators think of student metacognition we think of Bloom's Taxonomy.  The authors of this book assert that learning isn't such a linear process, that understanding is an outcome of different thinking processes.  As seen in the graphic, Bloom's Taxonomy includes understanding as a thinking process, rather low on the continuum.  Instead, the authors of Making Thinking Visible present thinking processes like this:
Their assertions are that Bloom suggests that knowledge precedes comprehension,  which precedes application, and so on.  But, when you think about your own learning, and your own educator observations, we can see that thinking isn't hierarchical or sequential.  They give the example of a child painting (application), when he mixes a color on the paper by accident, and a new color develops.  He analyzes what happened and does it again in a different place.  He experiments and reflects about the effect, and tries it again with different colors.  There is a constant back and forth between the ways of thinking the child is doing.  This idea reminds me of how the writing process changed from the time I completed my undergraduate degree to now (24 years).  Initially, the writing process was presented as a linear process, moving from one stage to the next. Now, writing process graphics show arrows going every which way, because that is truly how the process works. 
The authors present a quick exercise we can do as educators:
  1.  Make a list of actions and activities that your students are engaged in.
  2.  Now take that list and use it to create three new lists that define these activities like so:
    • What actions and activities account for 75% of what student do in your class on a regular basis?
    • What actions and activities are real things that real scientists, writers, artists, and so on actually do as they work?
    • What actions and activities do you remember yourself doing when you were engaged in new learning?
I did this exercise. It was startling in many ways.  I have work to do.  I'm confident with the thinking I am asking my students to engage in in reader's and writer's workshop.  However, I'm only "half way" there in my math workshop.  One of the practices I do engage in is conferring with my math students the way I conduct writing and reading conferences.  I open conferences with, "Tell me about the thinking you're doing today."  Initially, students are confused by the questions, which is telling in itself.  However, I've found that the more I push the questioning, the more comfortable they become, and the more they are able to tell me about their thinking.
Additionally, I document their math thinking in the same way I do in writer's workshop. I keep a conferring clipboard with conferring sheets and appointment calendar pages on it.  I also keep a binder that houses completed conferring sheets.  This helps me know where students are with learning targets, assures that there aren't unpleasant surprises come assessment time, and helps me communicate effectively on report cards and during parent-teacher conferences.  The conferences also help students develop authentic math goals.
I am very excited about this book and will continue to blog about the classroom thinking routines it discusses!  In the meantime, THINK ON!
To hear more about how I organize my math conferences and workshop and see the sheets I use, check this link out below:

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I Think, Therefore I Am?

“Poirot," I said. "I have been thinking."
"An admirable exercise my friend. Continue it.”
Agatha Christie, Peril at End House      

I've always been fascinated by metacognition.'s 21st Century Lexicon defines metacognition as "awareness and understanding one's thinking and cognitive processes; thinking about thinking." When Howard Gardener's Theory of Multiple Intelligences came out, I was most excited about the Intrapersonal Intelligence...the knowledge of self.  This intelligence has always seemed like the "Big Kahuna" of all intelligences because without it, our other "smarts" seem shallow. So, for the past five years, I 've focused my professional goal setting on pedagogical practices that would develop student metacognition.  I wanted to know, "Is my questioning doing what I think it is?"  and "How are my students responding to my questioning?" And, I specifically wanted the answers to these questions in my math workshop.

On a rainy September Sunday with coffee cup in hand, I created an observation chart that, when used, would focus the observer's attention on the frequency of my questioning, the quality of my questioning, the frequency of my students' metacognitive responses, and the quality of those responses.  As a former literacy coach, I know how powerful it can be to work with one.  I contacted my colleague Jeanine, "pitched" my goal to her, along with my questions and observation chart...and the year's journey began.

Jeanine entered my classroom during math workshop on a weekly basis.  She sat off to the side with my observation chart and wrote furiously.  We met about once a week to look at the data from the charts.  This one little observational activity blew the doors off our minds!  We began to ask, "What student responses are truly metacognitive?"   We began to recognize a continuum of metacognitive responses.  There were the student responses like "This is the answer I got...and I think this because..."  And then, there were responses like "I tried the problem this way...but had trouble with it because the numbers were not jiving, so then I tried it two other ways.  I think the third way is the best because..."  We tracked oral responses on the chart, and I tracked written responses on student assignments.

As our understanding and awareness of metacognition deepened, we added another column to the observation chart: Frequency and breadth of students' oral language responses. As we continued our year-long focus, Jeanine noted an increase in students' responses as well as the length and cohesiveness of their responses.  I teach in a classroom where 1/3 of my students are brand-new to the country.  They usually come with zero to little English.  They may or may not be literate in their native languages. This observation of oral language was remarkable in my ELL world.  In addition, student performance on our district standardized math test showed a big jump in problem solving!

"The world isn't just the way it is.  It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn't that make a life story?" Yann Martel, The Life of Pi

Now as I look at the start of my 24th year of teaching, I'm thinking about how my teaching and learning story will continue. I'm thinking even more about the nature of metacognition.  I'm thinking about the power of observation.  Last week, I wrote about the silly way I introduce my unit on graphing with song and ask students to make observations about the vocabulary in it.  The week before that, I wrote about looking for "small miracles."  Both posts centered on observation.  My theme for this school year is METACOGNITION & OBSERVATION. I can hardly wait to tell the story!

P.S. I would love to hear your thoughts about metacognition! Please comment!

P.S.S. This week's math freebie is another math song called "The Division Blues." The video is below, but the free song sheet can be found in my store.

A friend of mine at Rainbow City Learning developed this Close Reading for Math product that works well when discussing math song lyrics and vocabulary, as well as story problems. You might want to check this out too!


"I'm Ready For My Close Up, Mr. DeMille!"

I recently completed the mother of all school shopping trips at my local Dollar Tree.  "What was in your cart?" you ask...


Why? Two words: Math. Workshop.

Imagine this: It is the second week of school and today is the day we are kicking off a graphing unit in math workshop.  Students are seated on the carpet, dutiful little soldiers awaiting a "normal" math lesson. When suddenly, it's LIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION! The custodian, the principal, and myself enter the room  wearing pink, feathered boas, disco sunglasses, and funky hats.  I sing lead with my "microphone" in hand, and get my funk on and belt out, "Oh you survey, and you poll, and you watch the data roll, and you graph it!"

My back up singers (principal and custodian) jump in with, "Graph! Graph! Graph!" and "Oh baby!" The kids are spell-bound.  The recess drama is forgotten, any math angst is put aside, and they are HOOKED!  Hooked is my favorite student state-of-being. Hooked is when the magic happens.

After the song concludes, and the back-up singers take their bows, students delve into learning the song themselves. We explore graphing vocabulary: Survey, poll, data, collect, sort, report.  We discuss situations where we've encountered these words.  We discuss what we know. We discuss what we don't know.  And, our minds are primed for graphing. This is my unit kick-off.

"The woods would be very silent if the only birds that sang were those who sang best..." Henry David Thoreau

Often, teachers can be intimidated by singing in front of their students.  They needn't be.  Students don't care what their teachers sound like.  And in all honesty, have you ever listened to your students warble a tune outside the music education classroom?  Many sound like drunk sailors...adorable and endearing drunk sailors, but drunk sailors nonetheless.  As teachers, we want our students to be positive risk-takers, to reach beyond their learning anxieties and learn.  Shouldn't we be pushing ourselves to do the same with our teaching? 

Incorporating learning songs into your lessons is a great way to do this! After you've tried it a few times, you might even write some of your own with your students.

I would love to hear about how you've used music in your classroom! Please share in the comments section!

You can find the graphing vocabulary song and lesson at the link below. It even includes a demo video! Be sure to follow me at for more educational songs.