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!