Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

When PIGS Fly!

Last Wednesday, I sat at my desk during my lunch hour making a list.  This is a strategy my mom, who had also been a teacher, taught me to do when I feel overwhelmed with teaching life.  So in between dabbing my broccoli florets in my hummus and choking down my carrot sticks, I made my list.  Overwhelmed doesn't adequately describe how I was feeling.  I began by listing five things at the top of my list that I had already accomplished.  

You do this.  Admit it.  I do this. I am a goal-setting, need-to-feel-a-sense-of-accomplishment list maker.  I add things that I have already done to lists just so I can check them off.  I know it's not a logical thing to do, but I've never bragged about my logic.  Some people over-drink, over-eat, or over-exercise to cope with stress.  I make lists so I can check things off.  This is how I cope. And then, because I am a classic over-achiever, I tell myself that if I accomplish half of what I list, I'm way far ahead of the game. Last Wednesday was no different.  And at the top of my list, I had written "P.I.G."  

When PIGS Fly
What is "P.I.G?"  P.I.G.  stands for "Pretty Important Goal."  It's the term my school district and school use to identify the year-long goal focus for each grade level.  I did feel a sense of accomplishment that this particular item was checked off on my list.  
This year at my school, we are focusing our efforts on reading.  Michigan recently passes a retention law for third graders, and this ups the ante for teachers and students.  There's a desperateness in the air. My fifth grade team began by looking at our Fountas & Pinnell data.  As usual, our students show a need for more advanced comprehension strategies in the "Beyond the Text" and "About the Text" comprehension areas.  After much dialogue and angst about how to best attack this goal, we came up with the following:

Rationale: Students develop advanced reading comprehension when they make connections, critique, and analyze text and their own thinking.

Goal: Students will achieve a grade level average of 80% on a biweekly basis, in reading comprehension, using the 4C's thinking routine in guided reading and strategy groups.

4 Cs: A Rock Star Routine
What is a "4C" routine, you ask?  My school is on its way to becoming a "Cultures of Thinking" organization.  My colleagues and I were looking for an easy peasy way to strengthen our students' ability to infer, make connections, analyze and critique.  This thinking routine popped out at us because  it requires students to do the type of thinking represented by "Beyond the Text" and "About the Text" reading comprehension.
  • The first C stands for Connection.  What connections can you make?
  • The second C stands for Challenge.  What ideas can you challenge?
  • The third C stands for Concepts. What are THE important ideas here?
  • The final C stands for Change. What changes occurred in your thinking?
After playing with it in our own practice, we found that this routine works well with fiction and nonfiction.  For example, let's say that I'm working with a guided reading group that is reading Tuck Everlasting. We might begin by focusing on a chapter and talking about the connections we have to Winnie, describing times when we have experienced frustration, feeling trapped or suffocated by a situation.  We take it a step further in that chapter and challenge some of the decisions that Winnie has made in that particular chapter, maybe even examining what we might have done in her place.  

We would discuss important themes or ideas about life from the chapter.  And finally, how our thinking about Winnie and/or her situation has changed due to the chapter we're discussing.  

Now, apply the same thinking routine to a nonfiction book about soccer.  What connections can you make to the topic?  What prior knowledge might you have?  Is the topic an important one for you?  We could follow that with challenging the writing style or thinking of the author. Did he or she slant the text to portray a certain viewpoint?  Is the depiction of soccer accurate?  What are THE important ideas about soccer?  How do you know they're important?  And finally, what changes in your understanding of soccer occurred because you read this text?

My fifth grade team decided to use this routine as a teaching tool and formative assessment, on a biweekly basis, with each of our guided reading groups.  On the formative assessment, we give a point for each of the C's and find our grade level average, which we track with our students.  Our expectation is that we will see an increase in our students' ability to use more complex reading comprehension skills on our benchmark Fountas & Pinnell assessments.  Just in the teaching alone, we've seen some changes.  In fifth grade, our P.I.G.S. do fly!

To read more about visible thinking strategies you might try this website (click on the pig!):

You can also give some of these thinking routines a whirl by trying them out below.  Not only are they shaking  up our reading comprehension, but our writing skills are growing by leaps and bounds with these routines!   

                     Until next time, 
                             teach on, my friends!


  1. Thank you for your insight. As I read your post I thought how this routine could help struggling middle school readers as well. I am very curious about learning more about how you and your colleagues "tweek" things further. Good luck in your endeavor this year.

    1. Renee, thank you for stopping by and please come back for updates!

  2. Great post! I've got a couple of "take-aways" - 1) PIG - pretty important goal -- awesome! 2) challenges -- excellent idea! I think we focus on having kids making connections in reading in reading, and then often stop there. I love the idea of challenging the text and thinking about what the character could have changed.

  3. Great post ~ lots of useful information. Great to hear it is already making a difference with your students.

  4. Great post. I really like the idea of the 4 C's. It is a nice way to frame the thinking tasks.