Make Learning Visible Too


I was reading this article about a group of industrious young women who wanted to transform their neighborhood.  They didn’t know how they were going to use the abandoned vacant lot in their community, just that they were going to design something to bring back hope to their area. Instead of sitting inside a building somewhere to plan their design, they just set up their planning space beside the lot and started there. What they found is that in doing that, they got buy-in from the community as well as ideas, feedback, support and help from people in the neighborhood who were keen to be a part of the project.

Move your design studio, or your classroom, or your city hall meeting, to the sidewalk. When you’re designing and building incredible things in public that no one thinks are possible—not just doing an art project or a mosaic, but actually solving a problem—people are inspired to come up to you and ask questions, and share advice or offer resources. There’s a seamless feedback loop with the community.

In my last school, we had a large atrium space that I would often utilize for group work.  In doing so, I would get the kids out the classroom and into a space where people could stop by and ask them what they were working on.  Other teachers used this space too and it is fast becoming less of an atrium and more of an “ideas pit” in which students can share their work and solicit new ideas and feedback on their projects.  

How can we make this bigger?  

Often we look for connections to our units for field trips.  In an international setting where language can sometimes be a barrier, such trips may not be possible for all units.  But what about taking a trip to the town center when planning your own city?  Or going to a local park for ideas on shared space usage? What if the field trip was less about going to a particular museum or gallery and more about being out in the community and seeing what evolves from thinking visibly in a shared space?

How will you make learning more visible this year?


Never Been Seen


If you have not done so already, you may like to check out Visible Thinking for ideas on making thinking visible.  It is a brilliant resource that is sure to give you ideas on how to frame discussions, lead groups, start conversations, and grow ideas.  I know this is a ‘tried and true’ resource for me – what else is out there for encouraging the development of visible thinking?  What do you use?

When I first read this quote, however, it did remind me of how lucky kids in International Schools are to have such a wealth of experience in the faculty at their school.  I hope as the new year begins (too) soon, those of us fortunate to teach in these schools will be able to do just this: to consider those things that make us who we are and to share those experiences with our students.

What gem are you ‘making visible’ this school year? And how will you help your kids to make visible their talents in your class community?


PYP, Teaching

Questioning Conceptually

We are two weeks into our Passion Project and my kids have pretty much narrowed down their area of focus for their passion: travel, gardening, healthy living, animals, music….the list goes on.  These are all big, broad areas of interest, so how do we begin on our passion journey?

Our ‘way in’ was through the PYP concepts. We thought about these in two ways: as lenses and as keys. Some kids really bought into the idea that they were picking up and putting on different glasses with different colored lenses through which they would look at their topic.  Some kids bought into the idea that they were standing in a room with eight colored doors and each key in their hand unlocked a different door to step through to their passion. I was pretty impressed with the speed at which they figured this out, actually!

Download the cards below, updated to include related concepts, here. 

concept cards 2 concept cards 1

Each child made a set of concept cards using the following information.  A descriptor of the concept on one side, and curriculum area sample questions on the reverse. These were mounted on different colored cards and bound together with a ring. We were ready to begin!

picture-15 picture-16

I started with the whole class and a topic close to my own heart and one they could relate to: dogs. We started going through the concepts and thinking of questions that would fit that lens:

FORM: What are the distintive characteristics of a dog?

FUNCTION: How do the lungs of a dog work?

CHANGE: What are the newest medical advances that are now in place to help injured dogs?  

Each child was given a large concept question planner and, armed with their passion topic and their concept-question cards, were asked to think of questions for each concept.  PDF Concept Question Planner

Concept Question Planner

We discussed that some concepts may lend themselves to more questions and some to fewer questions. As we continue with this on Monday, my hope is that we can help each other focus our inquiries through the use of concepts. I also want to make sure that their time is spent on relevant, engaging and worthwhile questions.  I want their questions to be deep and open. But how?

I came across the idea of a Question Quadrant to help see if where your questions ‘fit’: The Quadrant can be used to distinguish closed and open questions that relate specifically to a text; or closed and open questions that stimulate intellectual curiosity.

Question Quadrant

I also really like the Visible Thinking routine Question Starts.

Question Starts

Once they have generated questions, I am thinking of using the Visible Thinking Routine, “Question Sorts” to help my students ensure they are really focusing on questions they care about:

Question Sorts

A question sort, would be similar looking to the question quadrant:

Question Sort

I am still thinking about how best to help them make the most of their inquiries.  I think we are off to a good start! I know a lot of the focus still remains on ‘producing a product’ which is not the goal of this project but is something that I think people are more comfortable with given that is how we were educated: to produce ‘something’.  My goal is to keep putting the tools out there and hoping that the more product oriented ideas arise from the deeper inquiry, rather than become the sole purpose of the project.