Can you see your child thinking?

by Amy Chapman

Over recent years a Harvard University research team called Project Zero has completed extensive research into a teaching concept called Visible Thinking. The research looked at how children think and learn, considering the depth of their understanding, their ability to make connections between facts and reality and their engagement with learning. They found that many children only think in shallow ways, this was not for lack of ability but due to a lack of education in how to think and learn. The overall outcome being that children who are educated to think will become children that are not closed-minded but open-minded, not bored but curious, neither gullible nor sweepingly negative but appropriately skeptical, not satisfied with “just the facts” but wanting to understand.

In the past it has been suggested that skills and abilities are the key factors in producing successful learners. Of course it can never be debated that they are of great importance, but awareness of opportunities that require thinking and positive attitudes toward thinking and learning are tremendously important as well. Visible thinking suggests that many current practices of teaching focus on memorising content rather than exploring ideas. If a child is assessed when the content is simply memorized it can leave very little leeway for pupils’ individual learning styles and skills. If a child is assessed on how they can explore an idea rather than memorize it, a teacher can see a student’s thinking because misconceptions, prior knowledge, reasoning ability, and degrees of understanding are more likely to be uncovered.

These photos are examples from the Project Zero Website, demonstrating what Visible Thinking looks like in action. (

Project Zero also suggest that teaching children how to think is the best way to prepare them for their future. Suggesting that as educators and parents, we should always aim to prepare our children for their future careers, but how can we do that when some of the jobs we are preparing them for may not have even been invented yet? Teaching them how to think and how to take advantage of situations to think is a way that this dilemma can be overcome. Producing young adults who can demonstrate a deep level of understanding, engage with learning and learn independently.

Leaving us with the question: How can we make our children’s thinking visible?

The Project Zero Website offers a vast amount of information and resources showing the wide variety of routines and ideals that can be used across all subjects and levels. Some examples of how children can develop Visible Thinking are things such as encouraging children to challenge information they are given, ask why, how and what, compare information about the past or other countries to their own lives. Consider factors such as whether things are true, fair, objective or subjective and able use this knowledge to demonstrate understanding. If children get things wrong in the classroom or at  home, to simply tell them it is not correct does not allow for the child to think or learn from their mistakes. Encouraging them to think and discover why what they have done is not correct has much more meaning than simply telling them the simple fact.

If you are interested in learning more check out the Visible Thinking website

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