Thinking skills for the 21st century

What skills are required for the 21st century? When we consider this question, we must consider our children and the prospect of them getting a job in an ever more competitive marketplace. Therefore we must, consider what employers want from employees and what will set them apart.

Employers want employee:

  • who are creative and problem-solvers,
  • who demonstrate dependability,
  • who are self–motivated,
  • who rise to the occasion,
  • who are team players,
  • who are flexible and think independently,
  • with a positive attitude.

These skills, which are the requirements for everybody in this fast changing world, require ‘thinkers’. Every school wants better learning and more thoughtful students who can express their thoughts and ideas. These types of thinking skills do not come naturally to most students and must be taught as a process. Visible Thinking is a way of helping to achieve that without a separate ‘thinking skills’ course or fixed lessons.

upside-down-thinking-disrupting-the-status-quo-3-638.jpgVisible Thinking is a broad and flexible framework for enriching classroom learning and fostering students’ intellectual development.

Key goals of Visible Thinking:

  • Deeper understanding of content with
greater motivation for learning.
  • Development of learners’ attitudes toward thinking and learning and their awareness to opportunities for thinking and learning.
  • A shift in classroom culture toward a community of enthusiastically engaged thinkers and learners.

In achieving these goals, Visible Thinking involves several practices and resources. Teachers are invited to use with their students a number of “thinking routines”, simple protocols for exploring ideas – around whatever topics are important, say fractions in arithmetic, the Industrial Revolution, World War II, the meaning of a poem, the nature of democracy.

Visible Thinking includes attention to four big categories of thinking – Understanding, Truth, Fairness, and Creativity. Sometimes we call them “thinking ideals” because they are all ideal aspirations for good thinking and learning. Visible Thinking emphasizes several ways of making students’ thinking visible to themselves and one another, so that they can improve it.

The idea of visible thinking helps to make solid what a thoughtful classroom might look like. At any moment, we can ask, “Is thinking visible here? Are students explaining things to one another? Are students offering creative ideas? Are they, and I as their teacher, using the language of thinking? Is there a brainstorm about alternative interpretations on the wall? Are students debating a plan?”

When the answers to questions like these are consistently yes, students are more likely to show interest and commitment as learning unfolds in the classroom. They find more meaning in the subject matters and more meaningful connections between school and everyday life. They begin to display the sorts of attitudes toward thinking and learning we would most like to see in students – 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.

Research findings

Visible Thinking is the product of a number of years of research concerning children’s thinking and learning, along with a sustained research and development process in classrooms.

One important finding was that skills and abilities are not enough. They are important of course, but awareness to situations that call for thinking and positive attitudes toward thinking and learning are tremendously important as well. Often, we found, children think in shallow ways not for lack of ability to think more deeply but because they simply do not notice the opportunity or do not care. To put it all together, we say that really good thinking involves abilities, attitudes, and awareness, all three at once. Technically this is called a dispositional view of thinking. Visible Thinking is designed to foster all three.

Another important result of this research concerns the practical functionality of the Visible Thinking approach – the thinking routines, the thinking ideals, and other elements. All these were developed in classroom contexts and have been revised and revised again to ensure workability, accessibility, rich thinking results from the activities, and teacher and student engagement.

Why Make Thinking Visible?

The central idea of Visible Thinking is very simple: making thinking visible.

We learn best 
what we can see 
and hear (“visible
 thinking” means generally available to the senses, perceptually accessible so to speak, not just what you can see with your eyes). We watch, we listen, we imitate, we adapt what we find to our own styles and interests, we build from there. Now imagine learning to dance when the dancers around you are all invisible. Imagine learning a sport when the players who already know the game can’t be seen.

Strange as it seems, something close to it happens all the time in one very important area of learning: learning to think, which includes learning to learn. Thinking is pretty much invisible. To be sure, sometimes people explain the thoughts behind a particular conclusion, but often they do not. Mostly, thinking happens in our own minds, within the marvellous engine of our brain.

Visible Thinking includes a number of ways of making students’ thinking visible to themselves, to their peers, and to the teacher, so they get more engaged by it and come to manage it better for learning and other purposes.

When thinking is visible in classrooms, students are in a position to be more metacognitive, to think about their thinking. When thinking is visible, it becomes clear that school is not about memorizing facts and figures but about exploring ideas. Teachers’ benefit when they can see students’ thinking because misconceptions, prior knowledge, reasoning ability, and degrees of understanding are more likely to be uncovered. Teachers can then address these challenges and extend students’ thinking by starting from where they are.

If you are interested in learning more about Making Thinking Visible you are able to purchase the book:

Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners

Book by Karin Morrison and Mark Church                                    ISBN9786613052483

Or you can visit the website: Think! For the middle


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