Category: Drop-ins

Listen to the way these students explain what they are doing and invite other people into their learning by being so articulate, expressive, honest and confident. Which conceptual understandings are these kids displaying?


I find it really exciting to walk into a room – even when the students and teachers are not there – and be able to get a real sense of what the students of that class are thinking about, and how they are thinking. Recently, when walking around NIST, I was really impressed by the amount of visible thinking I found, and the variety of ways that teachers are “extracting” that thinking from their students and then displaying it so that the walls do actually speak.

How wonderful for students to be immersed in their own thoughts, interacting with displays and surrounded by relevance at all times!

What visible thinking strategies have worked well for you?

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The move from the old building to this new, renovated building has been a revelation, I’m sure you will all agree. We have all had to rethink the way we set up our classrooms and consider our use of space with creativity and with the kids firmly in mind.

I was inspired to take photos of the Year 2 classrooms when I popped in there this morning as I felt that they were filled with language and visible thinking. Here’s a virtual tour.

Can any of you spot the object that Colleen went and bought for each class?

This is an excellent little video captured purely by chance while walking around classrooms. These kids really impressed me with their explanations and the way they were engaging with the text in a really meaningful way. I also really liked the fact that they were going to demonstrate these skills and habits to their parents in the Student Led Conferences on Monday.

The Viewing & Presenting Team is a group of teachers who are interested in viewing & presenting as a key part of the language curriculum. They are conducting a two-year inquiry into viewing & presenting at NIST, and will be using an adapted Gradual Release of Responsibility model to do this:

They will begin their inquiry by looking at how teachers and other adults in the school are modeling and demonstrating how they view and present information. They will do this by going around the school and taking photos, interviewing and noting their observations. They are not making value judgments – they are just looking at what is happening in the school!

If you have something that you think the team should see, please make a comment to tell us about it.

Here’s a small slideshow of examples of ways that teachers are modeling the presentation of information that I have seen so far:

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Conceptual understandings from IB Language Arts Scope and Sequence Document

Glenn has created one Reading & Writing Continuum Book for his class. He uses this book as his focus for regular conferencing by writing anecdotal notes and ticking continuum descriptors as it becomes clear that they are true for his students.



Chad also uses a simple book to record movement along the continuums and to write anecdotal notes. However, he has gone one step further in order to increase student involvement and awareness of the continuum. As you can see in the pictures above, 5CW have a large, interactive version of both the reading and writing continuum on display in their classroom. They monitor their placing and movement along the continuum by placing a laminated photograph on the continuum itself.This is a fantastic idea as it “destigmatizes” assessments, creates a culture of academic honesty and helps students to see how assessments are all about where you’ve come from and where you’re heading.

I was chatting with Kyla and Cassie about setting this up in 6SS and we thought it would be amazing to have two sets of photos for each student, one that shows where they are with English and another to show where they are in their mother tongue. We’ll let you know how that goes!

I had a great time when I dropped into Eva’s classroom. What I was immediately struck by was a sense of happiness, a sense of enjoyment and a relaxation about communicating. The room was full of kids from different nationalities – Spain, Holland, Japan (and more – Eva, can you make a comment and tell us the nationalities?!). These kids are all at various stages in their understanding and use of English and they were all working on tasks that matched their developmental levels. However, the room was buzzing with chat, laughter and risk-taking. These kids felt very comfortable in this environment, and because they felt comfortable they were ready to push their boundaries. It reminded me very much of an ESL teacher I worked with in Bangladesh, a wonderful woman called Rupa Chakravarti, whose approach to ESL was so relaxed, child-centred and joyful that kids begged to be “put into ESL”!

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When you walk through the Year 2 classrooms there is a real unifying theme. Each classroom visibly shows that the students and teachers have been through a process of discussing positive reading and writing habits together. Positive guidance for the students has been collaboratively created with their teachers. Walls are covered with charts, diagrams and prompts that remind students how they could involve themselves with language in a constructive way, helping them to develop the habits they will come to rely on as they get older. It was great to see that the students had also helped the teachers decide what teachers should be doing at these times too, very empowering for them.

One thing I really loved was the instruction on the 3 Ways to Read chart that said “Read the pictures”. This is a great reminder to students, and teachers, that visual literacy is important, that looking at the pictures is not a waste of time and that it is actually possible to “read the pictures”!

I had a few minutes at the end of today, so I decided to venture up to the world of Year 5 to see what was going on. I met Bill at the bottom of the stairs and we huffed and puffed our way up them (but didn’t blow any houses down!). I figured it was a little unfair to go into any rooms with teachers who had their kids as it was getting close to 2:30 and everyone was winding things up for the day. I’m sure Jane was glad about that as her A/C was completely broken and her and the kids were sweating buckets and madly stopping sheets of paper from flying everywhere because of the temporary fans they’d been given!

Anyway, Heather was sitting at her desk “being all nerdy about a blog posting” (Heather’s words) she was putting together for the kids to work on at home. The blog posting is all about different landforms and asks the students to research the landforms in the places they come from or somewhere they have been to. It states explicitly the different ways to collect information and it has a very visual element as students are expected to use Flickrstorm to locate and use images that are relevant to their writing (yes – blogging is writing, everybody!). Heather has modeled the process for the students by doing  a piece of writing about New York.

This is a wonderful, and yet very simple, illustration of the integration of Language Arts and a unit of inquiry. The task is heavy in research skills, speaking and listening, viewing and presenting, reading and writing. It calls upon the students to write for a genuine audience and will no doubt lead to further comments and discussions online. It is very rich in relevant vocabulary and Heather plans to use the students’ writing to feed into her ongoing word wall for this unit.

Have a look at the blog posting and maybe you’d like to make a comment to tell 5HR about the landforms where you come from? I’m sure they’d love the input and could use your language in their inquiries.

Just before I left the room, I recommended this video:

It’s an amazing, visual feast that captures the world’s landforms from a hot air balloon. The language is also quite poetic, and the subtitles will really help Heather’s students to develop their vocabulary and to understand the meaning of the film.

It’s quite long, and fairly slow. Heather and I talked about how it will be good for her students to develop their ability to view films like this.

One thing I’m always on the look-out for is evidence of student thinking. I love to walk into a classroom or down a corridor and be able to get a sense of what the students are thinking about and working on even when they’re not there to explain it to me. The sort of displays that achieve this are often not the beautifully perfect, mounted, manicured displays that we have all been forced to do at various stages in our careers – the kind of displays that take so long to put up that we leave them up for months – long after they are relevant! They are usually messy, imperfect, full of errors and would give one or two heads of school I have worked for nightmares!

However, when teachers use their walls and windows to make thinking visible, they immerse their students in thought, they affirm and give value to the students’ thoughts and they map out where students have come from and where they head to. It is very powerful to see students walking up to a display board to remind themselves of something they put on a post-it note two weeks previously, or pulling a tag off the wall to help them write a reflection or to assess how much their conceptual understanding has developed in a unit of inquiry.

Here’s a slideshow of some examples of making thinking visible that I saw today:

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