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Metacognition

Visible Thinking Routines to Support Students’ Learning

How can we help our students develop into flexible thinkers? Thinking routines from Project Zero can help make students’ learning processes visible, offering a way to sharpen thinking skills and reflect on learning.

How can we help our students develop into flexible thinkers? Thinking routines from Project Zero can help make students’ learning processes visible, offering a way to sharpen thinking skills and reflect on learning.

A thinking routine is a set of questions or a brief sequence of steps used to scaffold and support student thinking. As students work out answers to a question or problem, they may struggle to describe how they came to their answer. Verbalizing or visualizing their steps to get there can deepen their own learning, not to mention their peers’ learning.

The key is to encourage students to think metacognitively. With dedicated time to reflect on their thinking processes, students can develop a deeper understanding of the strategies they used and the ideas they developed.

Project Zero has more than 40 thinking routines for you to explore. Here are a few of our favorites.

 Perspective taking: 3 Whys 

  1. Why might this [topic, question] matter to me?
  2. Why might it matter to people around me [family, friends, city, nation]?
  3. Why might it matter to the world?

The 3 Whys routine (also available in Spanish) ensures that students begin by establishing a personal connection. Next students are asked to switch perspectives and step into the shoes of the people and the world around them. This thinking routine aligns well with cognitive flexibility strategies featured in the SMARTS curriculum, such as the “I’m wearing your shoes” lesson.

Developing ideas: What Makes You Say That? 

  1. What’s going on?
  2. What do you see that makes you say that?

Even seemingly simple questions can help students explore the patterns and ideas behind their thinking. What Makes You Say That? (also available in Spanish) pushes students to explain the “why” behind their answers, helping both teachers and students to explore the evidence. This thinking routine engages important executive function processes such as cognitive flexibility and exploring evidence from multiple perspectives. It also emphasizes organizing, as students sift and sort information to draw conclusions.

Question-asking: See, Think, Wonder

  1. What do you see?
  2. What do you think about that?
  3. What does it make you wonder?

The See, Think, Wonder routine (also in Spanish) can help spark curiosity among students and encourage them to formulate their own questions. Many students struggle to know what to ask when they have difficulty understanding a concept. Encouraging students to practice developing their own questions can sharpen this skill.

Thinking routines are simple, yet powerful, tools you can use to help students develop into metacognitive and strategic learners. You’ll find they are easy to integrate into existing lesson plans, including content subjects or even executive function lessons from SMARTS. Executive function and metacognition are both at the heart of our curriculum, a subject we look forward to exploring more at our next free webinar, Getting to Know the SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum!

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

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