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

“Bloom identified a sequence of six learning objectives that he felt moved from lower-order to higher-order thinking: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. However, these ideas were just a theory and were not based on research on learning. Nonetheless, they have become codified into the way many teachers are taught to think about thinking.”  (Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011, p. 6)

Although not based on research, Bloom’s Taxonomy has been the has been a key component in educating teachers about thinking

“Schools having been built on an industrial model, have long focused on imparting skills and knowledge as their chief goal.”  (Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011, p. 9)

Because the foundation for education was developed during the Industrial Revolution, schools have primarily been relaying skills and knowledge.

“ Of course, understanding is not the sole goal of thinking. We also think to solve problems, make decisions, and form judgements.” (Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011, p. 14)

If done correctly, thinking should involve doing; problem solving and critical thinking.

“When schools take on the mission of cultivating students’ thinking and enculturating the habits of mind and dispositions that can support lifelong learning, the issue of how students construe thinking and their general metacognitive awareness comes to the fore.”  (Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011, p. 15)

When thinking is important to schools, they are equally concerned with the thinking process.

“In most school settings, educators have focused more on the completion of work and assignments than on a true development of understanding.” (Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011, p. 9)

Traditionally teachers are more concerned about the assignment than the true understanding of the content.

“When we make thinking visible, we get only a window into what students understand but also how they are understanding it.” (Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011, p. 27)

When students have to show their thinking process, we are able to understand the process they underwent to arrive at their conclusion.

“Asking authentic questions – that is, questions to which the teacher does not already know the answer or to which there are not predetermined answers – is extremely powerful in creating a classroom culture that feels intellectually engaging.” (Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011, p. 31)

There is great benefit in asking questions that are relevant, authentic,  and created on the spot.

“As teachers, our listening to students provides a model for our students of what it means to listen.” (Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011, p. 37)

Students learn to listen by the example that teachers provide them with.

“Learning is a consequence of thinking.”  (Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011, p. 261)

When we think, we learn.

“Once interest in student thinking begins to grow within a teacher, it is hard not to want to capture very idea, reflection, or connection that students are coming up with.” (Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011, p. 268)

Once an educator focuses on making thinking visible, it becomes imperative in the way they teach.


Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible: How to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
ISBN-13: 978-0470915516
ISBN-10: 047091551X