Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration
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Phenomenal Women...Phenomenal Teachers

Every girl and every woman, has the potential to make this world a better place, and that potential lies in the act of thinking higher thoughts and feeling deeper things.  When women and girls everywhere begin to see themselves as more than inanimate objects; but as beautiful beings capable of deep feelings and high thoughts, this has the capacity to create change all around.  The kind of change that is for the better.    
                                                                                                       C. Joybell C.

It's funny. I don't recall an exact moment. I don't remember when I first understood what it means to "find your voice."  But somewhere along the way, I began.  The Women's March on Washington this weekend has left me thinking about what it means to be a teacher and a woman with a voice.  What I do know is that I've been lucky enough in my life to be surrounded by remarkable women.  These are women that taught me important lessons- lessons that I still draw on today. Think back over your own life, and I bet you'll find that some of the most formative and empowered relationships you've had in your life have been with remarkable women.  Today, I invite you to reflect on some of them, because whether licensed professionally or not, they are all teachers. Below, you'll find some of my teachers.

My Mom

My mom left us this year. She was a force to be reckoned with- a cheerleader, a teacher, an advocate. Her love wasn't kittens and soft, pink fluffy sweaters.  It was practical and down-to-earth and sometimes tough.  Even today, when I'm discouraged I can hear her voice, "You've got this. You've always made me proud. Remember who you are."    That last part, especially, has been circling in my mind lately.  REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE.  My mom taught me how to pick myself up, dust myself off, and move forward.

My Crazy Friend Anne

If you pick Anne up at the airport, she might greet you wearing a blue chiffon dress.  Never one to get lost in a crowd, Anne storytells and sings her way around the world, often traveling for months at a time.  She laughs often. She eats well and savors every bite. She's known her share of adversity in life. But watching Anne, I've learned how to live.  She has taken Turkish baths with strangers in North Africa, wandered the cathedrals of Paris, and hiked the Grand Canyon.  She is a 60-something wild woman.  From Anne, I've learned how to savor.


Retta is a "new-old friend."  That means we've known each other for 18 years, but our friendship has developed and deepened over the last couple of years.  Retta LOVES Janis Joplin. Retta LOVES purple.  Retta is a Bubbie who creates art with her grandchildren.  I call Retta to talk "shop" and two hours later, we get to the point of my phone call.  We are both divergent thinkers.  Retta gets me. I get Retta.  From Retta, I've learned that life is a creative endeavor. Despite loss, retirement, births and deaths, it's important to never stop creating.


Suzanne has red hair. She has red hair and blue eyes. The blue eyes are important because she would not want to have red hair and brown eyes. Suzanne is that kind of friend. We can finish each other's sentences. She is a cross between Lucille Ball (oh, the stories I could tell you) and Tina Fey.  And when she's invited to a party, the party is pretty dull until Suzanne walks into the room.  One important thing about Suzanne is her tenacity.  She just doesn't give up, in the face of physical pain or heartbreak,of which she has known more than her share. She propels herself and sometimes hurdles through to the other side. I am in awe.  And I have learned about tenacity from her. And when I can't find my own tenacity, she lends me hers.

Aunt Bonnie

This woman.  At a recent family reunion, four men relatives dropped everything they were doing to help her out of the car with her belongings.  Several female relatives had arrived before her, but none received the same treatment. We used to say that she could make cleaning toilets sound like a party. So much so, that everyone would attend just to help. She is beautiful, inside and out. Blonde. Huge violet eyes. Eyes that can see the good in anyone.  I mean anyone.  She truly sees people and will often tell them the goodness she sees in them.  She has this remarkable ability to inspire love. Aunt Bonnie taught me to find the goodness in others, even when I might have to look harder.


Joanne was larger than life itself. Big personality. Huge smile and a laugh to match. The kind of smile that lights up a room and the hearts of everyone around her.  She was my friend's mother.  When I interviewed for my first teaching position, I was asked which job I preferred. I picked the position that would allow me to work side-by-side with Joanne at a little school out in the country.  I remember lounge lunches sitting next to her while she talked about her Life-Long Learners Club and the adventures coming that weekend.  She was a care-giver for her husband who had suffered from Parkinson's.  But NOTHING stopped Joanne. She hunted, tended their farm, taught third grade, kept the Avon lady in business and exuded a warmth to all around her. Her students worshipped her. Joanne taught me that life is about learning.  It's imperative...never stop.

My Sister, Ali

Alison.  I named her. I've never let her forget that I could've named her "Hortense." With her fierce green eyes and five-foot-tall stature, she may look little, but she is mighty.  My sister was my first secret keeper, and I was hers.  She still is my secret keeper.  Through laughter, fights, years of rivalry and love, my sister continues to teach me about integrity.  She speaks her mind. Even when it's scary to do so.


I lost my friend Liz about eight years ago.  She was petite and wore her spiky silver hair with pride. Always a ham, she could crack people up with her antics. However, Liz was the most generous and kind-hearted person I have ever known.  I watched her quietly give to others, over and over and over again...sometimes when she could hardly afford it herself.  She was the embodiment of energy with a touch of ADHD. Liz taught me about generosity. She taught me to ask, "What am I supposed to learn from this?" That simple question has turned my life around, as it did hers many times.  I miss her.

Our greatest resources are the relationships and women we surround ourselves with.  CONNECTION---it's a scientific fact that it's vital to our well-being, our humanity. This weekend, think about the women who have taught you about life.  Appreciate them. Tell them. I would love to hear about them from you...share in the comments, please!

If you like the graphics in this post, please help yourself to them. They're free postcards or mini-posters I've created for you. They can be found here.

Next week, be sure to visit again. Something special is coming this way. Check it out below:

Fact or Fantasy? Organization 101 for Teachers

Once upon a time, there was teacher who created color-coded binders for every subject.  Her classroom was a picture of orderliness and organization.  Her desk was immaculate. Her teaching table was perfect for small-group instruction. It was pile free. Her hair was always gorgeously coiffed and her French manicure glistened with unchipped glory.  She never forgot her lunch. Ever.

Have I ever told you that Fantasy Fiction is my favorite genre?  Every year, I do it to myself. I make a resolution that involves organization in one way or another.  I think we all do this.  Organization has never been something that comes easily to me.  I like to say that I have mental organization, but not physical organization.  It's okay if you giggled at that.  I know it's code for "my desk is often a hot mess."  

Recently, I was on instagram, and a friend posted a GORGEOUS photo of her new office at home.  It was decorated in pale pink and rose gold, and I frothed at the mouth a bit, overcome by envy.  I have a home office decorated in robin's egg blue, seashell peach, and black.  But, it looks like 50 teacher's bags threw up all over it.

However, this is what I mean about "mental organization."  Did you just snort when you laughed? Seriously. I'm good at organizing and managing systems. 

A few years ago, I began using Words Their Way word study program.  Initially, I was overwhelmed by the immense preparation and organization it demanded.  I took a step back though, and broke it down into small components.

Component #1

Teacher Folders 

After assessing my students, I grouped them and gave each group a color name. I made a color-coded teacher folder for each group where I would house my notes, and word sort pages for each group member. I begged a parent volunteer to come in every week to copy each group's sort and cut and copy a teacher edition for me which was kept in a small envelope in my teaching folders.

Component #2 

Student Folders

Then I created student folder (with grommets ) for each child. These folders held the weekly word work homework and class work menus, as well as the activity pages (about 20 of each) that I had created to support our word work  and student examples and directions.  I also put in about 30 pages of lined paper in the back. This was enough to last each student until about February.  The nightly word work assignment took 10 minutes at the most.

Component #3 

Instructional Patterns

I taught word sorts on Monday mornings to each each word work group. I usually have 4 groups, so this takes about an hour. We discover sorting patterns together, discuss the words as vocabulary, and have fun using them in funny sentences.  I even bought a sound machine in the gag gift aisle in Target to use during spelling. As students take turns reading the words aloud and using them in sentences, I 'd play a funny sound on the machine for them. This upped the engagement because they couldn't wait to see what their sound would be. 

Throughout the week in reader's workshop, while I was working with guided reading groups, students read independently and completed word study games and activities.

Because I was using a word sorting approach, our Friday assessment required that students sort and spell the words correctly.

Checking Student Progress

Every morning during the week, students returned to school with their word work folders.  I circulated among desks and stickered their work, checking to make sure that they'd completed the assignment, and answering any questions that may have come up.  This helped with student accountability.

I reassessed students mid-year and moved students around in groups if their assessment showed it needed to happen.

So, writer's revise their stories over and over again, right? So let's try this again: Once upon a time, there was a teacher who sometimes forgot her lunch and chewed her nails.  Her desk was often a hot mess, and her hair was often unkempt. But her lessons?  Ohhhh, her lessons ROCKED, and her kids LEARNED because systems were in place. The End.

The next time you mentally beat on yourself as you shift teaching piles around your classroom, think twice.  Ask yourself, "Are my systems in place?"  Chances are they're there.

Because I'm challenged with physical organization, I've spent a great deal of time organizing my life and classroom in other ways.  Check out the products below. You don't have to be using a word sort spelling program or workshop approach for them to work for you. You'll thank yourself if you're anything like me. 

I've teamed up with some phenomenal educators this month. Check out their blog posts below!


4 Ways to Thrive in the New Year

Without Hope we live in desire.
                                                                                                         ---Dante Aligheri

December is the darkest month of the year for me---literally, scientifically, and emotionally.  Whether it's the lack of sunlight, the solstice, or the yearning for loved ones that have passed, December always finds me reflective and melancholy. It's a time of looking back over the year, a time for taking stock of the living I've done.  

This particular December has felt particularly dark.  It is my first December, my first Christmas, without my mom. My mom was the queen of Christmas.  Memories of my childhood converge into grand collages of Christmas pageants, choir rehearsals, mom's soprano voice, cookies, fancy family dinners with her best china and cloth napkins.  And salt and pepper shakers. Who knew that decorative salt and pepper shakers in Target could bring a person to such tears that strangers would offer Kleenex and hugs in the housewares aisle?

Last year at this time, I was thinking and writing about finding balance in my teaching and personal life.  And then, the day before my birthday, January 24th, my bright and brilliant mom died.  I spent the rest of the year teetering on life's balance beam.  And here I am again, another December.  When I look back over this past year, there are four behaviors that I practiced that helped me survive, and yes, even thrive, during my grief and upset with the world at large.  


When school, family, and life in general became overwhelming for me, I sought out experiences that I knew would ground me.  What I mean by grounding is this: The feeling one gets when they lose all track of time and space...the times when you are most yourself because you are engaged in something you love.

For me, that means I must move, and it must be outdoors.  I used to train for and run marathons because distance running "cleaned out the attic" of my mind.  I can't do those distances anymore.  But I walk.  And hike. And it must be on a trail in the woods somewhere.  I go to city parks, county parks, and state parks around me.

It also means that I might pick up my Native American flute or sit for hours at the piano.

In the spring or summer, it means that I have my hands and feet in dirt, digging and planting.

Whatever I choose, when I'm done, I can better handle what life is throwing at me.  I can breathe again.

This past year when I felt panicked or anxious, I went into the woods. It works.

Here are some popular grounding activities that many people use:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Hiking
  • Playing an instrument
  • Creating art
  • Crocheting/knitting
  • Playing with pets
  • Bread making
  • Gardening

Here & Now

A second strategy I tried was to focus on the here and now.  Anyone who knows me well, knows that this is extremely difficult for me.  I think I was born thinking about the future.  I have a mountain climber personality: I always focus on the summit ahead. In my year of grief and other scary "stuff," I learned to center my thoughts on the day...not the week, not the month, not the year, not the decade (yes, when I'm anxious, I go there).  Some days, I found myself self-soothing, "It's okay. Right now in this moment, you are fine. You have everything you need."  

Sound silly? I feel a little silly admitting it to you. But, it worked.  As a very anxious teacher who is greatly concerned about her contract, her job, her country, her family, her pets and friends, her own well-being (this is what my mind was doing on a regular basis), I needed to remember the present moment.  When I did this, I often found that it was pretty wonderful.


I practiced gratitude daily.  This past November, my sewer pipes had to be dug up and replaced with materials that tree roots would not destroy.  On my dime. Big money. And yet, I thought about what could've happened had this happened in the dead of winter in January or February when the ground is frozen solid.  It would've been a small catastrophe for me. Michigan's winter temperatures have been brutal over the last five years.  Gratitude. 

I sound like a self-help guru. A little. But in the past year, writing about my gratitude helped me be less of an Eeyore.  Remember Eeyore?  He is the beloved but depressed donkey in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.  I whined less.  I recognized the "good stuff" I have in my life.


This last behavior is my favorite, because it has had the most impact on me.  We all "have-to's" in our lives. I have to take out the garbage. I have to grade 30 writing prompts. But I noticed that when I replaced the words have to with get to, the task and my angst around it, changed.   I get to take out the garbage. I get to grade my students' writing prompts.  The change in language fosters a change in my mindset.  On particularly bad days or weeks, I planned some "get-to's" that helped me get through.  I would soothe myself with, "Just one more hour, and then you get to go home and walk Gracie. "   At those especially stressful times, I noticed that my get-to's were about self care.

Looking back over this past year, grief has taught me many lessons about myself, my values, and my beliefs. I would be lying if I said that I'm sad to see 2016 end.  I feel an intense relief that this year is coming to an end. My wish for you and yours is that you thrive, and that you find the tools to do so.  I've created a little "somethin'-somethin'" to help you in your new year.  It's free and for the taking.  Simply click the picture below.  

May your new year be prosperous, happy, and full of peace and love.  And if it isn't, my wish for you is that you grow beyond your wildest dreams. 

An Existential Tug-of-War: Making Thinking Visible with Tuck Everlasting

I'm not exactly sure what I'd do, you know, but something interesting-something that's all mine. Something that would make some kind of difference in the world...
                                                                                                           -Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

In the midst of the fire-storm that is American politics, one of my heroes died.  Natalie Babbitt died on Halloween this year.  I can't remember the first time I read Tuck Everlasting, probably because I've read it about 20 times over the course of my teaching career.  But I knew from the first read, that this was one of "my books-" a part of my personal text set that defines my life as a reader, writer, teacher, and human being.  I knew, because when I had finished it, I felt so torn, so sad and dissatisfied. I wanted Winnie to choose differently, and yet I knew she had chosen wisely.  And in my heart and mind, I could imagine the Tucks still wandering: Angus, tired of living; Miles, searching for purpose; Jesse, looking out for more good times; Mae, putting one foot in front of the other with acceptance.  Here I am, about 20 years after first reading the book, and the Tucks are still wandering.  I reread it every year, whether or not I share it with my class.

It Had Been A While

I had planned to read a different mentor text with my students, when I read that she had died.  We've been talking about leadership, Civil Rights, and what it means to find a purpose in life. So after reading about her death, it felt right to honor one of my favorite authors in my classroom.  Rereading it with a new class, the first read in five years, felt like coming home.  

I began by reading The Man Who Wanted to Live Forever retold by Selina Hastings.  I love beginning my character study unit on Tuck Everlasting with this book.  It tells the folktale of a man who visits old men and crones to find the secret to living forever.  He loves his life so much, that he wants to prolong it. However, in doing so, he finds that he loses everything that made his life wonderful. At the close of the reading, I ask students to write about immortality, if they would choose it or not, and why.  This time was no different than any other time.  The majority of my students chose immortality.  Many cited that it would be fascinating to learn new things, see into the future, that they would be very wise because they would have so much knowledge of the past, too.  My thrill seekers stated that they'd have a great time going on risky adventures.

What made this novel study different this time around was my inclusion of Making Thinking Visible routines. After reading the first few chapters of Tuck Everlasting,  students re-examined their thoughts on immortality.  I asked them to take a stand. We used the Tug-Of-War routine.  Each student wrote his/her name on a post-it and placed it on our tug-of-war graph. 

Students divided into two discussion teams: Yes and no.  Each team discussed the reasons for their choices, writing them on speech bubbles. 

The teams presented their reasons to each other, and students were allowed to switch sides if the persuasive dialogue changed their thinking.  We practiced the "At first I thought...and now I think..." thinking routine from Making Thinking Visible to frame our changes in thinking.  There were students on both sides that changed their stances. We revisited our tug-of-war after each chapter.  We re-evaluated our stances and changed our post-its accordingly.  However, if a student moved her post-it, then she was required to explain why her thinking had changed.

The Reading Continues...

As we we made our way through the novel, we explored the varying viewpoints of Jesse, Miles, Tuck, and Mae about immortality.  It was my first time implementing  the Viewpoints Thinking Routine with this novel.  As each character came forward to talk with Winnie about immortality, we charted their feelings about immortality on a graphic organizer. This enabled us to compare and contrast the characters' points of view.

When we got to chapter 19, the chapter in which Mae hits the Man in the Yellow Suit to protect Winnie, we used our 4Cs routine to delve more deeply into Mae's character and actions. I previously wrote about using this routine for our grade-level P.I.G. (pretty important goal).   This time, I used it to also teach my students how to paraphrase evidence from the text to support their thinking.

It was during this discussion that the goosebump moments came. One of my students, an English Language Learner, said that  Mae Tuck reminded him of Perloo  from Perloo the Bold by Avi (our last mentor text), because both character begin as quiet and meek. But then, they both become warriors at the end, in their own ways!  I'm not making this up. That was truly what he said.  
A student works to find evidence for his thinking, using the 4Cs thinking routine.
What made his comment so remarkable is that this child began fifth grade reading two levels below grade level!  That is the power of these thinking routines. I'm consistently seeing remarkable changes in my students as readers, writers, and thinkers. That child is now reading at grade level!

As our discussion about Mae continued, my own thinking about her deepened.  Students found her to be the most surprising character of the novel, because out of all the Tucks, she changed the most.  She went from someone who appeared to accept immortality; someone who chided Tuck about his melancholy; someone who mothered her boys.  She became a protective warrior.  I had never thought about Mae this way, until now.  

I was so sad when I heard of Natalie Babbitt's passing.  Tuck Everlasting still lives on in my mind.  The characters make me ache.  This time around, I choked up when Angus stood in the Treegap cemetery reading Winnie's tombstone.  My voice cracked as I read his words, "Good girl."  That was okay.  I think Natalie would've been pleased with us.

You can read my previous post about our P.I.G. with the 4Cs thinking routine here.

Be sure to check out these visible thinking routine resources (some are free). They will change your teaching and your students' learning! Simply click the pictures.


 This month, I've linked up with some phenomenal educators. Be sure to stop by their blogs by clicking the pictures below.  You won't be sorry!


Passion and Purpose: Bravery in a Broken World

Passion and purpose have been on my mind over the last week and a half.  I don't mean the drive-in-movie-theater kind of passion with purposeful hot necking. I mean the kind of passion that propels one through life.  I had two experiences in the past two weeks that brought this to mind. 

Experience #1
I was asked to present on balanced literacy for an undergraduate class at Madonna University. I schlepped a boat load of stuff to share with the class, sharing my leadership/social justice focus I've been developing since August.  We read a fantastic article by Ron Ritchart about the five R's of curriculum design, and engaged in some pretty meaty discussion using the Sentence-Phrase-Word Routine.   For two and a half hours, students thought about visible thinking strategies, curriculum design, concept mapping, and unit planning.  At the end of the night, many stopped to express their appreciation and the impact of our session together. 

What they didn't know and what I wouldn't tell them for fear of contaminating them with my cynicism and exhaustion...was what they gave me: A view into their passion and purpose.  They engaged earnestly and fervently with the content, me, and each other.  There was a light in their eyes.  They smiled.  They asked questions. They thought out loud. They challenged each other.  There was passion and purpose. On the way home that night, I thought about the undergraduate education student I had been. Those Madonna students gave me a great and priceless gift: A glimpse of who I was and still am when I peel back the layers of sadness and stress.

Experience #2
I was out of my classroom, attending a day of Cultures of Thinking learning provided by our county's ISD. I am very excited about these learning days because they are with the author of Making Thinking Visible and Cultures of Thinking, Ron Ritchart. In the afternoon of this particular learning day, we were given the opportunity to tour the fabulous alternative vocational education facilities and classes offered at the session's venue.  While on our tour, I met Mr. Bobbee. Mr. Bobbee teaches Auto Body Shop. 

As we entered the body shop classroom, the smell of barbecue hung in the air.  Two of the students said, "We'll get Mr. Bobbee for you."  We could hear the affection in their voices as they called for him.  Mr. Bobbee came to greet us, explaining that the staff had had a barbecue and that he had brought his grill in for his kids, so they could have one, too.  He proceeded to lead us around his classroom, explaining what and how he teaches his kids.  He called them "his kids."  There was pride in his voice. He beamed when he talked about how they find employment.  Mr. Bobbee had passion and purpose.

'Maybe that's why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn't able to do what it was meant to do...Maybe it's the same with people,' Hugo continued. 'If you lose your's like you're broken.'
                                                                                   Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret

This past month has probably been one of the hardest months of my 24 year career in teaching.  In the face of third grade retention legislation, district initiatives, shrinking resources, and the election coverage, I've struggled to maintain my purpose and passion.  I've listened to colleagues across the country talk about how election coverage has impacted their students.  I've heard about a boy who threatened a girl with rape.  They were fourth graders, by the way. I've heard two children talking about what a witch Hillary Clinton is, and that they're glad Donald Trump won.  I've listened to students bully other students for repeating pro-Clinton or pro-Trump sentiments that they've heard at home.  I've watched the nightly news and seen hatred scrawled across school and church walls.  I've wondered if my students are watching.  I wonder if they are scared.  Just recently, I watched  students from a local school district in our state chant, "Build that wall! Build that wall!" at minority students in the school cafeteria. 

It takes my breath away. I feel broken.

But then I remember days like this:

We are sitting on the carpet, reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.  And we've come to the part when Hugo talks about people losing their purpose.  I ask my kids, "What is your purpose?"  One by one, students begin to share.  We talk about how when we do something we are meant to do, we often lose all track of time.  One student says that when she dances, she feels outside of herself...that her purpose in that moment is to inspire others.  Another students says he thinks he is meant to take care of animals, because they love him...and he is attracted to all animals. He thinks he has a way with them.  By the end of the session, I was teary-eyed. 

The Day After
The day after the election, I went to work with purpose...a fierce and determined passion.  Together, my students and I revisited Helen Keller, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Sojourner Truth, Rachel Carson, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa.  We revisited their biographies, their words, their lives.  We remembered how they each had a sense of purpose. We read The Other Side by Jaqueline Woodson.  I listened to "my kids" talk about symbolism.  I listened to them talk about theme. I listened to them talk about acceptance.  

In that session, I felt like I'd stepped outside of myself and that my purpose, in that moment, was to teach my kids how to be human.
Until next time,

If you're interested in resources to support social justice and leadership themes. Click on the pictures below:
This one is a freebie!

I've teamed up with some other inspirational educators. Be sure to check out their blog posts below. May you find a renewed sense of purpose and passion.