See/Think/Wonder – Mr. C.

While at Project Zero I was inspired by Lisa Verkerk, a 5th-grade teacher from the International School of Amsterdam. (Lisa’s classroom and teaching play a prominent role in Ritchhart’s Making Thinking Visible.) I attended Lisa’s class “Developing the Disposition to Be Reflective.” Truthfully, the class wasn’t what I had expected when I enrolled. Nevertheless, Lisa modeled how she uses two specific thinking routines–See/Think/Wonder and Sentence/Phrase/Word (see Making Thinking Visible, 2011, pp. 207-213). Then, she talked about how she uses reflective art journals with her students to document their thinking. Instead of writing, students draw, paint, or color their reflections. Sometimes she asks them to explain their art in writing or simply to talk about their art and thinking. The artwork and testimonials were powerful stuff.

Lisa shared that she likes to show how much she values thinking by having her students do a See/Think/Wonder on the first day of school. I loved her idea. The former me always started school the “Wong Way” distributing my prepared syllabus and speaking to rules and procedures. Lisa’s idea resonated with me because it prioritized what I value (or want to value) most–THINKING! So, I stole Lisa’s idea, and guess what we did on the first day of sixth-grade reading. That’s right! The students used the See/Think/Wonder routine to think about 6th grade, my classroom, reading class, and me.

When students entered the room, I gave each a small stack of sticky notes. I explained that instead of spending time talking about class rules and procedures we would spend the day investigating the classroom and thinking about what the year might be like. The students were to get out of their seats and explore the classroom making notes about the things they “see.” They were given access to the whole room including community workspaces and closets. (I had placed specific items in the room that might shed light on me and my plans for the class. The only off-limit items were my wallet and my backpack, which held my phone and laptop.) During the “seeing” time I only observed them. I did not guide them or answer any of their questions. I only asked them to write “I see” statements about what they discovered.

  • I see a woman wearing a wedding dress.
  • I see a picture of Mr. Cummings wearing St. Louis Cardinals clothing and standing with four kids outside a baseball stadium.
  • I see desks pushed together in groups.  
  • I see two comfy couches sitting on some rugs next to the bookshelves.
  • I see a stuffed Phineas, Ferb, and Perry the Platypus. 
  • I see “the language of thinking” words posted around the room.

After ten minutes of exploring, students returned to their seats. I instructed them to write “I think” statements based on the evidence they had collected while they were “seeing.”

  • I think Mr. Cummings is married to the redhead in the picture. 
  • I think Mr. Cummings is a Cardinals fan and has four kids. 
  • I think we will work in reading groups this year. 
  • I think the couches, rug, and bookshelves are designed to be a reading center. 
  • I think Mr. Cummings likes Phineas and Ferb
  • I think Mr. Cummings wants us to use our brains. 

After the students had written their “I think” statements, I instructed them to extend their thinking by writing “I wonder” statements to correspond with their “seeing” and “thinking.”

  • I wonder how long Mr. Cummings has been married.
  • I wonder if Mr. Cummings took his family to a Cardinals game this summer.
  • I wonder what kinds of small group activities we will do this year.
  • I wonder how much time we’ll have to sit on the couches and read.
  • I wonder why Mr. Cummings is so fond of Phineas and Ferb.
  • I wonder if Mr. Cummings entire room is designed to be a metaphor. (No lie. A student actually wrote that!)

Again, through this entire process, all I did was observe the students thinking. Once they were finished, we debriefed. I facilitated as they shared what they saw, what they thought, and what they wondered. Several students helped me record what was said, and I was careful to neither confirm nor deny what was shared. However, I did respond to their comments by asking, “What makes you say that?” this forced them to support their ideas. It was a wonderful day in the classroom. At the end of the day, I reviewed and posted their thinking (sticky notes) and statements in my room. It was fascinating to read their thinking and learn from their perceptions. And, based on their energy and enthusiasm, I’m certain they left the classroom excited about our class and what future meetings would bring.

Now, I’m trying to decide how best to incorporate See/Think/Wonder into my reading instruction. I’m currently designing a unit for next trimester to help students investigate and make connections to the civil rights movement. I’m researching books, resources, events, and topics for my classes. I’d really like to use See/Think/Wonder to get a look at students’ understanding as we go. The idea is still percolating, but if you have any suggestions about resources or how to incorporate this thinking routine in the process, I’d appreciate the input. Also, what do you think about the See/Think/Wonder routine? Have you ever used it? If so, how? I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences.

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