Starting with an Ideal

Another way to get started with Visible Thinking is to begin with a thinking ideal.

"Thinking ideal" is a commonsense concept, not a technical one. Thinking ideals are areas of thinking like understanding, truth, creativity, fairness, and more. They are important kinds of thinking that we cherish and strive to cultivate. Although there are certainly other thinking ideals besides these four, right now Visible Thinking includes specific guidelines on how to foster the development of these specific ideals.

What does it mean to get started with Visible Thinking by focusing on an ideal? You focus on that ideal, foreground thinking routines that emphasize the ideal, and draw out students' ideas and reflections about that ideal, to foster their conceptual development. For instance, if you picked the ideal of understanding, you might use thinking routines that foreground understanding several times a week in connection with subject matter instruction. You might ask your students to develop concept maps about understanding, so that you and they can reflect on what understanding means. You might explore with them when it's especially hard to understand something and what strategies can help.

For a full picture of what it is to "do" and ideal, see the Thinking Ideals section. Look at the Introduction and Overview, and dip into the Overview, Map, and Scope and Sequence of whichever ideal you think might be of interest.

So, why would one consider starting Visible Thinking with a particular ideal? It offers more focus than starting with general routines or documentation, although you may prefer to greater flexibility of those entry ways. It allows you to draw students' attention to one or another very important aspect of thinking in a sustained way -- understanding, truth, creativity, or fairness. And of course you can go on to the others later.

Another reason to start with a particular ideal is that provides an organizing structure that some teachers find useful. Ideals are organized into modules, with one module per ideal. A module lasts about 12-14 weeks and has a flexible yet guiding scope and sequence. Some teachers find that a module format is fits easily into their yearly curricular plans.

With which ideal should you start? There is no one answer to this. Think about what you teach and what ideal makes a good match with the content. Remember, you do not have to be a purist; even if you are focusing on a particular ideal, you can certainly bring other kinds of thinking into play as appropriate. Consider what you personally believe is important in the development of your students at this point. Many teachers begin with understanding, because it is easy to use with almost any area of content.

And if you do not start with an ideal, you can always come back to the ideals later, after focusing for a while on general routines or on documentation.