Study Group Materials

Visible Thinking is both a classroom and a school-wide endeavor. As you and your colleagues seek to make thinking more visible in your classrooms through the use of thinking routines and documenting students’ thinking, you will find that there is much benefit in coming together to share and learn from one another. 

In such gatherings, it is often helpful to use a set of protocols—that is, structures for conversation—to keep the group clearly focused. Two useful protocols are MYST, and LAST.

MYST stands for Me, You, Space, and Time. In working to make thinking visible and create a culture of thinking, it is useful to think along these four different fronts.  Me, how am I, as a teacher, modeling my thinking and making it visible to students?  You, how am I bringing forth and capturing students’ thinking to make it visible to everyone? Space, how am I using the space of the classroom to make thinking more visible? Time, how am I providing time for thinking in my lessons?

This protocol can be used for both individual reflection as well as group discussion.  In a study group, individuals might come to the group having spent a few minutes reflecting on and gathering evidence for each of the four areas.  Within the study group, individuals can pair up and use the four areas as a structure for sharing what is happening in their classroom. From time-to-time, the group might brainstorm strategies for addressing each of the four areas and for getting a broader sense of what is happening at the whole-school level. The protocol can also be used as a structure for peer observation.


LAST stands for Looking At Student Thinking. This is a protocol for looking at student work with a focus on the thinking present in the work. Like most protocols for looking at student work, it is highly structured. For teachers not used to using protocols to guide conversation, this may appear to be a bit rigid and confining, not allowing for the natural flow of conversation they are used to having with colleagues. However, the structure ensures that the conversation stays focused on a particular goal—in this case thinking about the thinking present in students’ work. Over time, teachers get used to the structure and it feels more natural and facilitating of conversation rather than inhibiting.

Looking for thinking in student work is new to many teachers. Teachers are often more accustomed to evaluating work, assessing it against established criteria, or focusing on the instruction of the lesson than looking for evidence of thinking. As a result, some teachers may initially feel like they don’t have enough information about the goals of instruction, how instruction unfolded, or the criteria by which to evaluating the success of the work. While this information can be useful in providing context, it is important not to let it become the focus of discussion but to focus on the thinking that seems to be present in the work itself.

Trying to identify thinking can be challenging. It may be useful to have a copy of the map of ideal—Understanding, Fairness, Truth, or Creativity—to use as a samples of what kinds of things to look for in the work. For example, when sharing work from one of the understanding routines, teachers might look for evidence that students are making connections, building explanations, considering different perspectives, and so on. When teachers use the LAST protocol at every study group, they find that not only does the protocol become more comfortable but also become better at identifying thinking. This carries over into the classroom as teachers become better at spotting opportunities for thinking.

While any piece of student work can be looked at for evidence of understanding, it is often useful to use work associated with a thinking routine. This ensures that the goal and purpose of the work is to facilitate thinking and also provides an example of using the routines from which others can build. The work might be that of an individual student, a group of students, or the documentation from an entire class discussion.  As a part of the protocol, the group will talk about where the instruction might go next. This will further reinforce the use of routines.