Embracing Wonder

More WonderFor the past few years, my students and I have begun the year with a See, Think, Wonder thinking routine exploring the classroom, making inferences about what we find there, and wondering about our learning in the year ahead. It’s a good first day activity to get students moving around, asking questions, and thinking visibly. The boys have always enjoyed it, and I’ve always left at the end of the first day feeling energized for the next. Nevertheless, I’m planning to abandon the lesson this year.

Two weeks ago I attended the Clark County Connected Conference in Jeffersonville, Indiana. As I reflected on the day, I realized I attended several great sessions, but Dean Shareski’s keynote “Whatever Happened to Joy?” resonated with me in a particularly powerful way. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. If you have time, you should watch it.

Near the end of his keynote, Dean shared several ways we can cultivate joy. I could certainly embrace more joy, so I’ve been revisiting my notes and experimenting with his methods. One way he suggested is simply to wonder. So, in the days leading up to a new school year I’m trying to cultivate my sense of wonder. I’m reading and researching. I’m taking the time to look at things closely, and as I sit here dreaming about a new year and looking at new class lists, I’m beginning to wonder about each boy. I wonder what he’s like, and I wonder what he likes. I wonder what he wonders–not about 6th grade reading, our classroom, or me. But, what does he wonder about life? About what is he curious? What puzzles him about the world? What inspires him and holds his interest? What does he most want to learn?

I’m not sure what the first day of school will look like. I have no brilliant lesson plan, and I haven’t figured out what we’ll do. But I want to start–on the very first day–uncovering and  embracing their wonder, and hopefully, together we can cultivate our sense of awe.

Dean shared the video below in his keynote, and I think I’ve watched it at least 15 times over the past two weeks. “We have a responsibility to awe.” Indeed.

Awe by Shots of Awe

Prioritizing Thinking

See/Think/WonderPerhaps the most important thing my students need to know about me and our class as we begin the school year is the value we will place on thinking. Our class content focuses on reading, but the primary learning goal is to become more thoughtful–to be better thinkers. So on the first day, we start by prioritizing thinking. I don’t want our focus to be on procedures, rules, or even our classroom community. Those things are important, but the main core of everything we do is with the goal of becoming better, more thoughtful thinkers.

With that in mind one of the first activities we did is a See-Think-Wonder about 6th grade reading and our classroom. I gave my students a few Post-It notes and asked them to spend a few minutes exploring the classroom and writing down the things they saw. We talked about the need to gather evidence and pay attention to details. (These are skills we will use to help us become better readers, too.) The whole room was open to the students. I encouraged to explore every facet of the classroom including the closets, bookshelves, filing cabinets, and drawers. I challenged them “to research” the room thoroughly. After a few minutes, I called them back to their seats to complete their lists and share what they found.

Once we talked  about their “I See” lists, I asked them to begin interpreting, drawing conclusions, and making inferences about the things they noticed (Again, these are skills we will use to grow as readers, too.) They developed a set of “I think” statements. I gave them a few minutes to come up with as fluent of a list as they could; then, I dared them to come up with a few more. Their conclusions fascinated me. As they shared their thinking, I reinforced how important it is to base our conclusions and inferences on evidence by asking, “What makes you say that?” so that had to support their reasoning.

Finally, I challenged the students to take their thinking to a deeper level. We discussed that best way to push our thinking is to ask good questions. We talked about the value of questioning and concluded that “good questions” inspire us to think deeper–to explore our ideas further. (Yep, a skill we will use to further develop as readers.) “Good answers” can be helpful sometimes, but they tend to curb thinking more than deepen it. I asked the students to consider their “I think” statements and take them to a deeper level by developing “I wonder” statements about their original conclusions.  Again, we shared our thinking with our partners and with the class. Then, we prominently posted our thinking where it can be seen by everyone in class and any visitors we may have.

Again, the goal was to help the students understand (from the very first activity) their thinking is highly valued. Here are a few random pictures I captured of different students’ thinking about the class, our space, or me:

I see. . .

See 1 See 2 See 3

I think. . .

Think 3 Think 2 Think 1

I wonder. . .

Wonder 3 Wonder 2 Wonder 1

I’ve written previous posts about this first-day activity in past years. You can read those posts here and here.

This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

An Unexpected Class Visitor

The Fruit of Making Thinking VisibleMy sixth graders and I recently began our student-driven inquiry and project-based learning on human rights. This is my second year to use project-based learning into my classroom, and I hope everything I learned from last year’s Dive Into PBL will merge with my growing expertise at making thinking visible to help my students better explore and understand the topic.

I have several drafts about our learning and the second iteration of this inquiry in my queue, but I’m not ready to share them yet. I need a few more days to reflect and write before publishing. Never fear though, friends, I have a goal of returning to reflect, write, and share on a regular schedule again soon. So…

A Little Background Information

This week my school with The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence and CASIE is hosting Project Zero Perspectives: How & Where Does Learning Thrive? As part of the conference, we invited educators to visit PDS during our regular school day to see how we have integrated ideas from Project Zero into our school. My students and I are in the middle of our research and inquiry, but we were expecting visitors to stop by our class this morning.

Over the past few days we have used several thinking routines to help us design our learning and explore our chosen topics. Specifically, we’ve used question starts and question sorts to find our topics and write our driving questions. We used  a modified version of think, puzzle, explore to decide on our knows and need to knows. Then, we began researching. We’re using Diigo to bookmark and annotate our resources, and we make our thinking visible about the resources by writing comments on them using the ladder of feedback. We also have specific roles for our annotating (PDF) thanks to my friend Bill Ferriter.

An Exciting Day

Peel the Fruit #photo365 #PDSmemToday, my class spent time working on our personal understanding maps and sharing some of our previous thinking (wondering) on the class map. The boys then jumped into their research and annotating roles. We had a limited amount of time, but the boys worked hard and had a few minutes to share with the class and our visitors what they learned from their personal research today. The boys then went back to their individual maps to peel the fruit of their own understanding. They also shared new understandings on the class map. (See above.) During the few remaining minutes of the class we reflected on our learning with the compass points routine and shared those reflections. Near the end of our class time, Mrs. Susan Droke (my administrator) and Dr. Ron Ritchhart (PZ researcher and author of Making Thinking Visible) visited my class, and they were able to see a bit of what we are doing. I felt honored and humbled to have Ron in my room. I’m not sure I can fully explain how much his work has affected mine.

After class I raced across campus to enjoy lunch and conversation with our visitors (completely forgetting about my lunch-time duties). I also participated in a brief panel discussion with several of my PDS colleagues before racing back to my room just before my next class arrived. I had given up my prep time to interact with our guests, and I still had several things to do before the boys arrived. Fast on my heels, another of our administrators arrived to let me know that Dr. Ritchhart was on his way to spend the afternoon in my room. “Yikes! An unexpected class visitor!”

The afternoon was fine. The boys in the afternoon class did a good job, but our time allotment was different so I modified some elements on the fly. I also felt a little scrambled because I had not taken down the work from the morning class and I had to carve out time for a Valentine’s Day celebration. Nevertheless, it was an exciting and productive day of learning, and I really enjoyed the interaction I had with Ron about the thinking and learning in my room. I’m also a little starstruck. While Dr. Ritchhart may not be famous by Hollywood standards, in D218 at PDS he’d receive a star on our walk of fame. I was so excited about the visit that after texting my wife, I had to contact my friend and visible thinking/inquiry pal Edna Sackson just to share the news.

Seeing, Thinking, & Wondering About Today


  • I saw Dr. Ritchhart observing everything happening in the room very closely.
  • I saw him pull out his iPad and record my giving instructions and facilitating the learning.
  • I observed Ron asking questions about Diigo and our annotating roles.
  • I observed him taking notes, snapping pictures, and writing down observation as the class progressed.
  • I noticed boys reading, researching, and tackling their selected roles.
  • I saw boys needing redirection back to the assigned tasks.
  • I watched two boys get frustrated with one another and my having to step in and referee.
  • I saw boys making great progress in their understanding.
  • I recognize some boys didn’t fully understand how to do their roles well.


  • I think my room was more chaotic than it would have been had I had just a few minutes more notice.
  • I think Ron is genuinely interested in our PBL and how I’m using PZ routines and protocols in designing of the learning.
  • I’m gathering that PZ hasn’t focused much on technology integration.
  • I think Ron showed interest in how and why I designed the learning space the way I did.
  • I think he appreciates my efforts to have a student-centered class with student-driven learning.
  • I think he appreciates my students’ thinking and questioning.
  • I realize some of my students need better scaffolding or modeling.


  • I wonder what he wrote in his notes and what he’d say if I asked him to do a ladder of feedback based on his visit.
  • I wonder specifically what his suggestions would be.
  • I’m curious if there will be opportunities for further interactions this week or in the future.
  • I’m curious about his own experiences teaching with project-based learning and inquiry.
  • I wonder if he noticed the freedom my students have to move.
  • I wonder why he chose to re-visit my room of all the classrooms in my building.
  • I wonder if he noticed how nervous I was. (I got over it.)
  • I’m curious if he noticed how much I modified things on the fly.
  • I wonder where this new connection could lead.

It was a full day. There is more to consider, but it’s late and I have several big days of learning ahead. Thank you, Edna, for the push to write about today. Hopefully, someone will find this post beneficial. I’ll do my best to get back on schedule soon. As always, I’d love to read your reaction and/or comments.

See, Think, Wonder, 6th Grade Reading (2012)

This is a collaborative post co-written by Alice Parker (Yoda) and me. We are cross-posting it to both of our blogs–Through the Looking Glass and A Retrospective Saunter.

The beginning days of school should be magical ones. While students meet their new teachers, view the classroom design, and try to sort out what it is they may learn during the year, it is imperative for teachers to create a culture of thinking and learning, as well as a climate of group collaboration on those first days.

This year we, Alice and Philip, combined our magical forces to teach as a team during the first week of school. We decided to improve upon last year’s See, Think, Wonder — from my (Philip’s) first days of school lesson and extend the students’ thinking further while creating new classroom dynamics. As we had made significant changes to the physical styles of our classrooms during the summer, we knew that the students had much to observe.  Additionally, we, along with Julia (our Martin Institute Resident), flavored each classroom with many hints about us as people and teachers of reading.

To begin the lesson, we asked students to develop their own driving questions about the design of the 6th grade reading classes, the 6th grade reading teachers (including Julia), and 6th grade reading. Before starting, I (Alice) took a few minutes to review with the boys what makes a good question, focusing on the idea of writing deep, open-ended questions rather than questions that could be answered with one or two words. Our sixth grade guys easily recalled their past lessons on “Fat Questions” vs. “Skinny Questions.” We asked the students, “What do you want to know?” and allowed them a few minutes of think time. Then we asked them to write their questions on sticky notes. Using the group discussion connection rules as a platform, the students shared and posted their questions that would help focus their inquiry and drive the See, Think, and Wonder activity that would soon follow. The following are a few samples of the students’ “driving questions:”

  • “Ms. Parker, why do you have brains in your closet?”
  • “Why does Mr. Cummings like Phineas and Ferb so much?”
  • “How does all this stuff connect to reading?”
  • “How will the books we read connect to our lives?”
  • “Why do you both teach reading?”
  • “What do you do to prepare for the school year during the summer?”

After deciding “What Inquiring Minds Want to Know About 6th Grade Reading,” the students began exploring the rooms looking for answers to their driving questions. The students moved from room to room investigating the closets, checking out the bookshelves, noting posters on the walls, examining pictures on the shelves, and analyzing the arrangement of the rooms.  The only areas “off limits” were the teachers’ wallet, purses, and backpacks.

The students returned to the desks and began making lists in response to the prompt: “What did you see?” They recorded their lists on a sticky note. After a few minutes, the students shared their best discoveries. Then, they came up to the board and posted their “Sees” for the class. The following are a few of the things they noticed:

  • strategies for reading
  • Phineas, Ferb, and Perry
  • Flying Pigs
  • various types of books to read
  • places to go read
  • many types of paper
  • school supplies

Once the students had returned to their seats, we discussed what it means to make inferences and draw conclusions. “How does one make an inference?” The guys then responded to the prompt “What do you think?” making another list on a sticky note. After a few minutes they started sharing their thinking aloud. As teachers, we neither confirmed nor denied whether their conclusions were true. We only responded with an additional question asking “What makes you say that?” requiring the student to support his inference with evidence based on what he had seen. Here are some examples of our students “Think” statements:

  • “I think the books will somehow connect to what we are learning in other classes.”
  • “I think collaboration is important.”
  • “I think Ms. Parker’s room is wacky and random, but Mr. Cummings’ room is cool and organized.”
  • “I think there will be some freedom and independence in Mr. Cummings’ and Ms. Parker’s class.”
  • “I think our teachers are optimistic.”
  • “Mr. C and Ms. P like their students to use knowledge to build projects.

Each student shared his “think” statements by posting them on the board for the class to see.

Next, we asked the students to consider what additional questions they have now that they have explored the room. We explained that we wanted them to go deeper with their questioning. They responded by creating another list to answer the prompt: “What do you wonder?” Again, the following are a few samples of the responses they shared with the class:

  • “I wonder how old Mr. Cummings is.”
  • “I wonder if we’ll ever go outside to read.”
  • “I wonder what the differences between the two classes will be.
  • “I wonder why they are both so relaxed.”
  • “I wonder how will the fun affect our performance of reading in school and out.”
  • “I wonder how sixth grade reading will be different from fifth grade reading.”

At this point we were almost out of class time. As the students posted their “Wonder” statements on the board, we told them that their “ticket out” for the day was to come up with a “Headline” for the day’s class. We reminded them that good headlines capture the main idea and inform or entertain the audience. We stood at the door and gave high fives as the boys informed and entertained us with creative headlines, a few of which follow:

  • Class Time Thoughts
  • Classical Creativity
  • Pigs and a Platypus: The Perfect Combination
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Creativity
  • The Odyssey of Reading
  • Getting to Know Cat Daddy, Cat Momma, and Their Cribs
  • See, Think, and Wonder So Much to Ponder

We have found See, Think, Wonder to be a great way to introduce ourselves, the subject of 6th grade reading, and our individual classroom design to our students on the first day while engaging them in inquiry and encouraging them to think. If you have never tried See, Think, Wonder with your students you can find an explanation of the thinking routine here.

What is your reaction to our first day lesson? How do you engage your students’ minds on the first day of school? We’d love to hear from you.

Running Thoughts: First Week Reflections, Litter, and Planning Ahead

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Writing limit: 30 minutes

I ran 8 miles (a new PR) this morning in 1:24. I’ thrilled that I was able to keep at a 10:30 minutes/mile pace, but I must confess the 7th and 8th miles were tough. It felt good to run that far, and I burned enough calories that I think I can eat for two people today. 🙂

First Week Reflections

This past week at school was our first with the students. We had a half day on Wednesday and full days the rest of the week.

Wednesday was mostly a logistical day. I distributed supplies, assigned the lockers, and allowed time for organizing. I had already mailed the boys a get-to-know-you questionnaire that I asked them to bring and we needed a few minutes to collect forms and paperwork. The day started with convocation, then additional homeroom time, and I had to explain some grade-level procedures that are different from fifth grade but that only took a few minutes. We spent most of the homeroom time getting situated. During reading class I wanted the boys collaborate and present on the first day so I had them interview one another then introduce each other to the class. We only had 25 minutes, but the boys amazed me by how quickly some opened up and starting sharing with our class. I was reminded how much each of us desires to be known.

Alice, Julia, and I used the See, Think, Wonder thinking routine on Thursday to have the students inquire into 6th grade reading, the reading classrooms, and the reading teachers. We started by having them come up with a few deep questions they have as we begin the year. What did they want to know? We share and posted them. Then we gave the boys a few minutes to explore the rooms in a way similar to what we did last year. Then, we began the thinking routine. I’m not going to go into too much detail here because Alice and I want to co-write a complete reflection on the day. As the class ended, we asked the boys to think up a headline for the day’s learning to share with us as they left the room.

Yesterday, we began modeling for the boys how to do a 3, 2, 1 Bridge. They are going to have to write a bridge about themselves so we decided we would walk them through the steps of writing a bridge about a person and made ourselves the object of the practice bridge. This is another lesson I want to write about and share more completely so I won’t go into too many details except to say we talked at length about brainstorming, sharing wild ideas, and what makes a good bridge (metaphor or simile). It was fun day with the boys working together to collaborate and to think critically and creatively.


As I ran this morning, I also noticed the amount of trash along Seed Tick Road. It really annoyed me that people would just toss their garbage out on the street, and I spent at least a mile going through an inner rant that I won’t share the details of here. However, let me say this: PICK UP AFTER YOURSELF! I find it incredibly selfish that people leave their trash for others to clean up.

Planning Ahead

This coming week is a short week in class for my students. On Thursday and Friday we will be at our class breakaway at Victory Ranch. Before we leave, we need to take the STAR reading test, create and share bridges about ourselves, consider what a thoughtful reader looks like, and design our metacognition bookmark. We need to be on our game in order to be ready for small group reading when we return from Victory Ranch.

Did you start school this week? How did it go? I do my best to avoid discussing rules, policies, and procedures during the first few days with my students. Instead, we focus on thinking well and getting to know each other. What do you do to kick off a new school year?

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 in 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 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 book shelves.
  • 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.