Hannah, a WNY Young Writer’s Studio fellow, illustrates how she uses diverse tools in order to tinker with character.


As teachers prepare to help students make learning visible and document what is revealed, I’ve noticed that the pace of our preparation work typically stalls in the same places over and over again: we struggle to define a focus for our studies, and we struggle to understand how learning is made visible. Until these tensions are resolved, it’s almost impossible to move forward.

Recently, I shared a design sprint that can help teachers refine the focus of their work. Once we know what we’re going to study, the next challenge is determining how learning will be made visible. 

I believe that documenting learning often requires us to capture different kinds of evidence over time. Capturing what learners know, think, and can do before, during, and after a learning experience can help us see changes over time. This is one way to make the learning process visible.

But what should we study? The ideas below often help the teachers I support. I’m wondering how you’d inform this list.

Five Ways to Make Learning Visible

1. Invite learners to document their process using photographs and video. Many of them have cell phones, and this is a worthwhile way to use them. When they’re ready to share their final product, their documentation should live beside it, allowing others to witness their journey and learn from them.

2. Provide plenty of time for reflection: before, during, and after learning. I’m pretty passionate about photo documentation, but I’m pretty sure I learn even more by engaging kids in regular reflective practice and requiring them to maintain a reflective notebook. Rather than approaching reflection as a “one and done” activity, we all learn much from reviewing these reflections over time.

3. Ask learners to use evidence to assess their personal strengths and needs over time.

4. Ask learners to assess different variables of the tasks they tackle and how they influences their learning and their success. Considerations:

  • What can the learner can surmise about the difficulty of the task, based upon its design?
  • How does the text type, structure, or complexity of the task or supplemental readings influence their learning and their ability to comprehend?
  • How does the nature of the task inspire them to connect with and learn from others?

5. Ask learners to assess strategy variables as well. A few to consider:

  • What strategies do learners employ in order to build a learning network?
  • Which comprehension strategies serve them best?
  • Which tools will help them learn strategically?
  • Which problem solving strategies could serve them well in a given context?
  • How could design thinking support their learning?

It’s been my experience that when teachers align their purposes for documentation with one or more of these approaches, the resulting work is focused and very revealing. This list is illustrative, not exhaustive though. What would you add? How would you change it?



  1. I am a huge fan of the e-portfolio. I think all or at least most of the suggestions you include in your post can be included. My instructions to students would be (I’m emeritus faculty and won’t likely get to use this) quite straightforward: Organize your e-portfolio in a way that:

    1. Documents your development of effective learning skills, including your understanding of what effective learning is to you.
    2. Documents the progression of your understanding of the topics raised in our class, including how these topics align with specific educational standards.
    3. For both #1 and #2, discuss the self-assessment techniques you have developed and utilized to know how well these efforts have been accomplished.
    4. The e-portfolios would include the e-journals kept by the students throughout the learning process and documenting efforts made, successes had, questions identified, concerns that arose, resulting actions taken, and next steps.

    Additional thoughts on the e-portfolios:

    ~ The first three expectations listed would be expected to address those explanations, not simply be a set of files thought to be evidence. The fourth e-journal is a copy of the one maintained and available to the teacher throughout the process.
    ~ Since I would not be using grades other than the final course grade, the e-portfolios would be utilized as support for each student’s proposed course grade discipussion with me. The final grade however would be mine.
    ~ I honestly believe this approach engages the students in effective learning AND use of the materials far better than conventional approaches – and will improve standardized test scores as well.
    ~ I also believe the e-portfolios will inform college admissions people and / or organization recruiting people about the student than current practices alone.

    And, yes, this is a radical change for most educators – including me… But if effective learning for higher levels of learning and successful careers, this is needed!

    • John, I’m wondering how you create or gather examples for students to explore, prior to creating their own. I know that in my world, asking kids (and teachers) to engage in this kind of documentation and reflection is overwhelming at first, simply because they may not have done it before. First attempts are often less rewarding as well, because they aren’t quite certain what quality experiences and products look like. Any way to remedy that a bit in order to ensure that learners are feeling rewarded rather than mystified or frustrated?

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