I’ve learned a great deal about visible learning and documentation beside the teachers I’ve supported this year. Rather than lifting and dropping a handful of previously conceived best practices into their instruction, many have begun moving through action research cycles that look much like grounded theory. This has empowered them with new insight and instructional approaches that are tightly rooted in the learning and the work that their students are doing. It’s producing powerful results as well. I began making MY learning visible in this space a few weeks ago, and today’s post is a continuation of that effort.

UsingGTI’ve spoken to the unintended consequences of relying on questions and six things to think about as you establish habits of documentation previously. Once you’ve clarified your thinking there, you might begin wondering: what moves should learners make visible?

You can’t document everything, after all.

These are the three moves that we’ve been documenting most often this year. They’ve made for a solid beginning.  What would you add?

Three Moves Learners Should Make Visible:

1. The process that resulted in their product

2. Their reflections: before, during, and after learning

3. Metacognitive moves:

  • Consistent self-assessment of strengths and needs:

For instance, one student revealed: “I am able to brainstorm a bunch of really great ideas, but I struggle to plot my story.”

Another said: “I find that when I plot my story, I’m able to persevere through a draft. When I don’t, I typically give up.”

And a third shared: “Plotting my story makes me feel boxed in, and then I lose my interest. For me, experimenting with plot is the whole point of writing. I don’t like to have a plan.”

  • Assessment of different task variables and how those variables influence their processes, their abilities to persevere, and their levels of success

One writer suggested: “Rubrics help me understand what quality looks like. I really enjoyed building them from mentor texts. That was like having the definition and the example all at once.”

Another told me: “I can’t look at an entire rubric all at once. It’s too much. I like being able to fold or cut them down to the dimension I’m working on most.”

And a third revealed: “Rather than a rubric, I find that I need a lot of examples of what ‘good’ looks like. I also need very clear directions. Not a prompt. I don’t like being told exactly what to write. Just a challenge, I guess. I like directions that are more like a challenge than a set of orders.”

  • Assessment of different strategy variables and how those variables influence their processes, their abilities to persevere, and their levels of success

Several writers told me this when we spoke about the writing process this year: “I don’t brainstorm. Drafting is brainstorming for me. I need to start writing in order to get more ideas. Then, I go back and revise if I need to.”

Another told me: “I like sketching my story first. This helps me see my characters and setting.”

And a third said: “I carry a small notebook around to capture snippets of conversations I hear. They become lines of dialogue in my stories, sometimes.”




  1. Great suggestions, Angela! My most important reason (among many including yours) is consistent with yet another quote from Albert Einstein: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Until you make it visible, your level of understanding is unknown.

    • That’s an interesting point, John. You also have me thinking about how making thinking and learning visible and documentation enable us to “explain” simply without using words. Images speak louder?

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