(Part 3 – HOW) The PLC process through the eyes of the “Why – What if – How” progression

HOW – we used Visible Thinking Routines to Learn about our Problem

As a reminder this is three part blog, that clearly demonstrates the correlation between innovative questioning (via Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question), and how it is adapted and transferred into a school setting.  – if you are just joining me check out part 1 WHY part 2 WHAT IF to better understand the PLC process I will continue to describe.

Today I will focus on the third part of the inquiry progression – HOW – the doing and living of the question.

For our PLC learning goal, we used Visible Thinking Routines as our avenue (or HOW) to better understand, or learn about our question.

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PLC Learning Goal 2015-2016, Ada Elementary – Forest Hills Public Schools



For our PLC we came up with a consistent way to practice our goal, or so we thought. At our school, we have been studying and implementing Visible Thinking Routines (VTR) as a way to support critical thinking for our students.

VTR’s are defined as an approach to integrating the development of students’ thinking with content learning across subject matters (Project Zero, 2015).

As a team, we went back and forth about which VTR might best support our learning goal; to grow as confident/independent problem solvers. Since all three of us approach instruction in our own unique way, we were not sure which VTR was most appropriate. When trying to solve problems in dynamic, and uncertain conditions, the test-and-learn approach is a basic principle that is applicable to any situation or person (Berger, 2014).

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We created an organizer for Explanation Game VTR on the back of a rubric for the Mathematical Practice, in hopes to make the routine a habit.


In order to keep data and reflection relevant, we all used The Explanation Game visible thinking routine to explore the mathematical practice of the EDM4 Open Responses. This was our constant variable.

From there, we each chose our own VTR for solving the open response. Each VTR supported a different aspect of the open response lesson. By choosing different routines, we were able to test-and-learn from one another. Our reflections were by far the most meaningful, which supports my opinion about how important the Professional Learning Community (PLC) process is.


Things Fall Apart – and that’s okay!

During our actual implementation of process we realized, “The HOW tends to be more of a slow and difficult march, marked by failures that are likely to be beneficial – but don’t necessarily seem that way at the time,” (Berger, 2014).

During the initial stages of implementation, we took two days to observe one another teaching and using their chosen VTR. We spent hours reflecting upon our observations, and we knew we were going in the right direction to better understand our problem.

Here is a quick slideshow of my implementation and reflection after completing classroom observations during our PLC. I used and remixed the Red-Light, Yellow-Light routine as a way for students to analyze student thinking. Since this entry is about the alignment of questioning and the PLC process, I will have to give you more specifics about this VTR at a different time. But, these pictures and reflection might give you an idea of how this routine worked.

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Throughout the school year, my team repeated and tweaked our open response process. Sometimes we would use one another’s VTR during our lessons, other times we let the students choose how they would approach the problem.

We learned so much from one another, and we were so excited about the results we were seeing and hearing from our students. Each time we introduced an open response, we got better at understanding how the Visible Thinking Routines and Mathematical Practices work cohesively to support student success.

Is a question ever truly solved?

While the HOW stage is considered the last stage of the inquiry process, “there really is no final stage – because the questions don’t end, even when you arrive at a solution,” (Berger, 2014). By the end of the school year our PLC learning goal was not necessarily “solved.” Rather we had learned a plethora about VTRs and Mathematical Practices.

We will continue our exploration this coming school year, always coming back to question our initial question.

Now that I have finished A More Beautiful Question, I have developed a wealth of knowledge about questioning. The WHY, WHAT IF, and HOW questions align to individuals, schools, businesses – everyone really!

I am looking forward to participating in another PLC this coming school year. What are somethings you are studying with colleagues? I would love to hear about your process – please share any ideas, comments, or questions below!



Berger, W. (2014). A More Beautiful Question. New York: Bloomsbury.

Project Zero. (2015). Visible Thinking. Graduate School of Education Harvard University. http://www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/visible-thinking 

*Graphics and photographs taken and created by Bridget Bennett




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