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Making Thinking Visible: A Review of Advancement Courses Online Professional Development

This review was written by Courtney Jones, an elementary school teacher.

As a self-proclaimed life-long learner, I set out on a journey to find a professional development course that could deepen my pedagogical skills and enhance the learning of my students. For most teachers, time is precious, so I knew that whichever course I chose would have to be high-quality, manageable, well-designed, and relevant.

With my previous experience taking an Advancement Courses class, I knew that it would likely meet my needs, and my search for a course began. Looking for classes on their site is so easy! You can filter by different subjects, grade levels, whether a course is available for graduate credit from participating universities, and more!

A huge thank you to Advancement Courses for sponsoring this blog post!

While searching, I focused on courses that would help me maximize the depth of learning opportunities without the pressure of having to add more to the instruction. Quality over quantity. With this in mind, I looked for classes that focused on designing lessons, thinking opportunities, and teaching strategies, and I found one that caught my eye!

Making Thinking Visible

Can we make thinking visible? As educators, we are always looking for ways to deepen the thinking that happens in our classrooms, but how can we ensure that thinking is actually taking place? These are the questions that helped me decide to take the graduate-level course Making Thinking Visible from Advancement Courses this spring.

I decided to choose the graduate credit option for this course so I could continue to build my grad hours for potential salary increases in the future. Advancement Courses offers many universities to choose from, and under “Approval Information,” it is simple to filter by your state and see the different accreditations and approvals.

The other added benefit of taking this course is the continuing education credits that you receive when completing the course. In Texas, classroom teachers need 150 CPE (continuing professional education) credits to renew their licenses. This graduate course of 3 hours is equal to 45 CPE credits!

Plus, did you know that all of the course materials, including books, are included in the price? This is extremely helpful when looking at the current prices of many college-level textbooks and materials.

How the Course Works

After going through the enrollment process, you will be prompted to log in to the course. As you can see below, the home screen of the course overview is well-organized by modules, grades, different topics, many support systems, and the “Welcome” information to help you get started. This course is broken into five topics. Each topic builds upon the information you learned in the previous topic. The activities presented in the topics help to make sense of the information, and over time, they give you practical ways to implement actual teaching strategies for students.

Oftentimes, in graduate courses, there is a large focus on theory or research without providing real, tangible ways to apply the research or ideas into practice for students. This course is the opposite! It puts the learner, the thinker, at the center of every topic and strategy.

My Biggest Takeaways

So what did I learn?

Overall, I learned that there are simple thinking strategies and ways of thinking about thinking that can really increase the overall impact of the learning that takes place in our classrooms. Thinking, while an abstract concept, can be made visible by asking the right questions, providing opportunities for reflection, and helping students explore ideas in a low-stakes manner.

As educators, the first question we need to ask ourselves when designing a lesson is, “Who is doing the thinking in this lesson?” If our answer is us, the teacher, then we have failed to create a lesson for students. If our answer is the students, we are already on the right track.

The second question we need to ask ourselves is, “How much time are students thinking and learning?” The ultimate goal is to maximize the amount of learning and thinking and to eliminate “downtime” activities as much as possible. Lessons that require a lot of cutting, for example, can hinder the lesson by directing students’ attention to the cutting, rather than thinking about the material they are trying to learn. Unless, of course, the lesson is focused on the topic of using scissors.

After we have asked these two fundamental questions, we can start viewing our lessons through this lens of maximizing thinking and understanding, which will have a positive impact on the learning that takes place in the classroom. Next, let’s look at some simple activities that you can implement into your pedagogical toolbox today without adding more curriculum. I learned over 15 new strategies and activities that I have already started to implement into my teaching! You will not be disappointed by the quality of this course and the resources inside of it.

Strategies to Try in Your Classroom

So you are probably wondering, “What are a few strategies that I can implement today to get my students thinking visibly?” Well, here a few that I found particularly easy to implement, with no extra time, that yielded great discussions and thoughtful insights!

  • KWL: You might have heard of this one: A KWL chart helps students self-assess what they know, want to know, and learned.
  • See, Think, Wonder: Another adaptation of this type of self-assessment is the “See, Think, Wonder” prompt. This activity is especially useful when analyzing graphics, artwork, science experiments, etc. You can make this a whole-class anchor chart activity or have students think it through individually.
  • “I used to think… Now I think…”: Another quick and easy thinking prompt for students is “I used to think… Now I think…” The possibilities are endless with this prompt, and it can be used in nearly every classroom for every grade level and subject area. 

Lastly, I want to share one of my personal favorites, called “mind maps.” Mind maps are a low-stakes way for students to assess their own thinking on any given topic or subject and see links in their thinking. Throughout the lesson, they can look for patterns, identify gaps in their knowledge, address new key vocabulary, and more.

To start, students are given a central topic or idea such as, “What is thinking?” and they write down everything they know or associate with that question or prompt. They chain together related information to help them make sense of what they know and discover any gaps in their knowledge. Mind maps are useful as a preassessment activity to gauge the information students already know about a topic. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, I am so thankful that I was able to take the Making Thinking Visible course. I want to say thank you again to Advancement Courses for allowing me the opportunity to take the course and write this review.

If you are wanting to simplify your lessons and focus on your students’ depth of thinking without sacrificing quality, I recommend this course. If you are looking for fresh activities for your classroom, regardless of subject, grade level, or expertise, I highly recommend this course.

I will be taking more Advancement Courses in the future to grow my teacher toolbox, increase my graduate-level hours, and continue to earn CPE credits for my teaching license renewal. To anyone wanting to grow as an educator, check out Advancement Courses. They offer 280+ online, self-paced PD courses covering both foundational topics and emerging trends in education. Courses are available for both graduate and continuing education credit for your salary advancement or recertification needs.

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