Visible Thinking and A Private Universe

I’ve been wanting to blog about a Visible Thinking workshop that I attended a while ago. The workshop began by showing this video (circa 1987) called A Private Universe: Misconceptions That Block Learning. In the clip, Harvard graduates are asked a seemingly simple question – What causes the seasons? You’ll be surprised by the responses.

NOTE: You can also watch the full video here:

The video shows the strength of “private theories” that students construct. We all know that in order to conserve energy, our brains attach new information to previous schemata.  Our brains change seemingly small parts of received information in order for it to connect to prior knowledge as this is easier than creating a whole new schema. This explains why we all have slightly morphed ideas about even factual information.

What does this mean for learning (and teaching)? How does this link to Visible Thinking?

It is vital for students to become aware of their own schemata on any given topic. Naturally, by discussing currently held theories, the teacher and the learning community can direct the lesson so that everyone develops a more accurate understanding of the content.

Here are some examples of Visible Thinking routines that can assist the learning community in developing a shared understanding of a concept:

(see for more in depth instruction on these routines)

By really asking our students (and ourselves) to critically analyse current understandings, we develop a learning community in the true sense where any idea can be questioned, examined and proved (or disproved). That’s a learning community that I want to be a part of!

‘To raise new questions, new problems, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and makes real advances’
Albert Einstein


One thought on “Visible Thinking and A Private Universe

  1. I think the private universe is the same thing I call subjective reality – and yes, students do create their own explanations for things they see, hear and learn. Sometimes this creates huge misconceptions! Weaving Visible Thinking into the learning process ( ) is an excellent idea!

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