Teachers’ Guide for Secret Liberators: Canada’s SOE Agents in Occupied France.

John Myers OISE (retired)

Section 3 Strategies for getting the most out of Secret Liberators (or any other presentation)

The Use of Visible Thinking Routines.

One characteristic of effective learning is that learners “think” about what they are learning and can articulate what is happening in their thinking (metacognition).  The idea of making thinking “visible” to both teachers and studentscomes out of the work of Project Zero at Harvard University. It currently consists of a rich website with links to downloadable articles and videos as well as a book with its own dvd (Ritchhart, R, Church, M and Morrison, K. (2011). Making Thinking Visible: How To Promote Engagement Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass).

A key implementable feature of this approach is the use of “thinking routines”. Routines exist in all classrooms; they are patterns we use to operate our classrooms with our students. Classrooms have routines that serve to manage student behavior and interactions, to organizing the work of learning, and to establish rules for communication and discourse. Visible thinking routines structure the way students go about the process of learning. These learning routines can be designed to promote students’ thinking, such as asking students what they know, what they want to know, and what they have learned as part of a unit of study. These are simple-to-use strategies that through observations and conversations bring the products of thinking to the surface by making them visible both to you and to your students. They often serve as a pre-test or post-test with student group discussion in between as they share ideas and perspectives.  Repeated use of a few can become thinking “habits” for students they consciously use when the occasion merits or when you offer a prompt.

Each routine:

– is goal oriented in that it targets specific types of thinking,

– gets used repeatedly in the classroom,

– consists of only a few steps,

– is easy to learn and teach,

– is easy to support when students are engaged in the routine,

– can be used across a variety of contexts, and

– can be used by the group or by the individual.

Some routines promote understanding by making connections between old and new knowledge. Some promote fairness through examining different perspectives. Some routines encourage students to find the truth behind competing claims. Some are creative by encouraging students to look for new angles on ideas.

You can begin with the following short video.


One of the ideas it promotes is judicious use of a few of the routines so that teachers and students get familiar with them. We do get better with practice! At this stage when they have become “routine”, they can then be adapted and built upon.

Here is a link to the large and growing toolbox of routines categorized by type and function. There are dozens. http://www.pz.harvard.edu/thinking-routines

The following routine can be used throughout Secret Liberators.

“Connect, Extend, Challenge” for Assessing ANY Reading, Presentation or Workshop: Here is an overview of the routine. For both students and busy teachers.

  • CONNECT: How are the ideas and information presented CONNECTED to what you already knew? Students may know something about events in World War-2 described in the film
  • EXTEND: What new ideas did you get that EXTENDED or pushed your thinking in new directions? If students see new connections, new knowledge or new ways of thinking about the period, people or events in question they have learned.
  • CHALLENGE: What is still CHALLENGING or confusing for you to get your mind around? What questions, wonderings or puzzles do you now have? World War 2 was and still is full of puzzles we solve with new evidence and information. The last section of the guide may help students explore the challenges they have in understanding the topics.

Having students write, discuss and share their connections, extensions, and challenges can help them learn even more deeply. Here is a routine to help such thinking and sharing.


There are many versions of think-pair-share, a cooperative structure developed by Frank Lyman (1981) in which

  1. You pose a question or problem.
  2. Students are given time to think (30-60 seconds).
  3. Students pair and discuss their responses.
  4. Students share their combined insights in a whole class discussion or question-answer sequence.

This technique helps students process the information they are learning through wait time and discussion of their ideas.

There are more than a thousand variations of this strategy (Kagan, 2003). Two of the more popular ones are

  • Think-Write-Pair-Share has students jot down their ideas before turning to a partner to discuss them. This version increases individual accountability, since you can walk around the room to ensure that students just sit back and let their partner do all the thinking.
  • Think-pair-square has pairs pair with another pair before sharing with the class.

Think-pair-share can be used anytime in a lesson.

  • at the beginning to assess prior knowledge or opinion on the topic to be explored in a unit,
  • within the lesson to check for understanding,
  • at the end of the lesson to assess understanding

Lyman, F. T. (1981). The responsive classroom discussion: The inclusion of all students. In A. Anderson (Ed.), Mainstreaming Digest (pp. 109-113). College Park: University of Maryland Press.

I used to think…. Now I think….

A routine that can be used at the end of Secret Liberators to show how the documentary affects attitudes towards the people and events of the war is “I used to think…. Now I think…. “ (http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org/VisibleThinking_html_files/03_ThinkingRoutines/03c_Core_routines/UsedToThink/UsedToThink_Routine.htm).   Here are directions you can give to students. If you do this routine WITH them, they will recognize your thinking too.

“When we began this study of ________, you all had some initial ideas about it and what it was all about. In just a few sentences, I want to write what it is that you used to think about
_________. Take a minute to think back and then write down your response to “ I used to

Now, I want you to think about how your ideas about __________ have changed as a result of what we’ve been studying/doing/discussing. Again in just a few sentences write down what you now think about ___________. Start your sentences with, “But now, I think…”

The next strategy can be used in face-to-face classrooms or in online breakout rooms set up for pairs work featuring purposeful talk.

Why Talk?

Talk allows students to

  • take risks with colleagues
  • try out ideas through hypothesizing, verifying, adapting, and revising
  • gain deeper insights and understandings when the talk is purposeful and in pairs than can be attained by one student working alone
  • promote quality writing and/or quality whole classroom discussion after students have talked through the ideas, issues, concepts, and information.

The More We Talk, The More We Learn!

Why Pairs?

  • easier to set up than larger groups
  • can be combined and divided when appropriate
  • easier to monitor and manage to ensure individual accountability

It’s hard to hide in a pair as we see in the strategy below.

Pairs View (Morton, 1996)

When showing a video or delivering a lengthy presentation, teachers need to give students an opportunity to construct meaning: a necessary step in learning facts and concepts.  Constructing meaning consists of linking old knowledge to new knowledge, making predictions, verifying them and filling in a lot of unstated information.  For example, your prior knowledge about sharks will enable you to make predictions about what you will see in a documentary film about them.  Such predictions are verified or refuted as you watch the film.  Finally, what you know about sharks helps you fill in pieces of unusual information; e.g., that Sharks have no backbone- it’s cartilage.  Here is one technique to help students do this.

  1. Pair students A and B.
  2. When showing a lengthy film, stop every ten minutes or so (five minutes for younger children).
  3. When the film is stopped for the first time, tell the pairs that A (or B) will be the summarizer.  Declaring the roles at the last minute keeps both members of the pair accountable. If you decide that A is the summarizer, then A
    1. summarizes for B the information and ideas presented so far
    1. tells B what he/she finds most interesting about what was presented
    1. identify anything that was confusing and try to clarify, with B’s help
  1. After three minutes, the film is turned on again
  2. After a suitable period, the film is again stopped, and B takes the lead. Or you can repeat with A.

Alternatively, the teacher can provide a worksheet or a series of prompts to spur discussion and to enable students to record appropriate points.  Prompts might ask students to summarize, predict, elaborate, describe, determine the main idea, compare, formulate questions, and identify aspects that interested or confused them about the presentation to date.  Morton, T. (1996). Co-operative Learning & Social Studies: Towards Excellence and Equity.  Kagan Co-operative Learning Publishers, 1996.

The separate parts of Secret Liberators can serve to use Pairs View. In a class discussion students can share, as in think-pair-share, what they have learned and you as a teacher can recognize the impact you and Secret Liberators have had on their understandings.

Even at the end of a class you can take the last minute to get students to show you what they learned through a one-minute paper.  They simply take a piece of paper and write for a maximum of ONE MINUTE the most significant idea from the documentary that stuck in their heads. They sign their paper and hand it to the teacher as they exit the classroom: an exit visa. This idea originated as a way of assessing the impact of university lectures and there are several YouTube videos that demonstrate it.

Contributing Writer