HOW TO USE ARTWORKS TO IMPROVE YOUR QUESTIONING SKILLS

SUMMARY

Today I’m doing a deep dive on the most famous and well-known thinking routine of them all – See Think Wonder.
I’m going to share with you how you can use this thinking routine in your art discussions and why it’s one of the best routines for getting started with Visible Thinking in the Museum – my method for engaging and connecting with audiences, art and ideas.
See Think Wonder is actually the first thinking routine that I teach when I do a training with teams of educators in a museum and the first routine that I teach on my popular VTMO course.
See Think Wonder is a GREAT thinking routine to use when you are new to Visible Thinking and a really good one to use at the beginning of a guided tour or museum programme.
But what is it, how can you use it and, importantly, what’s so special about it? All will be revealed today in episode 16!

INTRODUCTION 

Today I’m doing a deep dive on the most famous thinking routine of them all – See Think Wonder.
I’m going to share with you how you can use this thinking routine in your art discussions and why it’s one of the best routines for getting started with Visible Thinking in the Museum – my method for engaging and connecting with audiences, art and ideas.
Before we start I recommend that you listen to The Art Engager podcast episode 3 on the Magic of Thinking Routines. This is a really good introduction to what thinking routines are, how they work and why you should be a core part of your educator repertoire.

THINKING ROUTINES

So, let’s start with a bit of revision about thinking routines.
Thinking routines are tools specifically designed to help, support and guide mental processes or thinking.
They originated in Project Zero’s Visible Thinking research initiative.
They consist of a set of questions or a brief sequence of steps that get used in a regular fashion.
Thinking routines typically short and memorable with only a few steps based on carefully crafted questions
They can flexibly and loosely guide the analysis of a wide variety of materials such as artworks, photographs, documents, newspaper articles, museum objects and so on.
It is important to remember that it’s not all about the routine – it’s about the thinking you want your participants to be doing. The thinking routine is the scaffold for that thinking, not a rigid frame.
Over the years, researchers enhanced and expanded upon the original thinking routines, and new projects have developed new routines.
There are currently 100+ thinking routines that I’ve collated in a single guide called The Ultimate Thinking Routine List. Out of all the thinking routines, See-Think-Wonder is probably the most well-known and it’s usually the first thinking routine that people get to know too. It’s actually the first thinking routine that I teach when I do a training with teams of educators or guides in a museum and the first routine that I teach on my popular VTMO course.
See Think Wonder is a GREAT thinking routine to use when you are new to Visible Thinking and a really good one to use at the beginning of a guided tour or museum programme.

SEE THINK WONDER

See Think Wonder encourages:
  • Careful observations
  • Thoughtful interpretations
  • Stimulates curiosity
It is composed of three simple questions:
  • What do you see?
  • What do you think is going on?
  • What does it make you wonder?
Let’s look at each of these questions in detail
WHAT DO YOU SEE?
Before the routine begins, I always ask all participants to observe the artwork/object for a short while. This can take place in silence individually or in a discussion in pairs or the educator can guide the looking. This also helps to focus the group on the object.
After a period of time spent looking, you can then ask the question ‘what do you see?’.
This question allows you and your group to fully observe and describe the object or artwork in question.
This step helps to build an inventory of the image.
Focusing on close looking followed up by careful describing allows participants to see the “whole picture” and to notice parts they would ordinarily have missed.
One thing to remember is that we always, always start with observation. It’s always the first step in any art discussion. It stops hasty judgements. And gives us time to see the whole image before we start thinking about interpretation. Observation as a first step is an essential part of the Visible Thinking in the Museum method and shouldn’t be skipped!
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GOING ON?
This second question usually follows on quite naturally once the object has been fully described. It asks the group for their interpretations of what they think is going on. Good to separate the observation and the interpretation part. By allowing the group to observe first with the ‘what do you see?’ question, when they move on to the ‘thinking’ part, they are less likely to jump to hasty conclusions or make snap judgements.
One of the great things about using thinking routines is that they are flexible and the questions can be modified to suit the pattern of behaviour or thinking you want your participants to engage in. This second question of See Think Wonder ‘What do you think is going on?’ has lots of variations – I have also asked in the past:
  • What do you think about that?
  • What does it make you think about?
  • What do you think about what you see?
  • What do you think is going on here?
  • What do you think is the story here?
  • What are you thinking about as you look at this image?
  • What do you think might be happening in this painting? Who do you think the people could be?
A side note here: although these variations are part of the magic of thinking routines, I think it’s important to first get used to the routine as it is written before you start to add in any variations. Once you are confident and comfortable with it, then you can start to experiment!
WHAT DOES IT MAKE YOU WONDER?
This question allows participants to ask any additional questions or thoughts. These “wonderings” can also open up new lines of inquiry and allow the guide or educator time to share some specialised knowledge in response to the group’s questions.
Secondly, by encouraging wondering questions in your art discussions you know EXACTLY what your participants are curious about.
And therefore, you always know exactly what information to add and when just by answering their questions.
You can make a list of all the wonderings and decide as a group which ones you are going to answer, you can also throw some of the questions back at the group to get their thoughts ‘What do you think? Does anyone here have any suggestions?’, You can also divide up the group into small groups to discuss possible answers to the wonder part. There are a lot of ways you can approach this. ⠀

WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT SEE THINK WONDER?

Well, if you think about the structure of a well-rounded discussion, you start with the outer layer, the observation and description, before moving on to the substance, the interpretation before moving on to any questions or puzzles we have.
Throughout the discussion we are encouraging reasoning with evidence too (‘What do you see that makes you say that?’).
One of the reasons why See-Think-Wonder is a great thinking routine to use to get started because the 3 stages of this routine mirror the stages of a balanced discussion.

SEE THINK WONDER VARIATIONS

As STW is the most well-known thinking routine, there are a lot of variations that have come about because of its popularity:
Such as a whole variation of the routine based on the senses:
  • Hear-Think-Wonder
  • Taste-Think-Wonder
  • Touch-Think-Wonder
  • Smell-Think-Wonder
I’ve done Touch-See-Think-Wonder many times with an object in a bag and it works really well too!
And you vary the order of the questions too – so, instead of See-Think-Wonder, what about:
  • Wonder-See-Think
  • See-Wonder-Think
I’ve also seen:
  • See-Think-Wonder-Feel
  • See-Think-Wonder-Write
And a variety of other extensions of this popular routine.
Finally, there are routines that are based on STW, such as:
  • See-Wonder-Connect
  • See-Think-Me-We

REASONS WHY SEE THINK WONDER IS THE BEST ROUTINE TO USE WHEN YOU’RE NEW TO THINKING ROUTINES

If you are just getting started with incorporating thinking routines into your art discussions, give See Think Wonder a go.
Here are some reasons why it is the best routine to use when you’re new to VT.
  • It is straightforward and naturally leads towards open-ended inquiry
  • It can be used with all age groups & all levels – adults as well as children.
  • It can be used with a huge variety of materials such as artworks, photographs, documents, book covers, newspaper articles, museum objects, the natural world etc.
  • Works well individually, in small groups and with whole group sharing.
  • Can be used at the beginning of a programme or tour due to its simplicity.
  • It’s easy to set up and use – there aren’t any complicated instructions or set-up instructions. Some thinking routines require a little extra thought about how they can be applied in the museum or heritage environment. See-Think-Wonder is pretty much good to go as it is.
  • By separating the two questions, What do you see? and What do you think is going on?, the routine helps participants distinguish between observations and interpretations. This helps to avoid hasty interpretations. By encouraging individuals to wonder and ask questions, the routine stimulates curiosity and helps students reach for new connections.
  • When used repeatedly, participants begin to use in other contexts. I have had school children teaching See-Think-Wonder to their parents after a museum visit with me where we explored several objects using the routine. I’ve also had a group of IT managers using See-Think-Wonder during a breakfast meeting to structure their thoughts, inspired by the previous evening’s art museum workshop using thinking routines – See-Think-Wonder being the most versatile and memorable!
  • And finally, See Think Wonder never, EVER fails in any situation, circumstances or environment. I often hear people who are new to Visible Thinking in the Museum saying that they are not sure whether a certain artwork or thinking routine will ‘work’. It may not work in the way you thought it would but it will still work. And if parts don’t go as expected, then note down your reflections for next time. Trust the routine!

VISIBLE THINKING IN THE MUSEUM ONLINE (VTMO)

I hope you enjoyed this post focusing on See Think Wonder. I’ll be teaching See Think Wonder as the first routine in my popular Visible Thinking in the Museum Online (VTMO) course starting in September 2021. This 8 module online course is a combination of self-directed study and live tutorials with me. Over the course of 10 weeks you’ll learn:
✔️22+ thinking routines to use with groups, individuals and for personal use
✔️ How to Design, lead and manage engaging discussions about art, objects and ideas
✔️ Deploy basic and advanced facilitation skills to engage any audience
✔️And how to engage with art & artefacts, engage with people and with ideas
You can find out more about my VTMO course below.
VISIBLE THINKING IN THE MUSEUM ONLINE (VTMO)