It's no secret how much I love designing professional learning experiences for teachers. Notice I did not say ‘create’ or ‘make’ or ‘plan’ professional learning experiences. I said DESIGN professional learning experiences. As in an art form. A careful dance of content and pedagogy, outcomes and process. So when I stumbled on the idea of Hexagonal Thinking from Betsy Potash, I was hooked. Not only was it based on solid content and artful pedagogy, it was carefully designed in both process and product. And better yet, it’s the perfect model for teachers to then bring to their students. 

So, what is hexagonal thinking? It’s a fun way to launch discussion around a core set of topics, concepts or themes. It invites rich discussion, deep thinking, collaboration and perspective-taking. Perfect, right?! Right. 

Imagine this: It’s time for your in-personal professional learning session. Teachers arrive at their table to find a colorful stack of hexagons labeled with topics, concepts and themes connected to the topic of your session. As the session begins, you invite teachers to examine the hexagons and connect them together based on the relationships they see among the different terms. There is no single right answer, just a beautiful showcase of thinking among members of a particular group. 

Now, imagine the same scenario as a virtual professional learning session instead. Rather than finding tables of colorful hexagons, they find a beautifully designed slide full of them to move around digitally in whole groups or small breakout rooms instead. 

Now, you might be wondering what terms, concepts and ideas the hexagons are labeled with. And that depends on the content you’re exploring with teachers. Let’s say you’re exploring guided reading with primary grade teachers. Your terms might include some of the following:

  • Book choice
  • Book introduction
  • Strategy teaching
  • Running records
  • Small groups
  • Reading strategies
  • Word work
  • Re-reading
  • Comprehension
  • Writing

Or, maybe you're exploring digital literacy with upper elementary teachers instead. Some of your labels might include:

  • Creation
  • Consumption
  • Devices
  • Literacy
  • Digital
  • Media
  • Evaluate
  • Communicate
  • Digital reading
  • Digital writing

Teachers examine the terms and spend a bit of time reflecting independently. Then, working in teams, they arrange the hexagons in such a way that represents their thinking and the connections they are making. So, there is no one right way to complete this activity, it’s simply a creative starting point for discussion. 

But that’s not all. 

You could take the thinking one step further and ask teachers to write about their connections and rationale for the ultimate shape they created. If you're working digitally, teachers can insert arrows pointing to specific locations of their design and edit them to include their rationale, literally layering their thinking on the design. Then, groups can compare their shapes as a launching point for whole group discussion. And in the process, you gain clear insight into teachers’ understandings, insights that will support your future coaching.

So, what do you need to get started? If coaching in person, you’ll want to download Betsy Potash’s hexagonal thinking templates or create your own using the HookED SOLO Hexagon Generator instead. If working digitally, Betsy has a beautiful template for that, too. It’s the one I use and I love it. 

Next, identify the topic you want to explore and brainstorm a list of terms that come to mind. Label your printed hexagons with those terms or list them on the digital slide instead. 

When your teachers are ready, they examine the hexagons in small groups and arrange them based on their shared understandings of the terms, either in person or digitally. The only difference is that teachers are moving the actual hexagons in person, but moving the labels for them online. 

Lastly, if you choose, you can ask teachers to spend a moment writing about their thinking and what they learned in the process of sharing their thinking with others. Be sure to take a picture of the final creations and use those images as starting points for whole group debriefing. 

There you go! A fun and engaging activity that not only launches deep discussion with teachers, it provides a great model for teachers to do their same with their own students, too!

If you’d like to dive into hexagonal thinking as a learner, join me on January 28th at 7pm EST to give it a try! I’m opening my monthly coaching sessions to anyone interested in giving this a try and thinking through our understandings of coaching together! Sign up here and I’ll see you then! 

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