CSI: colour symbol image

A conversation starter to discuss the student as a learner

Photo of Janet Leadbeater

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Update - version 2.2 - June 1st

Tips added.

Update - version 2.1 - May 30th

Ben wrote a powerful overview and we reworked the Letter to families, including samples. Replaced in main text below.

Update - version 2.0 - May 29th

Suggestions, constructive criticism and evaluation welcomed. Please make a contribution.

Thanks to our coach Ellen, for providing a framework to get us started and giving some general positive feedback. Thanks to our mentor Ben, for honing down the framework and stretching our thinking, sharing insights and evaluating along the way.


There is so much that students could say and share about their learning at parent-teacher conferences, but many struggle to express themselves in written or spoken word. CSI overcomes this barrier by giving students the opportunity to articulate their thoughts and feelings in colours, symbols and images, and give evidence for their choices. This use of the power of abstraction kick-starts a meaningful conversation that goes deeper and wider than is usually possible, keeping the student and their learning centre stage.

Potential for Impact

Use of the thinking routine, CSI, gives students and families a powerful framework. The framework gives them the space and the language to talk about themselves and their child as a learner. Seemingly a small routine, CSI can have a deep impact. It puts thinking and understanding and learning processes at the forefront of the conversation. It keeps the child and their learning at the centre of the conversation.

A visual provocation has a benefit of being a comfortable and non threatening way to begin a discussion about students as learners. It both brings attention to the learner and brings attention to something removed from the learner. The focus is on the student as learner, but at a step removed with the use of colour, symbol and image. This helps with anything difficult needing to be discussed. As an example, when discussing the colour red representing frustration with learning leading to unhelpful behaviours, the student’s behaviour is discussed through the metaphor of “red”.

The CSI gives opportunities to value the perspectives of students, families and teachers. The differing perspectives can be explored through the metaphors.



This routine supports students' reflection of themselves as a learner, while stretching their thinking to create metaphors, explain their reasoning and give evidence of their choices. It stretches thinking into the abstract. The explanation of choices provides insight into thinking and learning and gives opportunities to provide evidence. This requires deep thinking from students and provides an opportunity to see this thinking first hand  by their families.

CSI is suitable for all age groups and would be best as a regular thinking routine to be used in the classroom prior to the conference. Students need familiarity with the routine and metaphoric thinking before attempting this. Parents can become familiar with the idea by seeing example from their child from earlier CSIs, e.g. a CSI for thinking about a book they read.


The CSI routine will allow you and your child to think deeply about the student as a learner. You will see first hand your child thinking deeply about learning and hear them discuss their strengths, challenges, areas for growth and goals for future learning. This rich discussion about your child as a learner and how they think is a powerful insight and enables families (and teachers) to see where best to support their child. You will discover your child’s perspectives on learning and compare them to your own perspective. Developing a shared understanding of the child as a learner between families, students and teachers is a valuable opportunity.


This might begin as an invitation to families in first year, explaining that the school is trialling this routine as an innovative way to discuss the student as a learner. Schools might consider having a couple of teachers trialling the thinking routine at the conference e.g. one junior primary teacher and one primary teacher from each site. This could then be rolled out using the Teach On method.

Suitable F-12 and their families.


The student completes the CSI proforma about themselves as a learner. There are two options beyond this. 

  1. Families have the option of completing a CSI about the child for comparing to their child's version. 
  2. Older students may like to fill out a Goal CSI for where they would like to see themselves as a learner in the future. This is helpful for students transitioning to the next phase in their school or life. It also benefits students who are dissatisfied with school or themselves as a learner, as the focus can then move to how we can support them in achieving their goal.

Students and families would complete it before the conference. The age group and familiarity with the routine will dictate how much support is needed for students. Class time might be given, so students can discuss and get help from their peers and teacher/s.

Questions during the conference

Families and teachers to student:

  • What does this colour/symbol/image represent about you as a learner?
  • What are your strengths as a learner?
  • What do you need to work on?
  • When do you feel most stuck or challenged?
  • What strategies do you use to overcome setbacks?
  • Where are you headed next? What goals do you have?
  • How can we help you achieve your goals?
  • What other thoughts do you have?

Using goals version:

  • What do you think it would take to get you from this CSI [present version] to this CSI [goal scenario]?
  • What can we do to support you in bridging the gaps between the CSIs?

Using family version:

  • What are your thoughts on your child’s CSI?
  • Would you add or change anything?

Tools & Materials Needed

CSI steps

CSI steps


CSI proformas

CSI thinking routine v1 me
CSI thinking routine v2 me
CSI thinking routine v2 my child
CSI thinking routine v2 my goals

Questions for teachers

Questions for teachers

Invitational letter to families


Dear Families,

Our student-parent-teacher interviews are approaching. This year, our school is trialling an innovative way of discussing your child and their learning, using a thinking routine, CSI: Colour, Symbol, Image.

The CSI routine will allow you and your child to think deeply about the student as a learner. It was developed by researchers at Project Zero at Harvard to support students’ thinking. The benefits are:
Deeper conversations about learning, using metaphors to raise previously unseen thoughts and experiences. Your child will discuss their strengths, challenges, areas for growth and goals for future learning.
Student-centred discussions with a focus on thinking and learning. You will discover your child’s perspectives on learning and compare them to your own perspective, developing a shared understanding of the child as a learner between families, students and teacher/s.
Action-oriented with conversation and planning around future goals. This rich discussion enables families and teachers to see where best to support your child as we all work together to help your child achieve their goals.

These examples of CSI from earlier this term by --------- (names) shows CSI being used to think about a book character/theme.

Image title
Image title

Parents have said CSI works for them...
(Two brief quotes from parents)

We are inviting families to sign up to using the CSI thinking routine in your interview time. Please sign up below if you are interested.


  1. Plan to introduce the routine well before the conference, using other content.
  2. Introduce new terms, metaphor and represent. You might like to use literature or a class motto to explore metaphor, and advertising or maths to explore representations.
  3. Introduce colours, symbols and images. You could use Dr Suess' 'Many Colored Days' for younger students. You might like to brainstorm known symbols and make a visual chart for kids to refer to.
  4. Practice giving evidence for choices.
  5. Play with CSI in different contexts and watch the students' metaphors and reasoning deepen.

Original Idea

I usually have a questionnaire for students and families to fill out before the conference, with an open section for parents/caregivers. I'd like to refine this.

I'm reading 'Making Thinking Visible' by Ritchhart et al. The thinking routine, CSI: Colour, Symbol, Image, might be a useful tool at conferences. The students and/or families could prepare one to bring to the conference, with the "student as learner" in mind. It would be an interesting conversation starter to discuss the CSI and share the reasons for each choice. Would this create depth to the discussion and show the child as a learner better than our traditional formats?

I would be interested to explore how we could get parent/caregiver buy in and whether we should have students fill out one for comparison.

Evaluation results

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Join the conversation:

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Teachers when start the conversation with the students in the front of the parents and the giving back performance take them to only for replaced framework. Majority of the student on the teacher talks by https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/6-ways-improve-students-writing-skills website overview about the meaningful conservations.

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