Category: Critical thinking
While thinking about how to answer your question many possible answers crossed my mind. I do my best to teach my students things I believe will be meaningful in their lives, and it is for that reason I have decided to share with you the things that I teach my students that I wish every Canadian knew.
When I am teaching my grade 5/6 class I endeavour to expose my students to current events that are going on around the world. I hope that this will put them on the path to becoming citizens who are globally minded, and help them to avoid the pitfalls of stereotyping other countries based on small grains of truth (or perhaps fabrication). At the elementary level the social studies curriculum provides my students with what I feel is a solid foundation in Canada`s history as well as the rights and freedoms Canadian citizens enjoy. I encourage my students to approach what I teach them in the classroom with a critical eye and as a class we think about the other side of the events that took place during our country`s history. For example while I am teaching my students about how and why the Canadian Pacific Railway was built, we also learn about the poor treatment of the Chinese workers who helped to build it. I also try to build a First Nations perspective into my lessons, something that is sorely lacking in many of Canada`s schools.
I also think that it is very important for my students to understand the enormous role that natural resources play in the lives of Canadians. Canada is a country rich in natural resources and much of our economy is based around water, forests, minerals and agriculture. My students will be pivotal in determining how well these resources will be managed in the future. I believe that students need something tangible to anchor their experiences. At my school we are lucky enough to have a school garden which I believe provides an excellent medium for my students to learn about many aspects of natural resource management. I also believe that these hands on experiences in the school garden help my students make more sound decisions about their health. A few months ago a student of mine discovered that candy corn is actually not corn at all while he was examining an ornamental corn cob grown in the garden.
I know that I have not exactly answered your question, but I believe that what I teach in my classroom are things every Canadian should know. I would teach any Canadian student in the same manner and hope that this is the kind of education my children will receive.
I look forward to discussing this with you in person. I am sure we will have many enriching discussions as you discover the Canadian education system.Leave a Reply Cancel reply Contribute to course
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Critical Thinking in Every Classroom
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Critical Thinking in Every Classroom
Vocabulary Across the Curriculum
Background: The QEP
Enhance critical thinking skills in all courses and programs
In 2005, LFCC benchmark scores were lower than those of VCCS counterparts for questions on the CCSSE related to critical thinking. In addition, in 2006, LFCC students scored below VCCS peers for critical thinking on the CCTST.
A Closer Look at the CCSSE
Analyzing the basic elements of an idea, experience, or theory
Synthesizing and organizing ideas, information, or experiences in new ways
Making judgments about the value of soundness of information, arguments, or methods
Applying theories or concepts to practical problems or in new situations
Using information you have read or heard to perform a new skill
I read today about the resignation of renowned Classicist Professor Edith Hall from Royal Holloway due to the shrinking of budgets for the Humanities and what she described as having been pushed beyond her ‘tipping point’. It was fairly unremarkable Guardian article in these tough financial times, lamenting the continued squeezing of budgets for subjects like Classics, considered by many to be elitist, entirely academic, or irrelevant in today’s society. What I did enjoy, however, was the debate in the comments below the article, where people from all walks of (Guardian readership) life discussed the issue of worth when it comes to skills & employability.
One reader echoed the feelings of Louise Handley, an intellectual property lawyer who gave an excellent presentation to students in my last school, that a career in law shouldn’t necessarily start with an A level in it:
Education used to be about mastery of content and the language(s) in which to express it. Instead of comparative law with Public and Private International Law heavily featured to broaden understanding of the context within which English law operates, today’s students go through a narrow training course designed to make them more employable. The results are the difference between a lawyer and a technician.
A generalisation I’m not sure I’d be happy with if I were a young barrister, but the point is a good one. A successful education is one that not only produces employable students, but ones that have that mastery of content, and language skills needed to express it.
I’m coming to the realisation in my time here that St Helena is a microcosmic representation of Britain. Learners here are extremely passive (more so than in the UK), rarely question received wisdom, and as a result don’t truly understand it. There are the same claims made in the staff room here as they are in every staff room I’ve ever known, that students need “spoon feeding” – not a helpful observation, in my opinion. There is no shortage of intelligence among the students here, but independence is a different skill, and one that stems from the culture of learning students experience from an early age.
I am teaching Enterprise here, with the tacit understanding that entrepreneurial spirit is a key focus of the school. Due to the islands geographical isolation, youngsters are being encouraged to set up their own businesses with funding from the St Helena Development Agency. This is an incredible opportunity for young entrepreneurs – one few get in the UK – but at the moment students do not have the independence to be at the top of the tree, running their own business. It almost feels like the aim of many is to be middle management.
As a result of this, one of the fundamental questions I find myself asking in my curriculum review is ‘how do we get the kids to think ?’ – students will rarely question received wisdom. They instead accept it and want to move on to what’s next. There is a real lack of critical thinking across the curriculum.Progress of a kind
On Friday of this week I had the best lesson thus far in terms of behaviour with my year ten IGCSE set. It was a theory lesson introducing network topologies, and my computer room had been double-booked by English. I took the class down to the English room and proceeded to conduct the lesson in the traditional chalk & talk fashion. Up until this point in theory lessons I had introduced the topic with the class together, then encouraging them to find out the rest, with the result being low-level disruption throughout combined with rampant copying & pasting from websites. Suffice it to say results in my theory tests rarely got higher than 80%, as the final 20% came from questions requiring a judgment based on their understanding of the topic. The ones who had done the work could recite facts, figures and some definitions back to me, but few could explain their value, think laterally or suggest alternatives.
None of this is particularly surprising – I hadn’t gauged the activity properly, so not everyone was progressing in line with their ability, which had a knock-on effect on behaviour. In last Friday’s lesson, behaviour was universally excellent. The class was attentive, hung on my every word, and wrote a comprehensive series of notes on networking. It felt like a win.
Image from an interesting post on rating teaching by UPD Consulting: For whom the bell curves
The issue is that I have another test scheduled for next Friday, and I don’t expect the top results to be any better than those from previous weeks, if I use the same model of 80% lower order, recall-based questions & 20% higher order, judgement-based questions. I feel confident that the bell curve of results will be skewed to the right and be a little thinner as the lowest results will be a few notches higher, but students who should be working towards an A* will still plateau at a B due to the lack of being able to think critically. Gifted & talented students are not benefiting from the more traditional teaching method I employed last week.So what do I do ?
It strikes me that there is no quick fix. Teasing out intellectual curiosity & critical thinking takes significant amounts of time & effort. I’m not going to see any massive change in that bell curve by Christmas, but I’m determined to see some by the time my year 10 students sit their exams next year.
What I want to get across to these students is that without being critical of something’s value, you cannot truly understand its value.
I stumbled upon this wonderful animation of Plato’s allegory of the cave, in which he posits the idea of prisoners being chained in a cave facing a wall. Behind them is a fire, and between that fire and the prisoners is a walkway which people & animals cross every day, casting shadows on the wall in front of the prisoners. The shadows & echoing noises of the people shuffling across the walkway are as close as the prisoners can get to viewing reality. A prisoner released from the cave would not recognise the things that had cast the shadows, and may believe the shadows on the wall to be more real than what he now sees. After time, however, the prisoner would acclimate to the light beyond the cave, and eventually see more and more things. He would come to understand that his understanding of reality in the cave was limited, and, eager to share this revelation with his friends he would return to the cave & shout this new-found truth from the walkway, but his friends having only ever seen & heard him up close would not recognise his shadow or the strange echo cast by his voice from the walkway, and they would remain unaware of the reality their friend had experienced.
While I don’t necessarily believe every young person needs to read The Republic. they should be critical of what they are told. As one of the commenters from the Guardian article earlier said of people who say subjects like Classics & Philosophy are useless:
I reply that such people are rather like the prisoners in Plato’s Cave: they reject something not because they have weighed it up and found it to have no value, but because they don’t have the conceptual resources to understand what its value is to begin with.
It will come as a surprise to no-one that I believe strongly in the value of subjects like Classics, and that it belongs at the core of any curriculum designed to encourage curiosity, but if as some argue it is outdated, and unpopular for a reason, is the void left in thinking skills filled by other subjects, or even outside the classroom? Perhaps it is in your school, but in mine it isn’t.ICT to the rescue?
I had quite a few funny looks from assembled subject leaders at an SSAT conference last year when I put forth the idea of ICT going some way to filling this role by blurring the lines between it and other subjects. There was considerable scepticism, and rightly so – suggesting ICT is the new Classics isn’t quite what I’m getting at… but there are opportunities open to us in the ICT room that we ought to capitalise upon. I discussed this idea almost a year ago to the day. that at least a part of the role of ICT in the curriculum should be as the setting for other subjects to be brought together; the resulting work is likelier to be of a higher standard than if it had been completed in isolated chunks in separate lessons.
I don’t believe creativity, independence & criticality can be crowbarred in. You cannot be taught how to tap your creativity, you have to discover it for yourself – but you can be helped along the way to making that discovery. A couple of thoughts I’ve had in order to encourage these things are:
I’ve spent a good deal of my time teaching ICT asking myself why I picked it as a specialism, and whether or not it’s valuable. Only by considering the answers to these questions can I consider myself suitably informed to give a decent answer. “It’s important because it’s everywhere” doesn’t cut it… that’s merely acceptance of a norm. You need to dig a little deeper in order to get to the real crux.
Steve Wheeler said in an excellent blog post on Thursday that he thinks the teacher’s worst enemy is bad theory:
Bad theory, when accepted without challenge, can lead to bad practice. It’s insidious, because bad theory that is accepted as fact without a full understanding of its implications, results in bad teaching, and ultimately, learners will suffer.
If I could lay out my plan for what I want to leave behind me whenever I leave this spectacular place, it would be for imparted wisdom in all its forms to be questioned, scrutinised and challenged by students and staff.
That would be a far longer-lasting legacy than a revamped scheme of work.2 Comments
Steve Philp on November 27, 2011 at 9:04 pm
You’re right to say that there is no quick fix and that creativity cannot be taught in a lesson. It is for this reason that I think you’ve got your bullet pointed list the wrong way round – teacher training must be at the forefront of development, not planning student interventions. It is the quality of relationship between teacher and student that develops students thinking skills. When challenged by great thinking in great teaching, students respond by thinking better for themselves.
James on November 27, 2011 at 9:41 pm
Thanks for the comment, Steve. I agree completely – from next Wednesday I’ll be starting with my teacher training sessions. Should have ordered my list better.
Meg Gorzycki, Ed.D.Critical Thinking and the College Curriculum
Improving students' critical thinking is a vital aspect of undergraduate instruction, as scholars in both private and public sectors have observed. (Arum & Roska, 2011; Hart Research Associates; 2008 and 2013; Spellings, 2006).Critical thinking is a multi-faceted concept that is valued in undergraduate education in at least three cardinal ways:
This tutorial will explore:Defining Critical Thinking
While there are multiple definitions for critical thinking, there exists a consensus on the idea that critical thinking is a willed, cognitive activity dedicated to making reasoned judgments by conducting analysis and by monitoring our own thought processes and emotional responses (Brookfield, 1987; Ennis, 1964). In a 1991 Delphi Study (Facione, 1991), experts concurred that good critical thinking included the cognitive skills in 1) interpretation, 2) analysis, 3) evaluation, 4) inference, 5) explanation, and 6) self-regulation. The study also declared:
There is a consensus that one might improve one’s own critical thinking in several ways. The experts agree that one could critically examine and evaluate one’s own reasoning process. One could learn how to think more objectively and logically. One could expand one’s repertoire of those more specialized procedures and criteria used in different forms of human thought and inquiry. One could increase one’s base of information and life experiences.
Paul and Elder (2011) declare that critical thinkers routinely explore eight elements of critical thinking :
Some have argued that there are general cognitive skills and strategies that can be applied in various domains and that transfer readily from discipline to discipline and subject to subject (Ennis, 1989), while other insist that others claim that critical thinking can only be taught in the context of a particular subject as there are many different ways to think critically and unique facets to discrete subjects (Peck, 1990). For a century, research on the topic of knowledge transfer has embraced the idea that knowledge—including procedural and conditional— does not transfer automatically from studies in one domain to the next, which suggests that if knowledge is to transfer from one domain to the next, instructors must explicitly prompt and guide students’ thinking (Perkins & Solomon, 1989).
Noteworthy is the fact that students who think critically in one subject often perform the same cognitive tasks as they perform in other subjects, which indicates that although each discipline might have its own unique approach to critical thought with its unique benchmarks distinguishing high levels of scholarship and proficiency from the low levels, some elements of critical thinking have defied the gravity of subject specificity and orbit around many subjects (Paul & Elder, 2011). The logic that at least some elements of critical thinking are rather universal is reflected in the logic that educators expect that after they graduate, students will apply critical thinking skills to problems they have never before faced (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2007; Halpern, 1998). In addition, critical thinking is at the core of literacy and reading comprehension skills, and in turn, these skills are at the heart of education at all levels (Cunningham & Stanovich, 2001; Beck & Carpenter, 1986).
Critical thinking has been integrated across the college curricula in liberal arts and vocational programs alike as research indicates:
Table 1 illustrates how critical thinking tasks may be integrated into reading assignments. As the table suggests, there are elements of critical thinking and cognitive tasks that are associated with high level thinking that are common to multiple disciplines.Table 1: Integrating Critical Thinking Tasks into Reading Assignments in History, Health Education, and Chemistry
What was the Suetonius' purpose for composing the "Lives of the 12 Caesars" and how might his intentions have influenced his work?
What was the purpose of the study of air quality conducted by the Central Valley Health Policy Institute, 2010? What issue in particular motivated researchers to examine air quality?
Describe the purpose of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change's report (2013) and how it might have influenced its assertions
Assess the quality of evidence used to support claims
Identify three key conclusions drawn by Barbara Tuckman in "The Guns of August" and argue whether they are sufficiently supported with facts and thorough analysis and interpretation
Identify the assertions made about smoking in Bartecchi and MacKenzie (1994) and determine whether the evidence for them was based on sufficient research of sufficient numbers and types of populations
Identify the central claim regarding the chemical foundations of depression in Lebowirz, et. al. "Fixable or Fate?"(2013) and determine whether their conclusions are adequately supported
Describe the significance of the author's assertions
Describe the significance of statements made about China in the of the Treaty of Nanjing, 1839
Describe the significance of research conducted by Kim and Chang (2011) on the relationship between obesity in children and sugar intake; what are the short and long-term implications of the study?
Describe the significance of Rosebaum & Leibel's conclusions in "Brain Reorganization and Weight Loss" (2012) with special attention to the weight management of children under age 18
Assess the accuracy of the author's assertions
Assess the accuracy of Falah's description of the causes of Arab-Israeli conflict as presented in "The 1948 Israeli-Palestinian War and its aftermath" (1996).
Identify the evidence offered to support the accuracy of the Centers for Disease Control's 2010 study of the prevention of Hepatitis B and compare it to three other studies
Describe the accuracy of claims made in Bostrom, et. al. (2012) Oxadiazoles in medicinal chemistry and identify the steps required to verify findings
Identify alternative perspectives to those offered by the author and explain why these may be credible
Compare Posner's thesis (1993) about the assassination of John F. Kennedy with those of Crenshaw (1992), Lane (2011), and McBride (2013) and and determine which author has made a more credible argument
Compare and contrast the assertions in Baggett, et. al (2010) regarding the unmet health care needs of the homeless with the assertions in Samuels (2011) and Kulik (2011); identify the elements that make assertions credible and which cause the reader to question the potential bias of reporting
Identify Barron's (2012, Ecological impacts of deep water horizon oil spill: implications for immunotoxicity) perspective and assertions regarding toxicity resulting from oil spills in oceanic environments and alternative perspectives and conclusions
Identify the implications of assertions
Identify the implications of McNamara's observations and assertions in "The Fog of War" (2004) on the current war on terrorism
Identify the implications of the findings of Meridith, et. al, (2013) regarding caffeine use as they regard public policy, child-rearing and schools
Identify the implications fo findings in Zhang, et. al. (2012) A review of sample preparation methods for the pesticide residue analysis in foods.The Socratic Method
The Socratic Method is:
The Socratic Method can be adapted to promote critical thinking, oral communication skills, and writing skills. Here are some examples:
Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2007). College learning in the new global century . Washington, D. C. Association of American Colleges and universities
American Association of Colleges and Universities. (2013). What is a 21 st century liberal education? American Association of Colleges and Universities.
Arum, R. & Roska, J. (2011). Academically adrift Limited learning on college campuses. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Beck, I. L. & Carpenter, P. A. (1986). Cognitive approaches to understanding reading. American Psychologist, 41(10): 1098-1105.
Benner, P. Sutphen, M. Leonard, V. & Day, L. (2010). Educating nurses. A call for radical transformation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Brooke, S. L. (2006). Using the case method to teach online classes: promoting Socratic dialogue and critical thinking skills. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. 18 (2), 142-149.
Brookfield, S. D. (1987). Developing critical thinkers challenging young adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Chesters, S. D. (2012). Developing the Socratic Classroom. In The Socratic Classroom (pp. 75-94). SensePublishers.
Cunningham, A. E. & Stanovich, K. E. (2001). What reading does for the mind. Journal of Direct Instruction, 1(2), 137-149.
Dewey, J. (1902). The child and the curriculum. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Elder, L. (1999). Critical Thinking: Teaching the Foundations of Ethical Reasoning. Journal of Developmental Education. 22 (3), 30-31.
Ennis, R. (1964). A definition of critical thinking. The Reading Teacher. 17 (8), 599-612.
Ennis, R. H. (1989). Critical thinking and subject specificity: Clarification and research needed. Educational Researcher. 18(3), 4-10.
Facione, P. A. (1991). Critical thinking: A statement of expert consensus for purposes of educational assessment and instruction. Milbrae, CA: The California Academic Press.
Ferrall, V. E. Jr. (2011). Liberal arts at the brink. Cambridge, MA: the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
Hart, P. D. & Associates. (2006). How should colleges prepare students to succeed in today’s global economy?
Heeren, J. K. (1990). Teaching chemistry by the Socratic Method. Journal of Chemical Education 67 (4), 330-331.
Higgs, J. (Ed.). (2008). Clinical reasoning in the health professions. Amsterdam: Elsevier Health Sciences.
Lehmann, N. (2000). The big test: The secret history of the American meritocracy. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.
Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2011). Critical thinking tools for taking charge of your learning and your life. 3 rd edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: prentice Hall.
Peck, J. E. (1990). Critical thinking and subject specificity: A reply to Ennis. Educational Researcher. 19(4), 10-12.
Perkins, D. N. & Solomon, G. (1989). Are cognitive skills context-bound? Educational Researcher. 18(1), 16-25.
Reich, R. (1998). Confusion about the Socratic method: Socratic paradoxes and contemporary invocations of Socrates. Philosophy of Education Archive. 68-78.
Ruggiero, V. V. (2004). Thinking critically about ethical issues. 6 th edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Salmon, M. H. (2013). Introduction to logic and critical thinking. 6 th edition. Boston, MA: Wadsworth.
Spellings, M. (2006). A test of leadership charting the future of U. S. higher education. Washington, D. C. U.S. Department of Education.
Whiteley, T. R. (2006). Using the Socratic method and bloom's taxonomy of the cognitive domain to enhance online discussion, critical thinking, and student learning. Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning. 33 (1), 65-70.
Yang, Y. T. C. Newby, T. J. & Bill, R. L. (2005). Using Socratic questioning to promote critical thinking skills through asynchronous discussion forums in distance learning environments. The American Journal of Distance Education. 19 (3), 163-181.Additional Resources
As a classroom teacher, I often focused on what my students did during a class period. If I wasn’t wondering about what they did, I wondered about what information I needed to give them. Less often, I wondered about their thinking and how I might help them to think about their thinking. Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison helps classroom teachers who want to cultivate classroom environments rich in thinking.
The book is broken into three parts:
While I read through Part One on the kinds of thinking, I was struck by the similarities between the thinking list and the comprehension strategies that have been listed in Harvey and Goudvis’ work. In the following list, the first item is the thinking types recommended in Making Thinking Visible and the second item is from Harvey and Goudvis’ Strategies that Work.
Good thinking and good thinking about reading are the same process. I wonder if students know the thinking work they do when they read is something they can do with other learning as well. I wonder, if we talked about these ideas as ways of thinking instead of reading comprehension strategies, if we would see students transfer the skills to other areas or if they are already doing so.
In this brief video, March Church talks about the importance of cultivating good thinking in our classrooms.
Part Two has a wealth of interesting thinking routines for teachers to try. The section is divided into three parts: thinking routines for introducing or exploring new ideas; routines for organizing and synthesizing; and routines to dig deeply into ideas.
A few examples from the many routines in Part Two include: the traditional KWL (Know-Want to Know-Learned) structure re-worked as Think-Puzzle-Explore – a thinking routine for introducing new ideas. Concept Maps are structured into Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate – a thinking routine for organizing and synthesizing ideas. Sentence-Phrase-Word is a few familiar literature circle roles expanded and worked on collaboratively to allow students to dig deeply into ideas.
Part Three, Making Thinking Visible, allows teachers to be the “fly-on-the-wall” in a few teachers’ classrooms as they start to use and reflect on using some of the thinking routines. It is interesting to see the challenges faced by the teachers and the ways in which they used their own experiences and interactions with their colleagues to improve their practice.
Some of these thinking routines can make for very productive teacher learning group or collaborative inquiry group work within our division. Using a new routine to facilitate better thinking, and then talking with a group of colleagues about what worked and what didn’t, would support me when the new work I was trying didn’t go as well as I hoped. Whether you want to work on reading comprehension, writing, math, or art, Making Thinking Visible is a book full of great routines and tips for improving student understanding within our classrooms.
As more and more high school classes have renewed curricula (view the Ministry website with all renewed curricula ), teachers are often asking where to focus their change in instruction. Each course has different outcomes and indicators for you to understand (view a Ministry document or an SPS blog on understanding outcomes and indicators ). but there are also some common elements you can focus on that really help direct your instruction regardless of the curriculum you are working on:
This blog post contain a quick summary of each topic. Additional posts about each of them will be developed over the course of the year.
1. Direct the learning around big questions and student inquiry
With renewed curricula, a teacher focuses each new topic around the big questions experts in a field are exploring and develops a series of questions that guide the thinking in a theme or unit of student. Each renewed curricula provides examples of the types of essential questions or powerful questions a teacher should use (read a blog post to learn our questions at the heart of renewed curricula ). It is a great plan to post the question or questions, and then refer directly to them with each day a new idea related to them is introduced. A big idea is a question that evokes deeper understanding of the crucial issues in an area of study.
Effective questions for deeper understanding:
• cause genuine and relevant inquiry into the key ideas and core content
• provide for thoughtful, lively discussion, sustained inquiry, and new understanding, as well as more questions
• require students to consider alternatives, weigh evidence, support their ideas, and justify their answers
• stimulate rethinking of ideas, assumptions, or prior learning
• spark meaningful connections with prior learning, personal experiences, and ways of knowing
read more in the Ministry’s document on Understanding Outcomes
It isn’t enough for just the teacher’s questions to be posted. Students need to be taught how to generate good questions related to a topic (using something like question frames. for example) and then find the answers to them throughout the learning. In many cases, the teacher will need to provide explicit instruction on how to ask good questions. For example, many students will generate questions that have a yes or no answer, or that can be easily googled. Teachers need to steer students to questions that can be debated, require critical thinking or are about considering why.
For more information on stages on inquiry and technical tools, visit the Techy Teacher blog. For sample questions stems for each purpose in a classroom, check out this document from the Ontario Ministry of Education.
Use formative assessment often to focus your instruction in exactly the right place for the students you have right now and what they know today
Formative assessment involves 5 key elements. One of the most critical for renewed curricula is planning instruction discussion, activities or tasks that allow you to see exactly what each student understands. You want to be able to see at a glance what each student is thinking or doing and why, so you can change the instruction to help them with whatever they are stuck on. Because renewed curricula focuses on students using knowledge rather than just receiving it, it is essential that students always have a strong conceptual understanding. They must be able to do more than recognize, define or repeat, and we must change our instruction accordingly and move it up Bloom’s Taxonomy to match the outcomes .
Give students multiple and varied representations of concepts, and a variety of task
Students are much more likely to understand deeply if there are multiple was of representing a concept. Visualization of concepts and hands on manipulations are especially helpful for many students regardless of learning style. In order to get all our students to the outcomes, it is often helpful to use more than one method at once. When student see and hear a concept, then sort examples based on a definition, for example, many learning styles are addressed at one (see a description of concept formation. the instructional strategy described here).
In the same way, a variety of tasks of equal difficulty that allow students to choose how they show they have met outcomes are very helpful. The variety of choices means students can relate the learning to their interests and that they can tackle more difficult learning more easily because they are presenting their learning in a way that is more natural for them.
Require elaboration, questioning and self-explanation regularly.
In order to help students deeply understand and apply in complex, nuanced situations, teachers in all subjects will need to explicitly teach the skills student will need, including:
In all renewed curricula, students are required to use these skills regularly. Unlike curricular content, however, teachers have not always been as direct in ensuring that students have these skills. While curricular content is important, these particular skills transcend specific curricula or grade, and are the things we really want students to understand and use effectively. Like being able to read for information or determine the most important idea in a verbal exchange, these are foundational skills (view a blog post with practical strategies to teach self-assessment and metacognition ).
Explain using real life examples and cases whenever you can
Renewed curricula require art students to think like artists and math students to understand rather than just use procedure. In order for these skills to develop well, students need to see them as relevant and attainable. Teachers play a critical role in this perception. Rather than telling students they will “need it later on”, we need to use real examples so they can see it in action now, and hopefully even be a part of its application in the real world.
Teach students how to find, assess, create and use information. They should do this more often than receiving information from you, a video, or a textbook.
Often referred to as information literacy skills and data literacy skills, the things students need to know for finding, assessing, creating and using information are built into all curricula. In science and math, this looks like finding or using data sets, researching a topic or assessing the validity of someone’s data. In English Language Arts, this could be research related to a theme, critical analysis, or assessing a presentation for bias. Because the world is changing so quickly and our students will need to be able to teach themselves reliable information, this is a critical skill for them to have. Some skills to teach:
This also means a shift in how we teach. When we deliver content to students, we rob them of the opportunity to practice information literacy skills. Regardless of the source of approved content for memorization and retrieval, learning information from the textbook or the teacher does no require the gamut of information literacy skills. There are still many times when we need students to be exposed to correct information quickly, but more and more we need them to make sense of it for themselves and assess it for its validity given their purposes. That is why so many curricular outcomes ask them to do it – although there is the added benefit that it is much more likely to be retained if student makes sense for themselves rather than just listening to a teacher.
All good learning tasks in our classrooms have three main roles:
In order to create good discussions, activities and learning tasks to do all three of these things (and not all classroom instruction needs to) a teacher needs to pay attention to a couple of key principles.
Principle 1 – The teacher needs to see what all the students are doing.
Most of the answers in a classroom come from the strongest students, who are either confident they are right or want to check their thinking. Students who are not understanding at all typically hide that fact, as do the passively disengaged who want to be able to daydream in peace. In order to know where each student is right now, you need to check with everyone at once.
Principle 2 – Check part way through so you can still fix things.
Many teachers wait until they have finished teaching something to check to see if all students get it. A quick exit slip at the end of class, a response or a short quiz are common tools. However, by the time you are already through the class, students who did not understand have started to make errors and add them incorrectly to what they believe is true (learn more about errors and how to fix them in this post ). Also, students who feel like they can’t get it start feeling it is much too hard for them or blaming you for not teaching it well. You want to catch things before the learning gets stopped by confusion or negative feelings.
Dylan Wiliam (2001) suggests ways to check is to use tools, like asking students to give you a thumbs up or down, or using colored cups to have students identify if they are getting it. A green cup on top of a student’s cup might mean “good to go” while a yellow might mean the student needs the teacher to slow down.
When you are checking to see what students know, you want to be able to check really quickly at the same time as students are learning. Great tools for checking this include:
A hinge question is based on the important concept in a lesson that is critical for students to understand before you move on in the lesson.
The question should fall about midway during the lesson.
Every student must respond to the question within two minutes.
You must be able to collect and interpret the responses from all students in 30 seconds
For all three methods of checking to see what you should teach next, you can increase the power by having students compare their responses and try to agree on the most correct response. This allows students to think about their own thinking (metacognition), increases the likelihood of a correct understanding, and harness the power of cooperative learning .
As teachers, we pick instructional strategies everyday. Research shows that most of us use a few strategies based mostly on what we are most comfortable with, but it also shows we should be picking based on a variety of factors, not our personal preferences. In addition to the age of student, the curriculum, students’ learning needs and the context, we should actually be picking based on how our brains learn. This is a problem, because most of us don’t understand how brains work.
How a brain learns new things:
Scientific American has great issue on how the brain learns. and it explains some things that can really help teachers. One of the most critical is that “synapse’s performance changes when we learn something new, obeying the principle that cells that fire together, wire together .” When you learn something, your brain associates things to remember and use them. When the thing you are learning is a concept, the brain has a series of ideas all grouped together that define that thing.
Why this is so important for teaching:
When we learn new things, we automatically group both true and untrue things into a bundle of “true” for later use. To learn more about something, we regroup the things we have learned and make new sense. When some of the material we have learned seems at odds with what we have already learned, it is much harder for the brain to learn it. That means that teachers have a much harder job teaching when a student has understood something wrong, then practiced it to build a “wiring together” error.
What is the best thing we can do about it?
A great teacher can help the brain in two ways: by teaching the brain to constantly check for errors as a part of the thinking process, and by having his or her students constantly revise their own understanding to improve it. In practical terms, this means a student learns more from doing a bit of practice and then finding and fixing errors, than by just practicing alone.
Here are 4 things a teacher can build into a lesson:
Choosing how you teach something based on how we learn makes a lot of sense. It helps more students get it right the first time and feel more powerful learning the same subject in the future. In addition, when students are taught to think through making errors, they are more willing to ask for help and more likely to find their errors on their own. Who wouldn’t want to teach in that classroom?
I was speaking to two teachers yesterday about real choice. I distinguished it from fake choice this way. When my children were 2 and 3, and in a phase where they really wanted to do and choose everything “self”, I often provided the illusion of choice to gain compliance.
Me: Well, it is almost bedtime. Would you like to put on your pajamas first or brush your teeth first?
See? Looks like choice, but it isn’t. You might get to choose your order of operations, but you are still in bed by 8 and your choices made no difference to the outcome. I think school functions on many of those algorithmic (finite sequence with instructions) choices.
Me: Today we are going to show we can suit what we write to our intended audience. Would you like to write a descriptive poem or a narrative poem?
Never mind that almost none of you see poetry as a way you choose to express yourselves and the intended audience will be me. I’ve given you choice – and it is about as genuine as the “Have a nice day” you get in a fast food drive through.
If you haven’t read Daniel Pink’s new book DRiVE: The surprising truth about what motivates us, you should. You can get the synopsis by watching his TED talk. but you miss some really important stuff.
In the book, Pink talks about our world has shifted from algorithmic tasks to heuristic ones. 70% of the new jobs created are heuristic and need people who can think creatively, plan their own task and solve problems. In short, the type of people who have experience choosing in complex situations without a template. Pink argues that schools need to shift to providing choice where ever possible, and that those choices need to be about things that are important. If we want students to be engaged, we need to avoid rewards and punishment and focus on creating opportunities for being deeply engrossed in the learning (flow).
Let’s try the classroom conversation again.
Me: When you write a text message or an essay, or you compose a digital story, you use different conventions. Let’s view some pieces of text and talk about the differences (class discussion ensues).
Me: Make a list of three things that you think people need to hear. For each one, write what the message is, which people really need to hear it, and what type of writing, audio/video or speaking they will listen to the most. When you are done your list, pick the one that draws you the most (students start thinking about what they believe and how to communicate it).
Me: Now when someone really communicates well for an intended audience, how do you know? ( The class brainstorms criteria. I help them group the criteria, prompt for criteria that might be missing and help them think about value the criteria in relation to each other).
Me: Now look at your plan. Will you be able to show us what you know? Get a buddy to help you revise it, so you can meet our criteria for communicating well for the intended audience (good critical thinking and an opportunity for powerful descriptive feedback before the product is even created).
In my newer version, virtually ever stage of the task is heuristic. My students are designers, arts and writers, and problem solvers. They are thinking critically and making choices about a subject that matters to them. In short, they are engaged because they are choosing and their choices really matter. They are doing an authentic task. They are motivated by the worthiness of what they choose not the mark they hope to get, and get much closer to mastery as a result (Pink has lots to say on this subject as well).
I don’t have time to do this with every lesson, but I do it every time the thing my students are learning is important. And like with my own children, I have taught my students about how to make effective choices and provided a safety net for the inevitable bad choices (if it isn’t safe to fail, it isn’t safe to take the risk of learning).
That’s what real choices are, complex problems with significance – things that encourage engagement in deep learning rather than driving through on the way to a credit and a forgettable, nutrition-less meal.
As teachers, we have lots of competing issues to attend to. We need to deal constant changes like great diversity in the classroom, renewed curricula, changes to assessment and instruction, and new technology. We continue to have all the daily pressures of teaching life, from preparation, to marking, to classroom management, to extracurricular activities. When the new becomes hard in the face of all the things you already have to do, you should be thinking about what your teacher-librarian (TL) can do for you.
What is my TL responsible for:
What are the key ways a TL can help me?
“That’s a low level question.” It’s the kind of jargon you hear a teacher use. It isn’t new jargon either. People have been talking about Bloom’s Taxonomy the whole time that anyone who currently teaches has been in the profession.
So why all the hype lately?
In Saskatchewan, our renewed curricula now have outcomes that describe what a student should understand, know or be able to do in a particular subject at a particular grade level. The degree to which a student needs to meet the outcome is described by the indicators under the outcome – they explain what it would look like. Understanding Bloom’s matters because the first word of most indicators tells you the level of thinking a student will have to do.
So what is Bloom’s Taxonomy?
Bloom’s is a way of classifying the type of learning a student will be asked to do. Knowledge, comprehension and application represent the lowest levels, where a student needs to be able to restate, understand and use information or skills. At higher levels, the learning the student is doing still requires these three skills, it just also requires other skills as well. Students move to higher levels of Bloom’s as they learn more about a subject.
How will understanding Bloom’s Taxonomy help teaching?
When you understand the level of Bloom’s an indicator refers to, you can plan your learning and assignments so that students have the opportunity to show you the level of learning the curriculum requires.
In Grade 7 Science, one indicator of “Relate key aspects of Indigenous knowledge to their understanding of ecosystems” (outcome IE7.1) is “ Describe the ways that traditional Indigenous knowledge about respect and responsibility for the land, self, and others has been transmitted over many years, including the oral tradition.” The word describe is a knowledge level verb in Bloom’s, which tells the teacher the student needs an opportunity to show a basic understanding. A later indicator says students should be able to “ Design and conduct an experiment to determine the effectiveness and/or efficiency of one or more methods of separating mechanical mixtures and solutions.” This means the teacher is looking for the student to synthesize, a much higher level, more complex task. Seeing the difference helps the teacher understand how to plan activities and determine how much time will be needed. For each outcome, indicators usually progress from low level Bloom’s tasks to more complex ones.
Sometime, teachers think about “covering content” and give students information quickly. When students stay at the lower levels of the Taxonomy, they can’t show us they have meet the outcome fully. Using Bloom’s to guide our planning and instruction helps us be sure our students have learned deeply enough to be ready for what they need to do next.
All that hype is about a well-worn phrase comes from a simple truth;
we need to understand and use Bloom’s to properly direct the learning in our classrooms.
Questions are one of the most powerful tools that all learners have, because they are at the heart of all good learning. As teachers, we want to see our students care about their learning, learn effectively and be able to use what they have learned for as long as they need to. If that is our goal, good questions really matter.
Questions matter because that is how we learn. If you have ever parented a two-year-old, you know that wondering “why” is the framework for figuring out lots of things. If I wonder why the ants go in the hole, I have the opportunity to learn lot of information and to grow connections in my mind. Soon I start to understand cool facts about how much ant can lift and how their environment is constructed underground. More questions like how they find their way home keep growing my learning. Equally important is the idea that the ants act in the best interest of the group. As I am just learning to think about others even a little, I get a great opportunity for social development from my question about why ants go into hole. The big take away for teachers?
All good learning starts with questions students generate from what they already know.
Questions matter because they determine the level thinking that happens. In the example with the ants, a why question is the most powerful because it has lots of other ideas hidden under it. I can’t answer a why question without know the what. We need to help our students learn to ask powerful, high level questions that speak to the heart of the curriculum. These essential questions ensure the good learning of content and thinking skills. The essential idea here:
We need to teach students to ask high level questions about curricular content and skills to get to the essence of what all students should learn.
Questions matter because they tell us why “it” is worth learning. Many teachers struggle with students who feel apathy, anxiety or boredom when asked to learn the key content we are teaching, but how we structure the learning can help students to understand why it maters. Some powerful “what if” teacher questions can start students thinking about the implications of a topic, and help them really care about what they are learning. When students are intrinsically motivated, they learn because they want to and they remember more.Questions matter because they engage students and allow them to drive the learning:
Starting with questions to help students understand why this learning matters means that students learn more deeply and remember longer.
Questions matter because writers, artists, scientists, mathematicians, historians etc. all drive their work through questions about how to solve real-world problems. The biggest reason to teach students to question well is because life-long learning requires the ability to question deeply and find answers. An ever increasing number of careers require students who can think well and connect things. Now that Google can answer our low level questions and machines do more manual labour, we need people to do what they were set up to do as small children. That 2 year old brings to us the desire to learn through questions – we need to help her hone it to a powerful tool that can support her as a citizen and in her career. As much as possible, students need to ask the questions that scientists ask when they study plants, or that writers ask when think about how to convey their idea effectively to their audience. Asking how to solve a real world problem is the best way to help students develop real world skills:
We need to help students think deeply through authentic, real world problems.
A really good question is a very powerful tool at the heart of all learning, and powerful teachers use good questions in many ways. Of all of these, helping our students to make their own powerful questions is the most significant, because that skill helps them care about learning for a lifetime.
Learning matters when students are doing something that they believe is important to them and for others. These types of task go beyond assignments submitted to the teacher. They are authentic tasks that really matter, designed to meet the Cross-Curricular Competency of Social Responsibility .
How do I design a real-world task?
Real-world tasks start from questions that people working in an area also tackle. For example, businesses and families are asking “What is the most effective way to reduce our environmental impact ?” Students working on real world tasks are using an inquiry process to research about a topic where there is no simple right answer. A question like “What is the most effective way to reduce our environmental impact ” asks students to make informed judgment using the following:
Once students have made a decision, an real-world task is acting on that decision in a way that matters. That might include:
How do we find authentic audiences?
An authentic audience is a group of people who have reason to care about the results of the inquiry and the action. They can include people who need to be persuaded, stakeholders, experts, or others who need to learn the same thing. Technology can be very helpful in helping students reach authentic audiences in the following ways:
Keep in mind that we need to be sure our students understand how to grow their digital footprints (view video for definition ) while appropriately protecting their privacy .
Designed to make a difference
Tasks that are designed to make a difference need to be connected to a problem and need to focus on addressing the essential questions at the heart of the area of study. Since renewed Saskatchewan curricula ask students to be engaged in the wider community and dedicated to life-long learning. tasks that make a difference for others are at the heart of our work as educators.
Posted by Wendy James at 5:02 pm
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