Monday, January 8, 2018

Blooming In Critical Thinking

Recently, the high school teachers at our school approached me and asked how to help their students think critically. They explained their frustration over the alarming trend seen in students desiring to only recall basic information rather than using the information on assignments and in discussions. I believe that we, as a teaching community, contribute to this and must be the ones to undo what we have subtly created. With the demands driven by curriculum and assessment, we tend to just cover material rather than dig in and create opportunities for students to analyze, evaluate and synthesize information. Teaching students to think in this way takes time--a lot of time--time that we may not have when expected to stay on a curriculum schedule. It's surely a great challenge, but I hope to give you a few ideas for building higher level thinking into your daily teaching and assessment routine.

First, let's defer to Benjamin Bloom...remember Bloom's taxonomy from Education 101? No matter how long ago you took education classes, his description of thinking is still accurate and useful to both teachers and students. Get students to think about their thinking. This is called "metacognition." By teaching your students the levels of Bloom's taxonomy and practicing them, you are helping students to be more aware of their thought processes. You might use this when having a discussion or when students are responding to a writing prompt. I suggest having a poster of Bloom's taxonomy in your classroom so you may refer students to it when using different levels of thinking. It can also be used when reviewing information at the beginning or end of class. For instance, plan several questions, one or two from a lower level and one or two from a higher level. Students can respond either verbally or in writing. This is a great time to use Think, Pair, Share. I recommend careful planning of the questions on your part. This is another way to be intentional about building in higher level thinking as well as to use your class time efficiently.
**A good reminder: students cannot skip levels of Bloom. If they do not comprehend the information you are teaching, they will not be able to apply, analyze or evaluate it.

Second, intentionally and regularly build higher level thinking into formal and informal assessments. Students will generally value what they are assessed on. Use an exit ticket several times a week that always requires a higher level response.

Third, be less helpful. "What kind of advice is this for a teacher?" you may ask. I think it's really great advice--especially for me. I tend to come running to the rescue of students who need support and immediately "fix" their conundrums. While teachers should support students, they can build critical thinking skills by providing minimum support. For example, ask the student questions to help clarify their thought process and get them to see what they are missing. Remind them of any frameworks you have taught such as problem solving methods or historical time periods. Perhaps give them the next step only instead of the entire process. Try to balance your assistance between not giving any answers and giving the whole answer.

For those of you who really want to dive in and further explore models and ideas for developing higher level thinking skills in your students, check this out. There are many explanations of this model online, but I thought this was a good description of its usefulness on a teacher's blog that I found.

I haven't tried this activity yet, but I plan to in the near future! This looks like a great activity to promote higher level thinking:

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Anchor Activities

The purpose of an Anchor Activity is to provide meaningful work for students when they finish early, are waiting for further directions, are stumped, first enter class, or when the teacher is working with other students. In other words, students are anchored to an activity which is is usually a logical extension of learning during a unit  Students must be well versed in the ground rules of working independently. The teacher must make adequate preparations so students are clear about the task and the instructions for completing it. The teacher should have a plan for monitoring and managing the activity.  

Examples of anchoring activities may include the following:
  • Independent reading
  • Content-related reading
  • Journal Writing
  • Creative writing prompts (introduce children to fun poetry forms and then make this a choice)
  • On-going independent projects
  • Working on a Portfolio
  • Working on a Learning Packet or Task Card
  • Working at a Learning or Interest Center
  • Practicing skills related to content students learned in their small group lessons
  • Working on an Extension Menu or Cubing activity
  • Word games or puzzles
  • Math facts games and practice
  • Art projects
  • Small group projects

Benefits of an Anchor Activity
  1. can be used to differentiate activities on the basis of student readiness, interest or
learning profile
  1. allows students time to work on independent research, to work more in depth with a
concept, or enrich their skill development

  1. can be used as a management strategy when working with small groups of students
  2. can be a vehicle for making the classroom more student centered

Monday, February 27, 2017

Tiered Assignments

Tiered Assignments Defined...
a readiness-based approach designed to help all learners work with the same essential information, ideas, and skills, yet still be challenged at varying levels on which they are individually capable of working

Criteria for Effective Tiering
  • All tasks are focused on the same essential information, concepts, and skills
  • All tasks require a high level of thinking
  • All tasks are equally engaging
  • In order to form groups, think in terms of whether students are “lower readiness,” “middle readiness,”  or “higher readiness”  relative to their achievement and ability in the content or skill.
  • Optimally, a tiered task is neither too simple so that it leads to boredom nor too difficult so that it results in frustration.

How to Tier an Assignment...

  • Decide on the skill or information to be practiced or learned.
  • Develop at least three different activities or variations of the same activity.
  • Decide on the complexity of the skill for each group. Be sure to promote higher level thinking in each group.
  • Divide students into two, three or four groups based on readiness for the material, skills or concepts being taught.
  • Assign student groups using colors, shapes, numbers or titles.
  • Provide teacher support for each group.

An Economics Activity Designed for 4th Graders After Studying Supply and Demand

TSW apply the concept of supply and demand by creating or analyzing a scenario.

Lead a review discussion on supply and demand, asking students to define each. Explain that students will do three different activities today.

Lower Readiness-The news reports that a category 8 hurricane in Florida destroys a lot of oranges. Show in pictures and words what would happen to prices. What other products besides oranges would be affected and how?

Middle Readiness-A new scientific study has determined that 3 servings of donuts will decrease heart disease. Explain in writing what will happen to the price of donuts and why. Describe what other effects could this have. You may use illustrations or diagrams as well.

Higher Readiness-Create a news story that illustrates increase in supply or demand.

Have students come back together and report on their scenarios.

Friday, January 20, 2017

RAFT Method

  • students assume a Role
  • students consider an  Audience
  • students communicate in a particular Format
  • students consider a given Topic

How is RAFT a differentiation tool?
  • They can be based on student readiness, learning style or interest.
  • They may even be student created!
  • They can provide varying levels of difficulty to accommodate all learners while using the same content.
  • They allow for student choice.

How do I do it?
  • Select a unit you’ll be teaching shortly.
  • Determine the learning goals you want students to achieve. Think "KUD!" What do students need to know/already know? What do they need to understand? What should they be able to do?
  • Choose whether to:
  • Concentrate on reviewing key information such as people, dates, vocabulary, etc. in the Role and Audience, and then let Format and Topics be based on student interests.
  • Concentrate on a skill, and incorporate that skill in either the Format or the Topic. That allows the students to engage by varying the role and audience.
  • Concentrate on the big idea, the understanding, in the Topic.
  • Try to have some easier and some harder RAFTs and assign them to students to provide appropriate challenge levels.
  • Allow students to choose from a list of R’s, A’s, F’s and T’s to give them learning style and interest preferences.
  • Develop one or two RAFT strips that would lead students to the understanding you plan for them to accomplish.
  • Practice learning "RAFT" by doing one together as a class so that students understand each word in the acronym.
  • A RAFT may have 5-8 strips once students have practice with them.

Number the Stars
Character RAFT
Your classmates
10 riddles
Can you guess the character from NTS?
Dinner party host/hostess
Dinner party guests
Seating chart
Where you are all sitting and WHY
Soundtrack creator
Record company executive
Top 10 Song List
If this character’s life were a movie, here’s the soundtrack and WHY
The Public
Wanted poster with “photo” and description
Who this character is, why he/she is wanted, and how to track him/her down