Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Next Level

At one point in our late-twenties (after moving between more apartments than we could count), my roommate had an “aha” moment. All of a sudden, she realized that “U-Haul” meant “you haul it”. Ha! It was funny!

Have you ever had a “U-Haul” moment? When you make a connection that wasn’t there before?

Our kids really struggle to make connections sometimes.

So, across the district, we-the-secondary-social-studies teachers have rocked the Level 1 and 2 questions. Our kids are doing well with those.

But overall, our students really do lousy with Level 3 questions.

I mean really lousy. They would do better if they guessed.

Our kids have trouble connecting. They have trouble connecting what they know with the world around them (“What? You mean Rome is a real place still TODAY?”) They have trouble connecting what they learned in English/Language Arts class to History (“You mean I should capitalize in this class too?”). They have trouble connecting what they learned in a previous year to a current year (What? We learned about the Declaration of Independence in Civics class last year? For real?) They have trouble connecting what they learned LAST SEMESTER to this semester (No way! I’ve never heard of The Progressive Era! What’s that?) They have trouble applying class content to their real lives (Seriously? I should be really responsible with my money?)

Even kids who are traditionally better academic performers sometimes struggle with making connections from one class to another and one concept to another.

One of the things that DOK Level 3 Thinking asks kids to do is make connections.

It’s really hard for their adolescent brains.

Let’s look at the Depth of Knowledge descriptions. I found these Social Studies-specific examples from Dr. Karin Hess with the National Center for Assessment. Take a real look at the Level 3 column.....
DOK and Social Studies Examples
Recall and Reproduction
(DOK 1)
Skills and Concepts/Basic Reasoning
(DOK 2)
Strategic Thinking/Complex Reasoning
(DOK 3)
·         Identify who, what, when, where, and why
·         Recall facts, terms, concepts, trends, generalizations and theories
·         Use a variety of tools
·         Recognize or identify specific information contained in graphics
·         Identify specific information in maps, charts, tables, graphs or drawings
·         Describe or explain how or why
·         Give an example
·         Describe and explain issues and problems, purposes, patterns, sources, reasons, cause and effect, multiple causation, significance or impact, relationships, points of view or processes
·         Compare/contrast people, places, events, purposes, and concepts
·         Classify, sort items into meaningful categories
·         Convert information from one form to another
·         Use concepts to solve problems
·         Use evidence to justify
·         Propose and evaluate solutions to problems
·         Recognize and explain misconceptions
·         Cite evidence and develop a logical argument for concepts
·         Reason and draw conclusions
·         Disseminate among plausible answers
·         Analyze similarities and differences in issues and problems
·         Apply concepts to new situations
·         Make connections

Level 3 is where our kids really, really struggle.

You know why? I think it’s tied in with their struggles to make connections.

We have talked quite a bit -- and done numerous trainings -- about using Level 3 questions in your class and on your classroom assessments.

But we haven’t really thought too much about how to teach  and practice  Level 3 thinking in class.

One of my favorite strategies is the Connect-Extend-Challenge, based out of the Harvard Project Zero thinking routines.  If you have never heard of it, check this out. If you have heard of it, now is the time to dust it off and use it!

It goes like this.

I know that you know to first explain it, second model it, and third have the class try it whole-class before you assign it as an individual task. Gradual Release and all...

Here’s how it works.
  1. Teach something. Honestly, just teach anything new.
  2. Explain the three terms to you class, like I just explain them to you below
  3. Ask them to tell you if what they just learned (in step 1) CONNECTED (backed up), EXTENDED (added to) or CHALLENGED (went against) what they already knew about the topic. It’s the end of the year. It’s pretty likely that the kids have SOME background knowledge by this point.
  4. Kids can answer with more than one answer if they want – “This part EXTENDED my knowledge, but this other part just SUPPORTED it”
  5. Have them write their answer and explain it in a couple of sentences.

Previous knowledge can be from the previous class period, from English/Language Arts, from the movies, from life, from anything.

Don’t limit where they get their previous info from. Goodness knows it’s rare and precious enough!

  • CONNECT: Students can write how what they just learned CONNECTS (or supports or confirms) to something they already knew (“I can connect that I knew Rome was a city and learned when that city was founded” or “I can connect that the United Nations is that same UN we saw on CNN student news”)


  • EXTEND: Students can write how what they just learned EXTENDS (or adds to) their knowledge. (“I already knew that we had a Civil War. Now I know that South Carolina was the first state to secede and start it off” or “I already knew that the Vietnam War was about communism. Now I know how the North was Communist and near China”)


  • CHALLENGE: Students can write how what they just learned CHALLENGES (or goes against) what they already knew. Or what challenging questions do they have now?(“I thought China was capitalist because of all the Chinese goods we buy. Now I know that China is communist, but a different kind of communist” or “If Reconstruction was so good for African-Americans, why didn’t it “stick”? )

Please don’t tell them “the” answers”!

This is a powerful strategy to help kids a) connect new content to previous knowledge and b) evaluate that new learning. This helps kids make connections and build schema and get in the practice using Level 3 thinking.

Will you try it? Will you try it frequently and see if your kids can get more comfortable with Level 3 thinking? I had traditional 6th graders at a struggling school really rock this beautifully yesterday -- I know your kids can do it too!

Let me know how it goes!


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