Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Pinnacle Thinking

Photo credit: Pixabay

When striving to prompt students' critical thinking, history teachers often default to assigning an essay. Reading and evaluating essays can be enlightening, and students certainly benefit from the complex interaction of language, content knowledge, thoughts, and skills required to meet the basic requirements of such a task; however, other kinds of activities can create opportunities to visit the peak of critical thinking while also requiring mental dexterity. 

Occasionally, another teacher's formula for creating an activity like this meshes with your style, and you can simply use that teacher's ideas. With that in mind, here are links to four activities that extend students higher into the mountaintops of thinking:
When someone else's idea does not easily adapt into your learning objectives or vision, it might be helpful to follow a series of steps to create an original product that promotes "Pinnacle Thinking." While I occasionally experience these ideas in a flash of inspiration, here is a way to approach this type of design:

1. Determine what your goal is.
Lesson plans begin with an objective for a reason. Your students should be able to do or understanding something better because of this work. Define what that is. Make sure to communicate this to your students in some way. If your activity pushes the boundaries outside of the context of the material, this is even more important.
2. Decide what resources support your students' efforts.
Sometimes textbook pages or another secondary source offer the best insight on a topic. Venturing into the fascinating world of primary documents is often a favorite of mine, and it invites students to apply their historical thinking skills too; however, the more complex the processes and product that are part of the work for the day, it tends to be overwhelming to use lengthy primary sources as a gateway to this task.
3. Step into your students' shoes to imagine how they process through this to figure out what kinds of thinking processes you want them to employ.
Is evaluating best? Would a continuum be a good creation tool? Should some other kind of gauge like a color code or thermometer be employed? Is applying best? Perhaps the event you are studying bears a remarkable resemblance to issues leaders are wrestling with today. Some of the most meaningful posts from students that I have read came from ways that they could see the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., or Malcolm X illuminating concerns of today's African American youth. No matter how you have students work through this, it is helpful to ask students to sew up their thinking with either statements defending their ideas or a culminating evaluation of a time period or individual.
4. Consider your evaluation methods.
Rubrics can communicate the idiosyncrasies that comprise your ideas about what you expect. Being transparent about these will save heartache - and legitimate complaints about grading. While creativity might be a trait you want your students to use, I would recommend avoiding this in developing grading criteria for an activity in a history class. Creativity will positively impact the end product; however, it is not germane to the fundamentals of understanding history. It can be something you encourage your students to use or show, but quantifying it in a way that communicates a higher grade does not have the academic foundation that grading writing on the basis of mechanical strengths does. Evaluating the degree to which each objective is met gives a student valuable feedback whether the activity is used as a formative or summative assessment for the class. Outlining three required elements can be another helpful frame for students to achieve as a checklist relating to a finished product; this can be an opportunity for a peer review as well - which would not be advisable in a summative task, but would foster a collaborative culture in a formative assessment.
5. Review the alignment of the project.
Nothing ruins what is meant to be a fun departure from the grind of writing an essay like a patchwork attempt at something interesting. The content goals, supporting activities or introduction you have provided, and the final product should align with each other. As with step three, looking through the eyes of your students can be a beneficial means of screening the work.
6. Commit time in class to this work.
If this turns into homework, the creator of the finished product becomes a mystery to you. Additionally, the conversations you have with your students as you drop in on their work show that learning is an ongoing process as opposed to a "gotcha" you want to expose.

After you complete an activity like this for the first time, you will make adjustments so that the next iteration of it is an improvement over it. Accepting this is clutch and will make you more effective while students are working on it too. Be responsive to the parts that students did not grasp the first time you delivered this in class. To teachers who are hesitant to roll out a project with imperfections, remember that recalls happen - of medicine, food, and cars. You are not less of a professional for needing a "2.0" opportunity. It may even require a moment in which you let a student know that your existing rubric did not do enough to reward their ability to comprehend something - and that student will appreciate your candor and the grade adjustment that accompanies it.

While a history purist might find this to be too great of a departure from the context of the time, I would argue that activities like this sprinkled into a course will attract more students to the lessons and activities that follow a more traditional approach. Students who are not naturally drawn to the stories of history might appreciate the opportunity to use complex thinking in a new way in that environment.

No comments:

Post a Comment