Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Getting Beyond Low-Level Tasks

Let's be honest: much of what passes for learning in many schools today is relatively low-level tasks that don't require too much on the part of students.

Curriculum developers don't help this situation, and tend to try and pre-package easily-digestible bits for the students.

Teachers (pointing the finger at myself here, at least early in my teaching career) are all too willing to follow the canned teacher's manual or pacing guide to move students through the steps.

We must provide them with practice to ensure that they remember the key facts and ideas! Worksheets galore!

How will we know if they have learned it? If they can appropriately regurgitate cut-and-dried responses to questions on tests, they must have learned it, right?

You may be getting a sense of my cynicism about this kind of teaching. My fear is that this approach continues to minimize the role of the teacher to a mere technician: get the kids to jump through the right hoops, press the right buttons, fill in the right bubbles on the sheet, and you've done your job, right teacher?

Let's commit to moving beyond just going through the motions to actually engage our students. Real learning is messy, complex, and multi-faceted. Let's ask our students to do work that gets beyond simple low-level tasks.

How shall we do this?

I refer back to Bloom's Taxonomy (or at least the cognitive domain of Bloom's Taxonomy, which most people refer to as the whole, rather than one domain. But I digress...) In the cognitive domain, Bloom's Taxonomy is intended to help educators incorporate a range of learning objectives beyond just "remembering the facts," including understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. These last four in particular can be very hard to assess on traditional pencil-and-paper assessments, and are much better suited to authentic inquiry, problem-based learning, and personalized, creative application of learning.

How can we "get there?" Start by rethinking the verbs you use as you develop learning tasks for your students. How many of them require students to "remember" or "understand" something...and how many require them to use higher-order thinking skills?

I recently encountered this infographic (via one of my classmates for this summer--thanks, Tsisana Palmer!) created by Mia MacMeekin. It provides a lot of helpful possibilities for verbs you might use to describe what you expect students to be able to do--and shift toward higher-level thinking tasks in the process.

Image by Mia MacMeekin [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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