Photo by Adam Jones, PhD
My 6th graders have arrived at the Houghton Mifflin comprehension skill “Making Inferences.” Like all HM comprehension skills, “Making Inferences” appears yearly beginning in kindergarten, so I know they have had practice with the skill and many have mastered it. To determine these levels, use a quick pre-assessment.
Think Like A Disciplinarian
To differentiate this skill, I turned to Sandra Kaplan’s model of “thinking like a disciplinarian.” Students will be expected to think from the perspective of an expert, making well-informed inferences as an expert would.
Here are some disciplinarian resources:
- Long Beach Unified‘s GATE program
- David Chung‘s “Think Like A Disciplinarian” Literature Circles
- Sandra Kaplan‘s “Think Like A Disciplinarian” Task Cards
- A post I wrote on Thinking Like A Psychologist
Introduce Inferencing (From An Expert’s Perspective)
Students will no doubt need a quick reminder about what it means to “infer.” I build on their prior knowledge of implicit vs explicit details. I explained that an inference is like an implicit detail. It is created using explicit details combined with background knowledge.
A doctor is able to take symptoms (explicit details), use his expertise, and come up with a diagnosis (an implicit detail). This process is called inferencing.
A detective uncovers evidence (explicit details), uses his expertise, and creates a theory (implicit detail) about how a crime was committed.
Think Like An Anthropologist
In 6th grade, this skill goes with the Alaskan folktale “The Girl Who Married The Moon.” Since this folktale gives clues about what life was like for a tribe of native Alaskans, we were able to “think like anthropologists” to uncover truths about these people.
Since your students will be unfamiliar with anthropology, begin by teaching the discipline. Ask students to describe a modern boy’s bedroom. As students give details (“clothes on the floor!” “An xbox on the desk!”), draw the room they’re describing.
After asking for details, introduce the idea of an alien landing on our planet 10,000 years from now, after humans have gone extinct. This alien is trying to piece together what life was like for humans in 2010. Ask some focused questions (some sample answers are included):
- What could the alien infer about our technology? He’ll see the xbox and plasma tv and infer that our technology was primitive compared to his.
- What could the alien infer about our relationship with nature? He’ll notice that there are no natural materials in the room and assume that we no longer used nature.
- Here’s a favorite: What could the alien infer about boys? He’ll see the clothes everywhere and think that boys are dirty! They don’t clean up their room!
Eventually, explain that the alien is studying a group of people using inferences. This is what an anthropologist does, only they study groups of humans from our own past.
Explain The Task
Students use a frame to think like an anthropologist about the native Alaskans described in the story. I put the following questions in the four sections of the frame:
- What can you infer about the role of women in the tribe?
- What can you infer about the importance of nature to these people?
- What can you infer about their understanding of science?
- What can you infer about important values in their society?
Each answer must be supported by sufficient evidence.
Naturally, some students will need extra support to think in this way, but after several years of using this differentiated lesson, my classes continue to surprise me with unique insights.
Let me know how your class does with this concept!
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