Here’s a differentiation technique for moving students up to the “Evaluate” level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. We’re going to build academic tournaments that will be decided using subjective criteria.
Now, students may already be familiar with bracketed tournaments due to NCAA’s March Madness and the fun variations that pop up each year:
- The Tournament of Books
- Best Movie Sequel
- And, of course, the official Star Wars March Madness bracket
Focus Thinking on Two Choices
The tournament format leads to deeper thinking since, rather than broadly looking at all possibilities at once, students closely examine only two options at a time. This reduces the overwhelming feeling of judging 8 or 16 choices at once. A tournament allows students to slow down and dig into each option. Because of this close analysis, a bracketed tournament lends itself to debates and discussions, especially when students judge using specific and subjective criteria.
Create a tournament to decide the:
- most useful of eight geometric shapes
- most influential of eight (or sixteen) US Presidents
- most inventive desert adaptation
- eighth wonder of the ancient world
- most essential invention
You can see how this format naturally works in nearly any content area.
Why The Criteria Is So Important
The tournament’s criteria must be specific because this will focus students’ thinking. Specific criteria gives them a clear perspective to use when making their decisions. “Best Ancient Civilization” is way too vague. But “Most Surprising Civilization” will lead to some interesting thinking.
And, of course, your criteria must be subjective. You and I can reach different conclusions about which civilization we find “Most Surprising,” but there’s no real evaluation happening if the criteria is “Longest-Lasting Civilization.” We’ll all end up with exactly the same thinking – and that’s not real evaluation. The evaluate level of Bloom’s must lead to disagreements.
So choose carefully! The criteria is vital to the success of a tournament. Don’t just leave this up to your students. Pick something for them that will purposefully push their thinking. I’ve written before about how, I think, we often leave too much open to student choice, which naturally leads to less deep thinking than teacher-guided thinking.
(And, yes, I know the singular of “criteria” is “criterion” 😉)
The Set Up
- You’ll need 8 or 16 options from your content (32 and 64 would also work, but I’d keep it small at first)
- Pick specific and subjective criteria to focus students’ thinking (“most influential” is much better than “best”)
- Set up the first round (this is called “seeding”)
You don’t need to know the nitty gritty of setting up the brackets, since there are many online generators, but you should be aware of “seeding” the tournament.
In tournaments, the best options should never face each other right away. We want to save that matchup for the final round. For example, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln should meet in the finals, not round one of a “Most Important US President” tournament. Instead, Washington would start against a low ranked president, like Van Buren. This process is called “seeding.” And if Van Buren were to beat Washington, we’d call it an “upset.” Online tournament generators will help you with seeding.
For me, I’d want each student doing their own tournament. Remember, when students are in groups, their thinking is naturally limited. No one will think as deeply as they can when they have to also navigate the social pressures of a group. If you want deep thinking, kids should work alone on their first pass. Now, you can always bring them together once that solo work is done and have them compare, discuss, and revise, but initial work should almost always be done independently.
Because the tournament is broken up into rounds, you can nicely space this task out. For an 8-option tournament, there are three rounds. I might say:
- Round 1 is due Wednesday.
- Round 2 is due Friday.
- Then, students have until next Friday to turn in their thinking for the Final Round.
See, the beauty of the tournament is that, after each round, the best options stick around and battle each other in the next round. And, since students have half as many choices to make, you can spend more time on each of those choices. In Round Three, the number of matchups halve again and the choices should get even more intriguing. So, with each round, I’d expect more thinking and, thus, more writing from my students. Maybe Round 1’s “Washington vs Van Buren” matchup only needs a few sentences. But “Washington vs Jefferson” demands more thought. By the final round, I might expect a full-on essay as the final product.
- Round 1: four matchups, easiest choices, smallest amount of student work
- Round 2: two matchups, more interesting choices, larger amount of student work
- Round 3: one matchup, the most interesting choice, the largest amount of student work