My pal Joanna wrote about Depth and Complexity in her dissertation. She interviewed a variety of professionals and asked them how they actually use the prompts of depth and complexity in their jobs.
Depth and Complexity: Specific or Abstract?
The part I want to highlight is how she ranks the prompts of depth from specific to abstract.
I love this (note my excited note-taking and highlighting)! It supports a layer of the depth and complexity framework that I missed as a novice: there is a natural movement from prompt to prompt. The highly specific prompts move towards the more general prompts. And those abstract prompts can also move students thinking towards the more specific.
Don’t Stop With Details
If you ask students to “identify the 🌻 details” and then stop, you’re missing a lot of power.
Details should move students towards other prompts of Depth and Complexity.
- Details lead to 🌀 patterns
- Details support 🏛️ big ideas
- Details reveal a person’s 👓 perspective
- Details clue us into a ⏳ change over time
We always want to build a sequence of questions that moves students higher up Bloom’s Taxonomy and also moves them from one Depth and Complexity prompt to the next.
Ask Sequences of Questions
So, we won’t just ask students to “find the most important 🌻 details of George Washington’s life.” We’ll build a sequence that climbs Bloom’s and leads to other prompts:
- Find 10 to 15 most important 🌻 details of George Washington’s life.
- Look for 🌀 patterns within those 🌻 details and form several categories.
- Using your 🌀 categories as a guide, write a 🏛️ motto for George Washington’s life.
- Which 🌻 details do you think go against this 🏛️ motto? Explain!
Note that we go climb Blooms and also intentionally move from 🌻 to 🌀 to 🏛️ back to 🌻. If your students use content imperatives, I’d probably throw in ↔️ paradox for that fourth question too.
⚠️ Importantly, I’ll only give a student Question 2 once they have completed Question 1 to my satisfaction. Not every student will get every question. That’s how you know you’re differentiating!
If students are analyzing writing, we could form a similar sequence that starts with 👄 language and moves towards bigger, more abstract thinking.
- What are the most interesting 👄 words and phrases in this writing?
- Find 3 to 5 🌀 patterns within those 👄 words and phrases. Label them with one to three words.
- Explain how those 🌀 patterns reveal the 🏛️ author’s tone (or style or message or whatever you’re teaching).
- Does the author every break their own style? Explain, using specific 👄 language from the text.
It’s a very similar sequences to the George Washington questions, right? The key is movement up Blooms and across the prompts of Depth and Complexity.
Using a similar sequence, but with the solar system as our content:
- Note the most important 🌻 details of Mercury, Venus, and Mars.
- Looking at your details, which are 🚦 rules that each of the planets follow?
- Which 🚦rules are a 🌀 pattern, holding true for more than one planet? Which 🚦rules are unique to only one planet?
- If you were to create a new planet, which of those 🌀 patterns would your planet follow? How would your planet break some of the 🚦 rules?
Movement Back and Forth
You can often reverse a movement from one prompt of Depth and Complexity to another, like this:
- How did 🌀 patterns lead to new 🚦 rules?
- How did those new 🚦 rules lead to new 🌀 patterns?
- How did an ⚖️ ethical problem lead to a new 👓 perspective?
- How did new 👓 perspectives lead to a new ⚖️ ethical problem?
So, as you’re considering which prompts of depth and complexity to incorporate in a task, try to build a sequence. Think about how the prompts can build on each other to take students’ thinking to a deeper level.
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