To me, the ultimate goal when crafting a lesson is to make something that is authentically interesting, requires little teacher prep, and scales to meet the needs of my most advanced students.
A simple way to meet these requirements is to ask students to think from another perspective. If you’re a user of the Depth and Complexity framework, you’ll recognize Multiple Perspectives as a prompt of complexity.
From Dull To Creative
In my presentations, I give this example of a very close-ended and very boring (but very common) question:
What is Brian, from Hatchet’s, main character trait?
- It’s close-ended. Everyone will answer with the same word: “perseverance.”
- There’s no room for creativity or fun final products. At most, kids will back it up with evidence. 😴
- It’s boring because students who have mastered this already know how to do the thinking. They’ve done it since 1st grade! There’s nothing making their brain sweat.
Add A Point Of View
So our one simple trick is to change the perspective:
What would Darth Vader think about Brian?
Suddenly we have a divergent question with many right answers but, critically, there are wrong answers as well. That distinction is critical. This isn’t fluff! If a student writes, “Vader would like Brian because they are both evil and selfish,” I’m going to call that kid over and see what’s going on. Now, maybe they have a great explanation, but maybe they didn’t understand the story!
Consider the thinking involved:
- Students have to understand Brian
- They have to understand Vader (or whoever is doing the judging)
- They have to analyze – comparing and contrasting the two characters’ traits and beliefs
- They have to make an evaluation, and make it using someone else’s perspective.
Plus, there’s suddenly the possibility for lots of cool products that flow naturally from the initial work. A student might decide to create a comic book featuring Vader and Brian, maybe they’ll write a skit to perform, design a piece of art, or film a short movie. This isn’t a question that leads to one-word answers.
Easy Bonus: switch Vader to another character (or real person) and the question reinvents itself! What would Hamlet, Susan B. Anthony, or Katniss Everdeen think about Brian?
I’m getting excited just thinking about it!
Not Just People
This actually becomes more interesting when you ask kids to think from the point of view of things that don’t really have points of view.
- What would Ancient Rome think of Ancient China?
- What would kinetic energy think of potential energy?
- What would tangent think of sine or cosine?
- What would fractions think of decimals?
- What would a cumulus cloud think of a cirrus cloud?
These are interesting questions that will stop students in their tracks. They require deep and creative thinking. They leave the door open for complex products that build on students’ talents. Best of all, you don’t have to write up six pages of directions!
Check out this example, shared by Brandi on Twitter the day after a workshop I gave in Ohio.
What would dividends think about divisors?
— Brandi Goodwin (@BGoodArtnGift) September 28, 2017
Look at all that creativity in a seemingly non-creative content area! Every kid can craft a different (but still correct) response. Expert students have room to go deep, but not everyone has to go as deep. And Brandi was able to successfully implement this idea the very next day!
Let me know what you try with your class. I’d love to see what they come up with!