Since there are so many different prompts of depth and complexity, it’s perfectly fine to introduce them slowly over several weeks if necessary. No need to overwhelm yourself or your students. In this article, we’ll look at pairs or trios of tools that work nicely together.
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Hey, if this long article is way too long you can take it in more leisurely through the Depth and Complexity Mailer. You’ll get an email every week introducing a couple of the prompts. It’s free!
- Introduce the idea
- Choose a few for younger students
- Introduce the prompts in pairs
- A student introduction
Start With Known Content
Always introduce a prompt of Depth and Complexity using a topic that students are already familiar with. Then, once they understand the tool’s use, take it to grade-level content and beyond. I always like to practice with a hamburger, our school, a bicycle, video game systems – anything that kids already know about. Since depth and complexity works with any content, you can use any content to introduce the prompts.
You can also use a picture book to introduce Depth and Complexity.
You can introduce the idea of Depth and Complexity by describing each of the prompts as a different lens to help you see a topic in different ways. If you’re especially clever, you could even bring in binoculars, a microscope, eye glasses, reading glasses, and other actual lenses. Demonstrate how each lens gives a different view of the exact same object.
In the same way, the depth and complexity prompts are like lenses for our brains!
And each of the prompts has a symbol to help us remember the different ways to look at a topic. I always used the idea of an app’s icon on a phone. Each app has a symbol that quickly reminds us of what the app does. Likewise, each prompt of depth and complexity has a symbol so we can switch to a new way of thinking.
The school I taught at began introducing depth and complexity in kindergarten with just a handful of prompts. I think 🏛️ Big Idea, 🌻 Details, 👄 Language of the Discipline, and ❓Unanswered Questions are a nice introductory set, although you could choose whatever you like.
By second grade all of the prompts were in play. Then, teachers of older students began combining multiple icons or integrating the content imperatives.
But not everyone is in a school like this. If you’re taking it on all by yourself, how do you introduce depth and complexity all at once without exploding your kids’ brains?
Personally, I like the following sequence. It pairs up prompts that (in my opinion) add to each other. Spend a week or so on each group so that students get a chance to really understand their meanings. No sense in rushing.
🏛️ Big Idea and 🌻 Details: I introduce these first since they’re the easiest to grasp and are clearly opposite. Because they’re opposites, they work well as a pair. Details give us Big Ideas.
🚦 Rules and 🌀 Patterns: These can seem similar so introducing them together allows you to highlight their differences. Rules represent things that must be followed or there’s a consequence (hierarchies, laws, social norms) and Patterns represent things that often repeat, but don’t have to repeat.
⚖️ Ethics, 👓 Multiple Perspectives, and ⏳ Change Over Time: I think Ethics and Multiple Perspectives go hand-in-hand. How do different folks see the same problem? But we can also use Change Over Time to supplement Ethics. How has a problem changed? I’d also emphasize that we can combine these prompts with Rules, Patterns, Big Ideas, and Details as well.
👄 Language of the Discipline and 📚 Across The Discipline: we can talk about the word “discipline” here.
❓ Unanswered Questions was my most under-utilized prompt, so I might introduce it all by itself to give it the spotlight. Often I just had students “make a list of things you don’t know.” But does that really stretch their thinking? We have to do something with their unanswered questions.
Oh. And, I don’t know, throw Trends in wherever you want 😝 I think it’s superfluous.
A pretty classic way to get started with depth and complexity is to let students introduce themselves using some of the prompts.
- Mr. Byrd’s 🏛️ Big Idea
- The common 👄 language of Mr. Byrd
- Mr. Byrd’s ⚖️ ethical dilemmas
- Mr. Byrd’s unbendable 🚦 rules
Now, as I mentioned before, you do want to move kids away from just listing examples of the prompts. So move it up Bloom’s and have them compare, contrast, categorize, judge with criteria, and so on. I have a series of videos about introducing kids with depth and complexity over at Byrdseed.TV.
So Much More To Learn!
Once you get the basics, there’s always more to learn about these thinking tools. It’s a multi-year journey. I’ve been working with them for over a decade and am still surprised by their flexibility and power. Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what new ideas you and your students can create.