I love the prompts of depth and complexity and the content imperatives. They’re simple, powerful, and flexible.
But now, I’m hearing from teachers being told to add eight new prompts and icons to their classrooms: process, original, impact, context, motives, proof, translate, and judgment. That’s 24 thinking tools if you’re using depth and complexity, content imperatives, and these new tools.
Honestly, did you ever look at the original set and think “ya know, there just aren’t enough!”? No way! In fact, I always thought we should trim down one or two (ahem trends 😝).
If we’re putting more on kids’ (and teachers’) plates, we’d better have a darn good reason for doing so. And I don’t think there is a darn good reason for the new depth and complexity icons. In fact, I think these new prompts are… a little off.
It’s important that we all think critically before adopting a new classroom practice.
First, we have to note the elephant in the room. The original prompts were developed by two people. These “new” prompts were only developed by one. Many of the things you love about Depth and Complexity came from Bette Gould. She was not involved in these new icons. I do think that’s a big reason why these new prompts seem so very different from the originals.
They Seem… “Different”
So, my problem isn’t just that there are too many, I think the new depth and complexity icons are just… bad. I asked around to see if, perhaps, I was taking crazy pills. But my teacher friends shared the exact same doubts.
The classic depth and complexity prompts have three key features that make them fantastic classroom tools:
- Unique: each one is significantly different from any others.
- Universal: each one can be used with any content in any grade.
- Usable: each one can be used in the same way as all others, so they can be swapped out but are still usable.
To me, all eight of the new prompts violate one or more of these three characteristics.
1. Not Unique
Some new prompts duplicate existing prompts (or are so similar that I don’t see why a whole new icon is needed).
- Process Is “process” significantly different from “rules“? I think a process is just a set of rules one follows.
- Original It seems pretty obvious that “original” duplicates the content imperative “origin.”
- Impact is a duplicate of the content imperative “contribution.” In both cases, we’re exploring the effect of one thing on another (or others).
- Context (probably my favorite of the new bunch) can be covered by “big idea” since we’re asking students to look at a larger situation. You can even still use the word “context” but just draw the Big Idea icon. No reason for a whole new prompt!
So, it’s not that the new prompts of depth and complexity are exact duplicates, but they’re so similar that we don’t need to burden students with entirely new terms.
2. Not Universal
The classic prompts are super flexible. They plug into almost any topic… and just work! But the new depth and complexity prompts lack this flexibility. They don’t cross content areas as well.
- Motives Clearly works best when looking at people (so just use “multiple perspectives”). I just don’t see how motives helps me when studying plate tectonics, chemicals, weather, or fraction division.
- Proof only applies to situations that, well, require proof. And, in that case, we can just use essential details to represent proof or evidence. If we want students to prove (as in a verb), then that becomes the realm of Bloom’s Taxonomy and not depth and complexity. Depth and Complexity are not actions.
3. Less Usable
Translate is an action! No other prompt is an action, so “translate” can’t be plugged in like the other prompts. This is confusing to students! Also, since “translate” is a verb, it belongs with the thinking skills in Bloom’s Taxonomy, not the prompts of depth and complexity. You can’t study “the translate” of a topic like you can “the rules, the details, the patterns, etc.”
Finally, judgment is special because it fits in all three problem categories:
- It’s not unique: if we’re discussing a judgment a person made, just use “multiple perspectives” or “ethics.”
- It isn’t a universal idea, since division, plate tectonics, and weather don’t have “judgment” (although “ethics” could already be used here).
- It isn’t as useable since it doesn’t plug into the same sentence frame as all other prompts: “Let’s think about the judgment of The Great Gatsby.”
Do you use them?
To me, each of the new depth and complexity prompts falls short. They seem thrown together and lack the beauty of the original eleven. I think you have better ways to use your time than trying to implement these new ideas.
But I’d love to hear your thoughts (email@example.com) if you disagree.
Administrators: please think critically about whether these are worth the time before telling your teachers to use them.
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