A reader asked about a student interested in researching unusual animals. But anybody can find a bunch of facts on the internet and create a PowerPoint. How can we challenge this child to go further?
Here (unlike the clock example) we have some very juicy content: unusual animals. But what we can change is the thinking skill. The reader is totally right: looking up facts is not an appropriate thinking skill for this student.
This is a perfect opportunity to think about Bloom’s Taxonomy as a tool for differentiating. Finding facts is probably the low level of Remember. A little explanation takes it to Understand.
But how could we pump this up further?
Going up the taxnomy, we get to Apply – where we ask students to think about the material in a new context. At this stage, we might create a task like this:
What would happen if this unusual animal lived in a different biome? How would they survive? Would they survive?
And think: how could they show this off? PowerPoint, story, diorama?
If we want students to Analyze, we’re asking them to compare/contrast, categorize, or differentiate). We could create a task like this:
Look up three unusual animals. What are patterns you notice? What traits do they share? Create a table to show their various traits.
When students are at Evaluate, they’re making a well-formed decision backed up with evidence. A task might look like this:
Which unusual animal that you looked at is the most unusual? Provide evidence for your decision.
Change the question up a bit and ask: which animal is your favorite, which is the worst, which would win in a fight…
At the tip-top, we have Create. I always think of this as “Remix.” Could students take an existing unusual animal and modify it a bit to create something new (but realistic)?
How would your unusual animal adapt to live under the sea, in a desert, or in a rain forest?
In each case, don’t just stop with a graphic organizer or a paragraph. Ask students to create something interesting that connects to their talents. Can they create art, music, build something, act it out, or use technology?
For further reading, here is an ancient article I about the four ways to differentiate an objective that I was taught as a student teacher: thinking skill + content + resources + product.
And The Differentiator is a tool I created for poking around at various differentiation options.