Here’s a really simple test for any task that we put before students:
Am I asking students to think or just remember?
It sounds silly, but the more I consider it, the more interesting this distinction gets. How often are kids presented with tasks that force them to think rather than just remember information?
On a spectrum of pure remembering to hard thinking, how would you rank those tasks? Why?
- Is this an igneous or sedimentary rock?
- Explain why George Washington was a great president.
- Multiply 125 × 73.
- What is the theme of Hamlet?
- I have 40 students and 12 busses, how many students go on each bus?
- Which character in this story is the bravest?
- Compare and contrast Islam and Judaism.
- Which of the Greek city-states was most powerful?
- What is the difference between a need and a want?
- What is the role of a consumer in an ecosystem?
Before you move on, look at the examples you think require the most thinking. Consider: is there any way a student might complete what looks like a “thinking” task by relying mostly on memory?
I think this question is trickier than it looks.
This Is Differentiation
This, to me, is the core of differentiation. A differentiated lesson has been adjusted so that all students have to think. And they should be thinking hard enough to need a little help. Until they need that little bit of help, they’re not in their Zone of Proximal Development.
I can tell you that I made it until the end of high-school and into college before I had to really start thinking. I’m certainly not the only one.
And that’s way too late to have to learn to think.
What Does Thinking Look Like?
One of my favorite things in workshops is to ask a group of people (students or teachers) to show me what thinking looks like. Try it.
Most people put their pencil down and put their hand to their mouth or scratch their head. People tend to lean back into their seats and look up at the ceiling. There’s a lot of gentle hmmms.
Thinking looks passive. It looks like you’re not doing anything. To really think, you have to put your pencil down. You might close your eyes.
If your lessons don’t get kids to put their pencils down and look up at the ceiling quietly, those students might not be thinking. If the same students are “early finishers” every day, they probably aren’t thinking (and here’s why that term needs to go away!). If everyone is getting the same answer, there may be a lack of real thinking going on.
The rest of this series will look at some specific ways to create thinking and avoid mere remembering.
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