A teacher asked what to do with a “boring research report.” The basic idea is:
Students research an animal and answer the question, “How does your animal use its adaptations to survive?”
Right away, we should spot that this is a low-level task. Most “research reports” are really just “regurgitation rewrites.” Kids look up already-known information and then rewrite it. Blah!
So, what could we do differently?
Start Low, But Know Where You’re Going To Go!
Now, starting with a low-level task is perfectly fine. There’s nothing wrong with researching an animal’s adaptations. But we must know where we’re going to go next. Never write a one-step task or ask a single question. If we want to differentiate, we have to develop sequences, or else students will have no where to go and turn into the dreaded “early finishers”.
I’ve learned to always have a follow-up ready to push students to the next level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Now, not every student will get through the sequence, but that’s the idea. That’s differentiation. We should expect students to reach different levels.
1. Understand An Animal
So, first, my students will understand how an animal’s adaptations fit a particular environment. I’d use a kangaroo rat as my sample. I’d explain how its adaptations help it to survive in a dry and often hot environment.
But we’re not going to stop there!
2. Compare With Another Animal
Once we understand our animal’s adaptations, let’s move students up to Analyze. To me, the Analyze level of Bloom’s is critical. Too many of my early tasks either stopped before this level or skipped it entirely, leaping to fluffy “create” tasks. So, always aim for Analyze! Once your students start comparing, contrasting, and categorizing, it’s an easy transition into Evaluate.
Now, my first thought for Analyze is to “compare this animal’s adaptations with another creature’s adaptations.” But (to set up the next step) I want this second animal to live in a different biome but still be related to the first animal.
I’ll model with, say, a rainforest rodent (like a flying squirrel or agouti) to compare with my desert rodent, the kangaroo rat. See how, by making the instructions more specific, we’ll push students to a more interesting analysis. We’re not comparing an octopus and a kangaroo rat! That would be super boring. The animals are way too different. Instead, we’re looking at how two similar rodents have different adaptations for two different environments.
If we want students to go deep, we have to get specific with our questions and instructions.
3. Switch and Evaluate
Now it gets juicy! We’re going to switch the two animals’ biomes and decide which creature’s adaptations would work best in the second environment. For example, put the desert rodent in the rainforest. How would their adaptations fail them? How would they succeed? Then, put the rainforest rodent in the desert. Which creature would do better?
Students have moved up to a seriously interesting Evaluate-level question. I sincerely look forward to reading their thoughts – whereas reading yet another reguritation rewrite would make me tear my eyebrows out.
4. A Dual Environment Critter?
But we don’t stop there! Evaluation naturally sets up a Synthesis step. Students will design a new rodent that has adaptations for both biomes. Can they create a rodent that will be at home in both the rain forest and the desert?
Then, let’s evaluate some more. Students will consider what problems they ran into while trying to make an animal fit two different environments. Are there too many compromises? Is it better to be super-specialized or to be flexible? Think about all the thinking students can do here! I’m excited just writing about it.
Now, here’s my favorite thing about developing a sequence. Once we reach this point, it actually sets us up for more learning. For example, students could drop back to the lower levels and research existing animals that actually do live in two different biomes.
Will each student in my class get to every single step in this sequence? No way! That’s how you differentiate.
And, if I don’t plan ahead for way-beyond-grade-level thinking, then no one will ever have the chance to get there. Far too often, I created an unnecessary ceiling for my students by saying, “Well, X Graders can’t do that!” Friends, some of my students were ready for (no, needed) thinking that would be 3 or 4 grades ahead of their age. Remember, your grade-level standards are a minimum, not a maximum.
And, you’ll never know which student will get super interested in an idea and surprise you with how far they take it. It may not be your 100% A+ Whiz Kid who decides to spend their weekend designing a dual-environment creature!
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