The Other Stuff: How to Approach High-Level Thinking Questions

It is important that educators exude a sense of passion for the content that we teach. Whether it be math, science, English, etc., our love for our subject areas helps to engage our students and keep them motivated. While much of our instruction focuses around the content, we are also tasked with teaching skills that allow students to access the content that we are teaching. Depending on grade level and ability, students could be all over the map when it comes to these essential, foundational skills. We must first assess the tools that our students bring with them to the classroom and then be prepared to focus part of our instruction around these crucial basics.

“Dissecting the question” is a practice that students will encounter in EVERY content area throughout their education. Whether responding to a writing prompt, answering a word problem, or following chemistry lab procedures, students must be aware of the end goal when confronting a task. Often times across content areas, questions or practices are framed in wordy, complex, or very involved language. This type of wording has the potential to not only confuse students, but also to discourage them right from the beginning before they have even considered the question. To hone in on an answer, students must first learn how to identify exactly what the question is asking.  

Consider the following prompt: Authors use many different literary devices to convey mood in a narrative. Identify and analyze two devices that J.K. Rowling uses to convey mood in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone using evidence from the text to support your claim.

Now, this prompt is a tall order in terms of a student’s need to focus in on the actual question. Model the process of “skimming the fat” from the question so that only the essentials are present. For example, have students cross off any “fluff” or unnecessary information in the question. This goes for math, English, science, history, etc. For our example above, students could cross off the entire first sentence in the prompt—this simply frames the context of the prompt.

Next, help students to translate or better comprehend the academic language that all content-area questions will use. Terms like analyze, assess, compare, estimate, and classify may seems straightforward to us; however, students often find these directives to be confusing. Have students practice highlighting the common academic language terms as they encounter them in questions, prompts, and tasks. Then, spend time as a class discussing what these terms actually mean—i.e., what actions will we take as readers when we identify and analyze something? What does it mean by devices? Perhaps students need a refresher on literary devices. This is where graphic organizers and other note-taking strategies will come in handy for students needing a quick review of a concept.

Next, help students understand that identify simply means to find, name, or choose two devices that the author uses, while analyze means to explore, examine, or question how these devices convey, or show, mood. Students that are still struggling to begin responding to the question may benefit from a sentence frame or sample starter. This strategy is great for English and math, where teachers are likely seeking complete sentences or full thoughts in the answers and responses. Consider providing students with something like this as their starting thesis statement:

(AUTHOR’S NAME) uses (DEVICE AND DEVICE) to convey a (SPECIFIC TYPE OF MOOD) in (TITLE).

Once they have filled in the blanks for the thesis statement, prompt the analysis piece by asking leading questions. These suggestive questions will help students with the initial practice of analyzing, assessing, or making connections between their claim and their reasoning or support for the claim. Again, this practice takes time and repetition—attacking a high-level thinking question like this is not something that can be mastered in one class period. The key is to provide students with strategies to help steer their thinking in the direction of the actual meat of the question. By helping to define, explain, eliminate, and order the process of the question, students are much more equipped to begin answering.

So remember:

  • Eliminate fluff
  • Locate key terms/academic language that indicate what is being asked
  • Define those terms for students
  • Provide graphic organizers or refresher notes when necessary
  • Consider providing sentence frames or examples for students to use as a springboard

Procrastination: Student Strategies for All Ages

Most teachers would admit that every child and teen exhibits procrastination from time to time, regardless of grade level. For some unfortunate souls, procrastination is simply ingrained. So what is the problem with it? Well, when we procrastinate, the task at hand does not diminish or disappear—no matter how much we may hope. Instead, the anxiety of the looming “to-do list” grows, as does our desire to avoid the work at all costs. How can we combat this procrastination tendency?

  • Teach students to assess the situation thoroughly before they decide to evade the work. Of course, everyone, including our students, would rather not have a list of homework assignments or projects to complete. However, the nature of education involves work outside of the classroom—plain and simple. Instead of setting the task aside right away—an out-of-sight, out-of-mind strategy—prompt students to investigate the necessary steps that will be required to complete the assignment. This sort of review strategy forces students to acknowledge the amount of work that the project or paper will entail. The more prepared they are to tackle the task, the less likely they will be to set it aside for lengths of time.
  • Encourage students to jump right in. This does not necessarily mean that they have to rush or complete the task in one chunk of time. Instead, they simply need to scratch the surface and begin. Starting something that they would rather avoid is half of the battle. Once they have begun, the urge to procrastinate is set aside.
  • Remove distractions while working. This is especially difficult for adolescents who would prefer to be glued to their devices while working. Advise students to set aside time to work without any smartphones, television, etc. All it takes is one chime of a notification to derail a work session, further instigating procrastination. A quiet work space, removed from distractions, allows for full focus, which is the best way for students to get the most out of their work time or study sessions.
  • Praise or reward students who complete or submit work prior to the deadline. Whether we are talking first graders or seniors, students respond to incentives. This can mean that the first group to submit work receives their grades first. Or, give praise, small rewards, or extra recess when students exhibit proactivity. Again, the point is to incentivize students so that they are eager to tackle the assignment, as opposed to setting it aside for the last minute.
  • When push comes to shove, stress completion over perfection. The point is obviously to dissuade procrastination. However, there will be times when students simply cannot get the ball rolling in time. When they do put off the work, explain the importance of completing and submitting the work, even when it is sub-par. Of course, keeping high expectations is important. However, the need to perfect something at the last minute is not only stressful, but unnecessary. Use these moments as a learning experience by highlighting the fact that students can avoid this feeling of disappointment or discouragement by planning and working ahead of time in the future.

 

Ready, Set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!! Note taking skills: Part 6 of 6

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Note taking is arguably one of the more frustrating aspects of classroom instruction. For many, it requires stamina, both in attentiveness and fine motor abilities. As students get older, note taking becomes both more prevalent and more independent. When post-secondary education comes into play, note-taking skills can truly make or break a lecture, class, or semester. With such an emphasis on this skill, it is a wonder that more secondary schools don’t offer classes on note taking. Whatever the case may be, each learner must adopt his or her own preference when it comes to taking notes in class.

  • The first thing to consider is the different benefits of note taking. For instance, depending on the student and material, notes may be taken to help aid memory, comprehension, organization, or a combination of those skills.

 

  • When taking notes in order to memorize information, it is important that students spend the time and energy writing only what they do not already know from memory. They can apply your prior knowledge later when studying, but during the class or lecture, they should limit their notes to new information. This not only saves time, but also allows students to focus in on the new or unfamiliar information.

 

  • Abbreviations are another important aspect of note taking. Again, abbreviating notes can be very individualized. It is important that the note taker stick to a system or style of abbreviating, as to better ensure that the notes will make sense later on. Abbreviations can be done by shortening words, summarizing phrases, or even using symbols in place of text. But remember, an abbreviation is only helpful if it maintains the clarity of the notes.

 

  • Keep notes organized. This is essential for studying and retaining the information later on. Students may prepare note sections ahead of time so that they can focus primarily on the lecture and less on the set-up of the page. For instance, if their teacher is introducing vocabulary prior to a history lesson, they can set up a section strictly for definitions and then add content notes on a separate page.

 

  • Put a date on the notes. This way, if there is any confusion when looking back at the notes, students can speak with their teacher or peer about the specific lesson or lecture. Dates also help when taking notes because they allow students to see the progression of the concept, information, or task in a sequential manner.

 

  • Rewrite notes when necessary. There are a few benefits to this technique. Rewriting not only gives students an opportunity to clean up or organize the material a little better, but it also aids in memorization. Rewriting something, especially if students paraphrase or explain the notes in their own words, allows them to test their knowledge of the material. Simply writing something down doesn’t guarantee comprehension—rephrasing notes allows note takers to break down and articulate the information as they make sense of it.

 

  • Highlighting is also recommended when rewriting or editing notes. Research indicates a link between color and memory; it also helps to focus students’ attention on the more vital information when studying.

 

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