Every class has its own personality. This is both a joy and a challenge of teaching. Organization and classroom management styles that work perfectly one year may prove ineffective the next year. I have been reminded of this truth during the current school year. To insure student engagement and success with this year’s students, I need to provide instruction which adds new skills in a heightened sequential manner. Definite strategies are needed to help students deepen their critical thinking skills.
For the past week, we have been studying the prehistoric people of Colorado. My goal was for students to make the connection: As prehistoric people moved from hunter/gatherers to farmers, they had time to build homes and improve their lives. I knew that this required higher level thinking skills and that students would need to follow specific steps in order to reach this understanding.
We began by setting up a chart where students could record their notes. The chart was divided into Dates, Homes, Food, Hunting/Farming and Additional Facts. As we studied each group of people, students completed the correct portion of the chart.
The students had acquired knowledge about these groups of people, but I now wanted them to draw some conclusions from this history lesson. What could we learn from these people outside of the facts of their existence?
Using chart paper, students drew pictures of the prehistoric people in chronological order. They illustrated the homes, food sources, weapons and tools used by each group of people. I was thrilled to watch students use ipads to discover ways to draw a kiva or an atlatl. Every student was engaged in drawing their chart and putting forth their best effort.
Now it was time to do some critical thinking. I introduced the phrase: “conclude or draw a conclusion,” which means to make a judgement based on evidence. Students studied each column in their chart and drew a conclusion. Student examples included: “Studying the prehistoric peoples’ homes, I can conclude that the people moved from living in caves and lean-tos, to building pueblos. When they lived in caves they moved from place to place. As they built homes, they stayed in one place.”
We repeated the same process for food sources and weapons / tools. Now it was time for the point of the lesson. What conclusion could students draw on how each aspect of these people’s lives impacted other areas? I was thrilled as I listened to students draw this important connection!
As a culminating activity, students were able to share their learning using a photo and voice recording program. (I gave my students a choice between Adobe Spark or Explain Everything.) As they had already given their conclusions deep thought and had written their responses, this final step was seamless and enjoyable!
The point of this learning engagement was not only for students to learn about Colorado’s ancient people, but to also deepen their critical thinking skills. In addition to the content, the goal was for students to learn how to learn, to learn how to document their learning, and most importantly, how to draw a conclusion and share their thinking with others. Slowing down and going step by step had worked well for all of us.