Thursday, February 16, 2012

Scaling Skyscrapers A View to the Common Core

Imagine yourself standing at the top of the Empire State Building - what do you see? Everything! In order to see the “big picture” there is one undeniable truth access is key. How do you get to the top? Well it takes time and effort.
For students and teachers the idea of higher order cognition, or critical thinking can be somewhat elusive. Difficult to teach in a meaningful way, difficult to understand and apply with purpose. Skyscraper is a means to an end. It is an anchor chart that contextualizes what would be abstract to the minds of young readers. Different levels of thinking require different actions on the part of the reader. Skyscraper is a mediator that gives students a framework in which to work, so they can envision and articulate more nuanced thinking.
Children often ask why can't I take the elevator to the top floor? Sorry, there are no short cuts when it comes to thinking. Over time, children learn that questions tasks grow more complex as they climb the floors to their thinking process.
Skyscraper is what you get when overlapping Bloom's taxonomy and the Question Answer Relationship (QAR). Bloom provides a levels approach for guided questions and or task, while the QAR provides for easy to understand language that describes their actions in order to answer questions or complete assigned tasks. For example, an "On Your Own" task may be to evaluate a passage by writing an opinion. They validate their evaluation as they learn how to extrapolate ideas from the text to create something new - their written opinion. Thinking in terms of Common Core State Standards (CCSS), text dependent answers is one of the six major instructional shifts.

So is the Staircase of Complexity. Think of the anchor standard as the pole that runs to the ceiling and each step of a spiral staircase as representing each grade level.  The CCSS is designed to match developmental expectations that grow with the student.  In order to grow our capacity for intellectual curosity - children need to envision how concepts expand - going from part to whole. It is that kind of thinking that inspired the conceptual design of Skyscraper. Thinking runs from basic "Right There" gathering knowledge where I can point to with my finger to the answer - to abstract comparisons of my thinking juxtaposed to that of the author.  

Britton  once wrote that comprehension is taught on a sea of talk.  This is so very correct, each time you ask your students to do a “turn and talk” they are learning to make applications for their thinking. What does this look like? You contextualize a vocabulary word during an interactive read aloud lesson, you provide a sentence outside of the book, you ask the students to make a connection to the word as they turn and talk to a partner.  Later you may challenge them to use the word in an original piece of writing - you've gone from third floor thinking to sixth floor thinking all with the use of a word, and a purposeful task. 
Wide reading through many genres driven by critical thinking and inquiry is the stuff that fosters imagination and a love for reading.  So come in, sit down let's read, write, talk, and then create something new.   This is how as we climb up, up, up to the top of the Empire State - once you've seen the view from a broader perspective everything looks different. 

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