Layer the levels. Many of us were taught to progress through Bloom’s Taxonomy when teaching a new skill. However, there are lots of situations where we may be able to tackle higher-level Bloom’s tasks even if our students haven’t yet mastered the knowledge and comprehension levels. For example, if I’m teaching supply and demand to 6th graders, I don’t need to spend an entire class having them master the terms and identify supply and demand. I can briefly introduce the terms with an anchor chart (aka: poster) that has the definitions and an example to reference and then jump right into analyzing situations and how supply and demand apply to them. It’s okay if kids haven’t mastered the terms yet – you can simply refer students to the anchor chart whenever they need it. Because they’ll be exploring the concept more deeply, the terms and basics will eventually stick without you having to drill them. Here are some examples of content that works well this way:
- Literary devices
- Geometric formulas
- Scientific Method
- Grammar – parts of speech, comma rules, homophones, etc
- Map Skills
- Mean, median & mode
- Graphs & Charts
Skip some steps. This strategy is perfect for STEM classes, but can also apply to some humanities content. Introduce the new problem and then have kids work in groups to try and solve the problem before you show them any strategies for finding the answer. (Click here for ways to differentiate for those ‘high flyers’ who are often able to catch on quickly.) When introducing a new skill or type of problem to solve, usually we include a model of the strategy and then have kids practice using that strategy. Having this as the typical lesson in STEM, though, can actually inhibit rigor and get in the way of true college-readiness. All too often students get the message that there is only one way to solve a problem: the teacher’s way. When we fall into this trap, students often end up memorizing steps versus understanding a concept and so are less able to transfer skills to new situations.
Preview the ultimate outcome. Let’s say you’re teaching students how to write an essay or a lab report. Sometimes we show them examples that are very basic so that they can easily see the different components and grasp the ideas. In addition to this, though, they should see the most amazing, college-ready example you can find (or write yourself) so that they can see the scope of what is possible. If students have this exemplar in front of them throughout the unit, then that’s what they’ll aim for versus seeing the bare-minimum example as their goal. Showing this high bar for excellence automatically raises the rigor and the quality of work your students will produce.