Friday, July 27, 2012

Getting Students to do Deeper Analysis

When I attended the New Tech Network's Annual Conference (NTAC12) I knew which facilitators I wanted to see.  One of the best in our network just happens to have been our school's NTN Coach for the previous 5 years - Kevin Gant.

Kevin is a great guy, a pleasure to work with, and a person who is capable of getting you to think.  As a matter of fact I have heard many people say something to the affect of "he made my brain hurt - and that's a good thing!"

I attended two of his sessions.  The first, A Framework for Supporting Deep Learning Instruction, introduced us to a model of deeper learning (see the image below).  The second session, Analyze This! How to Consistently Engage Students in Analysis built upon the earlier session.  And so, between these two sessions, he got us to examine the cyclical process of  thought:  Exploring, Analyzing, Applying, and Reflecting.  As can be seen by the diagram, this process is best realized when there is the anchor of Desire from the individual involved.      

From Kevin Gant, Nex+Gen 

The key first point he made with us is that PBL does a great job with the vertical components of this process.  Students get hooked through our Entry Events (the desire), and then they explore concepts and apply what they've learned to create their final product (Exploring the idea and Applying the idea).

Where we are often less successful is on the horizontal axis: Analyzing and Reflecting.  And so he spent time having us discuss and explore our own knowledge and experience with these two very important components.

So what are some ways we can help students do analysis and reflection better?  An important thing to note is that the only real difference between Analyzing and Reflecting (in this model) is the target of each of those.  With analyzing we are looking at the content and with reflection we are looking at self.  Therefore we can use similar, if not the same, activities with our students.

We came to four "levels" of analysis and these were used as a way to think about getting our students to do this process.  They are "Compare Stuff," " Compare to Criteria," "Find Patterns, " and "Extrapolate and Find Analogies."

So, to start, we need to have something for our students to compare.  As with the way math and science teachers prepare prior to working problems, do the analysis first to anticipate the student responses.  This will allow you to pose questions that get students discussing the matter.  Remember to challenge students about their analysis and have classroom norms in place.

Some common mistakes students will make in their discussions are Overgeneralizing, Making Claims Without Citing References, and Judging Without Considering a Different Perspective.  In anticipation of these  the teacher can ask that the reasoning come before the actual statement.  This may require teachers to have a good "poker face" so that the ideas aren't squashed before being presented though.

The beauty of a PBL classroom is that there are lots of opportunities to engage in deep analysis.  This can be done in Class Discussions, Group Discussions, Workshops, Journals, or as part of any written or oral assignment.

What is important is that teachers recognize that the average student is happy to do research.  But as Kevin points out about analysis, "this is execution-heavy....which is to say, a structured examination of ideas may not be something that students know how to do.  Exploration, students do on their own.  Analysis, maybe not.  A teacher should think carefully about how to structure conversations and activities that allow for careful examination of ideas."

Students will not want to dig deeper and do analysis to get a better understanding without intervention.  Purposefully planning and executing days of doing deeper analysis will pay dividends and just might encourage more of your students to become life-long learners.  Isn't that really our ultimate goal for all of our students?