Start with student thinking

One way to ensure active (rather than passive) learning is to start with student thinking and then make this the focus of the learning experience.   The best designed lesson can miss the mark if the teacher does not firstly have a grasp of where students are at in terms of their thinking.

One suggestion for making student thinking more visible is to engage students in generative tasks. Generative tasks:

  1. Are concrete (authentic) tasks or problems.
  2. Are complex and allow for different solution paths and types of thinking.
  3. Have high cognitive demand (requiring reasoning rather than repetition or regurgitation)
  4. Work at the edge of learners’ understanding of the topic and has multiple points of entry. Knowledge of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development is helpful here.

Teachers can observe students engaged in generative tasks to collect evidence of their thinking. The teacher can use this data to identify what is productive in students’ thinking versus what is unhelpful. They can determine how ready students are to learn new information and determine points of entry for this new information. They can predict the next steps in students’ development and design learning experiences that help students to make the leap to more sophisticated understanding.

The practice of starting with student thinking and using it to get students from A to B is referred to as leveraging. I completed a MOOC earlier in the year via Coursera that examined this strategy in detail.  It is being offered again later in the year.


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