If Siri Knows the Answer…It’s Not Complex

Without designing more complex tasks, our students will not go deeper with their learning…

Written by Shanda Dupras, Instructional CoachDr. Douglas Fisher: Visible Learning for Literacy on August 16, 2017
“A critical difference between experienced and expert teachers lies in their ability to move students from surface to deep learning.” (Fisher, September 2017)
What is the Definition of Rigor? This was Dr. Fisher’s question he posed to a hundred plus educators as he circled the room during his presentation. It is interesting, to watch teachers avoid making conversation within their table groups…I wondered if Siri knew the answer? Dr. Fisher broke the silence by explaining that “Rigor is the careful balance between Difficulty vs. Complexity.” We often confuse the two terms and use them interchangeably, when in fact they are two entirely different entities. Difficultycan be defined as the amount of effort that is required for a student to complete a task. Complexity is the level of thinking, the number of steps, or the abstractness of the task. (Fisher, 2017)
What Makes a Task Challenging? Making students do a lot more work, does not drastically impact students’ learning…we know that when students are engaged in deeper thinking, students learn more. We were introduced to the “Difficulty and Complexity Quadrants.” It was noted that each quadrant that includes low difficulty and/or low complexity is not unimportant. When teachers are designing their lessons, they should know the level of difficulty and complexity they are requiring of their students. This can guide them in how to differentiate for their students as well as give effective formative feedback.

We want our students to end up in the Fluency Quadrant… this is our ultimate goal. (Fisher, 2016)
Change Complexity of the Task:Simply assigning hard text to read will not ensure that students learn at high levels…students will not get any better. As educators, we will fail to move our students into deeper literacy learning. We must armour our students with the tools to allow and prepare them for the opportunities to go to battle beyond surface learning. We want our students to reach that FLUENCY quadrant!
Dr. Fisher offered four types of teaching that would prepare students: · Concept Mapping· Discussion & Questioning· Metacognitive Strategies (including feedback to the learner)· Reciprocal teaching
Focusing on just 1 of the 4 tools mentioned: Concept Mapping Effective size: 0.60
Concept Mapping is widely used throughout classrooms…but how do we ensure that is effective, engaging as well as being complex (level of thinking)?Timing is everything… · Concept Mapping is effective when it is used as a planning tool for something else. If students are just filling out a concept map and filing it in their binders, never to be seen again, it is no longer effective.· The power of the concept map is the cognitive work that it prompts (the complexity!)· Students lay out what they know…this becomes their planning for writing, research, investigation or presentation. · Making Thinking Visible: Teachers and students are able to see the evidence/deeper level of thought and connections as more information is added to the maps. Do use the same concept map throughout learning task…add to it. Watch the thinking evolve!· Using guiding questions as prompts for student’s thinking in their maps can also be powerful.

Example of a ‘Word Concept Map’ used during a popular book study: ‘The Giver.’
(Visible Learning For Literacy, Fisher, Hattie, Frey, 2016)
“In order for students to deepen their knowledge,
they need to have their learning made visible to them.” (Fisher, 2017)

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