Teaching Students to Use Thinking Skills Independently


After virtually attending Robyn Jackson’s #ASCD12 session, “Overcoming Resistance to Rigor,” I followed up with her ASCD webinar How to Plan Rigorous Instruction.  Both are based on her book, How to Plan Rigorous Instruction, and she offers a number of free resources on rigor at her website.

Like Fisher and Frey, I appreciate that Jackson isn’t asking me to blow everything up and start over. She provides thoughtful suggestions that allow me to improve what I’m doing right now.

One of Jackson’s recommendations is to explicitly teach thinking skills. I’ve written before that it’s important to teach thinking skills separate from content. Jackson reminded me that it’s not only important to teach the skill, but to ensure that we’re teaching in a way that will allow students to use these skills independently.

With this in mind I’m making a small but important change to how I teach comparing and contrasting.

In the past, I’ve used the game SET to introduce comparing and contrasting. I prefer a comparison matrix to a Venn diagram because it requires students to compare specific attributes. A poster goes on the wall and we can refer to it throughout the year.

As the year progresses, I remove some of the scaffolding by asking students to select which attributes to compare. However, I do far too much of the work when it comes to identifying when comparing and contrasting is an appropriate strategy. Although I’m teaching my students to use the thinking skill, I’m not teaching them to use it independently.

A simple modification is adding a Signals section to the bottom of the poster.

During the year, for example when communicating purpose, we’ll add words and phrases to our list that signal to students when comparing and contrasting is the best thinking skill to use. Instead of telling students which skill to use, we can work on identifying when to use this skill. As we get more adept at this, I can easily remove the scaffolds by covering up the words.

What are some simple but effective changes you’ve made to increase the rigor in your instruction?

Jackson’s session available as part of ASCD’s 2012 Virtual Conference—free to all who attended ASCD’s 2012 Annual Conference—and available for purchase for those who did not.