Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Great Minds Really Do Think Alike

by Douglas Grudzina

I’m a little behind in my blog reading (and it’s only February!), so I was happily grateful when my colleague, the Blog-mistress herself, Annie Rizzuto, sent me the link to the most recent posting on Dana Huff’s The e-mail in which Annie sent me the link read: “This reminded me of you ... and LOU”

“You and Lou” kind of sounds like the title of a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song … some guy lamenting the loss of the girl who dumped him or the hound dog that died or something like that.

You can read Ms. Huff’s post for yourself here.

What she’s done is a good idea—not the kind of “good idea” that’s never been done before, but the kind of good idea that, when you think of it and are not aware that anyone else has ever done it, it is certainly worth telling others about. The kind of good idea that should be common practice, almost “old-school.”

It’s a good idea.

I’ve served in the education profession in one capacity or another for over thirty years. One of the few common threads that connect all of those capacities has been the push for “higher order thinking skills,” or whatever they happened to be called in whatever phase of educational reform we happened to be in at the time.

Of course good old Benjamin Bloom and his famous taxonomy came up a lot in the conversation.

Bloom is a lot like the weather: Everyone talks about him, but no one does anything about him.

By and large, year after year, state and district curricula, and the textbooks they inform, hover safely close to the comprehension, knowing, identifying levels and very rarely venture into the domains of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

Well, kids have always gotten a lot of Reader Response, and there are those people out there who think “What would you do if you were in Sydney Carton’s position?” is an Evaluation question … but, basically, we rarely get the kids thinking or reacting beyond, “What striking similarity does Sydney Carton notice between himself and the defendant, Charles Darnay?”

Ms. Huff’s assessment is spot on, as are the activities and assessments of the teachers who responded to her post.

My only concern is that the application of concepts like Bloom’s Taxonomy and HOTS (anyone out there old enough to remember that acronym?) should not be hit-and-miss—one or two teachers get a good idea, and a handful of students gets quality education—they should be institutionalized, actually embedded in the curriculum and in the materials all of the teachers and students use.

Ms. Huff should not be on her own to figure out how to apply Bloom in her teaching. And, while having her kids write their own assessments is an excellent activity, she’s certainly not going to want her kids to make up every assessment from now on—but neither should she have to spend untold hours poring over the texts available to her as she adapts her materials to address real thinking and reasoning, and responses beyond There are three metaphors and one personification in Act V, scene i of Macbeth.

That’s where Levels of Understanding comes in.

When Annie said Ms. Huff’s post reminded her of me [sic] and LOU, she wasn’t really talking about a former girlfriend or dead hound dog. She was talking about Prestwick House’s newest and most exciting product: Levels of Understanding: Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Explore Literature.

Coincidentally enough, the prototype LoU (get it? Levels of Understanding?) we developed was on Macbeth. (Great minds really do think alike.)

In a nutshell, Levels of Understanding is a reproducible produce, not unlike our Teaching Units, Advanced Placement Teaching Units, and Multiple Critical Perspectives guides. The key difference is that the chapter-by-chapter (or scene-by-scene) study guide provides questions explicitly identified as Comprehension, Reader Response (our interpretation of Bloom’s “application”), Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. There’s a lot of scaffolding among the domains, so that the realizations we hope the kids will make in response to an Evaluation question do not simply come out of thin air but are suggested in some of the lower domain questions.

Each Levels of Understanding guide also provides writing prompts.

The line was just released in January 2011 and has already received a few glowing reports and requests for new titles to be added to the line.

So far, we offer Macbeth, To Kill a Mockingbird, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Lord of the Flies. The Great Gatsby, Frankenstein, and Animal Farm will be available as soon as I get the requested revisions from the writers. Night is also in the works.

Ms. Huff and her commenters are absolutely right when they note that, like the weather, everyone talks about Bloom

And they’re doing a good thing by putting Bloom’s words and ideas directly into their kids’ hands. Levels of Understanding is simply Prestwick House’s attempt to help these, and all the other excellent teachers out there, make Bloom more an everyday staple than a special holiday treat.

1 comment:

Dana Huff said...

Thanks for the shout out! I decided that my students had done so much work that they were best qualified to tell me what they had learned. And you are right that I wouldn't want to do it like this every time, but it's a good tool to have in the teaching arsenal, as it were.