Deepening Student Understanding with Collaborative Discourse
Updated: Jun 25, 2021
(Originally posted April 4, 2019.)
Most educators can agree that asking students to engage deeply with the content they are learning is quite different from asking them to recall surface-level information. Knowing what deeper understanding looks and sounds like will help teachers employ collaborative discourse as a go-to strategy for almost any lesson.
This approach requires first knowing what rigor is and dispelling some common misconceptions ("All students cannot think deeply"; "Rigor just means doing more or harder work"; "Deeper thinking should not require scaffolding"). When adults engage with complex tasks, they don't simply do more or harder work. They develop a deeper understanding of the work, benefiting greatly from scaffolding (such as seeing exemplar models) and collaborative discourse with peers. There is no reason to think that children cannot do the same.
In my work with Depth of Knowledge and cognitive rigor, I've uncovered six ways we can move students' thinking to deeper understanding. I've applied these ideas to the design of teacher-friendly tools that facilitate classroom implementation. The Collaborative Inquiry Plan is one such tool.
We can observe evidence of deeper thinking when
1. Students make connections to consolidate their learning.
2. Students apply what they've learned to novel situations.
3. Students have "just right" support and can productively struggle.
4. Students apply higher-order thinking (analyzing, evaluating, and creating) to interact with content.
5. Students engage in collaborative discourse that makes thinking visible.
6. Students ask questions that indicate a shift in teacher-student roles as they learn to construct their own meaning.