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March 16, 2016

Teaching and learning are so complex that reducing them to “thinking + doing + differentiation = improved learning” oversimplifies things. Still, it’s a useful formula for moving students to higher levels of learning. Let’s look at how attention to thinking, doing and differentiation can improve learning in out-of-school time.

Thinking. Bloom’s Taxonomy names six levels of thinking. From lowest to highest, they are remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating. All levels are important, but students generally have fewer opportunities to call on the higher levels. This is where your 21st CCLC program can step up to the plate. (Download and listen to our 10-minute podcast, Using Bloom’s Taxonomy in Afterschool). To actively engage students in ways that call on more mental muscle, try project-based learning. Growing a flower garden and using the blooms to create bouquets for a community event will produce knowledge, skills and attitudes in a way that “book learning” alone can’t match.

Doing. Wait a minute, you might say. Creating is doing, so why is “creating” listed above as a level of thinking? Glad you asked! The technical answer is that Bloom’s Taxonomy actually calls the six levels “learning domains” instead of “levels of thinking.” So creating is a “learning domain.” But a more useful answer is that acting on what you know makes it real. For example, memorizing and understanding tips on parallel parking is not the same as applying that knowledge. You have to apply the tips behind the wheel before you or anyone else can analyze and evaluate your performance. Application of knowledge yields new understandings that can, in turn, improve performance (“next time, I’ll pull up farther before I back into the parking space”). Hands-on, minds-on learning creates a feedback loop that engages the whole child and keeps the learning going. 

Differentiation. The students in your program probably vary in age, interests and skill levels. You can adjust content, activities or the environment to ensure that every child stays engaged and benefits from participation. For the flower garden project mentioned earlier, a raised garden bed could accommodate the needs of a wheelchair-bound student. If a student is just starting to learn English, pairing him or her with a bilingual student can help. Here are some simple ways to meet diverse needs: Survey students about what they would like to learn and do, use pictures in addition to verbal instructions, give options for doing an activity (“work alone or with your group”), and create quiet spaces and activity areas where students can choose to go if they finish early or need a break. Activities should stretch students’ minds and abilities, but not overwhelm them. Observe what does and doesn’t work for each child.

In short, to facilitate learning for all students, make sure you can answer “yes” to these questions:
•    Do the students in your program have opportunities to analyze, evaluate and create? 
•    Are they asked to apply what they have learned? 
•    Do the content and activities keep them challenged but not overwhelmed?
These questions are relevant for all content, but they are a natural fit for activities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Get inspired by a 2-minute video (from the Y4Y STEM Learn More Library) and see students and teachers describe what excites them about hands-on science.

 


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