Generalised strategies

We have seen in the example above that, even when a task has a clearly correct answer, the teacher can create challenge by asking probing questions, drawing the children’s attention to some aspect of the task or even by a quizzical look which makes the pupils look again and re­think their solution. Note how she keeps watching and, as soon as the children are satisfied with what they have done, she raises another question.
More generally, activities may have no right answer but allow for various possibilities. For example, in the activity ‘Where Does it Belong?’ from Let’s Think through Science! 8&9, pupils have a set of cards showing solids, liquids and some ambiguous substances. Some groups sort the cards very quickly into the two groups — solids and liquids — and do not ponder over possibilities. For example, ‘Coffee’: Is it coffee powder, coffee beans, coffee grains or a cup of coffee ready to drink? ‘Jelly’: Is it a jelly cube? Is it a jelly ready to eat? Or is it in the process of being made and therefore runny and unset? When asked for their ideas, children can sound very sure, exhibiting no doubt. One way to introduce challenge in a situation like this is to collect each group’s responses on a chart, as different interpretations may emerge and can create useful cognitive conflict in each group which had thought it had established the right answer. If there have been few differences in responses, the teacher may collect just one or two groups’ ideas and then challenge the class. The next group has to find something on the chart that they disagree with and share that idea. If the children do not rise to this, the teacher can write her ideas on the chart so that she places a few items in the opposite column or produces a third column. This can be labelled in a variety of ways, for example ‘items that can be both solid and liquid’. These items should generate some cognitive conflict and the discussion can focus on resolving the conflict. Pupils might discuss the conditions that make an item either solid or liquid.
Another method of creating challenge is for the teacher to produce an idea which no child has suggested. This may be a plausible solution to a problem and one which the children can believe and lead them to question their own idea. Discussion from this idea may lead the children to reject it but, if it has made them doubt their own initial idea and then become more confident in their own solution and more able to explain it and give reasons as to why it is possible/accurate/reasonable, then the rogue idea has been useful.

Conclusion

The activities provide rich opportunities for creating challenge, but they will not work by themselves. It is the teacher who plays the critical role in continually (gently) upsetting pupils’ spurious contentment that they have ‘finished’ the task. This is what makes teaching for cognitive acceleration tiring but also rewarding, continually resisting the temptation that all of us, as teachers, have of ‘getting them to the right answer’. You need to be prepared for the occasions when they do not get to a right answer at all, but finish the activity a bit confused and uncertain about what they were supposed to find. If this was a child’s experience most of the time then that would be a problem, but once in a while as they struggle with thinking activities it does no harm at all to be left without closure. It is the process of facing and dealing
with challenges that does the work, not the attainment of a neat solution.
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Lets Think Handbook Copyright © by Alex Black. All Rights Reserved.

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