T Sale's Blog

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Thinking About Thinking

Last year, when I was a member of Tony Winger’s grading project, I decided to realign my grading categories to more closely reflect what my students were actually doing in class. One of the decisions I made was to have a “Thinking Skills” category, because I believe that pushing students to develop higher level thinking should be a part of every class. This is the description of that category on my class guidelines for my English 10 class:

Thinking Skills (18%)
1. Apply higher level thinking skills to reading, writing, speaking, and listening:
• synthesize and evaluate information
• make inferences and draw thoughtful conclusions
• use accurate, relevant details from text to support generalizations
• analyze for themes in literature
• judge quality based on a set of criteria

(The wording for all these goals is taken directly from the LPS district language arts curriculum.)

And ever since I established that category, it’s been driving me crazy. Do I record two grades for every assignment, a completion grade and a thinking grade? Do I design tasks that I will grade purely on thinking skills, without worrying about things like mechanics? Am I better off assuming that every assignment has a higher level thinking component, and that to get an “A” on any given assignment the student has to display higher level thinking?

I tried to prepare my students by introducing Bloom’s Taxonomy, asking them higher level questions about “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” (How are the bears in the story different from bears in the zoo? [analysis]; How would the story be different if it were “Goldilocks and the Three Fish? [synthesis]; Was Goldilocks a victim of circumstance, or a vicious little homewrecker? [evaluation]). On a couple of assignments I gave the students a completion grade, plus feedback on the level of thinking their questions represented. I showed the class examples of their classmates’ good thinking on the classroom projector. But I still wasn’t sure how I was going to record all this fine thinking they were going to be doing.

Finally, as we began our Fahrenheit 451 unit, I took another look at my grading criteria, and an idea occurred to me. Why not keep a separate running record of the thinking the students displayed for any activity or assignment we did while reading the book. Whether it was discussion, a reading journal, a sticky note, or a blog entry, when a student showed higher level thinking, I would make note of it, and give them the feedback that they had “hit the mark.” I wouldn’t necessarily record a grade for every student every time, but only for those who showed good inferential thinking, suggested creative alternatives to story lines, or reached profound conclusions. Suppose I were to use a nine point scale to rate good thinking – a 4 or 5 for some pretty good analysis, a 6 or 7 for posing and then answering a probing “what if?” question, an 8 or 9 for a knock-your-socks-off, original insight. When we finish the unit, I could look back over my notes and determine an overall thinking grade. Maybe Student A consistently logged 6s and 7s, showing good thinking on virtually every task; meanwhile, Student B only spoke up in discussion three times, but every time was a mind-boggling 9; perhaps Student C never said anything in discussion, but then went home, thought about it, and wrote several killer blog entries – all three might be deserving of a good thinking grade for the unit. Of course, it will be my job to provide the students plenty of opportunities to display their thinking skills, and to encourage those who aren’t thinking deeply to stretch themselves.

I introduced this idea to the students this week, so we’ll see how it goes. And this post is getting pretty long, so I’m going to sign off and grade some essays now. Your suggestions are appreciated.


  • At Wed Sep 13, 09:50:00 PM 2006, Blogger Karl Fisch said…

    Okay, I'm too tired to think about this as much as I should right now, but you've given me a lot to think about. I will try to find time to return later to comment some more.

    I do have two initial thoughts/impressions/questions.

    1. How important is the grading aspect of this to you? Are you equating grading with feedback, or is it separate in this case?

    2. It still seems fairly complicated to me, but maybe I'm just too tired to think straight about it. Do you need this complex of a system in order to help your students learn, grow, and think critically? Or is the system (multiple meanings of that word) getting in the way?

    Okay, I lied, I have a third question. 18%? Not 17, or 19? How? Why?

  • At Thu Sep 14, 07:27:00 AM 2006, Blogger Terry Sale said…

    In answer to the third question first, 18% because originally I had 5 categories worth 20% each, but then I decided to have a separate category worth 10% for the final exam and stole 2 points from each category; thus, 18%.

    As far as the other 2 questions, I need to think about them. I think my compulsiion to grade thinking came from the notion that anything important should be assessed. But you made me think -- what if I just went on giving feedback on the students' thinking...I guess in my old-fashioned teacherly mind, I'm thinking it's going to be more important to them if they know they're being graded on it. But I need to think about this more.

  • At Thu Sep 14, 09:34:00 AM 2006, Blogger Terry Sale said…

    And by the way, Karl, I lied too. I said I was going to grade essays last night, but I never did. I just read a book and went to bed.

  • At Thu Sep 14, 08:36:00 PM 2006, Blogger Karl Fisch said…

    I think that's fine - depending on the book. What was it?

  • At Mon Sep 18, 12:21:00 PM 2006, Blogger lgaffney said…

    I'm actually part of that pilot this year and doing something similar. My most heavily weighted category is called "Reading Analysis and Application", which is basically the same as your thinking skills category. Reading analysis and application has become a separate section on each rubric I create and I feel like (minus all the extra accounting) it has been fairly successful. For example, on my take home exam, one section of the rubric says "Student demonstrates the ability to use the inductive process in order to arrive at meaning. He or she uses textual cues (characters, symbols, imagery, motifs, setting) in order to create a well-defended response which answers all aspects of each question and demonstrates understanding of text". I don't know how explicit that is to the kids, but at least they know what the ultimate objective looks like. I only assess them on this on more formal assignments though--I started doing it on all assignments and it was a nightmare! I don't know if this is at all helpful, but just thought I'd share!


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