Friday, November 13, 2009

SAT Prep With Meaning and Meta-Cognition

Yesterday's class was about bringing together the critical thinking skills we've been rehearsing, more or less, in isolation. I asked the students to consider the CT wheel similar to the color wheel, combine primary elements for infinite possible angles from which to think. Specifically, today was about recognizing patterns in the different books they're reading, naming those patterns, and making connections to other things they've read, learned in other classes, or experienced in life. The next move is to be able to then apply these patterns (concepts/themes/etc.) to new problems, in this case the ethical questions posing as SAT writing prompts.

As homework from the previous class meeting, students came to class prepared with maps or some other kind of visual representing and organizing a structural aspect of their book: timeline, narrative structure, character development, etc. (this was the move between the activity described in my last post and what's being described here). I assigned groups of 3 and 4 (I'll save a discussion of groupings I had in a small group with Michael Thompson for another post), and students spent the first five minutes of class sharing and articulating the ideas in their visuals. For the next ten minutes, each group had to come up with a list of common themes/elements derived from their individual maps/visuals. Step three was to spend five more minutes adding to each theme with examples from other readings and experiences that also illustrated the themes. Very good group discussions, practicing questioning for depth and breadth is paying off.

Once groups had these thematic lists prepared, I congratulated them on performing the cognitive process necessary for preparing to address a question at hand or, in this case, write an SAT essay. For five minutes or so we returned to a diagram of input-working memory-long term memory from Willingham's Why Students Don't Like School? I argued that an SAT prompt presents them with a pattern/theme, they need to identify it, then retrieve relevant examples from their long-term memory. Finally, they put together a set of coherent ideas making connections between their own reading and experience and the imposed theme. As a final exercise, each group had ten minutes to outline each of three current SAT practice essay prompts, a little bit of a race.

Today, we rehearse writing essays and examine the components that score well. I'm actually not all that interested in teaching SAT writing, but I like shaping into a cognitive rehearsal, meta-cognitive exercise, and fun little competition. And really, I was surprised by pretty decent prompts, easily comparable to real life dilemmas.

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