C.L.A.I.M. Your Lessons to increase Critical Thinking

Bitmoji ImageCLAIM stands for Complex, Liberating, Authentic, Intriguing, and Meaningful.

This is a simple lens through which teachers can quickly analyze their unit plans to move towards Project Based Learning with a standards-based focus.

The goal is to redefine the tasks students are asked to perform and to organize them into a coherent, action-oriented goal that requires loads of critical thinking (and hopefully the other C's as well!) The desired result is to increase their engagement, improve their learning, and better prepare them for the future.

Or, in simpler terms, it's a great way to spruce up those old, dusty lesson plans and help students plant seeds of change.

Here's a breakdown of what C.L.A.I.M. stands for, and why each is an important component to curriculum design. Do your units meet these criteria?


Definition: A diverse set of skills is needed to complete these tasks, and the skills required extend beyond content knowledge.  

Why? Our world is full of complex problems that require complex solutions. This means problem-solvers must take into account several factors, many of them potentially overlapping or conflicting, to satisfy all requirements. Think beyond the content. Does the problem involve economic, political, or social implications? For example, comparing soil samples in Science class is hands-on, but fairly simple thinking for a 7th grader.  Designing, funding, and convincing administration to install a community garden while using soil analysis to make crop and fertilizer choices - that incorporates math, science, reading, speaking, and technology skills, while also considering society, economics, and political savvy - now that's complexity.


Definition: Students are free to take diverse paths to solve a problem, and each student's solution may look different.  

Even when student solutions end up similar, their approach and supporting details can be different. Just asking students to design or develop a solution isn't enough - we have to guide them. But we have to do so without scripting the solutions for them.  Be careful your supports don't turn into shackles, that long directions don't become directives, and that you don't require a crippling number of criteria. I've seen over-scaffolding turn a promising project into a glorified fill-in-the-blank exercise.  Let your artists paint freely. Green light them to take risks and fail spectacularly.


Definition: Adults in the real world can get paid for doing the tasks you're asking students to do.  

Does that seem like an unusual definition? Well guess what - it gets no realer than bringing home a paycheck for your work!  Obviously you have to adjust for the age of your students, and smaller learning tasks can build up to a larger end goal. But if the big picture project that they are working on doesn't scale up to something worthwhile in the adult world, then ask yourself - what career skills are you really preparing them for?  Solving equations is a math skill, but without context, it becomes busy-work drudgery. Learning how to use algebraic equations to compare cell phone plans and pick the more cost-effective device, carrier & contract? That's something middle and high schoolers can relate to. And as an adult, so can I.


Definition: A curious person might take on these tasks - just because.

If you had to sell tickets to your class, would anyone buy them? If students were free to leave any time and go to another class... would they stay?  Pose interesting challenges, provide intriguing tools, and surprise yourself with the engagement you see. Writing another essay is only slightly more exciting to students as having to grade 125 more essays is to you.  Producing a video on a topic is more intriguing - both to create and to assess.


Definition: Someone in the real world might benefit from your students doing these tasks successfully. 

What's the number one question students ask - in their head, or out loud - especially your hardest to reach students - as soon as you announce an assignment?  "WHY are we doing this?"

Teachers, keep it real - how many times have you asked that same question while sitting at a meeting?  Nobody wants to engage in meaningless busy work, especially not just to appease someone else. So give students a problem to solve that has meaning to them - and the real world.  Don't just have students memorize our constitution - have them create a Bill of Rights for the student council to ratify. First, get them to care. Then attack a real problem. Real meaning, real challenges, real solutions.

Now let's be realistic.

All of your lesson plans aren't going to satisfy all 5 of these criteria. Not every time. Even some of your best projects may fall a short in one area. And that's OK. As long as you are looking through this lens as you design your student projects, you will be headed in the right direction.  Small changes, compounded over time, lead to big results.

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