No Student is Too Young for Rigor: Instilling Deeper Levels of Learning

Higher-Level Thinking and Young Children

Many teachers find it difficult to use certain elements with younger students. Elements in the latter part of Design Question 2, for example, require higher-level thinking skills and macro strategies where learning is more student-directed than it is in some of the other elements.

What does it look like for a young child to:

  • Revise knowledge?
  • Examine errors in reasoning?
  • Elaborate on new information?
  • Reflect on learning?

While outcomes vary, a young child’s mental efforts are similar to those of older students. The real question is how to provide the right type of support to young learners as they engage in higher-level thinking.

Read Aloud to Students

Reading material designed for beginning readers is easily decoded, but it may not carry meaningful text that causes students to engage in more complex thinking. Since they’re not ready to read more complex texts, you can read aloud to them to help them comprehend the material without having to decode the words.

To really get students’ wheels turning, pause at appropriate stopping points and give them time to process the information. Ask questions, making some of them challenging, to get them making decisions and inferences. For instance, after a key part of the text, have them work in pairs or groups to evaluate a character’s attempt to solve a problem. This is the same type of learning experience that you might offer to independent readers.

Elaborating on Their Learning

To deepen their understanding of the content, students can take information from the text, record it on chart paper, and make an inference about the information. If the information was factual, you might demonstrate the process of recording information by having them generate notes on a concept map. Be sure to intersperse higher-order thinking by varying the complexity of your questions.

If the students are studying various types of habitats, they can list characteristics of the animals in each or predict where an animal may fit based on its characteristics. Help them see the relationship between each animal and its habitat. To move them into a more complex activity, ask them something like, “What might need to change for an animal to be placed in a different habitat?” In small groups or with a partner, have them draw the animal with the proposed changes and incorporate labels from the concept map they created.

How can Young Children Revise Their Knowledge?

After reading the text, direct young learners to review their posters again or identify the things they would change  based on the information they heard in the text. You might also have them:

  • Create a poster of things their bodies need to stay healthy
  • Use pictures from a magazine or draw pictures with others
  • Use labels on their drawings
  • Attach sounds to words that describe pictures or drawings

How Can They Examine Errors in Reasoning?

Have you ever read a story in which the main character makes multiple attempts to solve a problem, only to learn a valuable lesson about why each attempt had been unsuccessful? You can use this type of text with young learners to show clear examples of decision-making and faulty logic.

Similarly, students can identify why solutions didn’t work at key parts of the read-aloud, either with partners or in small groups. Help cement their understanding by having them record the character’s attempts and the related outcomes on a two-column table. This also enables them to see the relationship to print and gives them experience with recording and representing knowledge.

Rigor is not Just for Older Learners

Most of the work in preschools and primary grades has traditionally involved teaching basic skills and concepts at an understanding level, but our youngest learners can (and should) also be engaged in activities that require more complex thinking. Intentional planning can help you incorporate activities that extend beyond understanding to reach deeper levels of learning.

Would you like to read more about helping students move further toward cognitive complexity? Visit the Marzano Center blog and subscribe to our newsletter, CenterED Weekly. In addition, we’d love to see you at Building Expertise, the third annual international Marzano conference, in Orlando June 18-20. This event sells out quickly, so be sure to reserve your seat!

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