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Students Reach for the 'Skylights' of Learning
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Each week, an educator takes a stand or shares an Aha! moment in the classroom in the Education World Voice of Experience column. This week, educator Brenda Dyck writes in the voice of her students about her efforts to challenge them to use more thinking skills at the higher levels of Bloom's taxonomy. She helps students see how those skills require a strong foundation as she builds their awareness of high-level thinking. Included: A bulletin board in Dyck's classroom is a constant reminder to students of the higher-level thinking skills they should strive to use!


In this Voice of Experience essay, teacher Brenda Dyck offers a unique view of her efforts to stretch students' critical-thinking skills to the higher levels of Bloom's taxonomy. She has written this week's essay about those efforts as her students might have told it!

"There are one-story intellects, two-story intellects, and three-story intellects with skylights. All fact collectors who have no aim beyond their facts are one-story men. Two-story men compare, reason, and generalize, using the labor of fact collectors as their own. Three-story men idealize, imagine, predict -- their best illumination comes from above the skylight."         -- Oliver Wendell Holmes

As we have endeavored to catch a glimpse of the "skylights" of learning that Holmes refers to, we -- the students in Mrs. Dyck's class -- have also spent time in the second story, the first story, and sometimes even the basement!

This bulletin board in our classroom stands as a constant reminder of the kinds of thinking we should strive to do. Click to see a larger image.
(Photo courtesy Brenda Dyck)

Yes, we, like all learners, must spend some time in the basement. Doing math rewrites, reworking assignments, keeping track of notes, and sometimes dealing with behavioral issues, such as bullying -- those are a few of the things we do in the basement. It can be kind of dark and discouraging down there, but Mrs. Dyck often comes down with a bright searchlight to remind us that we don't have to stay down there for long. She tells us that it is important to realize that this is the foundation of the building. Without a foundation of good work habits and redone assignments, our building would not stay up for long. A weak foundation definitely wouldn't support our upper-story thinking efforts.

We have also learned that there are no shortcuts in the basement, no matter how slow and unproductive the time might seem.

Our first-story experiences are made up of quizzes, tests, and review activities. We have discovered that if we put in the time, life on the first story can be quite pleasant. There we experience success; we even feel like we "know" a lot. Mrs. Dyck doesn't seem to be satisfied with life on the first story, though. "Using" the facts that we've learned seems to be more important to her than just "collecting" those facts. She is always taking the information that we've gathered on the first story and asking us to follow her up "those slippery, hazy stairs" to the next story above us.

Time on the first story is really is never wasted, Mrs. Dyck reminds us, because without it we wouldn't have the courage or even the ability to move up to those higher stories.


More Voices of Experience!
Click to read Voice of Experience essays from previous weeks.

We have to admit that it's a bit of an adventure up here on the second story. We've discovered that it isn't enough to just spit out those facts that we gathered on the first level. As a matter of fact, to do that seems rather boring. Instead of just filling in blanks and answering questions with pat answers, we get to use such tools as fishbone diagrams, Venn diagrams, and flowcharts to transport our "facts" to another level of understanding. We use a variety of other graphic organizers for this purpose too.

If life on the second story is an adventure, life on the third story provides a quick look at the future. Some of us haven't been to the third story yet. We hear you there only after spending a lot of time roaming around on the second floor. The third floor is a place where our imaginations take off and we are free to envision a better future or experience a defining moment in our learning. The thing about the third story is that it isn't somewhere you just camp out. You will need to revisit all the other stories for the opportunity to spend time on the third story. You will catch only a glimpse of the third story after spending lots of time on the lower stories.

See an example of our third-story writing and thinking. In this project, called I'm Leading, Is Anybody Following?, we examined various leaders throughout history in light of the seven characteristics of a good leader.

See another sample of upper-level thinking. In this activity, we demonstrated our abilities to synthesize [a third-story learning skill] by translating an abstract idea, such as democracy, into a concrete model. (Note: If the link above does not work, cut and paste the URL,
, into your browser.)
The reason there are skylights on the third level is because once you get there, you realize that there are fourth, fifth, sixth, or more stories! The sky is the limit! Mrs. Dyck says that those are the places of Profound Learning. She says learning at those levels isn't always about math, science, or social studies. Sometimes the learning there is about believing in your ability to learn or using a skill that you learned in a lower level to make a life-changing decision.

Along for the Climb
(Mrs. Dyck's Grade 6 Class)

Brenda Dyck teaches at Master's Academy and College in Calgary, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching sixth grade math, Brenda works with her staff in the area of technology integration. Her "Electronic Thread" column is a regular feature in the National Middle School Association's Journal, Middle Ground. Brenda is a teacher-editor for Midlink magazine.