Part II: Thinking About Thinking Series

This is part two of a five-part series focused on using thinking routines to drive metacognitive skill building. Click here to revisit my first blog in this series on using the “I see, I think, I wonder” routine.

To recap, metacognition is a cognitive ability that allows learners to consider their thought patterns, approaches to learning, and understanding of a topic or idea. Teachers can leverage the power of thinking routines developed by Project Zero at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education to help students develop their metacognitive muscles. The thinking routines are a collection of purposeful and structured thinking patterns designed to stimulate students’ cognitive engagement and cultivate higher cognitive awareness.

Teachers can use these thinking routines to design online or offline stations in a station rotation or embed them into a playlist to encourage students to pause and intentionally spend time thinking about their learning. Thinking routines offer more than just a structured pathway for students to delve into their thinking and explore the content deeply; they also serve as a window into their cognitive processes, offering invaluable formative assessment data.

Connect, Extend, Challenge Thinking Routine

The “Connect, Extend, Challenge” thinking routine offers a structured approach to deepen understanding and reflection. Learners can more effectively assimilate and interrogate new concepts by connecting new information to prior knowledge, extending ideas beyond initial comprehension, and pinpointing areas of challenge or uncertainty. This routine fosters critical thinking and enhances the meaningful integration of new learning into an individual’s cognitive framework.

The “connect, extend, challenge” routine fosters deep reflection and comprehension. In the “connect” phase, students anchor new information or ideas to their prior knowledge, making unfamiliar content more accessible and resonant.

Next, students progress to the stage of “extend.” Learners consider how new concepts can push the boundaries of their current understanding, promoting a broader, more nuanced, or complex perspective.

Lastly, the “challenge” phase compels students to confront uncertainties, contradictions, or gaps in their understanding of new content, setting the stage for targeted inquiry and clarification. The inherent versatility of this routine ensures its applicability across many subjects and educational levels.

More than mere content digestion, this method nurtures metacognitive growth. By guiding students through these reflective stages, they are better poised to develop their self-awareness, becoming independent and discerning thinkers ready to tackle complex challenges.

Using Connect, Extend, Challenge at the Elementary Level

Story Time Reflection

  • Connect: After reading a story, ask students to relate a character or situation to something from their own lives.
  • Extend: Prompt them to think about how the story might continue or how a character might act in a different setting.
  • Challenge: Have students identify something puzzling or confusing in the story.

Exploring Nature

  • Connect: During an outdoor class, ask students to find something in nature that reminds them of something they’ve seen before.
  • Extend: Ask them how this object or creature might change in different seasons or environments.
  • Challenge: Encourage them to think about a question they have about this object or creature.

Math Problem Solving

  • Connect: Relate a new math concept to a daily life scenario or a previously learned concept.
  • Extend: Ask students how they might use this math concept in a more complex real-world situation.
  • Challenge: Have them identify parts of the concept or problem they find tricky or puzzling.

Art Exploration

  • Connect: After creating a piece of artwork, ask students to describe what inspired them or what personal experiences influenced their creation.
  • Extend: Encourage them to imagine how they could expand or transform their artwork using different materials or techniques.
  • Challenge: Discuss any difficulties they faced during the creation process.

Cultural Practices and Celebrations

  • Connect: When learning about a specific cultural practice or celebration, ask students to find parallels in their own culture or celebrations they’re familiar with.
  • Extend: Discuss the historical, religious, or social roots of the celebration and how they might be shared or differ across cultures.
  • Challenge: Encourage debates or reflections on aspects of a practice or celebration that might be misunderstood outside its original context.

Physical Education and Movement

  • Connect: After introducing a new sport or game, ask students if it reminds them of any other games they have played before.
  • Extend: Discuss how rules or strategies might change if the game were played in a different environment (e.g., playing soccer on sand vs. grass).
  • Challenge: Encourage students to come up with their own modifications to the game that could make it more challenging or fun.

Music and Sound

  • Connect: After listening to a musical piece, ask students if the music reminds them of any place, story, or emotion.
  • Extend: Discuss how the song might sound different with different instruments or if played in a different style.
  • Challenge: Encourage them to identify parts of the music that they found unexpected or unfamiliar.

Using Connect, Extend, Challenge at the Secondary Level

Literary Analysis

  • Connect: Have students relate a theme or character trait from a novel to current events or personal experiences.
  • Extend: Encourage discussion on how this theme might be relevant in different cultural or historical contexts.
  • Challenge: Ask students to critically evaluate any ambiguities or contradictions in the text.

Scientific Investigations

  • Connect: Relate a newly introduced scientific concept to previous lessons or real-world applications.
  • Extend: Encourage students to hypothesize about future implications or advanced applications of this concept.
  • Challenge: Ask students to generate questions about any controversial or debated aspects of this scientific concept.

Historical Events

  • Connect: Ask students to draw parallels between a historical event and current events.
  • Extend: Encourage them to speculate on how a different outcome in history might have affected the present.
  • Challenge: Discuss any discrepancies or uncertainties in historical records or interpretations.

Advanced Math Exploration

  • Connect: Relate new mathematical theories or concepts to real-world scenarios or professions.
  • Extend: Prompt students to explore the potential advancements or innovations that could arise from these mathematical concepts.
  • Challenge: Encourage debates on any paradoxes, contradictions, or complexities in the theory.

Visual Arts and Media Studies

  • Connect: After analyzing a piece of visual art or a media clip, ask students to draw parallels with other works or media trends they’re familiar with.
  • Extend: Discuss how the message or impact of the artwork or clip might change in a different sociocultural context or era.
  • Challenge: Encourage students to critique any biases, stereotypes, or messages conveyed in the piece, and how it might be received differently by diverse audiences.

Technology and Computer Science

  • Connect: When introducing a new software application or algorithm, have students relate it to other technologies they use daily.
  • Extend: Encourage them to speculate on future advancements or innovations that this technology could lead to or be integrated with.
  • Challenge: Prompt a discussion about potential ethical, security, or social implications tied to the new technology or its applications.

Economics and Business Studies

  • Connect: After studying an economic trend or business strategy, ask students how it mirrors or deviates from other models or periods they’ve studied.
  • Extend: Discuss the potential long-term impacts of this trend or strategy on global economies, societies, or environments.
  • Challenge: Encourage debates on any controversial aspects, potential pitfalls, or criticisms of the discussed trend or strategy.

The “connect, extend, challenge” thinking routine encourages students to delve deeper into their understanding and broaden their perspectives while confronting uncertainties head-on. This thinking routine strengthens the links between prior knowledge and new learning, paving the way for deeper learning. It helps cultivate resilient thinkers ready to tackle the complexities of the world with a discerning eye and adaptability.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll delve into the practical uses of the “I used to think… now I think” routine for educators. Uncover the myriad ways this reflective tool can help students understand the impact of learning experiences on their thinking.

4 Responses

  1. I appreciate how you have examples for the different subjects and grade levels, that is so helpful for seeing how to apply the strategy. The poster with the sentence starters is an excellent tool. Thank you.

  2. This is a very interesting article I have learnt a lot from this. I would give it a try. Thank you for sharing

  3. This is spectacular! Is there a chance that you have this graphic in black for printing? I’d love to insert this into my students’ reference binders.

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