Standardized testing is generally looked upon with disdain by educators across the nation. There is a reason for this: a predominant focus on testing results in classrooms that are not designed to foster inquiry. Making sure students can pass standardized tests requires a focus on uniformity, discipline, and memorization. These foci may help on tests, but do not promote deeper thinking and retention of knowledge (Larmer, 2018). As The United States has moved through the first quarter of the 21st century, though, there has been a change: a noticeable shift in the type of classroom environments are being advocated for by educators. Collaboration, creativity, analysis, and access are all key components of these new innovative classrooms (BattelleforKids, n.d.).
Teacher centered environments in which intructivism is the main tool of teaching, creates shallow knowledge in students that is very quickly forgotten. This is because, within those environments, the students are only engaging in simple cognitive processes (Sawyer & Wagner, 2019). In order to create deep and long lasting knowledge, students must be the drivers of their education. Deep knowledge is created when students make connections- when they engage their neuro associative pathways to cement their already established knowledge to newly learned concepts (Baggio, 2011). This requires students to engage with their learning in activities that require higher order thinking.
Memorization is still a necessary aspect in the learning process, but it can not stand alone as the sole means of establishing deep knowledge. This was recognized in 1956 by Dr. Benjamin Bloom when he developed Bloom’s Taxonomy which sequentially categorized skills from lower ordered thinking to higher ordered thinking. This Taxonomy explains that students develop deeper understanding by first mastering lower skills that are categorized as “Remembering” then move on to higher ordered skills in categories labeled “Evaluating” and “Creating”. Bloom’s Taxonomy pushed the notion that students must be active participants and decision makers in order to successfully develop high order thinking skills. Though this Taxonomy has been criticized due to its hierarchical structure, it successfully challenged the notion of Behaviorism and is still widely used by educators to recognize skills that indicate deep understanding. In 2009, Dr. Karin Hess developed the HESS Cognitive Rigor Matrix based on the Depth of Knowledge theory developed by Dr. Norman Webb in 1997. Through her Matrix, Hess uses Dr. Webb’s theories to revise Bloom’s Taxonomy in an effort to show that the six categories of skills displayed with that Taxonomy do not exist in a hierarchy. It is not necessary for students to conquer one skill then to the next. Rather, the continual development of each of the six skills is what should be used to measure progression in Depth of Knowledge.
The previously mentioned skills of collaboration, creativity, and analysis all promote essential processes that are identified in Hess's Matrix, and are skills that exist when students function within environments of constructivism(Baggio, 2011)- environments in which the teacher exists as a facilitator in a student centered atmosphere. The theory of constructivism places the students as the foundation of their learning. This then leaves room for exploration that brings students down varying paths of inquiry, but all leading to a common academic goal. This environment requires students to bridge gaps in knowledge through their own discovery: both promoting deeper thinking and establishing a sense of agency. Student agency is fostered in environments that allow for exploration and occurs when students feel as though they have authentic authority over their learning(Williams, 2017). This study analyzed what role Project Based learning may play as an inquiry based tool to promote deeper thinking and greater student agency.
Baggio, B. (2011). The Visual Connection: Best Practices for teachers, trainers and smes. Advantage Learning Technologies, Inc.
Battelle for Kids. (n.d.). Battelle for Kids. Retrieved from http://battelleforkids.org.
Larmer, J. (2018). Project-Based Learning in Social Studies. Social Education , 82(1), 20–23.
Sawyer, R. K., & Wagner, T. (2019). The creative classroom: Innovative teaching for 21st-century learners. Teachers College Press.
Williams, P. (2017). Student Agency for Powerful Learning. Power to the Pupil: Student Agency in the School Library, 45(4), 8–15.