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by • October 18, 2013 • UncategorizedComments (0)719

Causal Models Help Uncover Hidden Thoughts

One of the great struggles in teaching is getting students to think deeply.

My grade 7 students have been reading Ray Bradbury’s All Summer in a Day. An idea that I wanted students to consider was responsibility  – who is actually responsible for the main character, Margot, being locked in a closet while the sun came out after 7 years of rain?

After listing as a class who they considered responsible:

the kids
the teacher
parents
scientists
the author
Margot herself

I distributed a Circle of Responsibility sheet and asked them to fill it it and explain their distribution of responsibility.

Most were completed looking something like this; it was very apparent that they had remained at a superficial level of thinking. This is a framework that encourages students to find reasons for their opinions, but does not ask them to think at a deeper level, nor to find connections between their justifications.

The next day we constructed a Causal Model of responsibility. A causal model is a tool that helps make thinking explicit. It breaks down the hidden layers and causes students to build connections between ideas.

After identifying the parents, for example, we ask why – Why would they bring Margot to a planet where it rains for 7 years? This led students into deeper thinking – was it a money issue? Were they looking for adventure? Had they been forced to come? What might cause them to seek that level of adventure? Why would they be so desperate for money? How are the scientists connected to their decision?

As students dig deeper into causality, they begin to link ideas and see how one aspect influences another.  It is a fun thinking task to engage in. I love how students enter into the play of generating and linking ideas. It’s very freeing as a thinking tool. Most of all, students began to see that distributing responsibility for Margot’s dilemma is actually quite complex, that determining responsibility for an injustice is not an easy task.

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