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by • March 26, 2014 • UncategorizedComments (0)1065

Using the Ladder of Inference to Improve Student-Teacher Communication

Because I teach both grades 7 and  6 Language, Social Studies and Computers, I have the benefit of seeing how the junior grades prepare students for middle school.  Our junior grades are focused heavily on inquiry, The Thinking Matrix and setting a strong foundation for writing so that when students come into middle school, they are ready to take on the challenges of Integrative Thinking. The Ladder of Inference is a tool that I reserve for grade 7, simply because learning the process of inquiry already provides such deep thinking opportunities for my grade 6s that I haven’t felt it necessary to introduce the ladder.

This week, though, something happened in class that made it necessary to introduce students to the Ladder of Inference. We wrote a quiz. We were reviewing sentence structure – subjects, predicates and fragments – because the author of our novel, The People of  Spark, often uses fragments for effect. After leaving a lesson on this with a supply teacher and knowing we had gone over sentence structure at the beginning of the school year, I wanted to quickly determine which students understood the concepts.

As I began marking the quizzes, a student casually walked past me, looked at them and said, “I know I failed that. I thought it was going to be all about the definitions.” There were no definitions on the quiz. All the questions were about application. Could students identify a fragment, tell whether it was a subject or a predicate and then write it as a complete sentence? I knew I needed to introduce the Ladder.

We did a number of preliminary activities to understand the Ladder and then we turned to the quiz. In the data pool is all the information that was available to us about our work on and the topic of Fragments. Next we constructed my Ladder. I showed the students everything that I had paid attention to in the data pool that caused me to create a quiz with only application questions. Then we constructed the student’s ladder:

Interpretation:   1. The worksheets had many definitions 2. Teachers often test definitions.
                                                          Definitions must be important.

Conclusion: If I study definitions, I will be successful on the quiz.

Today, we went deeper into assessment. I wanted students to think about their work in terms of the Ontario Achievement Chart so that they are better able to construct their teachers’ ladders. I put the chart into kid-friendly language. We discussed the quiz and figured out that the student was anticipating Knowledge and Understanding questions and I was thinking about Application questions.

Next I gave students a copy of an assessment they had been given in Science earlier in the year. They worked in partners to figure out where each question fit on the achievement chart, including combinations (for example, K & U, and Application)  It was fascinating to listen to the quality of discussions as students worked their way through this task.

After we debriefed, I pointed out that they need to become comfortable with the language of the Achievement Chart so that they can better understand the work they are being asked to do and what causes them to miss or hit the mark. I gave an example from a high school student who was very frustrated in her math class but didn’t have the language of the Achievement Chart to understand what was causing the frustration.  It turns out that the math instruction centered only on knowledge and understanding – students were being shown formulas – yet the assessments were all about application of the formulas. There was a disconnect between instruction and assessment. Being able to break down a task in terms of the Achievement Chart will help them communicate better with their teachers and allow them to become more successful in school.

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