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Super Dave and Connect, Extend, Challenge

I had the opportunity this spring to spend time learning together with about 35 middle school ELA and social studies teachers as part of a Library of Congress TPS mini-grant project. We’ve spent multiple sessions over the last few months exploring the connection between literature and social studies content. (As Ferris Bueller once said, “. . . I highly recommend you picking one up.”)

The project was awesome for a lot of reasons but one of the main reasons was middle school teacher and social studies rock star Dave McIntire. It was last summer that I asked Dave to act as a master teacher for the project, sharing his experience and expertise with the group. And so ever since we kicked the project off in January, I’ve had the chance to soak up all the goodness that is Mr. McIntire and have learned so much.

Last Monday, as he shared a sample lesson with the group, I was able to pick up one final nugget before we broke for the summer.

A simple but powerful strategy called Connect Extend Challenge.

Now I’ve had the chance to learn about all sorts of primary source and evidence graphic organizers, thinking strategies, and summary activities. So while there are always new things to learn, running across something I haven’t seen before doesn’t just happen every day of the week.

And when Dave threw out the Connect Extend Challenge tool, it just reinforced his reputation as a social studies guru. If you’ve heard of this activity, love it, and use it already . . . feel free to go about your business. But if you’re like me and Connect Extend Challenge is something new, hang around.

Developed by Harvard’s Project Zero, Connect Extend Challenge is a thinking routine that helps kids make connections between new ideas and content to what they already know and to what makes sense to them. So it’s a perfect way for your students to begin thinking about primary sources and how they can be applied to your direct instruction, a video clip, a piece of literature, or something they learned last year.

This thinking routine provides a visual space and structure to help students connect new ideas with ones that they already have, reflect upon how they have broadened their thinking, and unpack what challenges them or their thinking. Connect Extend Challenge can demonstrate to kids that ideas and information can connect to other subjects and topics that they already know, providing the freedom to think in new ways or to question assumptions or misconceptions.

A basic structure would be to give groups of kids one or more primary sources and ask them to think about the sources using the following three sets of questions:

Connect: How do the ideas and information in this reading connect to what you already know about ______________?

Extend: How does this reading extend or broaden your thinking about ______________?

Challenge: Does this reading challenge or complicate your understanding of ______________? What new questions does it raise for you?

You’ll want to keep a visible record of students’ ideas. If you are working in groups, keeptrack of the conversations and ask students to share some of their thoughts, collecting a list of ideas in each of the three categories. Have your kids write responses on large poster paper or smaller post-it notes, Maybe add them to a shared Google Doc or spreadsheet.

Get more details and the template above at the Facing History & Ourselves site. Alice Vigors has also developed a template and some instructions at the Thinking Pathways site. And the Harvard Project Zero also has some resources.

Thanks, Dave. Next drink’s on me.

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