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Lessons from Metropolitan Diploma Plus: Higher-Order Thinking through Daily Academic Discussion

September 2016

“The tools and strategies we developed and piloted have ensured that our students become stronger readers, writers, and thinkers.”

–Assistant Principal Judy Caputo, Metropolitan Diploma Plus

Higher-Order Thinking through Daily Academic Discussion describes how Metropolitan Diploma Plus High School (Metro), a transfer school in Brownsville, Brooklyn, put students at the center of their own learning by providing frequent opportunities for them to discuss texts, concepts, and their own thinking processes with one another. By focusing on speaking and listening skills, teachers helped students better understand complex texts while also enhancing important critical thinking skills, such as analysis, evaluation, and synthesis. This in turn led to increases in pass rates on state exams in English (+7%) and U.S. History (+16%).

This work, spanning 2013–2016, was carried out by a group of teachers across departments at Metro who participated in the Transfer School Common Core Institute (TSCCI), a professional-development initiative led by the NYC Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Readiness. Teachers theorized that if they spent more time engaging students in academic discussions about texts, experiments, and mathematical problems, it would boost students’ critical thinking skills and argumentative writing—and it did. As Assistant Principal Judy Caputo shared, “We knew that if our students could speak about a topic, they would be able to write more critically about that topic…the tools and strategies we developed and piloted through TSCCI have ensured that our students become stronger readers, writers, and thinkers.” With support from TSCCI partners Eskolta and reDesign, teachers developed tools that led to changes in instructional practices in all areas, including differentiation and tracking of student progress on specific skill areas. Students are now at the center of the classroom, and judging by their increased engagement, they like being there.

This report provides detailed descriptions of the steps and structures Metro teachers developed to support students’ speaking and listening skills. These tools include rubrics for speaking and listening and writing; sentence stems to promote metacognition and accountable talk during in-class discussion; self-monitoring worksheets for students to set goals and keep track of their own progress; and a discussion tracker for teachers to quickly gather observations on student skills during class.

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