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What is the Depth & Complexity Framework and why implement it in the classroom?

What is the Depth & Complexity Framework?

Inquiry and Brain Based

The DCF classroom supports brain-based learning that follows the 50/50 rule—half of the lesson is teacher led, direct instruction and the other half is devoted to students’ processing and applying information through collaborative discussions and creative products. Purposeful, high level questions are created by teachers and students using depth & complexity icons that serve as visual, focusing prompts.  This type of classroom also requires the implementation of 21st Century skills that are often hard to teach in a non-inquiry based classroom. 

Standards Based

Depth & Complexity prompts can be used to “activate” academic standards when prompts are matched to standard-defined outcomes.  Layering of prompts allows for differentiation of process for those who are ready to learn, not yet ready to learn and already know the grade level standard being taught.  This type of tiered differentiation can assist teachers in creating extension tasks that are designed so students can exceed grade level expectations.

Gradual Release of Responsibility

The goal of the Depth & Complexity Framework is to provide students with a common set of K-12 focused thinking tools they will use throughout their lives. As students become confident in using those tools, teachers begin the gradual release of responsibility required for students to become self-learners.   


Why Increase Depth & Complexity in the Classroom?

Higher Cognitive Questions

Increasing the use of higher cognitive questions produces superior learning gains for students above the primary grades and particularly for secondary students (Cotton, 1988).

Teachers who use the Depth & Complexity prompts as thinking strategies with purpose have students who engage in the work with purpose.  Both students and teachers also think broader, deeper and more rigorously.

Student Engagement

Those students who are motivated by and engaged in learning tend to perform considerably higher academically and are better behaved than unmotivated and un-engaged peers (Fredricks, Bulumenfeld, & Paris, 2004).

The use of the Depth & Complexity Framework (DCF) promotes a community of engaged teachers and students learning together.

Deeper Learning through Collaboration

Research as reported by the Cornell University Center for Teaching shows that educational experiences that are active, social, contextual, engaging, and student-owned lead to deeper learning.

DCF peer facilitators report that discussion is supported by the framework.  This increases participant’s engagement and willingness to take risks during the learning experiences. 

Gifted Identification of Underrepresented Populations

Classroom implementation of the Depth & Complexity Framework supports programming that increases opportunities for students to demonstrate gifted characteristics and behaviors. This framework for learning also provides a means to observe strengths in student thinking and performance, which facilitates the referral and identification of students from underrepresented populations. 


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