Sunday, May 26, 2024

Icons of learning

Azle students and faculty present on new district-wide Depth and Complexity framework


AZLE —Students across Azle ISD have had a lot to ponder this year. After a successful launch, Hoover Elementary teachers, instructional coaches, administrators and students presented a new way the district’s students have been learning. The group met with Azle ISD trustees during a recent April 15 board meeting. In collaboration with the J Taylor Education Center for Depth and Complexity, Azle ISD rolled out a district-wide implementation of new tools and icons to aid in teaching in fall 2023.

Depth and Complexity utilizes 11 icons to help children think about their work holistically and to increase their overall grasp of subject matter. Icons are symbols for a lens or idea students can apply to what they’re learning. Icons include “language of the discipline,” “details,” “patterns,” “rules,” “trends,” “unanswered questions,” “ethics,” “big idea,” “over time,” “multiple perspectives” and “across disciplines.” Through Depth and Complexity students also learn about content imperatives such as origin, contribution and convergence.

Hoover Elementary fifth graders were the first to be introduced to these concepts last year, followed by an expansion to the rest of Azle ISD. The framework is now implemented in classes from kindergarten through senior year. Administrators said even pre-k teachers are now asking about it.

This is fifth grade teacher Quinton Womble’s first year at his job, though he was first introduced to the concept as a student teacher. Womble appeared alongside other ISD staff and students to describe his experience with Depth and Complexity and how he uses the framework.

“Immediately, I could see the benefit just based on the conversation I was having with a bunch of senior teachers,” Womble said. “It just developed really quickly. Immediately, I started clicking with ideas in my head about how I might be able to incorporate them in my future classroom. I had been student teaching just long enough to be shocked by how challenging it can be to inspire dialogue with students and to inspire writing. This is a text message and tweet generation. We don’t get a lot out of them when we ask unless we really push. The benefit of this is that it does just that, it pushes them into producing in the classroom.”

Students are asked to “ponder the     of     ” using an icon to delve deep into a subject. For example, if students were asked to ponder the details of a reading passage, they would then find evidence and examples to support their opinions and ideas and ask themselves, “what are its characteristics?”

Using icons, Womble and other teachers have been able to compare poems from disparate periods and genres such as “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost and “The Rose that Grew Through Concrete” by Tupac Shakur. Womble said the tools have been easy to implement in classes and have received a largely positive response from parents at this year’s showcase.

“Fast forward to fifth grade when I’m teaching at Hoover and I see the same things,” Womble said. “These are still kids that are having a hard time putting a full sentence together at the beginning of the year. By incorporating Depth and Complexity into the curriculum proceedings, growth and writing in class production and dialogue over text, we’re having meaningful conversations in class. It’s not all me talking. These kids are talking to each other through the lens of Depth and Complexity. We’re using the icons and the think along plans to give these kids a lens to focus and improve their critical thinking process with the help of correlating prompts as shown in the Depth and Complexity frames. The barriers we often see with respect to synthesizing are gone. We’re not getting one and two, three-word answers; we’re getting in depth thought processes.”

In a demonstration for the board of trustees, Hoover students looked at pictures and proposed several different possible interpretations and explanations based on the different icons. Sixth graders Zoe and Willow and fifth graders Micah and Anniston spoke in front of the board of trustees in one exercise applying icons to a picture of girl watching TV from under a blanket.

“I ponder multiple perspectives of this photo,” Micah said. “A perspective would be that there is a girl who got cold and just wanted to watch TV. Another one could be that the girl was sad that something happened, and she watched TV trying to escape that feeling.”

Hoover Principal Jonni Bettis said before Depth and Complexity, when students were asked what they were learning they’d often just point to their work. Now, Bettis said that students will have deeper conversations with her and describe what they were writing in detail. By encouraging writing in subjects like math and science, instructors hope students get an all-around better understanding of what they’re doing and why.

“It really encourages comprehension over just memorization,” Michelle Brown, an instructional coach at Hoover said. “We’ve seen so much more writing happen when we started using these icons and these things than we did before. It really encourages comprehension over just memorization.”

The Center for Depth and Complexity reaches approximately 2.4 million students across nine countries, 45 states and 102,002 classrooms. With this partnership, Azle schools hope to instill greater knowledge in their students, expand their vocabularies, and much more. To learn more about the partnership between Azle ISD and the Center for Depth and Complexity, visit