Students are always asking for "the" answer. However when dealing with higher order thinking, students must often "read between the lines" and use logic to draw conclusions. This can be frustrating for students who lack problem solving skills and a deep understanding of content. Design scaffolding to help students develop skills in inferential thinking across the curriculum.
Examine ways to help students make inferences across the social studies and science curriculum.
Inference is the reasoning involved in drawing conclusions based on evidence and prior knowledge rather than observation. While some students may be able to practice this critical skill with abstract examples, others may need concrete examples.
When inferring, students must draw conclusions when the answer is never clearly stated. They bring personal meaning to the text by connecting it with prior knowledge. Students must use hints or clues in the text or data to figure out the best solution to the problem or make a decision. They must dig deeper than the surface detail to get to other meanings that are suggested or implied but not stated directly.
When making an inference, you must often choose between possible explanations. For example if a baby is crying, it could have a wet diaper, be hungry, or want attention. If it's almost dinner time, the baby is probably hungry. However it's important to consider the other possibilities before drawing this conclusion.
The Process of Making Inferences
Students must combine the information provided with previous knowledge, experience, and beliefs to come up with the answer. In other words, they make an educated guess or prediction. As a result, not everyone may draw the same conclusion. A person's experience impacts their perspective. As a result, it's important that students get multiple opportunities gain experiences through face-to-face and virtual discussions with others inside and outside the school setting.
While some students may be able to practice this critical skill with abstract examples, others may need concrete examples.
Consider the following questions based on the photos above:
Students often have difficulty on standards related to inferential thinking. When designing activities, pick a specific performance gap. Then, design a range of concrete to abstract activities to reach different students. Science experiments work well for these kinds of activities. Use the following websites to locate science experiments to try. Use your digital cameras to record the experiment and write about your findings.
Mystery reading is a popular way to promote inferential thinking. For example, the book Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett focuses on a mystery about a piece of stolen artwork. Online resources can help studnts collect clues and seek information.
An inference involves developing insight and helping students "see the light". Inferring involves many skills:
Use the following books to promote inferential thinking. Before you begin, ask some of the following questions to get them thinking about inferential thinking.
Questioning to Facilitate Inferential Thinking
First, determine whether the answer is clear or whether it will need to be inferred. Then ask yourself the following questions:
Making Inferences from Online Resources
Model Inference. Start by sharing short online webpages such as news articles and highlighting the clues that help students make inferences.
Provide Guidance. Use guiding questions to encourage students to make inferences from multiple page websites. Move though a website or series of screens as a large group. Direct student attention through questioning.
Identify Common Errors. Help students identify common mistakes in website use. At the same time discuss the importance of knowing the origin of the information, perspective of the website, and authority of the author.
Common errors in inferential thinking include:
Practice Inferential Thinking
Students need formal and informal experiences with inferential thinking. Formal experiences are those that are organized by the teacher to build particular types of skills. For example, turn common logic problems into meaningful activities that promote inferential thinking.
Look for other online practice problems using the following topics and ideas.
Visual Literacy and Inference
Seek out online activities that promote inferential thinking.
Making Inferences in Literature
When working with students, use the example of being a detective and solving a mystery. The detective must weigh all the evidence before making a decision. Think about what happens after a plane disaster. Investigators examine the black box recorder, pieces of the plane, survivor interviews, witness accounts, and any other forms of information they can find.
Use Logic. See if you can figure out the answer by looking at all the available information. If it's a word, see if you can figure out the meaning from the context of the sentence. If it's the answer to a math problem, see if the information needed to solve the problem can be found in the story problem or data set. If it's a problem related to history or science, look at all the related events.
Analyze Examples. Look for examples that might provide an explanation. What describes this situation? What information relates to this problem? What are the place, places, and things that might help me understand the situation? What experiences have I had that are similar to this situation?
Examine All Information Forms. Look beyond the text. Consider audio, data, photographs, and other ways to represent ideas. Consider facial expressions, the tone of a voice, and other elements that might be found in multimedia information sources. Also, look for real objects and settings. Consider context.
Visualize Thinking. Create a chart or diagram that helps you see different perspectives, points of view, options, or different ways of thinking about the topic. If it's the meaning of a word, look for synonyms with similar meaning or antonyms with opposite meaning to infer meaning. Create a Venn diagram or other chart to compare and contrast ideas. Consider logic charts, KWL charts, and other ways of organizing ideas and information to visualize thinking.
Remain Skeptical. Become a devil's advocate. Look at all perspectives. Consider why information might be incorrect or untrue.
Scientists make inferences based on observations. They make hypotheses, collect data, interpret data, and draw conclusions. In some cases scientists can't make direct observations, instead they have to make predictions based on the evidence. For example, we can't visit the core of the earth, but we can still make predictions about volcanoes adn earthquakes.
Interpolating and extrapolating are elements of predictions. When scientists interpolate, they observe, then make predictions within the range of the current data. When scientists extrapolate, they use analyze available information, then make predictions outside of the range of current data. Inferences aren't answers, they're educated guesses based on evidence.
Learn More About Inferential Thinking
Developed by Annette Lamb, 3/06.