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The Depth and Complexity Framework was originally developed in the mid 1990’s by Dr. Sandra Kaplan, Bette Gould, and Sheila Madsen. Its primary purpose was to push students towards thinking that is similar to professionals/experts. The creators sought to answer the question: How can educators prompt students to go beyond a basic understanding of content and elicit critical thinking at an expert level, regardless of topic/content?

From this analysis of how experts practice their craft, eleven different pathways/lenses that professionals use were identified. Those eleven (Language of the Discipline, Details, Patterns, Rules, Trends, Unanswered Questions, Ethics, Big Idea, Over Time, Multiple Perspectives, and Across Disciplines) were each assigned a symbol and the Depth and Complexity Icons were born. Indeed, pairing thinking skills with iconic prompts demands deeper analysis, evaluation and a more complex understanding of a topic. While the Depth and Complexity Icons are the most widely-used component of Depth and Complexity, there are several more pieces that comprise the Depth and Complexity Framework.

The Depth and Complexity Framework’s components: Critical and Creative Thinking Skills, Depth and Complexity Icons, Content Imperatives, Disciplinarian Thinking, and Universal Concepts & Generalizations are meant to be used in conjunction to make traditionally scripted curriculum and instruction open-ended, triggering, and stimulating for all students’ abilities. While used originally within Gifted/Talented education programs, Depth and Complexity has spilled over, as intended, into heterogeneous classrooms and other specialized departments. While Depth and Complexity has been around for nearly three decades, more and more educators are currently turning to the framework as the pedagogical engine ensuring students have opportunities to maximize their learning potential while thinking in complex manners about – well, everything.

Need a quick overview of the Depth and Complexity icons? Watch the video below.

Another helpful resource for this course is the Depth and Complexity Icon Cheat Sheet. Feel free to print the page for your reference.

The second component of the Depth and Complexity Framework is the Content Imperatives. Just as keys unlock a door, the Content Imperatives are terms that unlock the meaning of an area or topic of study.  Each Content Imperative provides students with a prompt to initiate in-depth inquiry about the subject matter. These icons focus the investigation of a topic of study from a broad, general area to a more structured and specific one. Content Imperatives help educators differentiate the core curriculum so that it is aligned to the needs and abilities of gifted and high-ability students. The Content Imperative icons represent a set of terms that activate higher levels of knowing. They demand more sophisticated resources of information, more analytical thinking to understand the subject matter, and more complicated products to share what has been learned. Content Imperatives can be effective when used independently, but they were designed to be used in pairings with the Depth and Complexity Icons.

Need a refresher on the Content Imperatives? Watch the video below.

Another helpful resource for this course is the Content Imperative Cheat Sheet. Feel free to print the page for your reference.