What is Complex Instruction?

I often start professional development sessions by asking participants if they’ve heard of Complex Instruction. A Google search of “Complex Instruction” yields a quarter million hits, but usually there are minimal or no hands.

To me, Complex Instruction (CI) is a method of organizing instruction to increase the cognitive demand for students by giving rich tasks that are groupworthy (that is, that cannot be done individually) and creating a classroom environment with clear group norms and roles so that students can effectively communicate through the struggle that should ensue when they work together. There are many components of Complex Instruction, and they’re all interdependent. Here’s how I see them:

Of the many components of Complex Instruction, two stand out to me as being especially critical: understanding status and groupworthy tasks. The latter is something that is challenging because it requires teachers to either find, adapt, or create groupworthy tasks, all of which can be frustrating and time-consuming.

In the next posts, I will share the mistakes I’ve made and things I’ve learned about each of the components of Complex Instruction.

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