The Depth & Complexity Framework

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.

About J Taylor Education - The Center for Depth and Complexity

J Taylor Education was founded in 2006 and rebranded as The Center for Depth and Complexity in 2017. We are still called by both names, and you will often see our dual logo. J Taylor Education is the official Depth and Complexity resource and professional development company, with its leadership team having worked with the Framework since its inception in the mid 1990s. Since 2006 J Taylor has provided educators with classroom-tested resources and effective training that help them differentiate for all levels of learners. All of our trainers and authors are Depth and Complexity practitioners – they use the Framework with students.

J Taylor Education/The Center for Depth and Complexity is committed to creating a paradigm shift in how the education system approaches learning and instruction. Energies, focuses, and spending need to shift away from drilling students to memorize for ONE test and towards critical, creative thinking that’s exciting and inspiring. Depth and Complexity is the Framework that can make this necessary and long overdue change a reality. Who better to partner with on this mission than the creators of the Framework and practitioner experts that are all connected to the original Depth and Complexity Education Tree? 

John Gould, the company’s founder, is the son of Bette Gould – the co-creator of Depth & Complexity. Along with Dr. Sandra Kaplan, they sought to create a means for students to think and learn in a similar fashion to professionals and disciplinarians. From this general principle came other components of the Framework, most notably the Depth and Complexity Icons. The Icons that represent the prompts of Depth & Complexity were developed by Sheila Madsen and Bette Gould in the mid-1990s. John himself was a student (in the late 1980s) at multiple demonstration schools when the creators were still researching and developing the most effective ways to organize Depth & Complexity so it would be powerful, yet relatable enough for teachers to use.

For the past 17 years, John has worked with many educators to create and publish practical, teacher-friendly resources that help teachers elicit high-level thinking using Depth & Complexity. Additionally, The Center for Depth and Complexity provides professional development throughout the country sharing proven techniques for the incorporation of Depth and Complexity into teaching practices. John insisted that all of the organization’s trainers also be practitioners that use Depth and Complexity with students. The mission of J Taylor Education and the Center for Depth and Complexity is to provide access to the Depth and Complexity Framework in every classroom in the world and to transform education into an industry that focuses on teaching students how to think, and not the traditional what to think and memorize. Currently, Depth and Complexity is used in over 120,000 classrooms across the world and has improved the learning experience for over 2 million students. The Center for Depth and Complexity is proud to share this incredible thinking framework in an authentic manner, staying true to the original work and intentions of the creators.

The components of the Depth and Complexity framework are used in conjunction to make traditionally scripted curriculum and instruction more open-ended, triggering, and stimulating for all students’ abilities.