By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.
Back in the day, Madeline Hunter’s lesson plan design was all the rage! As a novice teacher, I was taught how to construct lessons based on the plan:
- Stating the objectives
- The anticipatory set
- Input modeling and practice
- Checking for understanding
- Guided practice
- Independent practice
The plan’s sequence was intended to move students from being dependent to independent. Later, the resurrection of the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR), as popularized by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, was also built around the theory of providing students a structure to develop greater responsibility for their learning. I’d like to add to these ideas by sharing five Es that can encourage deeper learning and student satisfaction.
The most powerful tool in learning is student interest. If students are interested in the topic or ideas being shared, they are more likely to pay attention. Engagement, the act of avoiding distraction, is a critical component in developing or piquing student interest. Engaging students in the learning process also means making sure they feel confident they have the skills and abilities to do what is coming (self-efficacy) and that the learning will be meaningful (“I can use this information in the very near future”) and relevant (“This makes sense to me, because I can relate to the content”). Students also need to know that their teacher will be supportive throughout the learning process.
Consider these different ways to get students interested in the topic of study.
- Start your lesson with a provocative question that gets students involved in discussion related to the standard or objective of the lesson, such as “Is immortality desirable? Why or why not?”
- Help students uncover their background knowledge of the topic or skills being developed.
- Share work from previous students to show your students that they, too, can do this.
- Provide various websites or videos that offer overviews of the topic.
- Have students play a game or investigate an app that uses the topic or skills about to be taught.
- Bring in professionals who practice in the discipline to talk about what they do for a living.
- Go on a field trip (real or virtual) based on the unit topic.
- Have multiple resources around the room about the topic—make sure to include visuals as well as written materials.
Now that you have caught students’ attention, it’s time to let them explore the topic. Exploration is the way we learn—infants are constantly exploring their world, finding out what works and what doesn’t, recognizing how their feet or that rattle tastes and feels in their mouth. Our curiosity of how things work and how to solve problems compels us to want to know more. Exploration helps us build a greater sense of confidence and creativity in thinking.
Try these ideas to encourage exploration.
- Provide authentic, real-world problems that include the topic or skills being developed.
- Have students brainstorm different solutions or possibilities around the problems or issues.
- Help students connect what they already know about the topic or skills they already have to new information.
- Offer tasks that are open-ended, encouraging students to come up with different ways to solve problems or uncover different perspectives about a topic.
- Give students ample time to investigate the complexities of ideas through a variety of resources and materials.
- Have authentic materials in and around the classroom so students can experience, hands-on, the tools of the discipline.
- Encourage students to examine the various careers and professionals that interact with the topic or use the skills being developed.
- Get students involved with debates and discussions about the importance of the information, products, and skills being developed. Coach the “naysayers” to find usefulness.
All kids learn at different paces. Some need more explanation, while others need less. How you explain things to students matters. Harsh condescending tones will turn off your students to what you are trying to get across to them. While you might be frustrated, you must understand that the student is even more frustrated. Begin your explanation with reassurance and a supportive attitude. Ask questions of students to find out what they do and do not understand. Clear, step-by-step explanations work best.
Here are a few ways to provide effective explanations.
- Be specific in your language—avoid ambiguous terms or unfamiliar words.
- Keep it simple, avoiding overly complicated terms and language.
- Use ongoing descriptive feedback to help students see what they do well and what needs attention.
- Encourage them to ask questions about what they are learning.
- Enlist the assistance of other students—they may be able to explain things in kid-friendly terms.
- Use videos or websites as supports to explain information.
- Draw diagrams or sketches, since some students have greater comprehension through visual learning.
- Use affirming language that recognizes students’ struggles and supports their growth.
Elaboration is a strategy students can use to help them build on prior knowledge and affirm new knowledge. Elaboration involves making connections between ideas and materials and the student’s own experiences. Education and cognitive psychologists define this strategy as elaborative interrogation: the generating of explanations for why an explicitly stated fact or concept is true.¹ The word interrogation in this case means to question. Having students ask and answer how and why questions deepens their understanding.
Consider these ideas for using elaboration in learning.
- Have students create a learning log of new ideas gained each day.
- Use graphic organizers, such as webs, to show connections between information.
- Describe how new ideas and information connect to students’ daily lives.
- Have students draw pictures of new ideas, graphically representing how they picture the information.
- When a new idea is presented, have students work in small groups to discuss how they understand the information.
- Create bulletin boards that visually represent the connections between topics.
- Teach through concepts (big ideas), encouraging students to make generalizations about how the world works (more on conceptual learning can be found in Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century).
- Encourage students to use the Five Whys to Therefore method of questioning—ask at least five why questions and then form a therefore answer. (This, too, can be found in Advancing Differentiation).
In this case, evaluate does not infer teacher assessment of student work. I suggest students should routinely evaluate or judge the what and how of their learning process. This student self-assessment process can be an effective tool to increase motivation and self-efficacy (beliefs about one’s ability to succeed).
Try these ideas for assisting students in their own evaluations of learning.
- Every day, have students write their reflections on what and how they learned in a learning log.
- For younger students, use happy, neutral, and sad faces to help them define their progress.
- For older students, have them use emojis to define their progress.
- Encourage students to pause throughout lessons to take their “learning temperature” (from “feeling fine” to “I need the doctor for help”).
- Post self-evaluation questions around the room to prompt reflection.
- Form network groups—small groups of students who meet routinely throughout the learning to question and help each other.
- Have students graphically represent what they learn—visualizing is an extremely effective tool for learning (more on visual learning can be found in Visual Learning and Teaching: An Essential Guide for Educators K–8).
¹Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). “Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions from Cognitive and Educational Psychology.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14(1), 4–58.
Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.
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