Is it possible to help your students significantly deepen their understanding of your current unit, regardless of content area?
Yes. And it need only take 5-10 minutes of class time.
First, identify a handful of concepts that are especially important for the unit your students are working on.
- In my world history course: maritime empires and land-based empires; how these empires expanded their influence from c. 1450-1750; how these empires consolidated control of their territories; how these empires legitimized their rule
- In my daughter's sixth grade Literature course: similes, metaphors, conflict, and plot
- In my colleague's Pre-Calc class: log statements v. exponential statements
- In my independent study student's web development class: HTML v. CSS
Then, tomorrow at the start of class, ask your students to answer the following two questions on a blank page of their spiral notebooks:
- How are [concept 1] and [concept 2] similar?
- How are [concept 1] and [concept 2] different?
As the students wrestle with your questions, walk around. Look at what they are doing on the page. Ask them about where they are struggling. Do let them struggle a bit.
Finally, discuss the similarities and differences as a class. Represent these on the board or document camera. As you do so, push students to be precise in their comparisons and clarify any misconceptions students present.
Why does such a simple task help so much?
The usefulness of learned material to a student is only as helpful as the tasks students are able to successfully complete with the learned material. When you ask students to think about the relationships between key concepts in your course, you're asking them to do what cognitive scientists call elaboration.
Elaboration is one of those “the proof is in the pudding” learning strategies that all students need. Going back as far as 1975, researchers have been demonstrating that when students think about the meaning of what they are tasked with learning, their ability to retain and use what they've learned increases.
Ultimately, we want to teach our students how to do this kind of elaboration themselves. This is what researchers did in another study where learners were taught elaboration techniques and then performed better on subsequent tests of memory.
In my forthcoming Principles of Learning Course, elaboration is one of the 10 key principles I unpack and apply to everyday classroom scenarios. Here are the details:
- I've taken all the science and reduced it into 10 timeless principles.
- For each principle, I unpack three practical and powerful classroom applications that can be applied intelligently across the content areas.
- The first cohort will be open to *only 250 folks,* and those folks will receive an exclusive discount on the course's price.
- The price is $249, but folks in the first cohort will only pay $199.
- Registering for the course gives you lifetime, asynchronous access to all the lessons.
- As always, it's made by a teacher — me — for colleagues like you.
- If you want first dibs on accessing the limited number of spots, sign up for this email list.
Whether the course interests you are not, try asking your students to compare 2-3 key concepts tomorrow. Let me know how it goes.