According to the authors of The Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core, there are 6 mistakes educators make when teaching students to compare. Their work made me re-evaluate many of my lessons. Where was I guilty of making these mistakes? Better yet, how can I “tweak” my lessons and really use compare/contrast to improve student learning?
Mistake #1: Waiting until the end of the lesson to compare/contrast.
We’ve all done it. Teach, teach, teach…then have students compare/contrast, collect the assignment. Done. Moving on. The problem is that waiting until the end implies that the focus of compare/contrast is more about getting the right answer instead of discovering and learning more about the content. Give students a clear purpose for comparing/contrasting so that identifying similarities and differences is an on-going search throughout your lesson. It can be as simple as asking, “How are these alike? Different?” over the course of study.
Mistake #2: Asking students to compare/contrast before they have enough information.
Sounds a bit like the opposite of the first problem, doesn’t it? It just means asking students to compare at the start of your lesson is a bit premature. You run the risk of some erroneous or, at best, shallow comparisons. Provide students with multiple sources of information throughout your lesson. As they gain more knowledge, continually ask them to identify similarities and differences based on…Oh, wait. That’s the next point…
Mistake #3: Students don’t know what criteria is important.
Okay, so as I was saying, you need to give students clear criteria to keep students focused on the relevant information. Don’t just ask an open-ended, “How are these alike?” Guide them to understand the most important criteria that will lead to a deeper understanding of the content. Like I said last week, so what that Lewis and Clark were both men. That similarity is just a distraction from the purpose of their expedition. Ask students to compare what matters most.
Mistake #4: Weak graphic organizers don’t allow students to efficiently organize their ideas.
I love me a graphic organizer, but they’re not magic in and of themselves! I could say a lot more on this particular problem and so I will. Next week’s post is all about using graphic organizers effectively when teaching students to compare. Until then… 🙂
Mistake #5: Comparing and contrasting is not the end goal of a lesson.
Be sure to ask students to draw conclusions and make inferences after comparing. A few weeks ago my students were comparing saving and investing. Throughout the lesson they had acquired enough knowledge to make several meaningful comparisons. What a mistake it would have been if that’s where I had stopped! Take it one step farther (or should I say deeper?) and ask, “What conclusions can you draw from these similarities and differences?” The big take away my 4th graders learned was that people should really do both saving and investing. Yes!
You probably saw this one coming, didn’t you? I think comparing leads very easily into opinion writing. The CCSS have opinions/arguments as one of the main writing genres. After students are done comparing, have them write an opinion piece supported with reasons. For example, compare George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (in honor of our recent Presidents Day). Students could then write which president they think was best (their opinion) and support their argument with details from the comparison.
Comparing and Learning
Teaching students to compare/contrast is one of the most effective teaching strategies we can use in our classrooms. However, teachers sometimes rush into a strategy without properly using it to its maximum effect. I have been guilty of that, although not deliberately, of course but more out of a sense of urgency. I wanted my students to be successful, as we all do, so I whipped out that Venn diagram and got busy. Well…not so fast. Let’s do more than keep our students busy. Let’s engage them in meaningful learning that doesn’t waste their time.