43…That’s how many days until the first day of spring. At least it’s 43 on the day I’m writing this post. By the time it’s published, we’ll be (hopefully) several days closer to that glorious transition from the life-sucking cold of winter into the life-giving warmth of spring. Don’t get me wrong – I still get a thrill from hearing the phone ring and knowing that it means I get a “snow day.” And, of course, the extra time to get everything done when usually I’ve only a few things crossed off my to-do list leaves me feeling almost rich. But I’m rapidly approaching another full week of snow days, and quite frankly…I miss being in my classroom. This teacher needs to teach!
It Still Works
I miss teaching so much that I’ve dusted off my beloved A Handbook for Classroom Instruction that Works (Marzano et. al.) The handbook edition, mind you, with all the forms for reflecting (naturally!) and planning and self-evaluation. My recent trip to the Powerful Learning Conference reinforced that these research-based strategies are just as effective as ever. I wanted to look not only for new ways of using these strategies in my lessons, but also how to leverage them for maximum impact.
Comparing – A Strategy
The first strategy focuses on teaching students how to identify similarities and differences. The authors break it down even further into four separate variations, each with their own process and application:
- creating metaphors
- creating analogies
Teach the Process
Comparing is simply telling how two or more things, people, places, events, etc. are alike and different. (In my district, we often refer to this strategy as comparing and contrasting.) Something that my re-reading brought to mind is you must teach the process of comparing before you can expect students to do it. I’m afraid too often I’ve assumed some prior knowledge with my students in this area. After all, they certainly know how to compare TV shows they’ve watched, books they’ve read or vacation experiences. So, at a basic level, they understand the concept of comparing. However, asking them to do it in an academic setting with the purpose of deepening their understanding requires a more structured approach.
Making comparisons at a superficial level does not take advantage of the full power of this strategy. Who cares that Lewis and Clark were both men? True, it’s a similarity but one that does nothing to help students comprehend the significance of their expedition to America. Marzano reminds us that “the key to an effective comparison is to identify important characteristics (those that will enhance students’ understanding of the similarities and differences between the items).” (page 9) So, when asking students to compare make sure you are using criteria that is meaningful and leads to broader understandings.
Steps for Comparing
When teaching students the process for comparison, activate their schema and use concepts or items that are familiar to them. Once they grasp the concept with familiar content, you can transition them (with guidance) to new material. Here’s a short list of action steps you can take with your students when teaching them how to compare:
- Clearly identify what you are comparing – people, things, events, etc.
- Determine your criteria for comparing that will lead to meaningful learning.
- Find the similarities and differences.
The beauty of strategy instruction is its wide applications to so many subjects, grades and topics. Focus on meaningful learning, move past superficial criteria and you’ll soon see the results of this proven strategy.