Book Review: Powerful Teaching

This book was written by two powerful educators.
Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D., a cognitive scientist and founder of RetrievalPractice.org
Patrice Bain Ed.S., a veteran K-12 teacher with more than 25 years of teaching middle school social studies.

In chapter one, they introduce “power tools”. These are research backed, classroom proven strategies that lay the foundation of all powerful teaching and then they spend the rest of the book unpacking the how-to’s and implications.

Power Tools

  1. Retrieval Practice
  2. Spacing
  3. Interleaving
  4. Feedback-Driven Metacognition

They translate the research-ese behind each power tool into lived, teacher-friendly examples that go beyond explaining the academic benefits you would expect research based strategies to yield.  For students, the beyond academic benefits are significant. Students who are taught with power tools remember more and get better grades. Importantly, this includes SPED, ADHD, and ESL students. In addition, students taught with these strategies show a decreased level of anxiety. Us teachers benefit from using power tools as well! If you utilize these free strategies, you will be able to spend less time grading, and more time refining your practice.

What’s not to love about this? All students learn more and are less anxious while we spend less time grading. Win-win. And while all of this is super valuable, the best part comes next, where they apply the research to their own classes. 

Powerful Tools in the Classroom

Agarwal, Ph.D. applies each strategy in a university classroom while Bain, Ed.S. applies each strategy in a middle school classroom.

For the busy teacher, this is a goldmine. When you read through this book, you will not have to think too hard about how to use the power tools because the authors have already shown the way. What is important is for you to understand the framework the book develops. Once you understand this, you are ready to rock and roll.

Final Thoughts

Powerful Teaching has had a significant impact on my classroom because it has helped me refine my practice. It has confirmed some things I knew subconsciously, allowing me to move forward with confidence in what I had already been doing. While also surprising me with new information. Helping me “redeem” some of my more ineffective practices. 

This may be the best education book I have ever read. I cannot recommend it highly enough. You should buy this book. You will benefit from it.

Rating (out of 5):⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Powerful Teaching (Amazon Link)

Pedagogy: Changing Minds Changing Lives

Education is rife with bad practices. The effects of these practices are clear and have devastating outcomes. We use Whole Language and Balanced Literacy to teach reading, avoiding the evidence and Synthetic Phonics. This leads to students who can’t read. We have similar problems with how we teach math, and similar outcomes. 

Unfortunately the consistently poor results of common educational practices have not pushed their promoters out of education or caused educators to take a serious look at research. What these poor practices have achieved is the complicating of thousands of lives, often along socioeconomic and racial lines. 

The sad truth is that consistently poor results have not been enough to create anything beyond a sincere yet generic belief that education is not perfect and does, in fact, have problems. 

Some individuals have done the soul-searching required to look at the evidence and change their practices, but the shame is that as an educational system we think the problem is outside, we think the problem is the others, and we leave our soul unexamined, our practices unchanged, our students condemned to a poor education.

This tragedy is happening because evidence alone is not enough to correct someone’s actions even if it can change their beliefs. Research from the article, Effective Messages In Vaccine Promotion: A Randomized Trial in the journal Pediatrics found that correcting misconceptions does not necessarily lead to a change in actions.

“None of the interventions increased parental intent to vaccinate a future child. Refuting claims of an MMR/autism link successfully reduced misperceptions that vaccines cause autism but nonetheless decreased intent to vaccinate among parents who had the least favorable vaccine attitudes.”

vaccination.PNG

By itself, evidence can have strange effects. It can cause an intensification of views or over-corrections. Evidence can even be rejected outright because it conflicts with someone’s underlying beliefs (confirmation bias).

So what is a concerned teacher to do? It is obvious that we cannot just hang our heads and say, “Oh well.” The futures of too many children are at stake. The correlations between educational attainment and life outcomes are too clear for us to merely be concerned about our own classroom. In fact, caring about social justice demands us to work for change (See the disparities in the table above, or better yet peruse the 2019 Kids Count Data Book). Which brings us back to the original question, “If facts aren’t enough to change a teacher’s practice, what can we do? How can we change the practices of other teachers so that all students have a fair chance to learn?”

We cannot abandon facts. For facts help shape reality. However, reality is not created from mere facts. Reality is crafted from a concoction of facts and emotions. But this is particularly tricky. I am not comfortable engaging with contentious issues using emotion. It can devolve into mere anecdotes that tug on heartstrings. It can feel like I am flirting with some type of educational prosperity gospel, “Just do this, and your students will excel, be creative, lovely, and wonderful!” Playing on emotions is what cult leaders do.

And even so, emotions matter. We should use them to our advantage without manipulating others. 

We can do this by realizing that emotions are needed to make all decisions, even ones that seem to be just logical. 

A study by neuroscientists Antoine Bechara, Hanna Damasio, and Antonio R. Damasio in the journal Cerebral Cortex is summarized by ChangingMinds.org,

“Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio studied people who had received brain injuries that had had one specific effect: to damage that part of the brain where emotions are generated. In all other respects they seemed normal – they just lost the ability to feel emotions.

The interesting thing he found was that their ability to make decisions was seriously impaired. They could logically describe what they should be doing, in practice they found it very difficult to make decisions about where to live, what to eat, etc.”

So, if we want people to change their actions we need to involve emotions, even when the data is clear. So, how do we use emotions in a non-manipulative manner?

We need to first get some type of initial investment, and then sustain it. Which is obvious if you pause and think about it. Too bad actually achieving this is not so clear or straight-forward.

I think this can be done in a similar way we get our students to become invested in learning. When we are passionate about what we teach, we are passionate in such a way that it draws students into the content. However, when we talk about how to teach (or politics or religion), our passion tends to turn divisive.

I think there are ways to harness our passion to make evidence informed teaching attractive to doubters. We need to tell a (true) story and not just spit out some facts about good pedagogy. This is challenging. (I am trying to write this blogpost to clearly convey the facts while appealing to emotion. It is taking much longer than normal and I am not sure how effective I am, but I’m convinced it is worth trying.) 

When we turn good pedagogy into a story, we make our methods larger than a mere procedure. When we fail to personalize the issue, to make it a story we often come off as cold and calculating, as if we think educating a child is a matter of plugging in an equation. So, tell a story.

In the rest of this article I will use explicit instruction as my example because I think an easy to digest system of instruction with a proven track record that is based on cognitive science. For those interested, there is an absolutely excellent book about explicit instruction written by Anita Archer Ph.D and Charles Hughes Ph.D called Explicit Instruction: Effective And Efficient Teaching.

You: “I use explicit instruction because I want children to change the world with their creativity and ability to think critically. I use explicit instruction because I want students to have fun in school. I use explicit instruction because I want students to be both tolerant and understanding about other cultures/values.” 

This also plays on the “others’ needs and goals from step #2. Everyone wants these things. Now they are intrigued. 

Them: “Why does your approach to teaching produce those results? Does it really work better than what I have been doing?” 

Now we can move on to step number three, “offering proof that socially desirable other people are already invested”. Basically this is an appeal to authority. Be careful! Remember! Use emotions, don’t manipulate. Appeals to authority can be useful.

You: “Here is what Professor X has to say about explicit instruction. She is very concerned about making education authentic and applicable to students.”

Doing this well involves knowing who you are talking to. Show them that your side shares many of the same goals as their side.

Them: “Oh, that’s interesting. So how does explicit instruction work?”

Now, hit them with the steps! Make it simple. Make it easy. Remember they are new to this and may not have a schema for explicit instruction. Give them small, easily applicable steps. Just like what you would do when you introduce your students to a new topic.

You: “Well, it’s basically like “I do. We do. You do.” You just need to make sure to fully explain and model something before having students work on it in groups or individually. This helps students apply what they are learning to real-life.”

By adding the last sentence and linking explicit instruction with real-life application, you are helping make it easier for the person to buy in. You are making their initial investment more likely to become a sustained one because you are showing them that explicit instruction is aligned with their values (Step #1 of sustained investment).

Them: “Oh, that sounds easy. I already use “I do. We do. You do. But doesn’t explicit instructions involve a lot of lecturing?”

You: “It’s great that you already use that method. The lecturing within explicit instruction always involves a lot of student interaction. It is never just teacher talk. For example, you briefly explain something and then you pose a question and students can work together to solve it. Then you can explain things a bit further and pose an application question where students again talk and work together to come up with an answer. All while clarifying and answering student questions yourself. So there is a variety of T-S, S-T, and S-S interaction. Explicit instruction is actually quite dynamic and it even encourages students to come up with creative answers.”

Them: “That is interesting. And it is a bit different than what I do.”

Here is where you can get them to give something they value, step #5. They likely value creativity, engagement, and critical thinking. Here you can, depending on the context of your conversation either encourage them to try it out in their classroom and/or share an accessible blogpost about it.

You: “Why don’t you try it out in your classroom I think you would see your students come up with some really creative answers, especially if you have them apply the skills your teaching to real-life. I’d love to hear how it went.”

By linking explicit instruction with creativity and “real-life” you are making their initial investment more likely to become a sustained one (step #1). A call to action includes step #2 of sustained investment. You are involving them in a public manner (in front of their students and in a conversation with you). 

Hopefully this will segue right into step #3 of sustain involvement by creating evidence that explicit instruction is working. This evidence may involve more engaged students, higher achievement, changing student attitudes towards the subject, etc.

Then, the last step, #4 involves trying to cement the change and making it difficult to divest. For teachers, I think that the best way to do this is to point at the changes they saw when they began consistently using explicit instruction and to give more data (research summaries work great for this). 

Now, will following this procedure always work? Of course not. But we know that simply telling people about research doesn’t really help. So let’s start our conversations by leading with the story of good pedagogy, don’t just jump to the procedure or statistical outcomes.The story invites those outside our circle to come in. Then, when real interest has been aroused, talk with or message them. Remember that the research is so persuasive to us, in part because of our experiences. Share your experiences and encourage them to apply good pedagogy. If we want them to see the educational light, show them the easy access points. Show them where good pedagogy aligns with their morals and views. Remove the barriers to good pedagogy and you might just change some minds. It might just change some students’ lives.

Book Review: Bringing Words To Life

Authors: Isabel L. Beck, Margaret G. McKeown, & Linda Kucan

Rating (out of 5): ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

To put things simply, this book should be considered required reading for teachers. Its strategies and concepts are applicable for every subject at all grade levels. The authors do a tremendous job of accessibly distilling research into a book for teachers. As you read through the book you will notice that it is well researched and builds towards a common theme: In order to learn new words students need multiple exposures in multiple contexts with multiple opportunities to use the words in multiple contexts.

This may seem obvious, and hopefully it is. However, the reality is that in many classrooms, this does not happen. The book gives teachers numerous strategies to remedy this educational malady.

The book is divided into 10 chapters. The first walks you through the rationale behind “Robust Vocabulary Instruction”. While the rest give ways to apply the approach in the classroom.

I found chapter 2 to be particularly insightful. This chapter walks teachers through how to choose vocabulary words. It guides the teacher through a vocabulary selection process involving the somewhat vague but still very useful word tiers (Tier 1, Tier 2, & Tier 3). Essentially, Tier 1 words are common and used often in both reading and writing. Tier 2 words are common in writing, but not as common in speaking. While Tier 3 words are content specific.

Tier 1

Tier 2

Tier 3

Cold

Happy

Crazy

Expand

Depress

Consequence

Weathering/Erosion

Peninsula

Allegory

The authors argue for teachers to focus on Tier 2 words because they are widely applicable, used in many situations, and Tier 1 words tend to already be known while Tier 3 words tend to be taught as part of the standard course content.

Chapter 3 answers the questions of when?, How many?, and How? to introduce vocabulary words. It found that, teachers can introduce the vocabulary word as it appears in the text, provided the word can be immediately understood when accompanied by a short explanation (a phrase or a sentence). The explanation must short because, when reading a text, the focus ought to be on comprehending, not vocab building. Words should be taught before they come up in a text when those words essential for understanding the text’s message. It is also important to limit the amount of words introduced to avoid overwhelming students’ working memories.

The authors recommend teachers teach between 6-10 words spread over 5-9 days. To implement this, regardless of which Tier the words happen to be in, they promote introducing half of the words on day one, and the other half on day two. Throughout this timeframe, It is important to repeatedly have students refer back to and use the words.

As far as how to introduce new words, the authors recommend avoiding asking students, “Who knows what word ‘X’ means?” The reason is that, a student may give an unclear/incorrect answer which can lead to other students learning an incorrect definition/association. Instead, teachers should provide student friendly definitions and an immediate chance to apply the word in a simple context. Over time, as the students are using the vocabulary, their teacher should ensure that they use the vocabulary in situations that offer both different contexts and difficulties. This will help ensure students are able to know, understand, and apply the word and it increases the chances of the word becoming part of their used vocabulary. The rest of the book digs further into the “how” of how to teach vocabulary.

A lot of the insights from this book may appear to be commonsensical because the ideas are so simple (Ex: multiple exposures helps students learn). But consistently applying them well is a challenge.

Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com/Bringing-Words-Life-Second-Instruction/dp/1462508162

Teachers Should Read Research

Teachers should read research, on top of their teaching.
I know that teachers are always busy and the addition of reading academic research on top of the teaching/planning/grading load is unappealing. But hear me out. You will find that reading research saves your time, improves your teaching, and helps your students learn more. What’s not to like?

Through reading research on feedback, I found evidence that merely grading an assignment is not effective feedback. Now, I still must grade assignments, I am a teacher after all but I have been working on actually grading only summative type assignments. For formative assessments I have switched to completion based grading system with whole class feedback. When I apply this strategy, grading an entire class set of assignments takes 5-15 minutes depending on the type of assignment. And, better yet, my students are able to apply that feedback. I have more free-time and my students are learning more. It is great.

Through researching about cognitive science, I stumbled upon the Learning Scientists. From them I found out about spaced repetition and retrieval practice, among other strategies. I combined these findings with what I have learned about knowledge organizers, flashcards, and no-stakes quizzes.

Creating the knowledge organizers and flashcards was more work initially (Here is a how to blog I wrote on knowledge organizers and flashcards). But the payout for the effort has been tremendous. My students are using academic vocabulary to describe concepts instead of continuing to describe scientific concepts in everyday language.

For example:

Before After
When the convection current goes up it is because it weighs less when it is hot. It sinks when it is cold and heavier. A convection current rises because the heat lowers the mantle’s density. It sinks when the temperature is reduced and it becomes denser than the surrounding mantle.

Knowledge organizers, flashcards, and no-stakes quizzes are all great ways incorporate both spaced repetition and retrieval practice into your classroom. They are also a fantastically powerful tool to for vocabulary acquisition. Students with a better vocabulary will likely grasp the concepts you are teaching better and be able to more effectively think critically. This has opened new doors for my students as they can understand the concepts at a high level and now they have the vocabulary to not only answer questions properly (improving grades) but to ask much much better questions!

The Matthew effect is powerful. I try to teach my students as much as possible to leverage these effects for their benefit. It just so happens that I benefit too. 🙂

Don’t Be Sexy: Just Teach!

Don’t be sexy, just teach!

Education is rather famous for its buzzwords/directives/policies that are here today gone tomorrow (STEM, STEAM, student-centered, sage on the stage, guide on the side, DI, di, montessori, discovery learning, inquiry-based instruction, explicit teaching, project-based learning, jigsaw, stations, lead learner, cloud classroom, Genius Hour, No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top, and many more). Some of these, I think are important approaches, and will prove themselves to be timeless. Others are neither inherently good or bad. Some, are harmful.

As teachers, we must be aware of this. Know that the latest craze is likely just a flash in the pan. If it fits and it helps students learn, do it. If not, don’t. Do not use things just because they are fun/sexy/new, use them because they are useful.

The fundamentals of education do not change, because the fundamentals of how humans learn don’t change. There have obviously been changes, but those changes have been cosmetic. Even the big ones. For example, computers are objectively a revolutionary technology. They have impacted us in a myriad of ways (education included). But even computers, with immense power both for and over us, (Is Google Making Us Stupid?) have not fundamentally changed how we learn.

Before electricity humans learned by observing, being told, and attempting. And now, we learn by observing, being told, and attempting. This is because we essentially have the same brains as our ancestors. Our knowledge is stored in our brains. Our neurons fire in a certain pattern, bringing the memory (information) to mind. The more we do this, the stronger the memory becomes (Learning Rewires the Brain).

Because how we learn has not changed, we can look at what time has tested to see what works.

So, no matter what your school is doing, apply time/research-tested approaches.

  1. Spaced repetition
  2. Retrieval Practice
  3. Elaboration
  4. Interleaving
  5. Concrete Examples
  6. Dual Coding

The best resources I have found are from the Learning Scientists and Retrieval Practice websites. Both have articles explaining the research base and resources for teachers to use.

You can apply any of the 6 strategies in your teaching no matter what your context is.

Ultimately, don’t blindly follow the sexy new thing (the sexy new thing can be BOTH inquiry-based learning and explicit teaching depending on your crowd). If you know how humans learn, know what works, and why it does, then you can apply that to whatever new, sexy education thing comes your way.

Don’t be sexy, just teach.

How To Make Knowledge Organizers and Flashcards And Reduce Your Workload

Knowledge organizers are a great way to…organize knowledge. They are also versatile and can be used in any subject. They should be used for the “core” information in a unit. This is information that you want all students to master. It will obviously include key terms, but it is not limited to memorizing vocabulary. Knowledge organizers should include concept based questions as well.

How to make a Knowledge Organizer

I start all my knowledge Organizers (KOs) in Excel/Googel Sheets. I do this because I use a brilliant tool created by Adam Boxer, Retrieval Roulette (Click on the link to see how to use Retrieval Roulettes, click on this one to see completed Retrieval Roulettes). I start by inputting the terms from an entire chapter of my science textbook.

The terms are in one column and the definitions are in another.

Next, I highlight the terms and definitions and copy them into a Word document. My KO is started. (In this example, I have already added concept questions to this Excel sheet, so the vocabulary words are spread out. To split them, I just insert a row below the last definition for the lesson.)

The Start of a KO.

The next step is to add key concept questions. I begin this in the Excel Retrieval Roulette file as well. As mentioned above, I insert the questions under the last vocabulary word for that lesson. To do so, I add a row and click the repeat button to add rows as necessary.1I repeat this step for each of the lessons in the chapter. Next, I select the questions that I think are most important for my students to grasp and I insert those into the KO using the same method as above.

Below is an example of a finished, diagram heavy KO.

After I make a KO for the chapter, I then create a flashcard set. Again, this relies on the Excel program and, as a bonus is incredibly simple. I simply highlight everything for that chapter and import it into Quizlet.

  1. Click create study set 2
  2. Click on import from Excel 3.PNG
  3. Select and copy the content you want to include from the excel file 4.PNG
  4. Paste the info here 5.PNG
  5. Click import 6.PNG
  6. Give your flashcard set a title, and then create it!

Next, depending on your students and school, physical flashcards may be more practical. Luckily, Quizlet offers an exceedingly simple solution. You can print your set of flashcards out.

  1. Click on print
  2. Select the size of flashcards you want
  3. Select double-sided printing
  4. Open the pdf
  5. Print

7.PNG

I’ve included some sample cards so you can get an idea of their sizes.

Small Double-Sided Flashcards Large Double-Sided Flashcards

The last thing I want to mention is that this process has greatly reduced my prep time (Once I figured out how to use the various programs/systems). I basically have my tests prewritten in the excel file and just need to reformat them when I create a test. I can also easily use the excel file to AUTOMATICALLY generate quizzes (seriously check out the retrieval roulette links at the beginning of the article, they are an absolute gold mine!)

And, as always, you must teach your students how to use the KO and flashcards even if it seems intuitive. If you don’t then your students will not benefit.

Flashcards in the Classroom

In this brief article, I intend to explain how I will put my previous article (how and why flashcards are effective) into practice.

First, I started by teaching my students how to use flashcards. This is paramount! Do not assume they understand how to use them effectively. To model how to use flashcards I borrowed a student’s set and put it under the visualizer so the whole class could see.

First, I read the card.

“Hydrosphere.”

Then I modeled my thought process.

“Hmm. Hydrosphere, well, I know that hydro means water and I know that sphere means ball. Hmm. Earth is round and has water. Hmm. Water on Earth? Wait. All the water on Earth!”

Next, I flip the card over and check my answer.

“Awesome! I got it right. Ok, so now I will put this card into the correct pile.”

I move on to the next card.

“What causes convection currents in the geosphere?”

I model my thinking again.

“Hmm. Geosphere, well that is the Earth. Hmm. The wind causes convection currents because the sun heats the Earth unevenly.”

I flip the card over.

“Oh. I was wrong. Convection currents in the geosphere means inside of the Earth. Convection currents are actually caused by heat from the Earth’s core heats the rock and which makes it less dense so it rises. Then it cools, gains density, and falls.”

I put the card in an incorrect pile.

I then tell the students to finish the deck. Next, students need to go through the “incorrect” pile until all the cards are in the “correct” pile.

I tell my students that they must read the card and say the answer in their head before flipping the card over. I also give them a small printout that includes the steps.

Introducing New Flashcards

I introduce new KOs and flashcards on the last day of a unit because I give some sort of assessment, and when students finish they can pick up their KO and flashcards to get a head start on the new unit.

When students finish the assessment, they will turn it in and pick up a knowledge organizer (KO) and a flashcard sheet (or several) that includes vocabulary and concept Q&As based on the KO (I will explore how I make them in a future post. For now, just note that this has helped reduce my workload).

In order to assure that students actually cut out and use the flashcards, I will begin the next class by having students practice using their flashcards either by themselves or with a partner for 5-10 minutes. This approach allows me to give a quick check to see if they actually did the work and serves to get the students familiar with the chapter’s terms/concepts. A study by Kelly Grillo in 2011 found that flashcards can have a positive impact in a short amount of time, at least in terms of test scores.

One benefit I have found in implementing flashcards is that all my students are more familiar with the terms, and my more motivated students learn the entire chapter’s terms by the end of the first week. This has helped my class to engage with key concepts and to apply what we are learning on a deeper level. I have also found, both with KOs and flashcards that it improves how I use class time in the margins. If we finish a lesson early and there are a few minutes left, I can have students practice their flashcards or review their KO which helps reinforce what we are learning. Before I would ask if there were any questions or would ramble about what we were learning. Both can be useful and helpful, but they are not the best ways to spend class time.

I am sure that I will refine my methods in the future, but I am quite happy with how integrating KOs and flashcards has been so far.

Why Are Flashcards So Effective?

There are two types of flashcards, physical and digital. As for which type is better, there is evidence that goes both ways. However, a recent study (Dizon and Tang, 2017) found that both are essentially equally effective if students have been taught how to use them. For teachers, I think we are fine to use whatever type works better for our context. Don’t stress about which form to use, just make sure you teach your students how to use them.

Flashcards are effective because they force students to use the study strategy of retrieval practice. When applying retrieval practice to a flashcard, students read the cue (question) and then they must retrieve, from memory, the information (answer). Then students look at the other side of the card and get feedback on whether they were correct or not. Each time a student retrieves the information correctly, they are reconstructing the memory of that fact/concept. This reconstruction makes it easier for students to recall the relevant fact/concept in the future.

The formatting of flashcards also lends itself to spaced repetition. Spaced repetition is exactly what it sounds like, spacing the repetition of the material out. The meaning and impact of spaced repetition becomes more clear when contrasted with cramming, its opposite. Cramming can be somewhat effective at improving student performance, but it doesn’t help much for actual learning as most of what a student crams will be forgotten shortly after the test (Bjork, 2012). Spaced repetition helps with both test performance and actual learning.

Now for some hard data. Flashcards have been shown to improve student performance on tests. A study found that students who used flashcards to study for every test in an “Intro To Psyc” class much better than those who did not use flashcards (Golding, Wasarhaley, & Fletcher, 2012). Another reason that teachers should use flashcards is that subject-specific vocabulary is the strongest predictor of student performance on content-based assessments (Espin and Deno, 1995). A study done by Nate Kornell looked at flashcards and test scores found that for 90% of students, spacing out their practice was more effective than cramming (Kornell, 2011). The same Kornell study found that students who used a spaced repetition flashcard strategy scored over 30% higher than students who used a massing flashcard strategy. In this case, the massing strategy involved using a small deck of flashcards on specific topics (lessons), whereas the spaced repetition strategy used a large set of flashcards that included information for the whole chapter. This provides evidence that flashcards are more effective when they utilize the interleaving study strategy.

As teachers, we care about test performance (It is important!) but actual learning (putting information into long-term memory) matters more. I believe that the above information gives strong evidence for utilizing retrieval practice, spaced repetition, and interleaving as study/teaching strategies. I also think that flashcards can be a way to integrate these study strategies into a simple, effective, and student-friendly form.

 

Dual Coding

The theory for Dual Coding was developed in the 1960’s by Allan Paivio. The theory states that people learn via separate systems but related systems (verbal and non-verbal). For example, your brain stores the image for pie in a different place than it stores the word pie. But the systems can work together, that is why you will visualize a pie when someone is talking about pies. And seeing an image of pie will often cause you to think of the word pie.

In order to utilize the dual coding strategy in your classroom, you need to use both verbal and nonverbal (visual) materials together. This is helpful because it gives your and your students’ brains two pathways to remember the information, one visual (with the image) and one “verbal” (with the written words).

In science, a great way to incorporate dual coding is to use diagrams. Diagrams contain both a written and a visual component. Giving your students multiple pathways to remembering, while also being streamlined. They are streamlined because they only hold the most relevant information. You can do this by having diagrams be part of your class notes.

This will allow students to have guided practice in making and organizing diagrams. Then, you can model how to read and interpret the diagram. After students are comfortable with making and reading basic diagrams you can have students use the diagrams to answer extension questions. This will have your students practicing the elaboration learning strategy along with the dual coding learning strategy, which should compound their effectiveness.

I have applied this strategy in my 5th grade science courses. We are studying the water cycle and climate (2 units that lend themselves perfectly to dual coding). I have had them create diagrams explaining the water cycle, transpiration, rainshadow, low pressure systems, and high pressure systems. Then we have added information that shows how to increase the rates of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, transpiration, and sublimation. The goal, by adding these details are to help students see how each step is affected by its environment, and to give greater understanding in how each step works.

I have also had students use their diagrams to write a paragraph explain the process of the water cycle or rain shadow. The goal here, is that they understand the diagrams enough to express what they show.

How do you use dual coding in your classroom?

 

Sources

 

http://www.chegg.com/homework-help/definitions/dual-coding-theory-13

 

http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/9/1-1

Concrete Examples

 

The basic idea of concrete examples is simple enough. You take a new concept that is complex for a student and you relate it to something that is simple for that student. For example, if you are teaching about soil conservation you would need to communicate a variety of complex vocabulary to students such as humus, topsoil, erosion, contour plowing, etc. In order for all of these abstract concepts and terms to make sense, it helps for students to relate them to what they already know.

You can compare the humus and topsoil to plant food because students understand the concept of food already. As you do this, it is important to then relate how the plants ‘eat’ their food. As you do this you can talk about how the plant roots help to hold the soil in place, like how a paper clip helps to hold papers together. From here, you can talk about how contour plowing slows erosion by plowing with the curves of the land. You can then go back to your paper clip example and put more paper clips along the edges of the paper. Your students will see that instead of being close in only one part, the paper will be close everywhere because there are many paper clips spread out along the papers’ edges all working together to hold it tight.

Paper clips holding paper together is the concrete example, while contour plowing helping reduce erosion is the abstract example. By explicitly linking the concrete example to the abstract one, you can help your students know and understand complex concepts.

However, this is not enough. It is also important to practice concreteness fading in your classroom. Concreteness fading is exactly what it sounds like. You begin to use more abstract examples over time.

For our above example, the concrete example is how a paper clip can hold a packet of paper together and a group of paper clips can hold a packet of paper together more effectively, similar to how contour plowing helps hold the soil in place. In order to start the concrete fading the teacher can use the same or a similar example, but this time there is no physical example, just a drawing. Then, after that, the teacher can simply refer to how contour plowing can reduce erosion.

This is, of course, a vast simplification of the process. But the pattern is essentially true. It is helpful to start with a concrete example that is already understood by your students. Then make it slightly more abstract. And move towards only having the abstract concept, because the abstract concept is often the goal of the lesson.

 

Sources

http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/8/25-1

http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2018/2/1-1