Explicit Instruction: Teacher Talk and Equity

Posts in this series…
1. What is Explicit Instruction?
2. Explicit Instruction: Segmenting Complex Skills
3. Explicit Instruction: Teacher Talk and Equity
4. Explicit Instruction: Modeling
5. Explicit Instruction: Concreteness Fading
6. Explicit Instruction: Opportunities to Respond

Hughes, Morris, Therrien, and Benson describe Modeling and Think Alouds as a core component of explicit instruction. In a subset to this component, they include “clear and precise language” (2017).

As teacher talk is seen as important no matter where you fall on the education traditional-progressive divide (though neither side remotely agrees on the type/amount of talk) it is depressing that empirical evidence supporting precise guidelines for teacher talk is generally lacking (Hollo & Wehby, 2017).

However, while guidelines are lacking, research into teacher talk is not. We know that teachers talk more than students (Sinclair & Coulthard, 1975). If we do not talk enough, we fail to communicate the content. Conversely, if we talk too much, we will overwhelm our students’ working memory (Grunewald & Pollack, 1990). Either way, our students fail to learn. Getting teacher talk right is important.

Lack of Clarity is Problematic

Lack of clarity is another problem that increases instructional casualties. This happens when teachers use poorly organized speech, characterized by vague terminology and hemming and hawing (Brophy, 1988, p. 245). Lack of clarity hurts all students, but it doesn’t do so equally. Unclear teacher talk hits struggling students with low language proficiency particularly hard (Ernst-Slavit & Mason, 2011), decreasing educational equity. 

The first step towards changing this is to know what types of speech make learning more difficult for students. However, changing teacher speech patterns is notoriously difficult (Dickinson, 2011). So we shouldn’t expect our habits or others’ habits to change just because we now know better. But we can and should expect consistent effort.

Sloppy Language

Sloppy language includes ambiguity, mazes, and errors. In their 2017 article, Hollo and Wehby described ambiguity as 

“words or phrases that indicate the speaker lacks confidence or knowledge, as demonstrated by equivocating, approximating, hedging, or bluffing (pretty much, maybe, probably, I guess; Hiller et al., 1969); decreased specificity of content or context (the thing, some kind of, all that; Smith, 1980); ambiguous referents (e.g., a pronoun without its noun referent; Chilcoat, 1987; Masterson et al., 2006); or hesitations that indicate the speaker’s lack of confidence (Bugental et al., 1999). Ambiguity also includes cloze statements in which the teacher asks an open-ended or fill-in-the-blank type of question, expecting a specific answer when in fact a range of responses would be logical (squirrels do what?).” 

Verbal mazes can occur in simple sentences with concrete and familiar vocabulary when the delivery lacks smoothness and/or is disfluent. Disfluency includes silent pauses, word and non-word fillers (like, uh, um), repetitions of words (But, but what I meant was), and repetitions of phrases (What I want, what I want you to do next is) (ASHA, 2020). 

Both ambiguous and disfluent (maze) teacher talk decrease student attention and increase student errors (Bugental et al., 1999)

Teachers can also flat out error. We can use incorrect grammar such as subject-verb agreement, improper tenses, and misplaced clauses. Commonsensically, it has been found that elementary student performance is better when they are taught with proper grammar have increased performance when they are taught with proper grammar (Forney & Smith, 1979).

Neat Language

I think it is probably easiest to fix ambiguous language and mazes. The path to fixing both is good planning. Ask yourself, “How should I explain this concept?” How should I model this skill?” Then jot down some notes and see what you can cut out, see what you should re-word. When you have made your explanation or model as simple and straightforward as possible without making it simplistic, you have arrived.

I am of the opinion that fixing errors is the most difficult because I this is the most ingrained speech pattern. You have been speaking and writing since you were a small child, getting rid of habitual errors will take a lot of intentional effort to undo. For this, I’d recommend humbling yourself and picking up a grammar workbook.

Clear Figurative Language?

Figurative language is one area where clarity is lacking by definition. Figurative language is simply words or phrases that have nonliteral meanings and are quite common in daily speech (ex: Metaphors, Similes, and phrases like “America is a melting pot.” “Time is money.” etc). Use of figurative language reduces the comprehension of students with specific language impairment (Nippold, 1991) and emotional behavioral disturbance (Mack & Warr-Leeper, 1992). In addition, figurative language also reduces the comprehension of English language learners (Palmer, Shackelford, Miller, & Leclere, 2006).

One reason comprehension of figurative language is reduced for the above populations is that many of these students have limited vocabularies with a narrow range of representations (Beck & McKeown, 2007). Essentially, when we use idioms, irony, wordplay, or colloquialisms, the information just goes over many students’ heads. And that’s problematic, just ask Drax.

drax

We must be careful with our use of figurative language. If we do not think it through, many students will struggle to access our teaching. The solution isn’t to avoid all forms figurative language like they have the plague. Imagine an English class that avoids metaphors and similes, or a science or social studies class that avoids abstract concepts. Describing that approach as being crazy as a loon and dumb as a doorknob barely scratches the surface of it. Such approaches obviously don’t support language development (Dickinson, 2011).

Increase Clarity, Increase Learning

Instead, we should make things clear. We should be explicit. We can explicitly teach students about figurative language whether we teach English or not. We should recognize when we use phrases that cause confusion and use it as an extra teachable moment. “When I say _________, what it means is________.” Basically, this is a student friendly definition for a phrase.

In addition to being explicit about our course content and about the language we use, we can restate key information in multiple linguistic forms. This strategic redundancy improves comprehension for general education students (Brophy, 1988; Crossan & Olson, 1969). And it increases equity because special education students (Lapadat, 2002), and ELLs (Park, 2002) also benefit from being exposed to the same content in different forms. 

This does increase teacher talk, but it needn’t reduce student talk. The solution is to take shorter “turns.” Nobody likes a monologue and besides, they are hard to follow, “The longer the speaking turn, the denser the informational chunk, and the greater the oral literacy demand” (Roter, Erby, Larson, & Ellington, 2007, p. 1445). Free up your students’ working memory and talk in short chunks.

The second part of taking a shorter speaking turn involves allowing students to talk. I believe the form this takes is generally of secondary importance, while the way you model, structure, and enforce behavior when it is the students’ turn to talk is of paramount importance (Modeling will be the subject of my next post in this series). 

Your students must know exactly what to do and how to do it. The effectiveness of student talk depends on how you model it and provide structure. I have found success with Choral Response and Think-Pair-Share as described in my article for CogSciSci.

An added benefit of this approach is that you will be giving students additional chances to respond, which has been shown to increase student performance (Haydon, Macsuga-Gage, Simonsen, & Hawkins, 2012) while also decreasing problem behavior in children with emotional behavioral distance (Sutherland & Wehby, 2001). 

This approach is effective because each question forces students to engage in retrieval practice, a learning strategy that has been proven to work with a wide array of students and subjects (Dunlovsky, 2013), increasing equity.

Increase Equity with Slow Teaching

Another effective practice for increasing equity is to simply slow down. Children with specific language impairments have been shown to have increased comprehension when the teacher speaks at a rate of 4.4 syllables per second or less. This slowed rate did not affect comprehension in children with typically developing language abilities (Montgomery, 2004). 

Increasing your wait time has been found to result in both increased quality and quantity of student responses (Tobin, 1986). By waiting just a little bit longer than normal, you allow for more students to think through your question.

Sources

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.). Childhood Fluency Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.asha.org/PRPSpecificTopic.aspx?folderid=8589935336§ion

Beck, I. L., & McKeown, M. G. (2007). Increasing young low-income children’s oral vocabulary

repertoires through rich and focused instruction. Elementary School Journal, 107(3), 251–271.

doi:10.1086/511706

Brophy, J. (1988). Research linking teacher behavior to student achievement: Potential implications for instruction of Chapter 1 students. Educational Psychologist, 23(3), 235–286. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep2303_3

Bugental, D. B., Lyon, J. E., Lin, E. K., McGrath, E. P., & Bimbela, A. (1999). Children “tune out” in response to the ambiguous communication style of powerless adults. Child Development, 70(1), 214–230. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00016

Crossan, D., & Olson, D. R. (1969). Encoding ability in teacher-student communication games. Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED028981)

Dickinson, D. K. (2011). Teachers’ language practices and academic outcomes of preschool children. Science, 333, 964–967. doi:10.1126/science.1204526

Dunlosky, J. (2013). Strengthening the student toolbox: Study strategies to boost learning. American Educator, 37(3), 12-21 [PDF]

Ernst-Slavit, G., & Mason, M. R. (2011). “Words that hold us up”: Teacher talk and academic language in five upper elementary classrooms. Linguistics and Education, 22, 430–440. doi:10.1016/j.linged.2011.04.004

Forney, M. A., & Smith, L. R. (1979). Teacher grammar and pupil achievement in mathematics. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Northeastern Educational Research Association, Ellenville, NY. Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED179976)

Gruenewald, L. J., & Pollak, S. A. (1990). Language interaction in curriculum and instruction: What the classroom teacher needs to know (2nd ed.). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.

Haydon, T., Macsuga-Gage, A. S., Simonsen, B., & Hawkins, R. (2012). Opportunities to respond: A key component of effective instruction. Beyond Behavior, 22(1), 23–31. doi: 10.1177/107429561202200105

Hollo, A., & Wehby, J. H. (2017). Teacher Talk in General and Special Education Elementary Classrooms. The Elementary School Journal, 117(4), 616–641. doi: 10.1086/691605

Hughes, C. A., Morris, J. R., Therrien, W. J., & Benson, S. K. (2017). Explicit Instruction: Historical and Contemporary Contexts. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 32(3), 140–148. doi: 10.1111/ldrp.12142

Lapadat, J. C. (2002). Relationships between instructional language and primary students’ learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(2), 278–290.

Mack, A. E., & Warr-Leeper, G. A. (1992). Language abilities in boys with chronic behavior disorders. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 23, 214–223.

Montgomery, J. W. (2004). Sentence comprehension in children with SLI: Effects of input rate and phonological working memory. International Journal of Communication Disorders, 39(1), 115–133. doi:10.1080/13682820310001616985

Nippold, M. A. (1991). Evaluating and enhancing idiom comprehension in language-disordered students. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 22, 100–106. doi:10.1044/0161-1461.2203.100

Palmer, B. C., Shackelford, V. S., Miller, S. C., & Leclere, J. T. (2006). Bridging Two Worlds: Reading Comprehension, Figurative Language Instruction, and the English-Language Learner. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 50(4), 258–267. doi: 10.1598/jaal.50.4.2

Park, E. S. (2002). On three potential sources of comprehensible input for second language acquisition. Working Papers in TESOL and Applied Linguistics, 2(3), 1–21.

Roter, D. L., Erby, L. H., Larson, S., & Ellington, L. (2007). Assessing oral literacy demand in genetic counseling dialogue: Preliminary test of a conceptual framework. Social Science & Medicine, 65, 1442–1457. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.05.033

Sinclair J., & Coulthard, R. M. (1975). Towards analysis of discourse: The English used by teachers and pupils. London: Oxford University Press.

Sutherland, K. S., & Wehby, J. H. (2001). Exploring the relationship between increased opportunities to respond to academic requests and the academic and behavioral outcomes of students with EBD: A review. Remedial and Special Education, 22(2), 113–121. doi:10.1177/074193250102200205

Tobin, K. (1986). Effects of teacher wait time on discourse characteristics in mathematics and language arts classes. American Educational Research Journal, 23(2), 191–200.

Explicit Instruction: Segmenting Complex Skills

Posts in this series…

1. What is Explicit Instruction?
2. Explicit Instruction: Segmenting Complex Skills
3. Explicit Instruction: Teacher Talk and Equity
4. Explicit Instruction: Modeling
5. Explicit Instruction: Concreteness Fading
6. Explicit Instruction: Opportunities to Respond

In this post, most of the referenced studies are from multimedia learning (educational videos) and special education contexts. However, the findings from the studies should transfer over to general education. The multimedia studies should transfer because they were looking into how segmenting a video impacts learning, this is very similar to how segmenting instruction would impact learning. The special education studies looked at effective teaching methods for learning disabled students, which should have an obvious transfer to students in general education. That said, if you know of any research on segmenting content/skills in a classroom context, please send them my way!

The Segmenting Effect

The segmenting effect states that students “learn better when multimedia interactions are presented in meaningful and coherent learner-paced segments, rather than as continuous units” (Mayer & Pilegard, 2014). I should note that in this context, learner-paced means something significantly different than what we would typically think. Learner-paced is only talking about the multimedia interaction, the assignment. In practice, this would involve some sort of pause or rewind function, allowing the student to rewatch and stop the presentation as needed. So, learner-paced only applies to the pacing of the assignment, not to the pacing of the curriculum.

Explaining the Segmenting Effect

  1. Segmenting gives students more time to mentally organize the information they are taking in. Giving them a chance to integrate it with preexisting knowledge.
  2. Continuous presentations may cause cognitive overload
  3. Segmentation may be more beneficial for novices than experts. Novices need more breaks (segments) because they lack a developed schema. Segmentation may have negative effects for experts (Spanjers et al., 2011).
  4. Experts may benefit from self segmenting their studies (Spanjers et al., 2010).

A meta-analysis found that segmenting improved both retention (45 out of 67 studies, 67%) and transfer (34 out of 56 studies, 61%) performance. It also found that, commonsensically, segmenting takes more time. In addition, learners with high levels of prior knowledge experienced greater benefits from segmenting than learners with low levels of prior knowledge. The meta-analysis also found that transfer performance was not impacted by prior knowledge (Rey et al., 2019). A study by Agarwal also found that factual knowledge did not impact transfer (2019).

An additional interesting finding by Rey et al. was that system paced segmenting (no learner choice) improves retention and transfer in addition to reducing perceived cognitive load, whereas learner-paced segmenting only led to an increase in transfer. This finding is easy to apply to the classroom.

Segmenting Instruction

Teachers should segment their lessons and provide students with “breaks” instead of allowing students to work and self-learn. What I mean by this is that we should teach something, and then, shortly after, stop the “teaching” and give students a chance to think about what they just learned.

For example, let’s say you are teaching about the rock cycle, and your students just learned weathering and erosion.

Teacher: “Ok, weathering means breaking rocks. Erosion means moving rocks. Chalk is a rock”
*grabs a piece of chalk and snaps it in half
“Ok, using our vocabulary words, what happened to the rock?”
Students: “Weathering!”
Teacher: “How do you know?”
Students: “It broke.”
Then you can draw a line by moving the chalk back and forth, heavily across the blackboard.
Teacher: See the small pieces of chalk falling down? What is that?”
Students: “Erosion?” “Weathering?”

At this point, some students will likely focus on the wrong part of your demonstration or example (regardless of what content/skill you are teaching). So, here you get specific and correct misconceptions immediately.

Teacher: “Weathering and erosion are BOTH happening in this example. But remember our definitions. Check your notes. What is weathering?”
Students: “Breaking rocks.”
Teacher: “Good! And what is erosion?”
Students: “Moving rocks.”
Teacher: “Excellent!” *resumes heavily drawing the chalk line. “Now, see the small pieces of rock falling down? What is that?”
Students: “Erosion!”
Teacher: “Perfect! Now, what is happening to the chalk when I rub it across the blackboard?”

And on and on.

While this process looks rather long and drawn out on paper (or the web) it is actually a fast paced, snappy exercise that only takes a minute or two. Using choral response is a quick, efficient way to segment your teaching, allowing students to integrate their new learning with their prior knowledge.

Since we all want our students to be able to apply what they are learning to their lives, we should give our students many differing examples, and many opportunities to apply their learning to different contexts. Research has found that exposing students to differing examples of the same concept helps them transfer their learning (Jacobson et al., 2020).

More Examples, More Transfer

After my students have a basic understanding of the key terms and their applications, I branch into more examples to help them generalize (transfer) their learning, often using short videos. I would then end this segment of class with  a similar routine of choral response and think-pair-share.

Teacher: “The mud sliding down the mountain is an example of…”
Students: “Erosion!”
Teacher: “Good! And when that rock crashed into the other rock and exploded, it was an example of….”
Students: “Weathering!”

Immediately following the choral response, I would shift into a pair-share (the think part was ~completed in the choral response and all students will at least know the answer, if not the explanation). The purpose for the immediate shift is to keep momentum going and build anticipation. I would have students explain to each other why one part was weathering and why the other was erosion. Then I would conclude this segment of instruction by having several students share their answers, followed by me clearly and succinctly restating or correcting their answer to the class.

Digging Deeper and Building Up

As we dig deeper into the concept of the rock cycle, we will add complexity to weathering and erosion. For example, we may dig into how the material affects the rate of weathering and erosion. Or we may explore how the volume of the weathering/erosive agent affects the rate of weathering and erosion. And as we add complexity, we are always referring back to what was learned previously. This helps make learning cumulative, gives students practice with a diverse array of examples which helps them transfer their learning, and it cements previous learning (ideally to the point of automaticity).

As you can tell by the previous paragraph, segmenting isn’t just something that you should take into account within your lesson, it ought to be taken into account throughout your unit planning. And actually implementing segmenting into your instruction will take time, meaning you will likely cover less content. But, the research shows your students will likely learn and retain more of the content/skills than otherwise. In addition, you can use strategies like choral response and think-pair-share to make the segments an effective use of time.

Sources

Agarwal, P. K. (2019). Retrieval practice and Bloom’s taxonomy: Do students need fact
knowledge before higher order learning? Journal of Educational Psychology, 111, 189-209.

Jacobson, M. J., Goldwater, M., Markauskaite, L., Lai, P. K., Kapur, M., Roberts, G., & Hilton, (2020). Schema abstraction with productive failure and analogical comparison: Learning designs for far across domain transfer. Learning and Instruction,65, 101222. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2019.101222

Mayer, R. E., & Pilegard, C. (2014). Principles for managing essential processing in multimedia learning:segmenting, pre-training, and modality principles. In R. E. Mayer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning (2nd ed., pp. 316–344). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rey, G. D., Beege, M., Nebel, S., Wirzberger, M., Schmitt, T. H., & Schneider, S. (2019). A Meta-analysis of the Segmenting Effect. Educational Psychology Review31(2), 389–419. doi: 10.1007/s10648-018-9456-4

Spanjers, I. A. E., Van Gog, T., & VanMerrienboer, J. J. G. (2010). A theoretical analysis of how segmentation of dynamic visualizations optimizes students’ learning. Educational Psychology Review, 22(4), 411–423.

Spanjers, I. A., Wouters, P., Gog, T. V., & Merriënboer, J. J. V. (2011). An expertise reversal effect of segmentation in learning from animated worked-out examples. Computers in Human Behavior27(1), 46–52. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2010.05.011

What is Explicit Instruction?

Like many educational approaches, the outer edges of explicit instruction are vague. But thankfully scholars have put in the effort to define its core components. The term explicit instruction first gained traction in the early 1990s to refer to “unambiguous, structured, systematic, and scaffolded” instruction (Archer & Hughes, 2011). 

In order to determine what researchers meant when they referred to explicit instruction, Hughes, Morris, Therrien, and Benson reviewed 86 studies mentioning a variety of key phrases associated with explicit instruction and found that it has 5 key components (2017).

Pillars of explicit instruction

Hughes, C. A., Morris, J. R., Therrien, W. J., & Benson, S. K. (2017).

Pillar 1: Segment Complex Skills/Content

This strategy is rather straightforward. Instead of starting out with the whole kit and caboodle, break it up into smaller chunks. The chunks are not just pieces of information, but time as well. Complex skills and knowledge should be taught step-by-step over time. The time may be as small as a single lesson or as large as an entire unit. 

Ideally, students will be able to achieve consistent success in one chunk of the skills/content before moving on to the next. The chunks should be taught cumulatively, meaning that students will continue to practice the skills/content they have already mastered along with the new subset of skills/content.

Scientific Method Example: There are a variety of ways that I like to segment the various skills/content I teach my students. In science class, one complex skill all students must learn is how to apply the scientific method. Depending on where you look, there can be anywhere from 6-9 steps. So, I segment this by teaching one step at a time. However, even when breaking this down into single steps, the steps each have their own unique substeps students must master before they can successfully apply the scientific method. 

Step 1: Ask a question

Scientific Method Example: I first teach my students that an observation precedes a question and that we use knowledge gained from our senses to generate questions. Next, I define what a scientific question is (must be testable). Then we generate some examples and non-examples. 

Pillar 2: Draw Student Attention to Important Features of the Content through Modeling/Think-Alouds

Modeling and think-alouds are used extensively in this pillar. The goal is to both show and tell students how to solve a problem or complete a task. Both modeling and think-alouds should be kept brief and consistent language should be used. Consistent word choice acts as another que, helping students remember the next step in a procedure, subset of the skill, part of the content.

Scientific Method Example: As I model making observations and asking scientific questions, I am conscious to consistently use various keywords as I provide numerous examples. 

“I observed the lion roaring with my sense of hearing. I observed the lion chasing the zebra with my sense of sight.” 

This gives students more exposure with the vocabulary and provides a familiar format for them to later apply the skill themselves. I then tell my students that we need to link our observations to our questions.

“I am going to use my observation of the lion chasing the zebra to create a question. Why is the lion chasing the zebra?”

Pillar 3: Promote Successful Engagement by Using Systematically Faded Supports/Prompts

After the initial set of modeling and explaining, teachers should still provide students with a substantial amount of support. This helps to ensure a high rate of initial success. As students find success in applying the skill/content, teachers should gradually remove support and give students more independence. This process should repeat until students are able to successfully complete work with full independence.

Scientific Method Example: Students will start applying the skill of asking scientific questions using the exact same structure I used in my examples in scenarios that are, initially, similar as well. This initial similarity helps students to successfully apply the skill. Then I gradually withdraw the support by having students make observations and ask questions in scenarios that become significantly different from the examples I taught at the beginning of class.

Pillar 4: Provide Opportunities for Students to Respond and Receive Feedback

Frequent opportunities to respond gives students frequent practice, which ensures that the teacher is able to give frequent feedback. This is a flexible strategy and can easily be applied to group, pair, or individual work in a variety of forms including oral, written, and action. It can also be used to informally assess a variety of knowledge depths and types including factual, procedural, conceptual, and conditional. In addition, these opportunities can be scaffolded, allowing all students to access the opportunity to respond.

Scientific Method Example: As my students are practicing the skill of making observations and asking scientific questions I walk around the room and provide feedback to different groups of students. I also keep the work periods relatively short by bringing the class back together to do brief whole-class activities.

For example, I may write a question on the board and ask students to raise their hand if it is a scientific question. This gets all students participating. I then confirm the answer. “It is a scientific question.” or “It is not a scientific question.”

I quickly shift into a Pair and Share activity (Students already did the “Think” step by raising or not raising their hand). “Tell you neighbor why this is/isn’t a scientific question. Ready… GO!”

During the whole-class activities I am able to get a rough gauge on the class’s understanding and can adjust my teaching as I go. After a few brief whole-class activities I redirect my students to their individual/small group work.

Pillar 5: Create Purposeful Practice Opportunities

Practice after the initial lesson reinforces what was learned and is important for generalizing and transferring new knowledge and skills. What is important is that the teacher is intentional with the practice opportunities they craft for their students. Whatever form the practice takes should be accompanied with feedback.

Scientific Method Example: See the example for pillar 4.

As you read through this, hopefully it became clear that many of the pillars should be applied at the same time. For example, if you are providing students with purposeful practice in class (Pillar 5) you should also be providing live feedback (Pillar 4). In giving feedback, you will find that students benefit from additional modeling/thinking aloud (Pillar 2) because they need more support (Pillar 3) as they practice that particular segment of the content (Pillar 1).

Other blogposts in this series

  1. Explicit Instruction: Segmenting Complex Skills
  2. Explicit Instruction: Teacher Talk and Equity
  3. Explicit Instruction: Modeling
  4. Explicit Instruction: Concreteness Fading
  5. Explicit Instruction: Opportunities to Respond

 

 

 

Citation:

Archer, A. L., & Hughes, C. A. (2011). Explicit instruction: Effective and efficient teaching. New York: Guilford Press.

Hughes, C. A., Morris, J. R., Therrien, W. J., & Benson, S. K. (2017). Explicit Instruction: Historical and Contemporary Contexts. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice32(3), 140–148. doi: 10.1111/ldrp.12142

Reflections on Integrating Tech into the Elementary Classroom

It is now about 5 weeks into the school year and enough time has passed for me to reflect on how things are going.

One thing I have learned is that adding one piece of tech to my teaching may be simple for me, but it is not so straightforward for my 5th and 6th grade students. This year, I wanted to use Quizlet in my classroom as a way to incorporate retrieval and spaced practice but it has not gone well yet. I thought it would be simple. I can have my students make an account and then they just need to join the class by watching me model it on the projector and following the printed out instructions (with pics!). Fifteen minutes of set up for a years worth of learning.

Not so fast.

I have students who struggle to translate the printed instructions to their iPad’s screen (English is their second language). I have students who forgot their email and/or password. With the first round of tests coming up, I still do not have every student signed up. And I recently found out I gave some people access to my Quizlet class that are not even in the country I teach. Oops.

I like to think I am a competent, well-planned teacher who has a handle on basic tech, but adding this has given me my doubts. I am planning on giving one more push for Quizlet because I am convinced of the efficacy of retrieval and spaced practice. It would be a powerful tool to use as a class warm-up. And a great way for faster students to review at the end of a class (I am less convinced of Quizlet’s usefulness outside of the classroom because the internet is too full of distractions). However, no tool is worth making my life or my students’ lives harder. If this next push doesn’t work, I will simply cut my losses and use some good ol’ fashioned physical flashcards.

Not All Tech is a Nightmare

On the bright side, my class science website has gone swimmingly. I had students glue a QR code to the back cover of their notebooks and it’s only a scan away. The way I use my website is to have students read and take notes on articles that are related to what we are learning in class. The plan is for students to read and take notes on two articles per chapter. I am also requiring them to do a simplified version of an MLA citation that will become a full blown MLA citation by the end of the semester.

One thing I am seeing with this is that my students still require explicit teaching in this area. The first time we did the activity, too many students wasted time because they were unsure of what to write down. This was my fault, I assumed the activity was simple, because it would be simple for me. My 5th and 6th grade students are not me, they are still learning how to take notes. 

To remedy this I drew their attention to the article title, headings, and bolded words and explained how to use them in their notetaking. At this point, my students were largely able to do it on their own and I was able to provide timely help those who needed more guidance.

Final Reflections

Tech can be great. It can also be a great headache. We need to be smart about how we use and incorporate it. Even when our plan is backed by science (retrieval practice and spaced practice) and each step is literally spelled out and modeled by the teacher (as in my case), if students cannot use the tech, it isn’t going to be worth it, even if the tech is amazing. Teaching is hard enough. Don’t make it harder by giving yourself a tech headache. 

Find something that fits these three categories:

  1. Works for you
  2. Works for your students
  3. Is backed by research

If either of the first two are lacking, you will have a headache, and your students probably will too. If the third is lacking, you are likely doing your students a disservice.

Teaching The Scientific Method: Background Research

If you teach primary science, then you will inevitably find yourself teaching the scientific method.

2013-updated_scientific-method-steps_v6

  1. Asking A Question
  2. Background Research
  3. Hypothesis
  4. Design Experiment
  5. Test and Retest
  6. Analyze Data
  7. Draw Conclusions
  8. Communicate Results

 

Background research is the cornerstone of any experiment, even in elementary school because your students will use their background knowledge to come up with their hypothesis.

The best way to develop background knowledge is to teach with the science of learning in mind. If you are new to this and want more information, Anita Archer and Retrieval Practice both have some excellent examples and can walk you through how to apply the science of learning to your teaching.

Background Knowledge

Before planning a lab it is helpful to start with some questions.

  1. What content knowledge will my students need in order to perform the lab?
  2. What procedural knowledge will my students need in order to perform the lab?

And the all important follow up question. How will I know my students have that knowledge?

Content Knowledge

The first question will always depend on what type of lab you are doing, because different labs require different knowledge. 

For example, pretend for a moment that you are planning common elementary lab on rates of plant growth.

Before beginning the lab, your students should at minimum know…

  1. The basic anatomy of a plant (roots, stem, leaves, flower, petal, etc)
  2. How a plant gets nutrients (roots and soil)
  3. How a plant makes food (photosynthesis)

How will you ensure that you students know this? Test it! Now, you need not always create a test, the point is that you must assess your students’ understanding of this knowledge in some way. It would be best if your students do not have access to a neighbor, their book, or notes during this assessment. The purpose of these limitations is to help you accurately assess your students. Do they actually know it? Note: The assessment does not need to be for a grade. No-stakes assessments can be very strategic! And time saving for you too, no stakes=no grading!

Ideally you will have enough time to reteach information to correct misperceptions but that will not always be possible.

Procedural Knowledge

Procedural Knowledge: knowing how to do something

First, this type of knowledge is often difficult for students to grasp because it is not by itself. You always map the content knowledge onto the procedural knowledge. 

With procedural knowledge, I think there are two main questions:

Do I want my students to learn what happens? Do I want my students to know how to set up and perform the experiment along with learning what happens?

Your students will need to have the procedural knowledge to make observations and record data. This will seem simple to you, but it is not for them, remember, you are an elementary science teacher. Review with your students. A great way to review is to use physical objects and have students make observations together. Monitor their responses. You will need to check to make sure they are scientific observations, not opinions or inferences.

In many elementary experiments, gathering data is straightforward. However, you still need to teach it. Anyone who has ever watched a group of elementary students measure distance, weight, volume, or temperature knows that it isn’t second nature for our students.

We should explicitly explain how to take measurements and model it. Give multiple, short in class assignments where students take different types of measurements depending on what your experiment will be. After all, if they gather bad data, how will they be able to trust the experiment’s results?

As far as designing the actual experiment, it can be a smart choice to reduce the level of procedural knowledge needed. 

For example, instead of having your students set up an experiment and plan the steps, you can provide them with the set up and steps.
“Ok class, we have three pea plants that are in the same type of soil with the same amount of water, the only difference is their location. One will be in full sunlight, one will be in half sunlight, and the other will be in the dark.”

Doing this allows your students to focus on applying their content knowledge. It greatly reduces their cognitive load, and increases the chances of them learning from their hypothesis. However, you obviously do not want to keep your students here, dependent on their teacher to perform an experiment. The solution is to explain why each plant has the same soil and water. And then to explain why you are only changing the amount of sunlight.

Then, as the year goes on, have your students design more and more of the experiment. 

Procedural knowledge must be tested too! If your students do not have it, they have no hope of a successful experiment. So, assess it!

Background knowledge is key. We must teach and ensure that our students have both the content and procedural knowledge that our lab demands. If we do this, then our students will learn more, labs will be less stressful, and I have found that students have more fun if they know what and why they are doing something.

Give them knowledge, make fun possible!

Research Apértif: Quizzing in Middle-School Science: Successful Transfer Performance on Classroom Exams

According to dictionary.com, an apértif is a small drink of alcoholic liqueur taken to stimulate the appetite before a meal. This research apértif is likewise designed to stimulate your mind’s appetite.

If you enjoy the appetizer, click-through at the bottom of the page for the main course!

Background Research/Lit Review

1. the act of retrieving answers to questions during testing can enhance and modify memory for the tested information
2. A limitation: most studies have used identical questions on initial and final tests
3. Recall, then rereading produces a higher success rate on application questions than reading alone
4. Initial quizzing on target concepts may promote performance (relative to no quizzing) on novel application exam questions
5. Multiple choice quizzing effects are generally smaller than short-answer quizzing effects

Experiment 1

1. 142 seventh grade science students participated in the study: Final sample was 61 students
2. Quiz questions required matching a term to a definition. Test questions required matching a definition to a term. Testing near transfer.
3. three quizzes: pre-lesson after reading the chapter, post-lesson, and 24hrs before the exam
4. Quizzes improved term-response exam performance by 12-15%
5. Quizzes improved definition-response exam performance by 9-10%
6. Quizzing promoted near transfer of target content in a classroom setting

Experiment 2

1. 142 eighth-grade science students: Final sample included 90 eighth-grade science students
2. Focused on application questions (more required transfer than experiment 1)
3. three quizzes: pre-lesson after reading the chapter, post-lesson, and 24 hrs before the exam
4. Quizzing with application questions improves final test performance on related application questions.
5. Quizzing with term-response questions does not improve final test performance on related application questions

Discussion of Experiments

1. Spaced testing with feedback enhances the flexibility of knowledge
2. Quizzing application concepts in a concrete context promoted transfer and better retention of definitional information on a final test
3. repeated multiple choice quizzes with feedback can enhance performance on novel exam questions
4. Term-response questions did not increase performance on application exam items

Link to Article
Quizzing in Middle-School Science: Successful Transfer Performance on Classroom Exams

Citation
Mcdaniel, M. A., Thomas, R. C., Agarwal, P. K., Mcdermott, K. B., & Roediger, H. L. (2013). Quizzing in Middle-School Science: Successful Transfer Performance on Classroom Exams. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 27(3), 360–372. doi: 10.1002/acp.2914

How to Teach Critical Thinking: A Summary’s Summary

Critical Thinking Can Be Taught

1. Teach strategies and principals and integrate those principals into your teaching

Teaching Critical Thinking for General Transfer

1. Transfer is only possible when there is a relationship between topics.
-Ex: Writing a paragraph will not improve your ability to use a shading technique in drawing
2. Even seemingly related topics do not always allow for transfer.
-Ex: Estimating the area of rectangles does not improve ability to estimate the area of other geometric shapes
3. Teaching general critical thinking skills leads to limited success

Transfer And The Nature Of Critical Thinking

1. Critical thinking is not a generalizable skill because “analyze, synthesize, and evaluate” mean different things in different disciplines
2. Goals for critical thinking must be domain specific
3. There are some logic rules that transfer across domains, but students will struggle to apply them to new, unfamiliar domains

Critical Thinking As Problem Recognition

1. Challenges to transferring knowledge: Deep and Surface Structure
-Deep structures: Deep structures are often abstract and difficult to understand. Understanding the deep structure requires many examples (rich knowledge of surface structure)
-Surface structures
2. Speed recognition of deep structure
-problem comparison (2 worked examples with differing surface structure and the same deep structure)
-Teach the sub-steps of a process (label the sub-steps) to make knowledge more flexible

Open-Ended Problems And Knowledge

1. Critical thinking for routine and open-ended problems relies on extensive stores of domain knowledge.
2. Knowledge helps by…
-Improving the recognition process
-Allowing working memory to treat disparate groups as pieces of a single unit. (Frees up space in your working memory)
-Enabling you to deploy thinking strategies
3. Even experts struggle to think critically outside of their domain of expertise!

How To Teach Students To Think Critically (4 Steps)

1. Identify what is meant by critical thinking in your domain. Be specific.(Think like a scientist is not a helpful goal.) Identify what tasks would demonstrate critical thinking. Explicitly teach and have students deliberately practice said tasks.
2. Identify the domain content students must know. Identify the knowledge students need to successfully complete the tasks in step 1. This will involve uncomfortable, but necessary trade-offs. We interpret new information in light of what we know.
3. Choose the best sequence to learn the skills and knowledge.
4. Decide which skills and what knowledge should be revisited across years

Link to Article

How to Teach Critical Thinking

Teaching The Scientific Method: Hypothesis

If you teach primary science, you will inevitably find yourself teaching the scientific method.2013-updated_scientific-method-steps_v6

  1. Asking A Question
  2. Background Research/Knowledge
  3. Hypothesis
  4. Design Experiment
  5. Test and Retest
  6. Analyze Data
  7. Draw Conclusions
  8. Communicate Results

In order to teach students how to write a hypothesis, you must first give them background knowledge. This is imperative. Elementary students are, by definition studying elementary topics, even top students will have a relatively low level of background knowledge.

In short, you must plan out what your students will need to know before they begin a lab. What background knowledge do they need? How will you make sure they know it before the lab?

 After your students have made observations and obtained the necessary background knowledge, they can begin working on their hypothesis.

Hypothesis: An idea that helps you learn about the world that is testable and repeatable

I start by teaching what testable and repeatable are by using a seemingly ridiculous hypothesis. “If I let go of this pen, then it will go up because of the force of gravity.”

Students think it is funny because the hypothesis is obviously wrong. And I want them to know it is wrong! So I repeat the phrase, and let the pen go to test my hypothesis. Next, I ask my students what happened. Finally I repeat the hypothesis and experiment.

Then I ask, “Was the hypothesis testable?” and “Could I repeat the experiment?” And I follow that with, “Was my hypothesis correct?” 

This leads to something many students find counterintuitive. A hypothesis can be both valid and wrong. Over the course of a school year, I will repeatedly ask my students if a hypothesis can be wrong and be valid because it is important.

Writing A Hypothesis

Then, when we begin working on writing hypotheses. I teach my students to use the “If….Then…Because…” format. I always keep the format the same. This makes the scientific method easier to learn because this step is never changes and makes it easier for students to focus on the science content.

The Variables

Next, I teach my students about variables by writing the definitions and linking them to my hypothesis and the If, Then, Because format.

Independent variable: The variable you change
The ‘If’ statement identifies the independent variable/s (what the student changes).
Letting go of the pen is the independent variable.

Dependent variable: The variable you measure
The ‘Then’ statement identifies the dependent variable/s (what the student measures).
What happens to the pen is the dependent variable.

Next we go over the control variable.
Control variable: What you must keep the same
The height and force that the pen is let go with must be the same in every trial of the experiment.

The Reason

The ‘Because’ statement identifies the proposed reason “something” will happen. This should be based on their background knowledge that you have already taught them.
The force of gravity is the proposed reason.

Putting It All Together

The ‘If’ statement identifies the independent variable/s (what the student changes).
The ‘Then’ statement identifies the dependent variable/s (what the student measures).
The ‘Because’ statement identifies the proposed reason “something” will happen.

What I do in the next class is to have students practice identifying variables in various experiments. Generally, elementary students will be better at identifying control variables than discriminating between independent and dependent variables. That is fine. Expect them to struggle initially and give them regular practice. They will improve. You will improve in your explanations and examples too! Hypotheses are tricky. Work at them and practice it with your students.

Research Apértif: Retrieval Practice, with or without Mind Mapping, Boosts Fact Learning in Primary School Children

According to dictionary.com, an apértif is a small drink of alcoholic liqueur taken to stimulate the appetite before a meal. This research apértif is likewise designed to stimulate your mind’s appetite.

If you enjoy the appetizer, click-through at the bottom of the page for the main course!

Background Research/Lit Review

1. Most experimental evidence for retrieval practice is with adults. Most studies with children have been with children aged 11 and up.
2. Retrieval practice can be effectively incorporated into the curriculum w/ low/no-stakes quizzing . Retrieval practice has been shown to be beneficial for 6th grade students (aged 11-12) performance on delayed exams.
3. retrieval practice has been shown to be effective w/ children aged 6-14 for learning nonsense syllables and biographical material.
4. Retrieval Practice helps with learning fictional map locations compared to ‘study only’ in children aged 9-11
5. Concept mapping can be combined with retrieval practice for better results than concept mapping or retrieval practice alone (undergraduate students)


Experiment Setup

1. Students aged 8-12
2. Used simple mind mapping
3. Cross-factorial design to test effects of retrieval practice and mind mapping and their combination
Experiment 1
1. 109 students
2. The number of facts recorded in the learning phase was significantly related to the final test score
3. Retrieval practice group recalled more facts than the non-retrieval practice group.
4. Mind maps did not improve results for retrieval practice group. But mind maps did improve results for non-retrieval practice group


Experiment 1 Discussion

1. Retrieval practice effect is reliably found in elementary school children
2. Children in retrieval practice group had significantly higher recall after 4 days than the non-retrieval practice group
3. Mind mapping is more effective than note-taking, but less effective compared to retrieval practice. And mind mapping does not improve retrieval practice in elementary aged students.


Experiment 2 Setup (replication of experiment 1)

1. 209 students aged 8-12
2. shorter learning phase, interval between learning and testing phase=1 week
3. Final test after 5 weeks to assess longer-term outcomes


Experiment 2

1. Retrieval practice group recalled significantly more facts than the non-retrieval practice group
2. Retrieval practice alone was more effective than retrieval practice with mind mapping and mind mapping alone after both 1 week and 5 weeks


Experiment 2 Discussion

1. Elementary teachers would benefit their students by including retrieval practice in the curriculum.
2. Retrieval practice improves elementary student fact recall better than mind mapping
3. Mind mapping with retrieval practice does not improve learning in elementary students
4. Retrieval practice groups recalled 8.5% more facts than the non-retrieval group on the final assessment 5 weeks later

Link to Article

Retrieval Practice, with or without Mind Mapping, Boosts Fact Learning in Primary School Children

Citation

Ritchie SJ, Della Sala S, McIntosh RD (2013) Retrieval practice, with or without mind mapping, boosts fact learning in primary school children. PLoS ONE 8(11): e78976.

Research Apértif: Guided Retrieval Practice of Educational Materials Using Automated Scoring

According to dictionary.com, an apértif is a small drink of alcoholic liqueur taken to stimulate the appetite before a meal. This research apértif is likewise designed to stimulate your mind’s appetite.

If you enjoy the appetizer, click-through at the bottom of the page for the main course!

Background Research/Lit Review

1. Retrieval practice improves long-term simple learning (lists, word pairs) and long-term complex learning (concepts, inferential questions).
2. Retrieval practice improves performance on conceptual and inferential questions.
3. Retrieving an item successfully just two times produces large gains in long-term memory.
4. Low-stakes quizzing (retrieval practice) in/out of the classroom can improve performance.
5. Effectiveness of retrieval practice outside of the classroom depends on students’ ability to monitor and regulate their own learning. Students struggle to regulate their own learning!
6. Students are unaware of retrieval practice’s benefits.
7. Students do not choose repeated retrieval.
8. When students choose to study with retrieval practice, they cannot accurately assess if their answer is right or wrong. (They believe they retrieved a correct answer even when it was false!)

Experiments and Findings

1. Authors created QuickScore to automatically, objectively grade retrieval practice on human anatomy.
2. Experiments examined the effects of repeated study vs repeated retrieval.
3. Final test given after 2 days.
4. 68 Purdue undergraduate students participated.

Experiment 1a and 1b Findings

1. Performance topped off after 4th session for both repeated study and repeated retrieval (initial learning is ~the same rate)
2. For the final test (after 2 days), in both experiments, students in the repeated retrieval condition (70% correct) outperformed those in the repeated study condition (55% correct).
3. False negatives (wrongly marked incorrect by QuickScore) increased learning because it resulted in additional exposure & retrieval chances.
4. QuickScore is significantly better at assessing student performance than students themselves are.

Link to Article

Guided Retrieval Practice of Educational Materials Using Automated Scoring

Citation

Grimaldi, P. J., & Karpicke, J. D. (2013, June 24). Guided Retrieval Practice of Educational Materials Using Automated Scoring. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0033208