Explicit Instruction: Concreteness Fading

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

Concreteness fading is exactly what the name suggests. You start with a concrete example, and once your students have grasped it, you fade it out for a more abstract representation. The purpose behind this strategy is that abstract representations are more generalizable than concrete ones.

When teaching a concept you should use an example with strategically extraneous details. It sounds strange, but it’s true. Concrete examples help students with initial learning because they have extraneous details (Glenberg et al., 2004). These details help “ground” the concept in the familiar, allowing students to grasp the example. 

However, the extraneous details making up a concrete example hinder generalization and transfer (Petersen & McNeil, 2013). Hence the need to fade from concrete representations to abstract ones.

Useful Definitions

We do run into a bit of an academic language problem when talking about concreteness fading. Technically, abstract representations do not exist because, whenever you describe something, or write, or draw it, parts of that idea become concrete.

In their 2018 paper, Fyfe and Nathan propose a simple linguistic work around. Instead of referring to examples as concrete (specific and non transferrable) or abstract (general and transferrable) we instead identify them as less idealized (concrete) or more idealized (abstract). 

Concrete Examples (Less Idealized)

Not all concrete examples are created equal. Concrete examples that are less idealized add seductive details that make it more difficult than necessary in order to learn and generalize the example (Sundararajan & Adesope, 2020). So when we are crafting our concrete examples, we should be careful with the type of extraneous information we include, that extra information might not help initial learning.

We ought to include the extraneous information that improves initial learning (It isn’t really extraneous then, is it?). There are two types of information to be wary of: perceptual and conceptual.

Perceptual information pertains to the physical properties of the example. This could include 2D or 3D representations, visual surface features such as patterns and how real an object looks. Researchers have found that 3-Dimensional representations are generally more effective than 2-Dimensional objects, at least in math (Carbonneau, Marley, & Selig, 2013). In addition, representations that are particularly rich in visual surface features have been found to inhibit learning compared with less perceptually rich objects (Kaminski, Sloutsky, & Heckler, 2013).

The solution to this isn’t to only use 3-D or less perceptually rich representations. It is simply to be smart about it. 

What are you teaching? What is the main idea of the concept? Does the picture/diagram allow students to make incorrect inferences? How much explanation will students need to understand your concrete example? Is the “extraneous” information in this representation directly relevant to the concept?

Conceptual information is trickier, because it is learner dependent. Conceptual information depends on the background knowledge your students bring to the table. If your students are very familiar with an object, it is often difficult for them to think about that object abstractly (Petersen & McNeil, 2013).

Abstract Examples (More Idealized)

A good abstract, or idealized representation allows students to make the intended generalization with the least effort. Essentially, in a more idealized representation, your students will be more likely to successfully transfer their learning to a new context. We should also expect for students who are more novice to struggle with transferring their learning, even if they are able to think about the underlying ideas of the representation (Koedinger & Nathan, 2004).

The purpose of an idealized representation is to encourage generalization and transfer. Idealized representations achieve this by moving the focus from the what representation is to what the representation does. Idealized representations are able to do this because they lack the extraneous details of less idealized representations.

old lady or hag

The extraneous details of a less idealized representation help to ground the example in the familiar and the relatable, thus, providing a fertile context for initial learning (Glenberg et al., 2004; Schliemann & Carraher, 2002). And it is this same grounding that reduces transfer of learning. Think about an optical illusion. If you see the young lady first, it can be hard to then see the old hag, and vice versa. When we use more abstract, more idealized representations, we make it easier for students to generalize and transfer their learning.

Three Concrete Goals

According to Fyfe and Nathan (2002) three goals of concreteness fading are to

  1. Promote initial learning with a meaningful, less idealized representation of the concept. (grounded context)
  2. Promote transfer of learning by ending a learning sequence with a generic, broadly applicable idealized representation.
  3. Draw connections between less idealized (concrete) and more idealized (abstract) representations to create a well developed schema.

Concreteness Fading (Less to More Ideal)

Concreteness fading aims to take advantage of both concrete and abstract representations. The extraneous details of a less idealized example help the student to learn the concept, but these same details prevent students from transferring that concept, it is inert, inflexible knowledge (Schliemann & Carraher, 2002). However, if after initial learning you begin to use more idealized examples by reducing the extraneous details, your students will be more able to generalize and transfer the concept, making their knowledge applicable and flexible (Kaminski, Sloutsky, & Heckler, 2008).

As we fade from the less ideal to the more ideal, we don’t simply want to focus on the idealized examples. Concreteness fading is not a checklist procedure to follow, the initial concrete examples are still true, they are still valuable. 

The concrete examples help provide a continued grounding for the abstract ones, so we should ensure our students know not only the concrete and abstract representations of the concept, but we should also ensure they understand the connections between concrete and abstract representations by making the connections explicit. 

Fyfe and Natan encourage teachers to use a 3-step progression starting with a grounded, less idealized representation before fading into an abstract, idealized one. In order to do this successfully, teachers must reduce the perceptual and conceptual information their examples contain. 

The classic example of this 3-step model is in math. You start with a 3-D manipulative and go to an image on the paper and you finally conclude with just numbers. concreteness fading

This 3-step strategy can be applied in many other classes and age groups as well. In science, you could start teaching about a food chain by showing a video of a gazelle grazing in the savanna being silently stalked by a cheetah. Next, you could show the classic image of a food chain and then, finally, have your students generalize the pattern of food chains to any environment (producers to primary consumers to secondary consumers, etc).
1. Springbok Antelopes vs Cheetahs (Antelopes are a type of gazelle)
2. gazelle food chain
3. Producer –> Primary Consumer –> Secondary Consumer

*Note: You should use the correct vocabulary throughout your examples, whether they are concrete or abstract. Ex: The bush is a producer, the gazelle is a primary consumer, the cheetah is a secondary consumer.

This will give your students more exposure to the vocabulary in context, which will also make transferring their knowledge easier.

Concreteness Fading, Research, and Teachers

Concreteness fading is not an end all be all for education, it alone is not a silver bullet. But, if we want all of our students to know our subjects deeply, it is vitally important. The methods proposed by Fyfe and Nathan will also give our students exposure to multiple models of a concept, this likely increases the flexibility of their learning (Jacobson et al., 2020).

By teaching with methods aligning to research, we make the curriculum more accessible for all students. When we deviate from research and go with mere instinct, we increase the likelihood of creating an inequitable learning environment. Research alone is not some paneca of perfection, but without it, what are you going on beyond experience?

We should understand the broad principles of research and apply them to our context with nuance.

Sources

  • Carbonneau, Kira, Scott Marley, and James Selig. 2013. “A Meta-Analysis of the Efficacy of Teaching Mathematics with Concrete Manipulatives.” Journal of Educational Psychology 105 (2): 380–400. doi:10.1037/a0031084.
  • Fyfe, E. R., & Nathan, M. J. (2018). Making “concreteness fading” more concrete as a theory of instruction for promoting transfer. Educational Review, 71(4), 403–422. doi: 10.1080/00131911.2018.1424116
  • Glenberg, Arthur, Tiana Gutierrez, Joel Levin, Sandra Japuntich, and Michael Kaschak. 2004. “Activity and Imagined Activity Can Enhance Young Children’s Reading Comprehension.” Journal of Educational Psychology 96 (3): 424–436. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.96.3.424.
  • Jacobson, M. J., Goldwater, M., Markauskaite, L., Lai, P. K., Kapur, M., Roberts, G., & Hilton, C. (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
  • Kaminski, Jennifer, Vladimir Sloutsky, and Andrew Heckler. 2013. “The Cost of Concreteness: The Effect of Nonessential Information on Analogical Transfer.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 19:14–29. doi:10.1037/a0031931.
  • Koedinger, Kenneth, and Mitchell Nathan. 2004. “The Real Story behind Story Problems: Effects of Representations on Quantitative Reasoning.” Journal of the Learning Sciences 13 (2): 129–164.
  • Petersen, Lori, and Nicole McNeil. 2013. “Effects of Perceptually Rich Manipulatives on Preschoolers’ Counting Performance: Established Knowledge Counts.” Child Development 84: 1020–1033. doi:10.1111/cdev.12028.
  • Schliemann, Analucia, and David Carraher. 2002. “The Evolution of Mathematical Reasoning: Everyday versus Idealized Understandings.” Developmental Review 22 (2): 242–266.
  • Sundararajan, N., Adesope, O. Keep it Coherent: A Meta-Analysis of the Seductive Details Effect. Educ Psychol Rev (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-020-09522-4

Explicit Instruction: Modeling

In a systematic review of the literature, Hughes, Morris, Therrien, and Benson (2017) reviewed 86 studies and determined that explicit instruction has 5 Pillars. The first pillar is segmenting complex skills. The second pillar is large, so I divided it up into two posts, think-alouds (teacher talk) and modeling.

In order for modeling to be effective, a teacher must have their teacher-talk down pat. As we are communicating our model, our language must be concise, clear, and strategically repetitive. Being concise is essential because our students are novices and do not have a well-developed schema. Being concise saves their working memory for the content of our course and the repetition helps ensure the content is integrated into their schema. However, concise-ity alone is not all we need. 

We must pair our conciseness with clarity. To speak clearly you ought to plan ahead, avoid ambiguity, and use proper grammar. In addition, be careful with figurative language. If you must use it, and it’s quite likely that you must, explicitly explain the figurative phrases to your students. 

Modeling

Modeling is one of the most efficient ways to learn new skills or knowledge (Bandura, 1986). At its most basic, modeling helps students learn skills, procedures, or behaviors through observation rather than through direct experience (Salisu & Ransom, 2014).

Modeling is important because it increases access to the curriculum. When we leave modeling out of our instruction, less students will be able to acquire and apply complex comprehension strategies (Fielding & Pearson, 1994).

When to Model

Modeling has been found to be particularly useful for well-structured tasks. These are tasks that can easily be broken down into component steps. Math is the most obvious example, you have a standard algorithm to follow that can be broken down into smaller sub-steps.

Less-structured tasks are tasks that cannot be easily broken down into sub-steps. As a result, these tasks are seen as higher-leveled. Modeling with less structured tasks is likely to be more difficult and less effective because, in order to succeed, students will need to pull knowledge and skills from a variety of areas. 

How to Model

Before you start modeling a concept or skill, bring your students’ background knowledge to mind. This can be done through review, sharing an image or video, etc. I am partial to using a combination of choral response and think-pair-share as a way to bring background knowledge to mind. By having students think about what they already know, you are making it easier for them to integrate the new knowledge into their existing schema and allowing students to move forward with the least amount of confusion.

When we are modeling a concept or skill for our students, we should make it as short and simple as possible. Only include what is important, don’t go down the rabbit hole. Interesting asides can wait. In addition, check for understanding throughout the modeling process. Even if you have your teacher talk down pat and have a well planned model, don’t assume that you can just run through the model once and have your students understand. Even with the most precise, perfect model, you still need to break it down into small steps and check for understanding.

Steps to Modeling

  1. Bring background knowledge to mind
  2. Make each step of your modeling short and simple
  3. Check for understanding between the steps
  4. Give students guided practice with feedback

Modeling Behavior

Disposition Modeling: When done well, this helps convey personal values and thought processes. By modeling a disposition, we are often able to make abstract rules and expectations more concrete.

To model dispositions we can simply explain and act out what we feel or think when a student is misbehaving. It is very important to note that this is not done with a condescending tone. It is done to help students understand the expectations, not to shame or let off some frustrated steam.

Educational Modeling

As far as education goes, there are many different types of modeling.

Meta-Cognitive Modeling: This is the classic think-aloud. Teachers talk through their own thought process and intentionally make the implicit steps explicit. This is particularly useful for teaching students how to interpret information, analyze concepts, and draw conclusions.

Modeling as Scaffolding: This takes into account where individual students are in the learning process. This type of modeling is the most difficult, because different students have different levels of knowledge and differing knowledge gaps. So, in order to model as scaffolding, a teacher must not only know the curriculum inside and out, he or she must also know their students.

In order to scaffold effectively, it is useful to think about where you expect students to struggle. Ask yourself, “What makes this concept difficult? Will my students lack the necessary background knowledge?” 

This planning helps in at least four ways.
1. If your students lack the necessary background knowledge, give it to children so that they have a chance to understand the model and concept you are trying to teach.
2.  It reduces your stress levels. If you have additional explanations and models at the ready, you will not be racking your brain for an example to give a student in the middle of class.
3. By preplanning additional models or supplementary explanations, you will likely help your struggling students understand the materials better.
4. You may even find that all your students benefit from the additional models and explanations. When this is the case, everyone’s’ life is easier (teacher & students) because more students understand from your teaching (whole class scaffolding) and less students need customized help, improving class flow and learning.

Task and Performance Modeling: In this, the teacher demonstrates a task to students before they do it on their own. This is the type of modeling that teachers most often used in a preplanned manner.

For complex processes like the scientific method or writing, it will likely be best to break down your modeling rather significantly by teaching one step per lesson. 

For example, I have tried to teach students how to form a hypothesis in one day, and the results have never really been pretty. The reason for this is that making a hypothesis involves many sub-steps including: observations, inferences, background knowledge, and asking scientific questions. Each of these sub-steps is relatively complicated by itself, let alone when you combine them! When students new to the scientific method try to apply all those steps at once, they experience cognitive overload. And, even if they follow the steps correctly, they are unlikely to remember how to use the scientific method the next day.

When dealing with complex material, students need to be exposed to one idea at a time. They do not yet have a developed schema with which to hold all this information. We need to remember this, and to build their schemas over time, they need to know and understand each sub-step. And, as we teach, we build on the previously learned material.

So, after learning from my own teaching failures, I have changed how I teach complex skills. Now, when I teach the scientific method to 5th or 6th grade students, I will generally start by teaching observations and inferences. We spend nearly a full lesson on this. After my students understand both observations and inferences, I will then teach them how to transfer that knowledge into a hypothesis.

In strategically breaking down my model of the scientific method into multiple days by focusing on one sub-step at a time, I have initially made the choice to cover less content. I have found that this approach pays dividends quickly and repeatedly. Now, my students better understand the complex process that is the scientific method. In addition, their better understanding allows for us to move through the content more quickly, which also gives us more time to go deeper.

Sometimes less leads to more.

Other blogposts 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

Sources

Bandura A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Fialding, L. G., & Pearson, P. D. (1994). Synthesis of research reading comprehension: What works. Educational leadership, 51, 62-62.

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

Rosenshine, B., Meister, C., & Chapman, S. (1996). Teaching Students to Generate Questions: A Review of the Intervention Studies. Review of Educational Research, 66(2), 181-221. Retrieved February 19, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1170607

Salisu, A., & Ransom, E. N. (2014). The Role of Modeling towards Impacting Quality Education. International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences, 32, 54–61. doi: 10.18052/www.scipress.com/ilshs.32.54

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.

The Wonderful Works of God: Chapter 3 General Revelation

I am reading through The Wonderful Works of God by Herman Bavinck and am using the free discussion guide by Charles Williams as a writing prompt in order to organize my thoughts and learn more as I study this classic Christian book.

If this interests you, please follow along and feel free comment with your thoughts either on this post or on Twitter.

I. Man’s Highest Good (p.1-7)
II. The Knowledge of God (p.8–15)
III. General Revelation (p.16-27)

“If it is true that man can have knowledge of God then this fact presupposes that God on His part voluntarily chose to make Himself known to man in some way or other.” -Herman Bavinck

By studying inanimate (non-living) objects and digging into various related phenomena we can create from what God has already provided by using raw materials and our creativity and discover facts along the way. However, the deeper we dig into a phenomena and the closer we come to its “essence”, the mysteries increase and we are confined by the unknowable. Even with a perfect science, we cannot hope to become all knowing. Some amount of unknowable-ness is inherent to the human condition.

And if this is true of the study of inanimate objects. How much more would it be true of the study of animate objects, of life?

The Limits of Deduction

Take your friend as an example. We can study the external via observation. But the internal, we can only study via what your friend chooses to reveal. You can use facial expressions, blood pressure, and other signs to infer what is going on, but in order to truly know your friend he or she must choose to disclose their thoughts and emotions to you.

In order to truly know your friend, you are utterly dependent on him or her. If you simply rely on your own Sherlock Holms-esq detective skills you have no friend, you have a subject to study and analyze but not a friend.

This is even more true with God. We can study morality and come to the conclusion that if there are morals that are objectively bad, say raping and murdering, then there must be a God/gods/higher power/s because without someone or something beyond humans, morals are doomed to relativity. We could analyze our world and universe and come to the conclusion that things are simply too fine tuned for it to be mere chance, therefore in all probability, there is a God/gods/higher power/s.

And yet, even if we do this. We don’t have any real clue about who or what created everything. Or why that being or beings or power or powers created anything and how that should affect us. We can study and learn and use that learning to point to God, but aside from his special revelation to us we are stuck at generalities and trends. To know God, we are utterly reliant on his revelation to us.

Revelation

There are two types of revelation, general and special. Both forms of revelation are revealed to us by God’s choice. General revelation refers to the world at large. It has been revealed to everyone. For general revelation you can think of science or generally shared morality among differing cultures, the usual phenomena and course of events. His general revelation shows us his power, wisdom, and goodness. Special revelation is more specific, and this knowledge is not available through study alone. God reveals his special revelation through appearances, prophecy, and miracles. This is done to show his holiness, righteousness, compassion, and grace. We only have access to special revelation through Jesus Christ. 

No man knows the Son except the Father; neither does any man know the Father except the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him. (Matt 11:27).

So, in order to actually know God, we are limited by his special revelation. General revelation will not truly reveal God, it will only point towards him, if honestly assessed. However, when used together, our understanding of God will be more complete. Our knowledge of God will never be complete because of our human limitations, yet this doesn’t mean we cannot know God. It doesn’t mean that we cannot love God. We can know and love God truly within our own limitations the same way we can know and love a child or spouse truly without knowing them fully, perfectly.

And, while we cannot know God fully, according to Bavinck, we can know the highest way he has revealed himself to us. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead proving his payment was good and reconciled us to God. This is the gap. God has crossed it for us. If we know this in our hearts, then we truly know God.

And this is the thread that binds it all together. If you look at what Jesus did, then the universe makes sense. God above and beyond humans and is all powerful and has morals, therefore our morals are not simply subjective, they are given to us by God. The universe isn’t random, but designed, and designed to show God’s glory. Jesus is the thread that binds it all together.

With Christ, we can see how God has generally revealed himself to man throughout the ages. We can see God’s judgement and mercy on both Christians and non-Christians.

God’s general revelation isn’t salvific, but it can point us towards salvation. And when we understand general revelation through special revelation, we have the needed context to make the world make sense, even if we can’t understand it, ourselves, or God perfectly.

The Literary Canon: Who Makes the Cut?

A few days ago I got involved in a bit of a Twitter debate about the idea of a literary canon. Here’s the tweet that started it. (Matt is worth the follow!)

I found it interesting because, to me, the reality and importance of a canon is self evident. We have a set of books/writings that are considered to be classics and that ought to be taught.

What is the Canon?

Our word canon comes from the Greek word kanôn, which means measuring rod or standard. The term kanôn was initially used in Christianity to distinguish which scriptures were God-breathed and thus canon with those that were merely written by man and were therefore, apocryphal. Canon made its first, consistent foray into broader literature in 1768 when David Ruhnken used it to describe a selective list of writing (McDonald, 2007). And his use stuck. 

The literary canon is made up of works of literature that have been particularly influential and lasting. Generally there has been a region attached to the canon such as the Western Literary Canon or American Literary Canon. For our purposes, the modifier before canon is only signalling where the works became influential and lasting and is not particularly important. Different regions will have different, yet overlapping canons because while some works of literature will impact multiple regions, others have a more localized one.

What makes something “canon” is that it has been influential and lasting, not who wrote it or where it was written. This is how the Greek poet Homer made the list with his Iliad and Odyssey. And why The Brothers Karamazov by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky are included. They aren’t American or from the West, but their works greatly influenced American and Western thought and culture.

Entering the Canon

So, how does a piece of literature become canon? To enter the canon a work of literature not only must be influential and long lasting, it must also be continuously selected and reselected (Rabb, 1988).

However, beyond being “continuously selected and reselected”, the criteria for entering the canon remains vague, for better and for worse. For example, in a 1984 meeting by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies entitled, “Making and Rethinking the Canon caused quite a ruckus.

“The title of the seminar- provoked a striking lack of consensus about what kinds of topics or methods of inquiry would suit such a title. Questions about power and authority offered the only stable common ground. Other questions varied in focus and perspective. What are the principles by which the canon has been formed in the past and is re-formed in the present? How reliable are the processes by which works are included or excluded? Are we moving toward a narrowing or a broadening of the canon? How will questions of gender affect the eighteenth-century canon? What roles do exigencies of pedagogy and/or publishing play? How wide is the gap between adulation for a work and reading it? between respect or tradition and critical/ theoretical trends? What is the relationship between esteem for a work and its susceptibility to popular modes of analysis? What are the conceptual frameworks and categories by which we ascertain the “greatness” of literature? For scholars, critics, and teachers of the eighteenth century, these questions were, and continue to be, vexing” (Rabb, 1988).

Others have suggested that to become canon, or to be considered among the “great works” the literature generally must be something we can learn from, help us judge and shape personal and social values, move the reader to identify with the characters, define genres, push/expand genres, etc (Altieri, 1983).

So, entering the canon is complex. Not only do different people place different weights on different aspects, but some of them disagree on which aspects should be included in assessing the literature at all! I’d go further and say that the above is a non-exhaustive list of potential ways to determine canon. The fuzziness is frustrating, but there is no alternative. Any sort of ranking would produce a canon and suffer from its own shortcomings.

If you want to operationalize this, just apply the above “qualifications” to any literary criticism framework. They are not all equally valid, but most of them will get you to roughly the same place.

A good and relatively (not totally!) controversy free parallel to the literary canon would be the Hall of Fame for any sport, which is essentially a selective list of the greatest players. Let’s look at baseball. To enter baseball’s hall of fame, a player must receive at least 75% of the vote. That Babe Ruth or Mariano Rivera deserve their spot in the hall of fame is obvious. But the disagreements become clear if you look at who barely made the cut for example, Ryne Sandberg slipped in with 76.2%. Meaning that there were a relatively large percent of voters who thought he had a good, not outstanding career. 

Or, to court controversy, look at Pete Rose. His stats show that he deserves a place, but his gambling baseball games, including those he played in kept him out. Look at Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds today. Based on their play in the field alone, they warrant entrance into the hall of fame, but they are cheaters (steroids) and have thus far been kept out.

So while halls of fame (canons for sports) may have some specific rules like a minimum vote percentage, who gets selected is still subjective. Forming a canon is an inexact science with inexact boundaries. 

The Fuzzy Canon

Shakespeare obviously deserves to be included in the canon, anyone who doubts his place is as sane as one who doubts Michael Jordan’s place in the basketball hall of fame. The places near the peak of any canon are clear. But where does the canon start? Who makes the cut? Why?

Again, as entrance to the literary canon is not scientific, we cannot draw a line. To attempt to do so would result in the butchering of literary analysis. 

If you are seeking for some magic line, or formula to better understand the canon, you are seeking for fool’s gold and Atlantis. You will always be disappointed. The fact that the canon has fuzziness does not negate its reality any more than the fuzziness of tallness or shortness negates the reality of your height. The best we can do is follow general rules and to realize that the edges are fuzzy as a feature, not a bug. 

Altieri (1983) explains the fuzziness well when he says,

 “Clearly, canons are not natural facts and do not warrant the kinds of evidence we use in discussing matters of fact. We are not likely to find general laws governing our acts as canon-formers, nor is extended empirical inquiry likely to resolve any of the essential theoretical issues. Canons are based on both descriptive and normative claims; we cannot escape the problem of judging others’ value statements by our own values.”

Does Ryne Sandberg deserve his hall of fame slot? Does every book in the canon deserve its spot? What do we do when different groups produce differing canons? It’s fuzzy.

Criticisms of the Canon

Criticisms of the canon invariably center around around relevance or who gets in. And this is healthy. Because the canon is formed over time in a relatively idiocentric, organic process, there is no way to filter out the bigotry and oversights of the past. As a result, great minority writers have been excluded from the canon through no fault of their own. We can and should work to remedy this as we engage in the endless Canon Wars and “continuously select and reselect” the canon. 

The Purpose of a Canon

Even with all the disagreement surrounding what qualities a book should have in order to enter than canon. The concept is still eminently useful. A canon gives us a list of works that are considered to be the best of the best that has some sort of filter beyond “best selling”. This is helpful for individuals who want to read good literature, not just famous or popular works. 

While the canon is helpful for individuals, it is irreplaceable for educators. The primary limitation in education is that there is too little time and too many good books. We have to choose and canons are eminently helpful in this regard.

As far as how teachers should use the canon, I do not think there are any hard and fast rules. I would say that teachers should regularly but not exclusively teach from the canon.

The Alternative to a Canon

Maybe you dislike the canon because it is primarily old works written in and about cultures vastly different from the one our students inhabit. And in addition you think that too many minorities have been excluded by racism and bigotry. So you decide to get rid of the canon and do what’s best for your students.

Maybe you choose Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling for its themes of courage and friendship.
You choose the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseimi for its themes of betrayal/redemtion, family relationships, and political or cultural relevance.
And you choose Counting Descent by Clint Smith for how his poetry engages the minority experience and complicates our conception of lineage and tradition.
(Your reading list for your students includes many more works of literature but for our purposes three books is enough)

And your list starts becoming more popular. Other teachers begin to use it and add similar works to it. Its use grows and it is gradually taught in more and more schools. And you are happy because your list of recommended books is more inclusive than the old canon.

But, don’t you see what is happening? As your list gains popularity, it gains authority. More teachers reference your list while planning their curriculum, there is an occasional news article about a trendy new reading list. One of the articles calls it a new canon for a new age…

You see, there is no true alternative. The canon is a list of works considered to be the best of the best. If you would get rid of the canon, what would you replace it with? The replacement would simply be another list, a new canon.

If you think we should abandon the canon yet do not attempt to replace the canon, you would lead yourself and others adrift in a literary sea. We must assess books for quality. Determining (assessing) which are the best is a useful exercise. The result of this assessment will always lead to some sort of canon, even if you change the name to make yourself feel better.

So the only answer is to improve the canon. Which works should be considered in that aren’t? (probably many) Which books should be taken out? (probably a few)

Sources

Altieri, C. (1983). An Idea and Ideal of a Literary Canon. Critical Inquiry, 10(1), 37–60. doi: 10.1086/448236

McDonald, Lee Martin (2007). The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission and Authority (Updated and revised 3rd ed.). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers. ISBN 978-1-56563-925-6.

Rabb, M. A. (1988). Making and Rethinking the Canon: General Introduction and the Case of “Millenium Hall”. Modern Language Studies18(1), 3. doi: 10.2307/3194697

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

The Wonderful Works of God: Chapter 2 The Knowledge of God

I am reading through The Wonderful Works of God by Herman Bavinck and am using the free discussion guide by Charles Williams as a writing prompt in order to organize my thoughts and learn more as I study this classic Christian book.

If this interests you, please follow along and feel free comment with your thoughts either on this post or on Twitter.

I. Man’s Highest Good (p.1-7)
II. The Knowledge of God (p.8–15)

  • 1 (pp.8–10): How does man come to enjoy God as his highest good (John 17:1–3)? How do such realities shape the church’s confession of faith?

Man comes to see God as his highest good by responding to God. He is constantly saying “I shall be your God and you shall be my people.” He stays steadfast and consistent, repeating that phrase even after his people dove into sin, made golden a golden calf to worship,  and whored themselves out after other gods. Today, as we dive into our clean, modern sins and idolatry, God continues to repeat this phrase to us.

Until we come to see God as our highest good, we will force God to repeat his refrain. The path forward, like the gospel is simple and clear. We come to enjoy God as our highest good when we come to realize that what God says is true. That when he comes to us after we whore ourselves out to other Gods and repeats his refrain, “I shall be your God and you shall be my people.” He is not merely stating a legal position as a judge to a defendant. He is saying so much more. 

Being the people of God means being children of God. 

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7)

It means being disciplined and loved by a perfect Father. 

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:12)

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

It means complete forgiveness and reconciliation.

“In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:5-10)

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

Yet, also like the gospel, living or enacting it is incredibly complex and beyond our human capacity. For us alone, seeing God as our highest good has been made impossible due to our sin. Yet with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26) for he has given us his Spirit. And with the Holy Spirit, we cry out “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15). And when we walk in step with his Spirit, we will not sin and we will produce the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).

When we get this, when we walk in step with the Spirit, our gratitude ought to drive us to worship. 

I think that, when we as a church understand that God truly is man’s highest good there will be something fundamentally different in our actions. We will waver less because we are confident in the goodness of our God. This allows us to stand against cultural sins. Importantly, it also changes how we stand against cultural sins. On the one hand, we won’t simply wall ourselves off from the world to create a private Christian enclave that we seldom leave. On the other, we won’t demonize people who are antagonistic to our faith.

More positively, seeing God as our highest good will make us, and the church more joyful. We will be more joyful because we are remembering that good things on Earth are not ultimately important. We will be more joyful because we will be remembering that, no matter what comes in the here and now, God, our highest good is with us (1 Corinthians 3:16, Romans 8:38-39). This joy is powerful enough to transform suffering and makes hope possible in the deepest of pain (See Psalm 42 and the entire book of Job).

I think that coming to enjoy God as our highest good is a difficult process because we are sinful and the world is full of good distractions, in addition to the bad ones. The Holy Spirit enables us to live our lives as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2) so we do not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-26).

  • 2 (pp.10–15): In what ways does the knowledge of God in Christ differ from knowledge of anything else? How does the origin, object, and essence of the knowledge of God inform the nature and content of faith in God? // What is theology, and how should the study of it be pursued?

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:1-3) 

“The knowledge of which Jesus speaks here obviously has its own peculiar character. It is different from all other knowledge that can be obtained, and the difference is not one of degree but of principal and essence. This becomes apparent at once when we begin to compare the two kinds of knowledge with each other. The knowledge of God of which Jesus spoke differs from the knowledge of created things in its origin and object and in its essence and effects.” (Bavinck, 10)

One key difference between the knowledge of God in Christ and knowledge of anything else is that we only receive knowledge of God as a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9). Of course we may and hopefully do use rational arguments on our journey to faith, but the Bible is clear faith is a gift from God, whereas we can obtain knowledge in any other realm through our senses as a type of common grace.

Knowledge of God also differs from knowledge of anything else in its object. Knowledge in math, science, literature, etc revolves around a creature’s perception and we can obtain it without a personal relationship. For example, someone can tell us all about China and we can learn a lot from that, but without going there, exploring the country and meeting the people, our knowledge is based only on someone else’s description. “In this sense, information is an affair of the head only. But real knowing includes an element of personal concern and involvement and an activity of the heart” (Bavinck, 13).

Truly knowing China involves knowing a lot about China and deeply understanding the language and culture. But truly knowing God involves being like Christ. 

“But He (Jesus) knew God by direct, personal sight and insight; He saw Him everywhere, in nature, in His word, in His service; He loved Him above all else and was obedient to Him in all things, even in the death on the cross. His knowing the truth was all of a piece with His doing it. The knowledge and the love came together.

Indeed, to know God does not consist of knowing a great deal about Him, but of this, rather, that we have seen Him on our life’s way, and that in the experience of our soul we have come to know His virtues, His righteousness and holiness, His compassion and His grace.” (Bavinck, 13)

This is what makes knowledge of God in Christ so distinct from other types of knowledge. We do not need an in depth knowledge of theology, church history, or even the Bible to have knowledge of God. We simply need to know Him and have faith in Him. 

“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

According to Bavinck, “Theology is the science which derives the knowledge of God from his revelation, which studies and thinks into it under the guidance of His Spirit, and then tries to describe it so that it ministers to His honor.” In practice, this encapsulates much more than just the Bible, though the Bible will play a key role in theology. In fact, the theologian must interpret the world “out of God, through God, about God, and does this always to the glorification of His name.” (Bavinck, 14).

In more modern language, this means we must interpret our theology and our entire lives through the lens of the Bible.

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

The Wonderful Works of God: Chapter 1 Man’s Highest Good

I am reading through The Wonderful Works of God by Herman Bavinck and am using the free discussion guide by Charles Williams as a writing prompt in order to organize my thoughts and learn more as I study this classic Christian book.

If this interests you, please follow along and feel free to give your thoughts on the questions and my answers.

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The Wonderful Works of God by Herman Bavinck

Chapter 1: Man’s Highest Good

  • 1 (pp.1–3): What is man’s highest good? What distinguishes man from the rest of creation with respect to God, and the enjoyment of him? Why is creation unable to satisfy man’s deepest longings?

Bavinck answers the question, “What is man’s highest good?” in the very first sentence of his book. God. This view isn’t going to be breaking any new ground for a Christian, however, this view is the Christian’s foundation. This can be seen by looking at just about any catechism (Westminister Catechism, Luther’s Catechism, New City Catechism, etc). 

Next, Bavinck then shows how humans are different from other creatures, we have a special awareness mere animals lack. We have our special awareness, an awareness beyond the physical due to being created in the image of our God. An identity that is indestructibly true, whether we are Christian or not. This is a grace that God has lavished upon all of humanity which constantly reminds us and calls us to Him, even if we ignore it.

A hint of this calling lies in how we can never be fully satisfied in our physical world. Bavinck goes on to explain how, even though we think with our physical brains, thinking is a spiritual activity that transcends yet connects us to physical reality. It is in this spiritual search for connection that we hope to find meaning. “This yearning for an eternal order, which God has planted in the heart of man, in the inmost recesses of his being, in the core of his personality, is the cause of the indisputable fact that everything which belongs to the temporal order cannot satisfy man. He is a sensuous, earthly, limited, and mortal being, and yet he is attracted to the eternal and is destined for it.”

We are always striving for meaning by calling things good, bad, or otherwise. Yet, if there is no God, no ultimate arbiter of good and evil, how is there any ultimate good? Any ultimate bad? Without some sort of God/s, the universe merely is.

We may attempt to find this meaning through science, the arts, philosophy, pleasure, but our hearts will always remain unsatisfied if our search stays in these things because they can only point to an order, point to a meaning, they cannot prove or provide one. Our hearts can only rest once they have found meaning in “Divine goodness.” 

  • 2 (pp.3–6): What great goods can pursuing science, the arts, and humanitarianism obtain? What limitations do each of these contain? // What distinguishes a knowledge of science, philosophy, and the humanities from the wisdom of God? Must the two be at odds with one another? In what ways do we find them at odds with one another in the heart of man? // What happens when we make these great goods (philosophy, art, humanitarianism) our ultimate good? // Where is man’s starting point for wisdom (Prov. 1:7)? How ought the knowledge and wisdom of God order our knowledge of science, art, and philanthropy?

While great good and beauty can come from science, the arts, and humanitarianism, these goods, even though they come from God, fade. Through science we have achieved great heights and can cure diseases, alleviate suffering, and expand prosperity (HumanProgress). Yet, we have also used science to find creative ways to destroy life and have often marred God’s creation with immense human caused suffering.

At their best, the arts helped us analyze the human condition and pointed us towards Christ. The arts have brought us, me included great joy. Yet, we have also turned art into a glorification of ourselves, and occasionally even into an outright celebration of sin.

Humanitarianism follows a similar path. We care for and help people, yet turn that into an ultimate good, turning humanitarianism (a good thing) into humanism (a bad thing).

The Bible provides a contrast to a human-centric, or atheistic approach to knowledge. The Bible lays the claim that knowledge has the fear of God as its beginning (Proverbs 1:7). This means that the Christian views the world, including science, the arts, and humanitarianism through the lens of the Bible. And it is this type of knowledge that is highly stable and valuable. 

When we apply the fear of God to knowledge, we can restore knowledge to its proper position. Instead of using incredible technology to kill smaller, unborn humans we can use it to provide life-saving surgery to smaller, unborn humans. In addition, we can use the biblical lens to view secular art properly. We do not need to simply throw it away and isolate ourselves. We can see the skills involved in the art’s creation, we can better understand both the sinful human condition and the creative glories contained within mankind through art from Christians and non-Christians alike. 

In short, the application of knowledge through a biblical lens does not mean we isolate ourselves and only consume “Christian” goods. In fact, doing so will often lead to us consuming goods of inferior quality. It means we view, enjoy, and critique both Christian and non-Christian works in the sciences, arts, and humanities in such a way as to further enrich ourselves and the world.

  • 3 (pp.6–7): What great paradox did Augustine conclude resides in the heart of man with respect to the pursuit of God as man’s highest enjoyment and good? Where does this enigma find its solution?

Augustine said that the heart of man was made for God and that it is destined to always seek but never find rest, until his heart rests in his heavenly Father’s heart.

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.