Monday, June 27, 2016

Examining Similarities and differences

The third book in the Marzano Center series Essentials for Achieving Rigor that I have read is Examining Similarities & Differences: Classroom Techniques to Help Students Deepen Their Understanding by Connie Soles West and Robert J. Marzano. This book is arranged much like the other books I have read in the series: description of the technique, lesson plan steps, common mistakes, elementary and secondary examples and non examples, evaluation of student success and scaffolds and extension activities.  It includes a conclusion with self reflection questions and a short appendix of graphic organizers. Again, the approach is a practical implementation guide rather than explore the research behind the technique explanation. The text would also be useful to organize a PLC around.

Marzano and West  continue with the idea that in order for the technique to be effective for learning content, it must be taught. In order to use this particular group of techniques, students must be somewhat familiar with the content. These are not things to have students attempt when they are just learning information. The authors do not go into using teacher provided metaphors, similes or analogies to help provide initial instruction; their approach in this text is purely in using comparisons to increase content learning from the student's end.

The six techniques that the book covers are:
  • comparing using sentence stems, summarizers and constructed responses
  • comparing using graphic organizers
  • classifying using sorting, matching and categorizing
  • classifying using graphic organizers
  • comparing by creating metaphors and similes
  • comparing by creating analogies.

Throughout the book, sentence stems are seen as a preliminary step. This is a strategy that is highly effective for students with language disabilities and non-native English speakers. For students struggling with the more complex metaphors, similes and analogies, this step could be very useful. Stems like
  • ______ and ____ are the same because ______
  • Cities are like cells because __________________
  • conjunction is to _______________ as ______________________ is to _________________
  • Hamlet is like lion king because _____ and _____ and ____, but different because ____ and ____ and ____.
are helpful in getting students going, but before they approach this, many will need to brainstorm what is critical about the things being compared and share this information in groups before they start writing.

I have used sorts a couple of different ways to work on understanding:
  • Give a list of words and categories and have kids sort them out.
  • Give a list of categories and have students pull important terms out of a reading in each area
  • Give a set of subtitles from a chapter and have students order them in a way that seems to make sense- explain why the students selected the organization they did, read the chapter and compare with the author's organizational approach and evaluate if their method would have been as effective.
  • Provide a list of vocabulary terms and have them sort them into groups of their own making.
Kids do need to have these types of activities demonstrated for them before they go off and try on their own.

One strategy that I really liked was an affinity diagram. In this approach students brainstorm ideas around a topic with each idea going on a post it note (index card, strip of paper,..). Once the ideas are generated, they are sorted into groups. This approach could be used when thinking about an essay, discussion or debate- how are Romeo and Juliet showcasing hubris? Discuss three causes of the Revolutionary War. Should kids wear uniforms to school? Is chocolate the best ice cream and how do you know? Or they could be used to review before a test- how are polygons related? Distinguish between depositional and erosional glacial impacts.  This approach reminds me of mind mapping in that you manipulate the information generated in order to organize thoughts.

An important part of all the techniques was summation at the end of the activity. It is not enough to brainstorm and complete the Venn diagram. Students need to summarize what they learned- not restate the diagram. The image below is an example from science that I used years ago when I taught earth science.

My student had to arrange the information onto the chart (sort) and then come up with a statement. This level of information helped him to differentiate between two similar things. I have also used the technique with latitude and longitude, peninsula and strait, Romeo from Romeo and Juliet and Oedipus from Oedipus Rex, and congruent and similar (math) among others. I love comparing things to help students get it better and remember it more clearly.