Thursday, June 16, 2016

Recording and representing knowledge

Ria A. Schmidt and Robert J. Marzano's Essentials for Achieving Rigor Series book, Recording & Representing Knowledge: Classroom Techniques to help Students Accurately Organize and Summarize Content describes how to increase knowledge in terms of students taking notes. This book is set up in two parts:
  • Linguistic strategies: summarizing and note-taking
  • Nonlinguistic strategies: graphic organizers, pictorial notes and pictographs, dramatic enactments, and mnemonic devices.
Each technique has a dedicated chapter that explains the technique, provides a sample lesson plan format, provides an elementary and secondary example of the technique in use across a variety of subjects, explains common mistakes, a rubric for evaluating mastery of the technique and a list of scaffolding and extension ideas. The book ends with an Appendix that includes an assortment of graphic organizers that are discussed in the graphic organizer section. The writing is clear and easy to read. The book includes some self-reflection questions and could easily be used for a PLC.

Much of the book recaps previous Marzano research and writings such as this ASCD article on vocabularyThe Art and Science of Teaching and Building Academic Vocabulary. If you are familiar with his research, this book will have a strikingly resonance. If you are not versed in his research and writings, he explains strategies and is light on deep research, so the material is very approachable.

A couple of critical elements leaped out at me as I read. First was his insistence on teaching the technique to ensure that students comprehend what is involved, why things are being done and all the steps required to complete the task. All too often, when it comes to recording information, we assume kids can do it and we ignore this step. Having students experience the challenge of selecting the best graphic organizer to use with the information is essential to their eventual independent use of the tool. Explaining types of mnemonic devices and how to develop useful ones is a critical step to being able to do it on one's own.

A second thing that he reiterated repeatedly was that students should not record information during the initial presentation. They should have processing time first. My brother, a university professor, talks about being able to either record what someone is saying or listening and processing what is being said. I do not think this is too different from what many people experience. Given a choice, I would far rather have my students listen and process than write it down. In practice this means presenting information- print, image, or verbal form- and then letting students process small chunks to find the key ideas. This requires a shift in how we think about taking notes- copy everything the teacher writes down or transcribe everything that he says- is not effective for learning. Notes need to be personal and relevant to the processing. More frequent breaks to record instead of recording while we work becomes the goal.

Third, a note about dramatic enactment. I worked with a teacher who had his students act out scenes from history. Typically a group of 6-8 kids to a group would draft a script (i.e. a lead student would draft the skit). Then kids would act it out. Points were given for props and dramatic vision. Once the activity was over students were given the unit test. These activities disturbed me because I could see that many students were not learning the material, but I could not articulate the problem clearly. Having read this book, I can. First, groups were not collaborative in the creative cycle. A leader did all the thinking with one or two inputs from others. A Reader's Theater approach might have been more useful because then students could have dived straight into the simulation rather than wait around for others to process the information for them. Deciding how to read a script would have had more use than the "bang with sticks" I saw in one skit.  Second, there was no summarization of the learning. After the enactment, writing or talking about what they learned from the activity would have helped the activity be cemented into memory. Third, the heavy emphasis on props took away from the emphasis on the events being depicted. Drama can be very useful for kids, but it has to be well-thought out and include a wrap up processing activity.

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