Reap and sow / compare and contrast

Oh dear.

I’ve been so busy churning out essays for the MEd ( a tough master, pun intended), an online workshop for the NZATE conference (more about this soon) and just keeping body & mind together, this poor wee blog has been rather neglected. Still, like the wasteland that is the bottom of my garden, sometimes leaving things for a while can allow ideas to grow.

Rosemary Hipkins (NZCER) came to speak to our team of advisers recently, exploring the Key Competencies, and presented a particularly intriguing activity, creating a productive dissonance (Baumfield, 2005) for me.

Comparing several versions of the water cycle enabled assumptions we hold, about the way we might usually teach this concept, to the surface. Comparing and contrasting diagrams, exploring similarities and differences, allowed us to see what the intended and, more importantly, the unintended learning might be. Context becomes important, too. How many of us believed, for example, that rain always fell on the mountains, as shown in the pictures of the water cycle used at school?

This ‘comparing’ technique is explored by Marzano, Pickering & Pollock (2001), in one of their ‘nine instructional strategies’ that work:

1. Identifying Similarities and Differences

The ability to break a concept into its similar and dissimilar characteristics allows students to understand (and often solve) complex problems by analyzing them in a more simple way. Teachers can either directly present similarities and differences, accompanied by deep discussion and inquiry, or simply ask students to identify similarities and differences on their own. While teacher-directed activities focus on identifying specific items, student-directed activities encourage variation and broaden understanding, research shows. Research also notes that graphic forms are a good way to represent similarities and differences.

As a result, back at the office, we have been developing a similar way to help English teachers unpick/unpack their thinking about how to teach certain concepts in English. More to follow.

Perhaps letting the land lie fallow reaps rewards eventually…

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