Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Alphabet Soup

What comes to mind when you look at this image?

For me? I see a bunch of mixed letters, that I’d like to call, Alphabet Soup. But this picture carries zero meaning for me. It does not associate with anything I already know, except maybe bad memories of high school math class when I’m pretty sure I was assigned to decode an unknown language. Helpful? Not really. 

So why am I showing you this?

My response to this image is the response of many students when given new content. Curriculum becomes challenging in the middle years, particularly because most of the information is brand new. And, it can get complicated.

Allow me to explain:

Pi = 3.14, yet is an infinite number, but don’t solve with 3.14, leave your answer in terms of Pi.


So how can we make new content easier, and more importantly, how can we keep students motivated beyond Creating a Healthy Classroom Environment?

---> Pillar 2: Activate Prior Knowledge

What It Means:

Students learn more effectively when they have some level of context or understanding of a subject beforehand. The goal is to figure out what students already know, and determine how to activate and build on this knowledge to connect to new information. When the content is put into context, it becomes comprehensible, relevant, purposeful, interesting, and you guessed it: MOTIVATING.  

What To Do:

1.     Get To Know Your Students
Putting “the cart before the horse” or reteaching well-known information is the formula for teacher-student frustration. To figure out where to start, you have to figure out your students. Get to know their background knowledge, learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses. The more you know, the more your instruction will be appropriately catered to their levels and interests, saving you, and your students, wasted time and energy.

2.     Build Background As Needed
Unfortunately, not all students have the same experiences and opportunities when they walk into your classroom. If you find your students are lacking prior knowledge, help to build background for them.

       * Front-Load
Give students the necessary information that will assist them in developing a base understanding of the new concept before it is taught. Whether it be an introduction to key vocabulary words or opportunities to make connections beforehand. Consider this your partnered investment to ensuring a smooth ride into the higher-level concepts to come.

* Provide Guidance
Children require frequent guided opportunities to engage with new content in order to retain information. Yet this can be difficult to maintain when you are one teacher in a crowded classroom. Allow students to work together and guide one another during collaborative group activities. This will not only free up your time, but will expose students to new information within different contexts.

* Be Creative!
You could simply question your students and record their responses to determine how to begin your instruction, but you can do better than that! There are a variety of creative exercises designed to activate and build prior knowledge that already exist; you do NOT have to reinvent the wheel or revert to conducting a dry teacher student interview.

Avoid Alphabet Soup Moments and click here for information regarding one of my favorite go-to strategies!

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