Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Identifying Similarities and Differences

In chapter two of Classroom Instruction that Works, education theorist Robert Marzano discusses the importance of addressing similarities and differences when presenting new concepts and ideas.
Marzano suggests that the ability to recognize patterns via similarities will further comprehension by students. Through both teacher directed and student directed activities, similarities and differences ought to be attended to.
From simple Venn Diagrams to complicated analogies, students are engaged in this important and basic human skill. Marzano concludes that this skill "might be the 'core' of all learning" (14).
After finishing the chapter, I was pleased to recognize that I already do utilize many of the techniques that Marzano encourages, albeit not as explicitly as he directs. But I was struck by the difficulty of creating analogies and metaphors for students who lack general world knowledge. If the students you teach lack that common knowledge, they won't get your analogies and metaphors. And if you don't know their knowledge base, you won't be able to create comparisons relevant to their lives.
And then, lastly, I continue to feel slightly peeved at theorists who themselves don't put into practice what they preach. It isn't that I believe this technique of comparison lacks merit, but the extent to which Marzano and his fellow researchers imply we should implement it seems a bit much.
Marzano, who of course is trying to sell books, rarely tempers his theories with realities. Here's my reality: My administrator performed a walk-through in my classroom late in the day. My students were engaged with writing three sentence summaries, a problematic task for most. When he handed me the non-evaluative checklist, I reviewed his observations. Under the category ETS (Effective Teaching Strategies) two boxes existed. One was "Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition," chapter four from the book. The second was "Identifying Similarities and Differences." The first was marked, sweet. The second, unmarked. I had no idea I was being judged on whether or not, at the moment the administrator chose to visit or the five minute duration of his stay, I was "Identifying Similarities and Differences" by making an analogy between Summarizing and...

In the end, we teachers need to be much more concerned with our methodology and performance. Yet, we cannot get so caught up in trying to be all things to all people, that we lose the substance of what works for the students sitting in our classrooms. When we hop on fads at the expense of our students, that is when we will fail.


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