by Elaine Gallagher One of the best ideas I can leave you with, teachers, is the fact that RESEARCH is the single most important activity you […]
by Elaine Gallagher
One of the best ideas I can leave you with, teachers, is the fact that RESEARCH is the single most important activity you can do to enhance your teaching. Most people teach as they had been taught, not necessarily, how they had learned to teach in university courses.
So, when you hear about a technique or a theory or a practice advocated by anyone, even by me in a course, think about it, Look it up. Check into it. Do you like the idea? Is something you could support in your classroom? Are you leary about it? Uncertain if it’s a good idea or not? INVESTIGATE. RESEARCH. Assess the idea or the technique, and make your own decision.
Have confidence in yourself. If the idea is something you like, and research supports it… in other words, it will not harm your students’ academic growth or creativity, use it. Practice it regularly until the technique becomes an integral part of your repertoire of teaching practices.
Sometimes, apparently simple things may have strong, positive research support. Perhaps, things you do regularly in your classroom, because they work, may be documented by extensive research of which you are unaware… That, I hope, should make you feel confident in what you are doing. Note it, and share ideas that work with your colleagues.
Simple techniques can make a statement in your classroom, supporting and promoting student learning. Three examples that I use in some of my courses include: “Put the date on the board every day”…and “Write an agenda each day: A short list of what the students will do that day” …and “Put a trivia fact on the board to challenge students… for them to investigate.”
These three simple things are part of a list I show to teachers as an example of “changes in the classroom”. They are not simply my pet techniques, or ideas that I developed over many years of teaching. These three seemingly simple activities are research-based.
Whether you invent techniques that work, and later find research to support them , or whether you read ideas in research and decide to implement them in your classroom… doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you use research to support or to implement techniques in your classroom that will strengthen students’ active participation and learning.
A principal told me during my 5th year teaching, “IF IT WORKS, USE IT”. I will add to Mr. Richard Green’s comment: “IF IT WORKS, SUPPORT IT BY RESEARCH.” Then it becomes a sustainable technique that you can proudly share with your colleagues.
Here’s an example of research that supports techniques I had used in my classroom, ideas that I often pass on to others today. Following is research by Dr. David Ausubel.(1918-2008)
Ausubel, whose theories are particularly relevant for educators, recognized other forms of learning, but his work focused on verbal learning. He dealt with the nature of meaning, and believed the external world acquires meaning only as it’s converted into the content of consciousness by the learner. This happens with clear, understandable teaching. (“comprehensible input”– Krashen, or presented as a “big idea” (Sugata Mitra) or as a “universal understanding” (Wiggins & McTighe).
Ausubel stated that meaning is created through some form of representational balance between language (symbols) and mental context (ideas).
Two processes are involved:
- Reception, which is employed in meaningful verbal learning, and
- Discovery, which is involved in concept formation and problem solving.
Ausubel’s work has frequently been compared with Jerome Bruner’s. The two held similar views about the hierarchical nature of knowledge, but Bruner was strongly oriented toward discovery processes, where Ausubel gave more emphasis to the verbal learning methods of speech, reading, and writing. I believe that a combination of Bruner’s work and Ausubel’s work results in the way most students learn.
Discovery learning combined with igniting prior knowledge is a combination of research-supported techniques that result in student-learning that is relevant and remembered over a longer period than if these techniques had not been used.
Ausubel contributed much to the theoretical body of cognitive learning theory. His most notable contribution for classroom application was the advance organizer.
The advance organizer is a tool or a mental learning aid to help students integrate new information with their existing knowledge, leading to «meaningful learning» as opposed to rote memorization.
It is a means of preparing the learner’s cognitive structure for the learning experience about to take place. It’s a device to activate the relevant schema or conceptual patterns so that new information can be more readily ‘subsumed’ into the learner’s existing cognitive structures.
Ausubel believed that it was important for teachers to provide a preview of information to be learned. Teachers could do this by providing a brief introduction about the way that information that is going to be presented is structured. This would enable students to start with a «Big Picture» of the upcoming content, and link new ideas, concepts, vocabulary, to existing mental maps of the content area.
When UNOi Coaches talk about instigating “prior knowledge”, it’s because they are using Ausubel’s research to support a classroom technique. When I suggest teachers write the date and make a short list of the day’s agenda, it works to help students remember the lessons better. This, too, is based on Ausubel’s research.
So, teachers, use techniques with the total confidence that you can achieve by backing much of your work with research. Have confidence in yourself.
Remember: “IF IT WORKS, USE IT. IF IT WORKS, SUPPORT IT WITH RESEARCH.”