Teaching Strategies to Master Learning Content

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It seems that every day, a new wave of standardized tests are thrown at schools. The process sounds all too familiar: Public Education Department adopts new assessments to hold schools accountable with supposed student success in mind. That then trickles down to school districts using state-allocated dollars to purchase these tests from profit-oriented businesses. Districts try to facilitate training and PR to administrators and teachers about the benefits of taking on these new mandated tests. Teachers feel indirectly pressured to “teach to the test,” eliminating teaching real, thought-provoking content.

The end result is that students, consistently across the nation, perform low on these assessments. And so, teachers point their fingers at the decision-makers only to have fingers pointing back at them. All the while, those making decisions about the welfare of student learning simply have no clue of the hardships inflicted on schools, teachers, students, and parents. Sound familiar?

Believe it or not, teachers can still prevail and provide their students with the most effective and meaningful instruction. Yes, this is still in spite of this negative cycle. Many teachers have identified that regardless of what’s thrown at them and their students, they have the power to take back education. They do this by providing students with useful strategies. These strategies help them master not only the content but they can practice executive functioning skills later.

Activate Higher-Level Thinking

As we continue to assess students in the 21st Century, it’s been proven that many of them process and learn much differently than generations before them. Students of today can no longer sit in a classroom lecture for more than 20-30 minutes without feeling bored and disengaged. This is why most teachers should transition into more of a facilitation role over one that lectures to students all day. In order to tap into students’ higher levels of thinking, teachers now ask more thought-provoking questions. This means asking students questions that start with why rather than what. Getting students to think more dynamically gives them more practice for activating critical thinking skills. These skills will then be applied through their professional and personal experiences.

Here are some powerful and proven strategies to help students activate higher-level thinking in any situation.

  1. Annotations and Active Reading

Alongside math, it’s no secret that many students have trouble with reading comprehension. Add in the distractions of this new-aged generation and you truly have your work cut out as an educator. But, not all hope is lost. You can provide students with a useful tool to help them retain information that they’ve read. You can also help them engage with the text – a goal for deep reading.

Be sure to model the activity for them to help students master this skill. With either a document camera or projector screen, show students what you would do when you annotate text. Mark up the text by circling or underlining words that are important. Highlight vocabulary words that might seem fuzzy. In the margins, instruct students to ask questions or make remarks about what they’ve read. Depending on the level of scaffolding needed for your students, practice with them until they are ready to conduct the activity on their own.

It’s also important to note that this strategy can be taught interdisciplinarily. In a science or math class, students can actively read directions, formulas, word problems, etc. to significantly improve their skills.

  1. Use of Graphic Organizers

For more complicated content such as the learning of important events or characterization of influential people, students can benefit from the use of graphic organizers. A common tool is the Venn Diagram where students can compare and contrast concepts, people, events and more. Although it may seem so simple, the idea of teaching students to compare and contrast is a high-functioning skill. This allows them to make comparisons in almost any situation, thus activating critical thinking that is necessary for them to apply in all learning experiences.

If you are attempting to enhance students’ vocabulary, concept maps would be a great way to help them grasp these new words easily. These maps have students provide the following information for each word:

    • The word
    • Meaning of the word
    • Synonyms
    • Antonyms
    • Examples
    • Non-Examples

Have students organize these into cubes or boxes to visually help them sort the information.

Again, this strategy can be used in any content where students are constantly learning new terminology, concepts and words.

  1. Teaching Students HOW to Study

While students continue to be bombarded with information, homework and deadlines, many fail to provide them with strategies to help them study everything that is thrown at them. Some of the most intelligent students will easily fail an exam simply because they were never taught effective test-taking strategies. A student might not turn in his homework because he has trouble studying the content from class. If teachers really want to help students succeed, it’s important to provide them with strategies that would help them study.

For instance, you can spend some time to help your students learn to take notes. Cornell Note-Taking, if done properly, have been statistically proven to help students improve their studying skills in all content areas. Model the behavior and show them the benefits of utilizing this strategy. Start with taking notes on the right side of the paper. Leave a quarter of the left side empty. Then, following note-taking, go back through the notes to review what was written. On the left side, create higher level questions that relate to what was written on the right. This act of repetition forces students to review information, thus retaining it much more effectively.

Even with the waves of testing and accountability daunting teachers and students everywhere, it is highly possible to continue to educate students in a meaningful way. Teaching them to think for themselves and at a higher level only fosters more empowerment. It’s time that teachers take back the classroom and truly give students the education they deserve.

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