Big Idea: The human mind is constantly seeking ways to make sense of its environment. It does this every second of every day, using all the body's senses to evaluate things and compare them to what is already known. This is one of the most important jobs of human beings. It allows us to survive, grow and prosper.
However, all humans have barriers to understanding. For some, the barrier is in the printed word: the ability to make meaning through the printed word is blocked or difficult. For others, the ability to make meaning through listening for information is blocked or made difficult. Barriers can also be kinesthetic, in that a learner may have difficulty understanding and expressing meaning through body movement or in work with his/her hands. And so on through all the senses.
The Principle: research shows that students learn content materials best in a homogeneous setting, and federal laws mandate that education for all students must be presented in the least restrictive environment possible. So classrooms must be organized in such as way as to effectively accommodate a diverse group of learners at the same time. The great news is that the very same techniques that will help those with learning disabilities make meaning, will also help those without disabilities, so everyone benefits from good teaching strategies.
The Techniques: There are thousands of techniques that will help make accommodation possible. The following is a partial list of strategies to use. These strategies have been taken from a fantastic book by Kevin Feldman of the Sonoma County Office of Education. Kevin's book is a great collection of educational strategies which are all based on sound understanding of how students learn. They are gleaned from his extensive work and research in the field of education. (Additional comments are included which are the work of the web site's author.)
1. Focus on the Big Idea: In learning, less is more. Be sure students know what the big idea is and can relate it to what they have already learned and will learn next. This means that the teacher must have a clear picture of what s/he believes is the Big Idea of whatever lesson s/he is teaching, and be able to clearly convey that to the student. This also means that more important information should be taught more thoroughly than less important information. Prioritize information for the students and always relate it to the whole study being undertaken.
2. Assure Active Engagement and Student Participation: This one is vital! Only the student who is actively involved in what's going on will understand the information and retain it. Call on everyone! (Here is a sample idea for active engagement: Routinely have students think about a question, pair with a partner and share their thinking. "Then randomly call on the pairs to have them report to the class what they have come up with. For more ideas like this check out: (see more in active engagement)
3. Actively Teach Students How to Organize and Process Information: Remember, it is the job of humans to organize and make meaning of all they experience. It is the job of the teacher to help that happen in the most effective way. Again, having the teacher be clear about the Big Idea being conveyed is essential. Then s/he must clearly convey this to the students. For example, think out loud, "When I read this chapter I noticed that what it says about the Civil War is a lot like what we learned when we studied the Revolutionary War." Remember, the meaning of what you are teaching may be obvious to you, but it is not necessarily so to your students. Organization is also about actively teaching students to write down assignments, get information from a chapter in a book, and take notes during a lecture or movie. Don't leave this to chance. Because if you do, only a handful of students will grasp what you mean to teach, and most students will not.
4. Provide "Mediated Scaffolding": Don't assume students understand that what they are learning fits into the overall picture. The human brain can only retain a limited amount of unrelated information. With a structure on which to hang information, humans can retain much more data and be able to use it. Scaffolding includes many elements: contextualizing information, modeling, bridging information together, reformatting information, schema building, and metagocnition (thinking about thinking). THESE ARE ESSENTIAL FOR EFFECTIVE LEARNING!
5. Prime Background Knowledge and Fill Critical Gaps Before New Information is Taught: Remember, the goal of the human mind is to make meaning. We make meaning more easily when what we learn relates to what we already know. (For example, it is easy to learn certain words in a foreign language if they sound like words in English with the same meaning such as the word "mama.") To activate prior knowledge brainstorm what students already know about a topic and fill in important information before teaching new information so they will see how it all relates. (activate prior knowledge)
6. Provide Multiple Ability Projects: Provide ample opportunity for all students to learn and demonstrate their learning by using a variety of activities (dramatic presentation, poster, speech, simulation demonstration, movie, pictures, listening to a lecture or tape, reading, etc.) Students do not all learn in the same way, so learning opportunities and the chance to demonstrate their understanding must be provided in a variety of formats. See the Cone of Learning Chart below for a graphic representation of how activities affect learning and retention of information.
Pyramid of Learning
The information in Key Teaching Stratigies is gleaned, in part, from "Instructional Strategies for Students With Diverse Learner Needs" compiled by Kevin Feldman of Sonoma State University and the Sonoma County SELPA (707) 664-2081.
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