Sunday, January 23, 2011

Helping Low Achieving Students Understand Concepts

Abstract concepts are essential to achieving in school. They are also a source of frustration and difficulty for students who struggle in the classroom; many of these students find even basic concepts difficult to grasp. Teachers can provide low achieving children with the necessary support by applying alternative teaching techniques that take the student from where he is conceptually to the next level in the learning process. Teachers need to use a high support approach that aims at helping low achieving children comprehend and interpret what they hear, see, and read in the classroom. Some suggestions follow.

Help Students Connect the Information


Students can relate the new information or unfamiliar concepts by connecting it to something with which they are already familiar; for example, discussing how the Renaissance is like a video game.
Begin your lesson with a known concept and progress to the new concept. Relationships are more obvious when we progress from the known to the new.
Compare two seemingly unrelated objects, ideas, or topics by analyzing and discussing the similarities and differences between the two.
Move from simple comparison to contrasting based on multiple attributes.
Relate what the student has learned in one setting or situation to other settings or situations. For example, concepts and vocabulary words learned during the morning should be pointed out in the afternoon’s social studies lesson or when the child is solving math word problems. Concepts and new vocabulary words should be incorporated in writing activities.

Help Students See Patterns and Relationships


Explicitly teach relationships among the different concepts, topics, or pieces of information. You can use graphics like flowcharts or concept maps to help children see how two different concepts relate. Have the students talk about the patterns they see emerging, and link the patterns to what they already know.
To help your students see patterns, provide examples and “not an example” of the concept, e.g. aren’t and we’ve are examples of contractions; Tom’s is not an example. Help students formulate a rule from the examples.
Identify related concepts and explain how we can generalize from one concept to others, e.g. from numbers to money or from fuel to energy.

Make the New Information Relevant


Relevancy, or meaning, is one of the major factors affecting retention of new material. The student is not likely to retain new information if he or she perceives the information as meaningless. Ask children and discuss why the new information is important to learn, but remember, it is students’ perception of relevancy what matters, not the teacher’s.

Make Key Concepts Apparent


Make sure that key concepts are both apparent and unambiguous to children; in other words, do not “bury” the important information in a lot of distracting and irrelevant information, and make sure that students can identify easily the salient characteristics of key concepts.
When lecturing or delivering directions, stop at key points to check comprehension, clarify concepts, and answer questions.
During the lesson, provide explicit outlines and study guides to help students organize the information. Make sure the study guide includes questions for key concepts.

Combine Storytelling with Multiple Examples of the Same Concept


Give multiple examples of the same abstract concept.
Give visual examples (e.g. drawings or pictures) and auditory examples (e.g. analogies, synonyms, and antonyms) of the same concept.
Stories will help illustrate the main points; examples will help associate them. Stories and examples provide the associative context that will help the low achieving child remember the new information or concept.

Use Multiple Representations of the Same Concept


Some teachers believe that repeating the same information louder, or several times, helps children retain the information, but the truth is that repetition is only minimally helpful. Teachers can enhance conceptual understanding by presenting the new information or concept several times in different ways, using different formats and/or in different scenarios. For example, talk about the concept and provide pictures to look at; have students make drawings, or write songs or poems to illustrate the concept; use films and videos, field trips, or storytellers.  When teachers provide multiple representations of the same concept, we are presenting the same information in more than one manner, e.g. modeling, explaining, using maps, creating analogies, or singing.

Reinforce the Auditory Information with Visual Stimulus


Use visual support combined with your verbal instructions or lectures as much as possible. For example, when you give directions, or explain a new concept, point to the area on the page, chalkboard, or chart where the relevant information is placed.
Train children to watch and use visual cues to reinforce the information they hear. Explain to your students the importance of using visual cues to clarify the auditory information. Make children aware that watching the speaker’s face and paying attention to the speaker’s tone of voice will give clues to meaning. Students can improve their comprehension of material delivered orally by paying attention to the emotional impact of the speaker’s words, and watching the speaker’s facial expression, body posture, and gestures.
Train your students in using visual imaging of the verbal context introduced by drawing a mental picture of what they hear.

Make Students Aware that Not All Information is Equally Important


Make children aware that certain points in your lecture are more important than other points in the lecture. Give verbal cues to direct children to pay attention to the important information, e.g. “This information is important to know.” You can begin your lesson with an advanced organizer, where you write on the chalkboard key words or phrases of the important points you are going to cover during the lesson.
Explicitly distinguish the important information from what is less important, presenting the new concept in a way that highlights what is especially pertinent; that is, what the student must pay attention to.
Use verbal organizational cues such as “first,” “second,” and “now the most important point.”

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