Going Beyond Memorization

What is the relationship of concepts to facts?

In order to do this question justice, I must first provide definitions of concepts and facts.  A fact is a piece of information that is objectively true, such as 2×2= 4.  In contrast, “a concept is an abstract idea generalized from particular instances or evidence, so involves an inductive process of thought” (Scheuerman, R).

Bloom Rose.png

Figure 1

Through our own educational experiences, we are aware that there are many things we learned simply through memorization.  This included multiplication tables, the state capitals, and the Periodic Table of Elements.  Knowing and understanding facts, sometimes through rote memorization, is an essential component of learning.  According to Bruner, “instructional results are limited when students merely study the formal outcomes or products of subject matter”.  Remembering specific bits of information or facts is necessary, but limiting if that is all the student has acquired.  When it comes to memorized facts, “the child will use it in a single situation and possibly not even effectively then” (Bruner).

That being said, we need to go beyond this and build upon it.  Simply knowing the facts is not adequate.  If students cannot build connections between old and new learning, they will not be able to effectively transfer knowledge.  Students must develop the skills needed to come up with abstract, complex, deep, higher-level thinking.  They also need to be cognizant of how to apply information to new situations, and use prior learning to form explanations and predictions.  This type of learning and thinking is involved in Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Intellectual Processes.  In figure 1, you can see an image that represents his categories which are evaluation, synthesis, analysis, application, comprehension and knowledge.  Students need an understanding of facts and concepts to be successful learners.  If educators can facilitate conceptual learning, a student’s education will be more meaningful.  Going beyond memorization is of great importance, especially when cultivating the next generation of critical thinkers.

Bloom Taxonomy pyramid

Figure 2

 

 

If you look at figure 2, you’ll see that memory is at the bottom of the pyramid.  This does not mean it is insignificant, but rather the foundation of growth and development.  We ultimately want our students to be creative independent thinkers.

Sources:

“Blooms rose” by K. Aainsqatsi – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blooms_rose.svg#/media/File:Blooms_rose.svg

Bruner, J. S. (1996). Some Elements of Discovery. Learning By Discovery: A Critical Appraisal.

Center for Teaching. (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2016, from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/

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The Importance of Asking Questions

How is questioning a teaching strategy?

Questions Image

Figure 1

It is common knowledge that teachers ask students a lot of questions on a regular basis.  Strategically asking students questions can be a valuable instructional strategy and not simply a verbal quiz. Complex questions can inspire students to think deeper and broaden their understanding.  This is applicable across all content area, as you can see in the examples in figure 1.

When a teacher asks a student a meaningful question, it changes the student-teacher relationship.  It makes students the ones who have answers, and teachers the learners.  In this way, it promotes the growth of student empowerment, agency and self-efficacy and makes them more engaged in the learning process.  There are different types of questioning that teachers can utilize in their practice to improve student outcomes.

Teachers can use questions to access pre-existing or background knowledge that students already possess.  For example, a teacher in a social studies classroom beginning a unit on ancient Chinese dynasties might ask students “what do you already know about this topic?”or “can anyone explain what a dynasty is?”.  Having students think about what they already know helps them build connections in their minds.

An educator may choose to ask their students “what if” questions.  This strategy encourages students to engage in the inquiry process.  They can talk about hypothetical situations and consider possibilities.  This is essentially a form of exploration.

Another type of question teachers should employ are analytical questions.  These require that students think critically about information they are given.  These types of questions help students become better at evaluating sources of information for accuracy.  It also can help them learn how to better identify claims.

Teachers can also ask inferential questions.  These are much more effective than questions that simply require the student to regurgitate information, such as what year the Vietnam war began or who the sixth president of the United States was.  These types of questions require that the students access what they already know about a topic, and fill in the information gaps.  Examples of this type of question can be found in figure 2.

inferences

Figure 2

Teachers may also decide to simply ask for student questions.  In doing so, the students are the ones guiding the classroom discussion.  They get to dictate which questions to investigate.  Doing this on a regular basis in your classroom will make students get better at asking questions, which is an important skill to have as a learner.  It also allows for analysis and critical thinking.  Finally it makes students more engaged in the classroom learning community, because they are active participants.  According to Models of Teaching 9th ed., states that “Learning to inquire inductively enhances the inborn ability to categorize.  Students construct knowledge and teachers facilitate (scaffold) their inquiry.  As students learn to develop concepts, the learning of information, concepts, and skills are enhanced” (p.43).

Another way of using questioning to spark discussion is to ask students if they agree or disagree with a statement.  For example, and English teacher may say “In Louis Lowry’s The Giver, the Elders believe that sacrificing individuality is necessary.  Are their desired outcomes possible without this sacrifice?”.  This type of question will inspire students to agree and disagree which in turn requires them to articulate their opinions.  It also normalizes the concept of people having different opinions, there is no right or wrong answer to interpretive questions.

An additional way that a teacher can use questions is to help differentiate between facts and opinions, and to identify bias.  In a social studies class, a teacher might have the students read a news article and then have them identify from a list of quotes, which sentences are fact and which are conjecture or opinion.

Sources:

Joyce, B., & Weil, M. (2015). Models of teaching (9th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Pearson.

Marzano, R., & Pickering, D. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.