In Chapter 5 of Robin Hunter’s book, Madeline Hunter’s Mastery Teaching, he reflects on the importance of providing students with information before they can work to build concepts, make inferences, or engage in higher-order thinking. School and life need to provide students with sufficiently rich experiences where they can build a body of knowledge to think about. Reading, movies, vacations, learning in school, family conversations, discussions with peers, lectures by teachers, and many other experiences represent the rich array of experiences all students need to be school ready. These experiences need to come in a variety of ways; visual, auditory, tactile, reading, writing, and real-world experiences.
In school, we cannot rely on one method to convey the information we want students to wrestle with as they learn to think about complex ideas. We have to vary our approaches so that the information is available to all learners. In addition, teachers need to consider how much information can students process at any one time. If it’s a lecture, how many learning goals can be packaged into one lecture?
When new learning is presented, it is likely that vocabulary, concepts, skills and processes are new to students. In our design, we have to find creative ways to assemble these elements into a set of learning tasks that illuminate what we want students to master. If we have assessed their learning and they’ve mastered the expectations, then designing application tasks will help deepen their understanding of what we want them to know and do.
Here are Hunter’s three principles of effective instruction (page 48-51).
- Determine basic information and organize it.
- Present basic information in the simplest and clearest form.
- Model the information or process.
Basic information must be organized, so it becomes the scaffolding…to which students can add more complex information.
Other interesting recommendations are: (1) Get the ideas in your student’s head by empathizing with their perspective or the knowledge they bring to the class; and (2) teach generalizations before exceptions.
The other powerful tool is for teachers to model the thinking and understanding they expect from students. The more unfamiliar the concepts the more modeling is essential. It can also be important to put students into groups and have them create a model that illustrates their thinking. Making Thinking Visible, from Harvard’s Project Zero, is an interesting book written by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison that contains strategies for having students make their thinking visible to themselves and others. Other techniques can be to have students create a concept map that illustrates the connections between all the ideas or information in a lesson.
When students understand the information we expect them to learn, they have the ability to apply and extend their learning in interesting and creative ways.