I shared previously (Engaging Materials) that people are born self-centered and the more concrete your lesson the easier it is for your learner to engage and retain the information.
In this post I am going to discuss these timeless principles of Engagement and how to apply them.
The less mature your students are, the more self-centered they are. This is why it is so helpful to find out what your students are “in to”. This is also why relevance and engagement are such important components of the lesson plan. If the lesson is about them they will be interested. I use this fact to introduce the alphabet to 3 year olds. How? Nothing is more personal than your name. Before the first day of the school year, I put a large label with each child’s first name on their respective chair. If I had more than one student with the same first name I also used their last initial. Every day for circle time each child has to find their chair. Pretty soon children were helping their friends find their chairs. (Yes this is sight word learning, but bear with me 😉 . ) Later in the year when I formally introduced the alphabet I would have students search the chairs to find whose name(s) had the letter being taught. I knew the children had mastered the skill when they could generalize what they learned. For example if a child is named “Andy” and children could spot the word “and” with the understanding that while it does not refer to his name and has a different meaning it still reads the same.
Additionally, the more concrete your lesson the easier it is for your student to engage and retain the information. So, let us take a moment to discuss levels of concreteness. This is in important concept because too often educators are under the mistaken impression that if they write a word on the board that is concrete enough. In fact, the only thing more abstract than writing a word is saying it. So, while writing a word is more concrete than just speaking, it falls far from being engaging. Consider concreteness a spectrum from concrete to abstract.
Cow- a large female brown, black, white or a mix in color, four-legged domesticated animal, from which we get milk, that makes a mooing sound.
Fraction – part of a whole; a ratio that tells you how much of the whole you have. Look up Wikipedia’s definition and see if that is any clearer.
You can see from these definitions that for someone who may not previously know what these things are, the definition is not helpful enough. A child who may have never seen a cow, but has seen a large female dog nursing its pups, may think that dog is a “cow”. It is easier to think in picture as a picture is worth 1000 words. When you use a word, you presume that the listener has the same picture in their mind as the one you intended. That is a very risky assumption and a common cause of misunderstandings. I am willing to bet that when you see the word “flower” every single person reading this pictures something different. When you are teaching, you want to be as clear as possible and thoroughly plan to avoid miscommunication. A word is merely an abstract construct meant to trigger an image or feeling. You want to first make sure you create the image and only then you can use the word as a trigger. However, you do need to be practical. You can’t bring a cow to class but a figurine may be more feasible. The figurine isn’t helpful if your purpose is for students to understand where milk comes from. In that case a moving picture (video) is probably a better idea. You can see from this example how knowing your Objective impacts your Materials.
Back to our example of the word “fraction”, if you limit your teaching to writing fraction formulas on the board you will not be as effective as when you draw a picture of a fraction, but this is still less effective than using manipulatives such as Lego®. However, once you have ensured that your students have mastered the picture you want them to have when you use the word “fraction” you no longer need the manipulative as the word now serves as a clear trigger. This idea of making things as concrete as possible to generate clear understanding holds true at every age. Conceptualizing something is not the same as experiencing it. It is for this reason that I have my Aural Rehabilitation students experience hearing impairment as well as experience writing and presenting a session plan. It is not always necessary to make an idea concrete in class. Sometimes it is more practical to make it concrete through a homework assignment. Back again to our fraction example, you can use baking or cooking at home as a way to experience and practice fractions.
How would you make this lesson more concrete?