Student manipulatives and novelty

One of the teachers I work with found that her students were not responding to a graphic organizer for Claims-Evidence-Reasoning. The organizer was designed on a regular sheet of paper, and for all intents and purposes it felt a bit like a traditional “worksheet.” Though I think there is a significant difference between graphic organizers and worksheets, I fear even the association can be anathema to learning. That at least seemed to be the case for this teacher’s class. Her solution, a fold-able that was as simple as it was elegant, reminded me about the power of novelty in aiding student learning.

For some reason, the act of folding open the paper “door,” and writing a claim underneath it, made the entire endeavor instantly more engaging. (In the example above, the rop left corner is labeled “Claim,” the top right “Evidence,” the bottom left “Reasoning” and the bottom right “Feedback.”) The success of this approach is not merely an anecdotal observation. University College London has published a study about the manner by which novelty aids in student learning.

In working with a literacy intervention course, one teacher expressed frustration at how students seemed to struggle at knowing which details should be included in summary. Too often, it seemed their choices were random. We decided to take a novel approach towards creating a categorization exercise.

We created a paper with three columns and the following headings: Important, Interesting but Less Important, Other Facts. We gave all the students about 8 small squares of paper, and when watching a short video about Malcolm X, we asked them to write details on their paper squares. They could choose to write something for any reason: they liked it, they thought it important, they had a question about it, and so forth.

After everyone had about eight details, we put them in groups of three to four, and we had them share their details, and then reach a consensus about which column to stack them in. This turned into a highly engaging assignment that I think a “worksheet” could never parallel. Part of its success, I think, was its novelty.

At the end of the exercise, students had done a nice job differentiating between essential and non-essential details, which led to more successful summaries. The students showed growth, and the teacher was less frustrated with the students’ work.

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