The CCSS bills itself as internationally benchmarked and based on current research. While it focuses on the content of the lesson, it says little about the actual teaching methods, wisely leaving the curriculum and lesson plans to teachers. However, a new monograph of psychological educational research reviews ten teaching practices and has some surprising conclusions and interesting nuances.
Talking about the lag between research and teaching practices, Henry L. Roediger, III says,
“At any rate, in 2012, we cannot point to a well-developed translational educational science in which research about learning and memory, thinking and reasoning, and related topics is moved from the lab into controlled field trials (like clinical trials in medicine) and the tested techniques, if they succeed are introduced into broad educational practices.”
There are 10 Teaching Practices covered in this month’s monograph from the Assocation for Psychological Science, including an exhaustive review of research literature. (Read the full 58 page report here: Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology, by By John Dunlosky, Katherine A. Rawson, Elizabeth J. Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan, and Daniel T. Willingham)
These techniques are evaluated by these criteria:
- Are effective across a wide range of learning conditions: frequency of use, noisy environment, reading or listening tasks, etc.
- Are effective across a wide range of students: age, memory capacity, general intelligence.
- Are effective across a wide range of materials: specific content that should be learned, remembered or comprehended.
- Are effective across a wide range of tasks: memory, comprehension, application of information.
- Implemented without assistance, after minimal training.
This week, we’ll discuss five techniques that have been shown to have Low Utility in teaching across a wide range of tasks, students, contexts, learning conditions and implementation situations. THESE FIVE TEACHING TECHNIQUES DO NOT WORK WELL!
Technique. Write a summary of the main points of the text.
Theory. Summarization boosts learning and retention because it involved attending to and extracting the higher-level meaning and gist of the material. The process connects various sections of the text, instead of just evaluating individual components (such as in note-taking). It is implemented in widely different ways, from summaries of single words, sentences, paragraphs; written or spoken; from memory or with text present.
Note: Much research focuses on teaching students HOW to summarize, whether or not summarization is effective.
Learning conditions. Mixed research results is a result of the complexity of summarization: length of summary, length of text to summarize, content of text, and presence and absence of text. No clear conclusions.
Student Characteristics. Ability to summarize is a developmental skill and younger students need extensive training: direct instruction, modeling, practice, and feedback. It was not studied in students younger than 6th grade. General writing skills and interest in a topic can affect usefulness of technique.
Materials. Applies across prose, online text and lectures. Not enough research on the effect of length, readability, and organization of a text on the task of summary.
Tasks. Retention of facts or comprehension of a text, including inferences has been shown on multiple choice questions, cued recall questions, free recall or essays. Enhances metacognition and note-taking. Effectiveness of summaries is unclear of tasks of application, evaluation or synthesis. It does appear to have long-term results.
Contexts. Little effect has been noted for context.
Implementation. The major problem for implementing this strategy is teaching the skill. Intensive training is required for middle school and learning disabled students. Research questions the balance of time spent on teaching this skill versus other skills which need much less instruction.
Overall assessment. Low Utility.
It is effective for students who are already skilled at summary; however, the time required to train others makes this a less feasible learning strategy. More research is needed to determine if the time spent is worthwhile.
Relationship to CCSS: This technique is integral to the CCSS, because it is incorporated into the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards:
Key Ideas and Details. #2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
The technique of Summariation permeates the CCSS reading, speaking and listening, and writing standards and begins in 4th grade reading with the student asked to summarize themes of literature (p 12 RL. 4.2), to summarize key details of informational texts (p. 14 RI. 4.2); in 5th grade writing with summaries or paraphrasing information in research notes (p. 21 W 5.8); in 5th grade speaking and listening with summaries of written text read aloud, or presented with multimedia or to summarize a speaker’s points and how each claim is supported by reason and evidence (p. 24 SL 5.2 and 5.3). Grades 6-12 emphasize the need for objective summaries.
Since summarization is required by the CCSS, it should be noted that intensive instruction is needed. The research reported improvement for one sixth grade class that received 45-55 minutes of instruction for five days. Research with learning disabled students required 6.5-11 hours of instruction. No research has been reported with 4th grade students or lower. The implication is clear: if you must teach summarization (and you must) plan to do extensive training, with developmentally appropriate sequence of skills in creating effective summaries.
HIGHLIGHTING AND UNDERLINING
Theory. Isolating relevant information makes it more memorable.
Learning Conditions. The effects are enhanced when the student is actively seeking what information to highlight because it requires organizational thinking; however, if the information highlighted is the wrong text (unimportant, not tested), effectiveness diminishes. Overmarking diminishes effectiveness. Overall, though, research repeatedly shows that highlighting is not any more effective than reading a text.
Student characteristics. Highlighting fails to increase learning for any age range, any student characteristic.
Materials. Highlighting is ineffective regardless of text materials, text length, or reading level of text.
Tasks. Highlighting doesn’t help for any kind of task, including free-recall, multiple-choice questions, comprehension multiple-choice questions or sentence-completion tests. Highlighting may actually be detrimental to the student’s ability to make inferences.
Contexts. Research looked at highlighting texts related or unrelated to lectures.
Implementation. Highlighting can be implemented in multiple ways, but there are more effective strategies for learning and the use of highlighting can interfere with other strategies.
Overall assessment. Low utility.
Highlighting does little to boost performance and may actually interfere with higher level tasks of inference.
Relationship to CCSS:
Highlighting as a strategy is not mentioned in the CCSS. However, inferring information is integral to the CCSS, as this College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard uses it:
Key Ideas and details
1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
Because highlighting might interfere with inferences, it should not be used as a general instructional technique.
Technique. The use of mental imagery to understand materials has been studied extensively, especially for two situations: the use of keyword mnemonics for learning foreign-language vocabulary, learning state capitals, etc; and the use of mental imagery for comprehending and learning text materials. Here, we will look at keyword mnemonics.
Theory. Students develop mental imagery that connects a known word with an unknown word.
Learning Conditions. There are three limitations of the technique: its usefulness is limited to keyword friendly terms, such as concrete nouns; students have mixed results generating their own keywords and associated images, especially for younger students; long term benefits of keyword mnemonics are not clear and the technique may actually lead to accelerated forgetting.
Contexts. Age, subject matter, individual v. group and training seemed to matter little in effectiveness.
Implementation. Usually implementation requires training, and teacher-produced materials. Instead, look at the benefits of retrieval practice, another technique covered next week.
Overall Assessment. Low utility.
Only effective for keyword-friendly material, but not an efficient use of time.
IMAGERY FOR TEXT LEARNING
Technique. Students are asked to mentally imagine the content using simple and clear mental images.
Theory. Developing images can enhance one’s mental organization or integration of information.
Learning Conditions. Benefits are stronger when students listen to text and weaker when reading text. Some students won’t use imagery, even when instructed to do so, and some students use imagery spontaneously, complicating the research and making results indecisive.
Student Characteristics. From 4th grade through college, results are mixed, with skilled readers performing well on short texts. Long texts, or student’s with poor reading skills do not benefit. 2nd grade and below do not benefit from mental imagery, even when listening to stories.
Materials. Works best with short, image-friendly texts. Listening to image-friendly short texts works best. Reading can actually interfere with the results. However, with complex texts, there are no benefits.
Tasks. Free recall or short answer questions, and summarization benefitted from mental imagery, while inferences, summarization, and comprehension did not benefit.
Contexts. Limited research on different contexts.
Implementation. Only brief instruction is needed. 3rd grade and up might see some boost in performance if instruction is included, but more research is needed.
Overall Assessment. Low utility.
Benefits are most limited to image-friendly materials and tests of memory. This may be more useful in listening to texts, rather than reading them.
Relationships to CCSS.
Because this is more effective in listening to texts, teachers might provide instruction and use it for listening/speaking tasks. However, if used, you shouldn’t use in context of both reading and listening. And it may not be worth the time involved in training; more research is needed.
Technique. Read a text additional times.
Theory. Rereading increases the time spent in learning; rereading allows for more conceptual organization and processing of main ideas.
Learning Conditions. Silent reading or auditory presentation, self-paced or timed—rereading produces positive results in all these situations. The lag time between reading and rereading is important: spacing out the reading produces better results than immediately rereading texts. Reading immediately and reading 3.5 weeks later did not produce improvement; however rereading 15 minutes to one week later later did produce improved results. A second reading improves results, however subsequent rereadings do not significantly add to that effect.
Student Characteristics. Most research was with college students; only one was with 3rd graders. Research is needed for effectiveness of the technique with elementary, middle school and high school students.
Materials. Rereading works well with expository, narrative texts of any length, and a wide variety of subject matter.
Tasks. Tasks which show improved performance include free recall, cue-based recall, fill in the blank test, short answers. Less effective results are seen on recognition, sentence versification and multiple choice questions. Effect on comprehension is mixed and needs more research. Long-term results on learning also needs more research; however spaced reading seems to produce better results.
Contexts. No research exists on different contexts.
Implementation. This technique can be implemented with no training or instruction. However, better results are obtained from elaborative interrogation, self-explanation and practice testing.
Overall Assessment. Low utility.
Almost no research on rereading has been conducted with learners younger than college-age. Most benefits are on recall-based memory measures and the benefit for comprehension is less clear.
Relationships to CCSS.
Under Reading Foundation Skills: Fluency, the CCSS requires students in grades 1-5 to “Use context to confirm or self-correct word recognition and understanding, rereading as necessary.” Because no research exists on elementary students in the use of this strategy, it is unknown if this strategy will actually improve fluency and comprehension.