In 2001, educational researchers Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering, and Jane Pollock culled the research that existed on instruction, resulting in their book Classroom Instruction that works – Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. Page 7 of the book has an oft referenced chart, Categories of Instructional Strategies That Affect Student Achievement, which Greenleaf alluded to in his talk.
As summarized by Greenleaf:
Comparing and contrasting is the number one thing the mind does to sort out meaning.
Marzano and crew state that “identifying similarities and differences … might be considered the “core” of all learning.” Based upon the research, they conclude that:
1. Presenting students with explicit guidance in identifying similarities and differences enhances students’ understanding of and ability to use knowledge. (This comes under the heading of teacher–directed tasks.)
2. Asking students to independently identify similarities and differences enhances students’ understanding of and ability to use knowledge. (This comes under the heading of student–directed tasks.)
3. Representing similarities and differences in graphic or symbolic form enhances students’ understanding of and ability to use knowledge. (Graphic organizers and Venn diagrams are very useful for visually comparing and classifying information.)
4. Identification of similarities and differences can be accomplished in a variety of ways. The identification of similarities and differences is a highly robust activity. (Comparing, classifying, creating metaphors and creating analogies are the four most effective methods for organizing information along the lines of similarities and differences.)
When learning something new or discussing something with which I am not readily familiar, if it isn’t immediately obvious to me what I am trying to do, I often wind up comparing the activity or idea to an activity or idea that I already understand. My sole purpose being to have something of which to grasp hold. What do you do to help make sense out of unfamiliar activities or ideas?