THE PRAISE MODEL PART 4: Illuminating the Path Forward
Updated: Oct 6
Roger Sperry’s research into the theory of the brain hemispheres introduced the idea that each hemisphere of the brain has specific functions and different roles. The left hemisphere, he claimed, is responsible for amongst others, understanding lists, recognising words, seeing details.
The right hemisphere is more inclined to processing, amongst others, pictures, colours, rhythm and concepts. Over the years, this theory has been developed and elaborated upon and many educationalists still cling to the notion that each hemisphere ONLY deals with its own specific preferences.
Later research into how the brain operates has shown the left-right hemispheric theory to be simplistic and that the functions of each hemisphere, and they way they interact with each other, are way more complex than was first thought. What researchers do agree on, though, is that our brains are wired to deal with PARTS and WHOLES and that there is evidence to show that the left prefers PARTS and the right, WHOLES.
Recent research has also now indicated that if one hemisphere of the brain is damaged, the other will compensate, and, in some cases, take over the functions of the missing hemisphere.
We also know now that some learners have a preference for PARTS – i.e. understanding details; and others for WHOLES – i.e. seeing the big picture. Although there are a variety of terms that describe learning styles, words like analysts and theorists, dreamers and realists, divergent and convergent thinkers all refer to the core idea of PARTS and WHOLES.
So there will be learners in a classroom who prefer to see the big picture when starting a new topic, and others who are content to see the details gradually unfold - which means that we as teachers need to provide opportunities for both types of learners when introducing a new section, unit or chapter of work.
I found the following simple process a useful way of planning to introduce a new unit of work.
It has three phases:
1) BEFORE 2) WHY 3) KNOW
BEFORE refers to providing the CONTEXT of the learning; the WHY refers to providing REASONS for the learning – and the KNOW aspect refers to discovering what people already know about a subject/topic/unit before providing a ROUTE MAP to achieving outcomes.
Let’s examine each of these in turn.
Big Picture learners prefer to understand what has gone before and what will come after. Therefore, by placing the work in context, you emphasize the idea that no work is done in isolation, and that all learning is connected.
One way that this can be done is by using a MINDMAP which shows a breakdown on the content of a unit. The benefits of this are:
a) It is easy to refer to where you are and for the class to see how it relates to the big picture of the mind map. b) Students can use their peripheral vision to remember the details of the overall picture because the mind map is constantly being referred to.
Another way that you can represent the big picture is to record details on a NOUGHTS-AND-CROSSES grid.
Let me explain what I mean.
• Draw a noughts-and-crosses grid. In the central square, place the title of your topic, and in the 8 spaces around that square, break down the topic into its various components. This is your original grid with its original components. You do not have to fill all 8 spaces.
• Then draw three more noughts-and-crosses grids above your original and in the centre of each, place the three components in the top line of the original grid. Now you can break each of these into their respective components.
• Do the same for the other original components and place them around the original grid.
• So, in effect, you will have one main noughts and crosses grid, surrounded by 8 minor grids. This allows you to break down a topic to see how all the components fit.
Providing the BIG PICTURE is another way of reducing negative stress for students because it allows them to feel safe about their learning – in the same way that a driver feels knowing he has a street map to guide him.
The big picture isn’t always just about showing CONTENT in CONTEXT – it can also be a map of the skills and outcomes that are required in order to achieve different levels or grades.
Understanding why one is learning something is absolutely crucial to areas like motivation and achievement. The WHY aspect asks students to consider the reasons for their learning something, and invites them to make connections with their own aspirations. Some learners tend to want justify or rationalise new work – to create reasons based on outcomes that are desirable.
To illustrate what I mean, allow me to share an anecdote about a lesson I once observed.
I had the pleasure of peer mentoring one of my colleagues at a primary school in Kennington, London. She was introducing the concept of calculation to a group of very young students. She asked the class to consider why knowing how to add and subtract was important.
At first she received simple responses like “So we can learn how to count”, “So we can know how many things we have.” She then gave one student 20p and told him that he could buy a lolly off her for 5p (only one, though) and that he could keep the change.
He took the 20p and duly chose a lolly. She then gave him 5p in change.
It took a short while before some of the other children realised what she had done and their hands shot up as they waited eagerly to point out that he had been short-changed. Once they had spotted her deviousness, she asked the boy why he thought being able to add and subtract was important. He answered, “So that I know if I am getting the correct change.”
This is just a simple example of how students developed an emotional buy-in (excuse the pun!) for their work and illustrates how even young students need to understand WHY they are learning in a real-world context.
Telling students that they need to know something because it will be in the exams is generally not the way to go. Students are more likely to be motivated to engage with the topic if they understand how the topic will affect their real lives.
One process that is useful to try is the METACOGNITIVE APPLICATION PROCESS. This consists of 4 modes:
i) WHY? ii) WHAT? iii) HOW? iv) WHAT IF?
i) WHY? – provide opportunities for students to consider why they are learning something, using the WHY? WHY?WHY? method. This involves asking WHY? many times to consider the real reason for learning something.
For example: We are going to learn about adjectives. WHY? Because knowing how to describe things will improve our writing. WHY? Because good writing is an effective way of persuading others. WHY? Because ... and so on.
ii) WHAT? – break down the unit into recognisable chunks and areas that support formative assessment practices. For example, don’t just break a unit down in terms of content – also break it down in terms of OUTPUT – what students will need to produce as evidence of their learning.
iii) HOW? Show students the various ways in which they will be required to show their learning or the various ways in which they will approach and reflect on their learning.
iv) WHAT IF? – invite students to consider different approaches that can be trialled or considered so that they can have a say in how to approach their work and can understand that there are multiple learning pathways.
It is important to always begin a new topic by finding out what students already know about that topic. In the book HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), it was discovered that students learn more effectively if their prior knowledge is activated and acknowledged.
“Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp new concepts and information presented in the classroom, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom. This finding requires that teachers be prepared to draw out their students’ existing understandings and help to shape them into an understanding that reflects the concepts and knowledge in the particular discipline of study.” *
Having students record what they already know about a topic allows you to progress to the next step of identifying what students would like to discover about a topic which in turn provides a means of structuring the curriculum to suit their curiosity.
Also, if you did not find out what students already know, and then attempted to teach them stuff they already knew, the chances of their being bored are greatly increased.
Establishing what students already know, what they want to find out, and how they will go about finding out provides you with a lot of formative learning data and provides material which can be reflected upon for improvement. For instance, when learning is being assessed, students can consider how they feel about the learning process, where they can make improvements, and what they can feel proud about. It allows you to build a record of each student’s learning process and progress.
Which brings me to my final tip for illuminating the way forward:
CREATE A ROUTE MAP.
This entails creating a visual route map that graphically illustrates the big picture in terms of these four elements:
1) The Starting Point: This is where you are. 2) The Destination: This is where you need to be / what you need to be able to do 3) The Route: This is how you can get there. 4) The Markers: These are the signposts along the way. These signposts are ‘show-you-know’ / ‘you will be able to’ opportunities that indicate success criteria have been achieved.
Students can create individual route maps or the class can co-create one for a particular topic or theme.
If you would like to comment about this post or if you would like to add ideas from your own practice, feel free to leave a message below.
In my next post, I will explore the idea of structuring social interaction.
*How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice M. Suzanne Donovan, John D. Bransford, and James W. Pellegrino, Editors; Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice, National Research Council, ISBN: 978-0-309-06536-8, 88 pages, 6 x 9, paperback (1999)