Comparing for Depth

Black top-hatComparing is a tremendous method for gaining deeper understanding.  Comparison activities fit well into traditional and non-traditional instructional designs.  In the book Teaching for Deeper Learning: Tools to Engage Students in Meaning Making, authors Jay McTighe and Harvey Silver share the following tools to help students make meaningful comparisons in their content:

  1. Describe first, then compare.  Teach students to observe and carefully describe each item under consideration before attempting to make any comparisons.  This slows the process a bit, but it helps to ensure that students fully understand each of the items and it makes comparing a deliberate and thoughtful act.
  2. Provide meaningful and manageable criteria.  When we initially provide the criteria for comparison, we are demonstrating to students that they are looking for relevant information.  As we model, we can talk aloud about what we are seeing and why we believe it is important. Students will eventually be able to provide their own criteria. 
  3. Use visual organizers.  Students will need to document specifics about the items under consideration, and they will need to clearly articulate similarities and differences that exist.  In order to do this, they will need a visual organizer that gives them plenty of space for writing. The authors suggest the use of the Top Hat Organizer. 
  4. What can you conclude?  Teachers need to ask this question very directly to students.  Frequently, students conduct comparison activities and complete visual organizers only to quickly move on.  By asking students to make conclusions based upon their comparisons, teachers are directing students back to their own observations for further reflection and analysis.  This is quite powerful. 
  5. Compare and conclude.  Students can use a Compare and Conclude matrix to articulate all of the findings and draw final conclusions.  
  6. Community CIRCLE.  Teachers and students can engage in meaningful dialogue regarding the items compared by using the Community CIRCLE.  The CIRCLE is as follows: Create a prompt, Invite responses, Review ideas, Compare ideas, Look for patterns, Extend thinking.  

As you prepare your lessons for next week, think of ways that you can include comparison activities to help students dig deeper into content.  Your students will learn more because of your efforts!

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