High Yield Strategy: Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers

In the last six months, I have been to two escape rooms.  I really didn’t think I would enjoy them as much as I do.  If you’ve never been, the premise is simple:  you and your team enter a room full of clues that help you unlock a treasure or reward of some sort during a defined amount of time (usually an hour).  If you can do it, you will escape before the pretend pursuer gets to you.  I enjoyed our rooms because we had the opportunity to ask for clues and assistance along the path.  

For many of our students, the classroom is an escape room, and they have to solve classroom and content puzzles in order to achieve.  As such, we need to provide them with clues to escape or win the room.  In his book Classroom Instruction That Works, Robert Marzano and his team conclude through meta-analysis that the use of cues, questions, and advance organizers regularly in the classroom correlates to an effective size of .59 as it relates to increased student achievement.  Below are a few thoughts that might help bring such activity into your classroom:

  1. Cues and questions should focus on what is important as opposed to what is unusual.  Sure, we all love novelty and the unusual tidbits of life (like French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully smashing his foot with a big stick while conducting and later succumbing to gangrene as a result), but that information really is important.  Make sure your cues and questions focus on what matters (like French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully completing changing operatic form to the point that many European composers of the day followed suit, thus changing opera forever). 
  2. Ask higher level questions to increase achievement.  It’s okay to ask a few shallow, surface level questions to get students thinking, but it isn’t okay to just leave it there.  Continue to probe deeper and deeper with higher level questions that require students to analyze, evaluate, and create.
  3. Employ empowering pauses.  Give students a little bit of time to think before plowing forward into content.  This pause empowers as students dig deep into their own thinking before responding. 
  4. Use questions to focus student thinking before instruction begins.  Do you remember the “anticipatory set” from your methodology classes?  Questions are a good way to get students interested and focused on the content they are about to undertake.  
  5. Organized information is the most useful information.  Students must be able to retrieve and further explore information in their learning experiences.  As such, that information must be organized in meaningful ways.  Allow students to organize in ways that are meaningful to them.  

As you prepare for next week, plan for cues, questions, and advance organizers in your classrooms.  You and your students will be glad you did!

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