“Chunking” of information makes it easier to understand as less information is having to be processed by the working memory. The neat example given by Dan Willingham’s book in his book “Why students don’t like school?” asks you to memorise
Which proves to be difficult, with people tending to remember 7 letters. However, when these letters are rearranged into the following, it is easier to recall them all, as a result of you recognising the combinations of letters as they having meaning. This meaning is conferred by your prior knowledge. You are still in fact dealibg with 7 “items” of information, they just happened to be chunked together.. Seven is recommended as a maximum number if items to work wirh.
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Ostensibly this is what SOLO taxonomy does. It forces the teacher into “chunking” the information together and to discard irrelevant or unrelated knowledge. It begs this question “To be able to understand this topic, the prior knowledge you need to is….”
Let me attempt to exemplify this with an example. A year 8 Science lesson on the Refraction of light.
To explain this problem the students must know the following components, and use them in a relational way. The first four components the students should have some experience of, the fifth (underlined) is the purpose of this lesson . The final one could be described as "local" knowledge, just pertaining to this problem.
- That light travels in straight lines.
- How to draw a ray diagram
- Light can be bent/ or change direction
- Light must travel to the eye to be seen.
- The pattern that light refracts in.
- That some light will not pass through the Perspex block but straight into the eye.
Each of these can be broken down into smaller parts but these provide handy, chunks of information to use.
A related but important part of this is to explain why light changes direction. This will provide an opportunity for students to achieve Extended abstract, although this is not essential to the solving if this problem.SOLO is not a set if hoops to jump through,goodness knows educatirs have enough if these, but as in this example a method of structuring sequentially and sharing what the desired outcomes .
With these identified it was easy to construct a self assessment rubric, that can also act as success criteria in subsequent attempts. I say subsequent attempts here as, this task has been designed for feedback and therefore students must be given an opportunity to have another go.
This approach to planning learning, helps put assessment at its heart, it’s easier to identify potential stumbling blocks or to diagnose where the learning is really not getting it. In many ways it is the opposite of a “task” or “activity” driven lesson, where a task has been designed that may, engage and teach something about the topic at hand, but misses out the vital feedback loop that has a huge impact upon progress of learners. Don’t get me wrong there is space for engaging tasks, challenges and open-endedness but a balance is required.
Take a look at these examples of student work, use the list about to identify where the student is struggling and what they do understand. These were the first four books on the pile, each one has clearly missed (at least) one of the chunks.
|".....ray lines must be straight"|
|"...make a comparison to the light that has not passed through the block"|
|"use your notes to apply the pattern of refraction"|
Incidently, I think I did not differentiate enough, I have now added a choice of problems to solve with the easier of the two removing the need to make a comparison. All made more visible for all by SOLO taxonomy.