My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Teaching with Analogies and WASPS.

An apology: Sorry for throwing another acronym for a teaching strategy,  especially one that is not remotely crude or indeed funny. I long to create the FART tool or what not. However, this one does serve a purpose, a pedagogical purpose. I have long been a fan of procedures over tools, I don't think tools serve our students. It suggests one size fits all and that you can give the tool and IT will do the teaching for you. How ever a procedural approach takes the tool and encourages tuning for your students and the content being taught. I think the WASPS acronym  is important here as the "worksheet" element here just structures the WASP part and misses the all important Summary.

Analogies are powerful ways to learn helping learners recall ideas, sequence events, join ideas that they already have about an issue AND develop their understanding further.

The procedure might look a little like this. Which is an adaptation from here 

1. An initial introduction to the content to be learned by the teacher. (WHAT?)
2. Sharing of a teacher analogy, to then model the thinking required for the rest of the concepts.
3. Students generate multiple analogies ( where possible) (ANALOGIES)
4. Students identify the strengths of each of the analogies, while the teacher circulates prompting, questioning, but above all assessing understanding of the content. (STRENGTHS) It may be necessary to stop the class in order to share and challenge ideas here.
5. Students identify any weaknesses in the analogy. (PROBLEMS) It may be necessary to stop the class in order to share and challenge ideas here.
6.Finally students produce a SUMMARY of the what they now understand about the content.

The reason the for having multiple prompts for analogies is to attempt to gain generative (that explain how things work) and communicative analogies (to describe how things are) . Not for some esoteric reason but for sole reason to get students to think about the content  in different ways. It's the old Nuthall,  look at the informaion in 3 or 4 different ways and it will be learned idea.

The strengths and weakness section is acknowledgment that analogies can be incorrect, for many reasons such as a scientific term having an everyday meaning, students prior experience or students having a fixed idea about what ought to be the case. As described in this useful powerpoint. So, this section is to encourage criticism of the idea, further analysis and reflection on the content knowledge. It may be useful to ask students consider what are the limitations of the analogy, what does it not explain.  As a teacher, it is often difficult to see student misconceptions, as many assessment methods are black and white in nature, your either right or wrong. Unfortunately, learning (and Science for that matter) are not that simple. Thankfully, analogies work in both directions. Helping students see abstract ideas in a more concrete way and can present an opportunity for teachers to see a students conceptual understanding of an idea, it is therefore important to communicate the value to all analogies student generate. Even wrong analogies can help us learn and  provide formative assessment.

Taken from a Paul Black document this strategy clearly does three of the five key formative assessment strategies (Highlighted in Yellow) and poses the challenge to teachers to use what they learn about student learning, and clearly this assessment data is not black and white, different students will think about the same thing in may different ways simply due to their different experiences.This data is owned by the learners, its in their language and therefore powerful for peer teaching. Even in the most formal of setting "spontaneous peer talk" is a big way students actually learn varying between 6.5% to 27% of the items learned in a module. As seen in this example form the Hidden Lives of learners. Students understand student speak, there ideas will resonate with their peers, making it vital that teacher feedback and challenge of incorrect ideas is prominent. 

And this brings me back to my initial apology. A tool of "go and think of some analogies and then think of strengths and weakness on this sheet", might be an interesting activity, but could reinforce the misconceptions students have. The procedure above, with clear check points indicated should help avoid this. The Summary part should be the bit where correct answers should appear and come after a teacher intervention making clear what is right and rectifying what is not. You see WASPS, makes more sense.