As depicted in the graphic above, understanding information is a process. Although the process is not always linear, students have to first acquire information. The acquisition of information can occur in many ways. Often times, students are only given two ways to acquire information, which is by reading text or listening to their teacher. However, students can use all of their senses, as well as, a variety of sources to acquire information. Imagine blindfolding a student and having them smell or feel what they are to learn.
After students acquire information, they have to process it. Because this is not a linear process, teachers will observe some students go back and forth between the acquisition and processing of information. During the process of processing, students organize how the new information fits with their prior knowledge and experiences. This can happen quickly for some students, but it can also be a lengthy process for others.
During the second stage of learning, frustration can occur to the point where students abandon the process of learning. So, teachers need to create activities that will serve as a bridge from Processing Information to Understanding Information. According to Classroom Instruction That Works (2012), in order to develop students’ understanding teachers need to focus on the following instructional strategies:
- Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers – Teachers can use hints and probe students to help move them from processing information to understanding information. It is imperative that teachers understand and use Bloom’s Taxonomy in order to ask questions that will scaffold students’ understanding. An advance organizer is like a graphic organizer. It can be used in combination with questioning.
- Nonlinguistic Representations – As previously stated, the primary way teachers try to relay information is with the use of words, be it reading or talking. Nonlinguistic representations is everything but words. Images and pictures go a long way with helping students move from processing information to understanding information.
- Summarizing and Note Taking – Students can also help themselves make sense of information by summarizing the information they acquire. Rick Wormeli has an excellent book, Summarization in Any Subject: 50 Techniques to Improve Student Learning, that teachers can use. It is full of advance organizers that can be used with questioning techniques to help students summarize and take notes, which will develop their understaning.
- Assigning Homework and Providing Practice – As the old adage goes … Practice makes perfect. Students need to practice, practice, practice. Often times, I use sport analogies (because I think sports coaches are the BEST teachers). Sports coaches always have players practice. In fact, practices are not mundane and the same each time. The practice depends on the last performance. The coach will have the player complete drills based on the weaknesses exhibited in the last performance. Furthermore, the coach will design practices based on what they expect from the opposing team. Teachers should do the same thing. Homework assignments and practice activities should be personalized to strengthen students’ weaknesses based on the standards.
Below are some free online tools that teachers can use to help develop students’ understanding. Take a look at some of the tools to determine how you can use them in your practice.