Teachers are faced with many challenges as they plan for day-to-day instruction. One challenge is determining what to teach. Typically, teachers rely on their district curriculum guides as the framework for developing instructional units, weekly plans, and daily lessons (Walther-Thomas, Bryant, & Land, 1996). Another challenge is responding to the increased emphasis on the results of high-stakes testing, such as the Standards of Learning assessments. In addition to incorporating SOL objectives into their daily lessons and delivering instruction, teachers must prepare students in test-taking strategies. Finally, there are increasing numbers of students with learning and attention difficulties who struggle to grasp new concepts and retain information (Fulk, 2000). Meeting their needs is a daily challenge.
What can teachers do to enhance their students' learning and make instruction more meaningful and memorable? One effective strategy is the use of simple enhancers. Simple enhancers are devices such as stories, rhymes, pictures and demonstrations that teachers use to make their content come alive (Stratenotes, 1996). By providing simple enhancers that are directly relevant to their students' experiences teachers can enhance meaningfulness (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2000).
Some teachers invent and use these devices spontaneously, but, often, the way they use the devices does not enhance students' understanding and memory of the content (Stratenotes, 1996). The University of Kansas' Center for Research on Learning has identified principles that must be applied as simple enhancers are designed, and methods by which they are to be presented to students if learning is to be enhanced to the maximum extent possible.
1. The teacher identifies the most important content in the lesson. This may be an abstract concept or idea that needs to be made more concrete for student understanding.
For example, writing skills are a significant part of the sixth-grade English curriculum. Ms. Jones realizes that her students need to learn and apply an effective writing process and to understand that this process consists of several stages (i.e., prewriting, drafting, responding/revising, proof reading, and publishing). She also wants her students to understand the recursive nature of writing, whereby good writers move back and forth between the various stages.
2. The teacher chooses the simple enhancer that makes the abstract concept or idea more concrete.
Ms. Jones decides to use two simple enhancers, a memory aid and a chart.
3. The teacher ties the new information to knowledge students already know, and makes this new information more memorable.
First, to make the new information more memorable and help her students remember the writing process stages Ms. Jones develops the mnemonic aid, "Pretty Dolly Rode the Railroad Past Process," using the first letters of the stages. Second, to facilitate students' understanding of the recursive nature of writing, Ms. Jones uses a visual aid taken from the students' language arts book. This chart represents the writing stages as ports and the writer as a sailor in a boat moving from one destination to another, and often revisiting the same port to accomplish his work. Using this analogy, Ms. Jones notes that good writers often revisit their work (writing) multiple times to make it better.
1. The teacher first names the device (simple enhancer) and the content to be learned. A reason or rationale for learning the content is given.
"Today you will learn the stages of the writing process through the use of a mnemonic or memory aid. This mnemonic will help you remember the stages of the writing process and help you become better writers. You will also be better prepared in the future for the SOL writing tests."
2. The teacher presents the device and ties it to the content to be learned.
"When you write you move through six stages. These stages are prewriting, drafting, responding and revising, proofreading and publishing. To help you remember the stages in the correct order, use the mnemonic Pretty Dolly Rode the Railroad Past Process. I use the word Process as a town's name to help you remember that this mnemonic refers to the writing process."
3. At the end of the lesson on the next day, the teacher asks questions about the content that was enhanced, reinforcing the connection between the simple enhancer and the content.
"Tell your neighbor the mnemonic for remembering the writing process. Now, list the six stages on your paper. Why do you need to learn the writing process? How will this mnemonic help you?"
For more information on content enhancers, plan to attend T/TAC's Second Annual Colonial Institute on Content Enhancement Routines ("Cut the Fluff and Stick to the Stuff") this summer. For more information, see page 10-11 of this newsletter, visit our website, or contact Aaron Butler at (757) 221-5052 for more information about the Institute.
Fulk, B. (2000). Twenty ways to make instruction more memorable. Intervention in School and Clinic, 35 (3), 183-184.
Mastropieri, M., & Scruggs, T. (2000). The inclusive classroom: Strategies for effective instruction. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill.
What's simple about enhancers?. (1996, May). Stratenotes: A National Newsletter for SIM Trainers, 4, 1-3.
Walther-Thomas, C., Bryant, M., & Land, S. (1996), Planning for effective co-teaching: The key to successful inclusion. Remedial and Special Education, 17 (4), 255-264.