Thursday, March 6, 2014

Making Learning Connections: Compare, Contrast, and Classify

One of the cognitive assets that we stress in our program is the ability to compare, contrast and classify. Teachers can help students find meaning in what they are reading or discovering in the classroom by suggesting that they make comparisons and classify new information. This helps them to analyze and connect the new information they are learning with what they already know. Thinking about how things are the same and different is useful even for young children as a first step toward classification and more detailed analysis.

For example, the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics call for kindergartners to learn to “analyze and compare two- and three-dimensional shapes, in different sizes and orientations, using informal language to describe their similarities, differences, [and] parts.” By third grade, students should be able to “understand that shapes in different categories … may share attributes … and that the shared attributes can define a larger category.”

Explicit instruction of making comparisons involves calling attention to the steps of noticing similarities and differences and identifying key attributes that might be useful in classification.

 Consider these examples:
  • “What makes this circle different from this square?”
  • “You can tie a bow or take a bow. Both words are spelled the same, but they sound different and have different meanings. Who can think of some other words like this, and can anyone tell us what these words are called?”
  • “How can we use what we know about these animals to figure out their classification in the animal kingdom?”
  • “What is different about the time and place where these characters live compared to your life? What is the same?”
These examples demonstrate a key benefit of teaching cognitive skills: They can be used in every subject, in every grade, and even in college and the working world. As effective teachers teach these cognitive skills they also teach students to be metacognitive. In order to create students who are metacognitive learners is to systematically ask the questions about how, why and when are other situations when we need to use these cognitive skills. As students internalize these questions, they become ever more independent learners. Teaching your students to “drive their brains” is the learning gift that keeps on giving!

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