30 September 2008

Tips For Teaching Inductively

Here are a number of tips for teaching inductively that Bruce Joyce provided to a group of teachers a few years ago:

1. Practice, practice, practice—anxiety reduces practice—let go and have fun. Build a learning community around the model—designing a weekly lesson won’t accomplish that.

2. Study how the kids think—the process gives us a bit of a window into their minds. The better the handle on their minds, the more we can adjust what we do.

3. Keep up front that we are trying to help the kids learn to learn. A common mistake in teaching is to ask questions without teaching the kids how to answer them—or, even better, how to ask them themselves and then seek the answers. Teaching comprehension in reading is an example. Many folks ask the kids questions about what they have read to learn if they have comprehended—or ask them to make predictions. Neither teaches the kids how to comprehend or make predictions based on understanding. They need models to follow for how we comprehend and make predictions.

4. The inductive process brings kids into the exploration of a domain as a learning community trying to master that domain. For example, suppose that initial consonants is the domain for beginning readers. They need to explore a heap of initial consonants, distinguishing the letters and sounds from one another. Giving them a set with the “letter of the week” in it and hoping they will focus on that letter subverts the inquiry We learn phonics by comparing and contrasting letters and their associated sounds—learning them one at a time without comparison makes life difficult for students. Remember that the customary ways of teaching reading leave 30 percent of the kids virtually unable to read. They need to inquire actively into phonetic and structural analysis and comprehension skills.

5. Except for very specific concentration on phonetic elements and newly learned vocabulary, words should be presented in sentences that provide context clues and a kind of “doze” activity carried on to ensure that meaning is established. We are producing a nation of “word callers” who don’t know how to extract meaning from text or who give up easily in the face of demanding text.

6. Use the model in the curriculum areas—to teach substance. Not a rainy day activity.

7. Make sure the data set has the attributes pitsent, both for concept formation and concept attainment. I probably overuse the example of “food groups.” Kids can memorize what food goes in what group and take our word for the meaning of nutrition. They cannot use inductive methods to discover the groups. Biochemists can. However, if the data presented are rich enough they can, by the fourth grade, classify the nations of the world by demographic char. acteristics because no arcane scientific knowledge or process is indicated.

8. Be careful how you teach “complete” and “incomplete” sentences. Teach subject and predicate first. A complete sentence is simply an expression that has an explicit or implied subject and predicate.

9. Distinctions between fact and opinion are probably not appropriate for short explorations—data sets containing each will only work if the kids already know which are facts and opinions—in which case there is no new learning. The distinction requires inference from context or, more often, verification from an authoritative source.

10. In science, try to concentrate on stuff where the kids can collect raw data. With respect to rocks, for example, they can study density, hardness, pH, and homogeneity by visual inspection, but they have to consult authoritative sources to find out how the rocks got that way. They can’t tell whether a rock was produced from a volcanic process unless they already know or get the information from an authoritative source. For example, for a “forest unit,” find a nearby grove with variety in it and have the kids observe the trees for a yeal building categories as they go. They can also consult resource books for data about other trees, using the ones they have observed as “anchors” for information gained through print and other media sources. And how about a classroom collection of plants that can be observed and categorized through the year?

11. Yes! Kids can create or attain multiple-attribute categories.

12. In teaching concepts like adverb, adjective, phrase, clause, remember that there are many subcategories of all of these. If a data set contains one each of five or six categories of adverbs, it can be tough for the kids. Consider sets where they can discover the various subcategories.

13. “Squeeze” the meaning out of complex sets, such as poems. The kids want to approach these with the idea of learning everything about them.

14. Studying attributes of things like characters in stories provides interesting problems. Usually, learning what a character is like involves mining the context. You might consider data sets where clues referring to various characteristics are concentrated on—such as physical description and temperament. Again, teach the kids how to answer the question.

15. Back on characters—if they are going to classify characters, they need 20 or so in the set.

16. Figure out the higher-order objective at the beginning. A good example is the log describing an exercise where the kids classified pictures of clouds and then were given the scientific terms for clouds that have particular appearances. The question was “How do I know when we’re done?” That question is not unique to the inductive model—it would apply to a unit taught in any fashion. The answer is to figure out what they are going to do with their newfound knowledge and design an application task that starts them on their way. For example, have them take a minute at the beginning of several days to look at the sky and write or dictate a description. Or have them look up information about weather or examine a number of weather forecasts and find concepts in them.

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