How To Use Examples And Analogies To Enhance Understanding

A fantastic section heading from Why Students Don't Like School by Daniel Willingham highlights the biggest obstacle that teachers face: student understanding.
"Understanding Is Remembering In Disguise"
As you let that sink in, also reflect on the difference between remembering  and  understanding.

Remembering is the ability to recall a past experience.

Understanding is the ability to use past experiences to formulate novel connections.

For example:
Content- density is a measure of how compact molecules are.
Content- metamorphic rocks are recrystallized due to increased pressure and additional heat.

Student A remembers the content and says "density is the compactness of molecules and metamorphic rocks are formed from heat and pressure"

Student B understands the content and says "since metamorphic rocks are sometimes formed from increased pressure, they may have higher densities"

Educators want their students to not only remember the content, but understand it.

Remembering is storing an idea as an isolated package of information and understanding occurs when that package of information grows roots and shoots to connect to other, already established knowledge in the brain.

To give your content roots and shoots and increase understanding,  you need to connect it to prior knowledge.  In other words it is your job to facilitate the connection between the new content and the anchored knowledge already residing in the brain.

This can be done with the the use of analogies and examples.

Though different in approach, their effectiveness as teaching tools utilize the same fundamental characteristic: both rely on prior knowledge as an anchor.

An analogy is a comparison between a novel process with a familiar process that are governed by similar, underlying constructs.

If you understand how one functions, you understand how the other functions.

Making this connection is the teachers job.

Examples are parts of a whole system.  Being parts of a larger process, they are innately related.

If you understand how one part of a system functions, chances are you understand how a related part functions.

It is the teachers job to make that connection.

A scenario may help:

Content taught: the function of an agent of erosion is to carry weathered sediment from point A to point B.

Analogy and Examples: "You need to get from your house, point A, to your friends house, point B.  You could walk (agent), ride you bike (agent), or drive a car (agent).  Walking, riding your bike, and driving are all agents (ways) to get you to your friends house.

Similarly, weathered sediment travel from point A to point B.  This can be done by wind (agent), moving water (agent), and glaciers (agent)."

Students are familiar with going to a friends house and the many ways to get there.  They are unfamiliar with the agents of erosion.  Examples and analogies facilitate connecting what they knew with something they did not.

As you consider the use of analogies and examples in your lessons to encourage the connection to prior knowledge, consider the language you use to introduce them.

When using an analogy, use the word like.

When using an example, use the word such as.

By preceding your examples and analogies with "like" and "such as", you are giving your students a heads-up that the following statement will link the new content with something they already know.

A subconscious light illuminates in their head and they unknowingly ready themselves for the connection.

Deep learning is difficult.  Using analogies and examples is a small step to help make it easier.

Connect with the Pragmatic TV Teacher and share how you encourage deep learning.

Thanks for reading.

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