How do you decide what you will require students to learn? In English and math, these decisions are usually made by your curriculum, says Anthony. But there are so many things to learn in science class that the teacher must choose where to focus.
First, says Anthony, teach to the test. The assessment you use should reflect what you asked the students to master. Second, Anthony demonstrates learning maps, a simple and flexible method for outlining the content you expect students to focus on.
When you teach a math and English class, things are pretty much laid out as to what you need to teach.
(To class) I’m a little concerned about taking the test tomorrow. That’s why I’m rolling it to Monday, because lie and lay, may and can, let and leave, sit and set are way back in your memories from a few months ago.
You teach pretty much every lesson and the content is laid out lesson by lesson and sequential. When you go to science, and if I look at a book like this from A Beka seventh, eighth-grade level, there’s just many lessons of course and thousands of facts.
(To class) My cells are microscopic. Algae cells are microscopic.
They are made up of cell, cell, cell, cell, cell—and they’re are all the same.
What should you require your students to know? Well, I think you have a few options. I think it’s a good idea especially for new teachers, to look ahead, see what’s on the quizzes and tests, and teach accordingly because that’s fair to the students. And to tell a student, “Well, test is coming up.” “What do we need to know?” “You just better know everything.” That’s not fair to the student. Nobody knows everything. To teach by the test, I think, is a good option. You highlight, maybe, what is on the test and emphasize that to the students.
One thing I’ve enjoyed doing is creating learning maps. I would not suggest a teacher to try to do a few of these a year. I’ve done one a year for a number of years. This year I’m doing another one because I’m teaching this new book. What I do instead of teaching by the test is I decide what is important in each lesson. I create a little learning map and it’s basically a different layout for an outline.
So we have the title of the lesson and reach out from there, go out from there in various ways. There’s not an exact way of doing it of course but, for example, here, first lesson, I came up here and said, “Anatomy,” the definition, “Physiology,” the definition, and just core concepts which we can call the irreducible minimum. And so if it’s on this page from this lesson, the student knows that this is what they need to know for quizzes and future tests. If it’s not on here, but was in the book, and interesting information, of course, we often talk about it but it’s not considered information that they need to know.
I create these per lesson (sometimes it takes two days to cover it), photocopy it. There’s times where I have
blanks, where I tell them then what to fill in because I don’t want any mistakes on this because I’m going to quiz and test off of this. Then we do a lot of oral quizzes, one or two a week, and then tests as would all come off of here. I’m not using the book tests at this point. I would be making up my own test, which of course, again you don’t want to be doing three sets of work like this.
Students seem to enjoy it. I think it’s just a little more visual. Sometimes you can connect information this way. So we have arthropods here down to insects and then different facts about insects. It ties into this note in particular up here, insects and other arthropods and then branching from there. I don’t follow an exact pattern. There’s a lot of flexibility, of course, teachers make it like they want. Sometimes I don’t use circles, and I just have information surrounding the circle but not laid out quite as much. Like this here, I didn’t use circles. It gets messy, a little more detail here, but still quite a few blanks for the students to fill in.
One thing I think students enjoy about that, they then are given a few highlighters. They have some restrictions, but most of them, if not all of them, have their books highly marked up. Some of them will say, “Pink is always for definitions.” The student, if they’re that organized, will then know “As I flip, pink is always for definitions,” or “Green is for definitions.” Most probably don’t do that. They simply get highlighters out. I do restrict them to two or three colors, and they may not do other decorating work whatsoever. They’re supposed to stay with, obviously, the content and highlight it. I think it just makes it more visual. It’s a little more engaging, a little more interactive. Sometimes they’ll say on a quiz, “I know where that note is. It’s highlighted in pink. It’s at the top left hand of my page,” and they can’t think maybe of the information, but it shows that that visual thing does help them memorize a lot better.
I call it the irreducible minimum. It’s a summary of the lesson. It’s simply another way of doing an outline, maybe a little more visual. There’s a lot of flexibility. I’m not trying to worry about, “Do I have a Roman numeral one and a two, and an A and a B, parallel form?” It allows me a lot of flexibility to simply pick out what I decide is important. They know they need to know this. When they go to study for quizzes and tests, this is the core of the curriculum. Then I test and quiz accordingly.
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CONTRIBUTOR: Anthony Hurst