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Teaching Effective Learning Strategies: Similarities and Differences
Teaching Effective Learning Strategies: Similarities and Differences

What We Know

Research indicates that the identification of similarities and differences is a basic component of human thought and that the concept of similarity is important to different forms of cognition, including memory and problem-solving (Marzano et al, 2001a; Gentner & Markman, 1997; Sylwester, 1995).

Marzano, Pickering and Pollack (2001a) recommend that teachers both present students with explicit guidance in identifying similarities and differences and have students identify similarities and differences independently. They cite four cognitive processes that are effective for generating similarities and differences: comparing, classifying, creating metaphors and creating analogies. Instruction of each process should begin with a teacher-directed model that uses familiar content to teach students the steps involved. Marzano et al suggest that teachers also use direct instruction in comparing and contrasting an object or idea whenever a specified set of similarities and differences is desired. When more diverse conclusions are sought, the student-directed approach to identifying similarities and differences should be used. Graphic organizers, particularly for comparisons and classifications, and guidance should be provided throughout the process.

The use of teacher modeling of cognitive processes until students become proficient is also supported by Welch (1997). Rich discussion should still accompany the teacher-directed activity. Discussion and discourse has been shown to stimulate higher levels of reasoning and metacognition (Mason, 1994).

Using graphic organizers and symbolic stimuli to represent similarities and differences has been shown to improve students' understanding of content as well as their ability to recognize and generate similarities and differences (Cole and McLeod, 1999; Marzano et al, 2000a). In one study, students at all ability levels who were trained in using graphic organizers when comprehending texts with a compare-and-contrast structure were found to be able to transfer the training to real-world tasks (Balajthy and Weisberg, 1988). Another study involving adolescents with learning disabilities and low-achievement indicated that explicit strategies for raising the quality of compare-contrast essays led to improvements in clarity of writing, and appropriateness and organization of ideas (Wong et al, 1997).

Key Terms

Comparison is the process of identifying similarities and differences between or among things or ideas.

Classification is the process of grouping things that are alike into categories based on their characteristics.

Metaphor is a pattern shared by two objects or topics that appear to be quite different.

Analogy is a relationship between pairs of objects or concepts.

 
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