When it comes to identifying similarities and differences, the subject of Chapter 8 of both Dean et al (2012) and Pitler and Stone (2012), most teachers jump right for the Venn diagram for some compare and contrast practice. The authors, however, provide other options teachers may not think of, especially in the primary grades. In addition to comparing, Pitler and Stone also describe how to incorporate the strategies of “classifying, creating metaphors, and creating analogies” (2012, p. 329). The overall recommendations are to “Teach students a variety of ways to identify similarities and differences” (Dean et al, 2012, p. 121), guide students in their learning of the strategy, and provide clues to students. While the norm is to have students learn one strategy well, it benefits more students to give a variety of options to help them find a strategy that best suits their learning style.
In my experience in second grade last year, my mentor teacher had a wonderfully-developed unit on comparing and contrasting. The progression from “I do” to “you do” was very long and gradual, allowing students a lot of practice with the use of Venn diagrams. We began with very familiar concepts, which is recommended by Dean et al when he says “Using a familiar context and familiar content” when modeling helps students focus on the new strategy and not new information (2012, p. 121). This was a wonderful unit to teach one strategy. Unfortunately, students were not introduced to any other ways to identify similarities and differences. Even exposing students to the language around other methods, such as metaphors and analogies, can be beneficial to the long-term familiarization and comfort level with those strategies. For the individual unit, I would say my mentor teacher and I did a Proficient (3) job. In regards to preparing students to have a variety of strategies in their toolkit, however, I would say I lie at a Basic (2).
Next year, although I am moving down a grade level, I would like to find ways to help students learn more ways to identify similarities and differences. I remember being in primary school learning about the Trinity – it was a difficult idea having three parts to one God. My teacher had us come up with our own metaphors relating the Trinity to things with which we were familiar. My classmates came up with a tricycle (three wheels to one trike), a candle (three wicks in one candle), and other creative metaphors. Going based off of my teacher’s example of the shamrock, as this was very close to St. Patrick’s Day, I chose a trillium – three petals in one flower. I would like to expose my young students to such ideas in the same way: heavily guided exposure to the strategies in order to give a foundational understanding of them.
Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Pitler, H. & Stone, B. (2012). A handbook for classroom instruction that works: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.