“Teachers must provide their students with large amounts of information in a way that helps the students understand, retain, and recall it. Advance organizers are a model for helping students organize information by connecting it to a larger cognitive structure that reflects the organization of the discipline itself” (Dell’Olio & Donk, 2007, p. 388). It is important that students are introduced to abstract ideas so they have a framework they continually connect news ideas to. Ausubel (1978) states, “Advance organizers are normally introduced in advance of the learning material itself and are used to facilitate establishing a meaningful learning set. Advance organizers help the learner recognize the elements of new learning materials that can be meaningfully learned by relating them to specifically relevant aspects of existing cognitive structure” (para. 1). The key idea of using advance organizers is to provide a structure that connects prior learning with new learning. As I design my instruction, I want to focus on key questions that encompass Ausubel’s key teachings: “What do the students already know and what do they need to know before they can learn the task at hand? How will you present the information at a high level of abstraction? What organizer will be the most effective in presenting ideas in advance of the learning?” (Ausubel, 1978, para. 1,2,3).
Dean, Hubble, Pitler, & Stone (2012) state, “The most effective advance organizers provide an organized conceptual framework that is meaningful to the learner and allows the learner to relate concepts in the instructional material to the elements of the framework” (p. 51). One example is the narrative advance organizer. “Narrative advance organizers present information in a story format. This type of advance organizer serves to engage students’ interest while at the same time activating their prior knowledge on a topic (Dean, Hubble, Pitler, & Stone , 2013, p. 58). In my classroom, I often use read alouds to introduce concepts and as a tool to show examples of effective writing strategies. When teaching math concepts, I provide real-life scenarios prior to instruction to give students a framework and purpose for learning. For example, when teaching measurement I might give a scenario of house projects that will require understanding of measurement terms such as measuring perimeter before building a fence or measuring area of a bathroom floor before laying down tile. As students begin learning about perimeter and area we connect our new learning back to the scenario that was presented in advance of the lesson. After the readings, I now know that I need to be careful not to introduce the new terms in the advance organizer. According to Dell’Olio and Donk (2007), “Advance organizers should not contain specific content from the to-be-learned information” (p. 395).
Another organizer I frequently use in reading instruction is skimming and graphic advance organizers. Dean, Hubble, Pitler, & Stone (2012) state, “Skimming is the process of quickly looking over material to get a general impression before reading it fully. Providing questions to guide the skimming process helps students access prior knowledge that is relevant to the new information” (p.59). I apply skimming frequently prior to reading non-fiction passages. Students are guided by questions and asked to identify non-fiction text features (subheadings, topic, main ideas, captions, photos, maps, diagrams, ect.). This initial skimming of the text provides students with a framework that they can reference when responding to questions or when summarizing the new material. I also use graphic organizers to help scaffold the learning process. For example, a graphic organizer is used to break down the important ideas of a passage or story to help students summarize the text.
As I reflect on my implementation of advance organizers, I realize that some of the strategies I use may scaffold learning, however, it may not always come in advance of the learning. In the screencast, Dr. Williams states, “Two effective strategies that help construct meaning from text and orally presented material are summarizing and questioning” (T. Williams, personal communication, February 3, 2013). I use these strategies in my classroom frequently to develop reading comprehension. Students practice taking notes, identifying main ideas using non-fiction text features, and using the text to answer high level questions such as making inferences. However, they are not always necessarily taught in advance of the lesson or presented in an abstract way. This is an area I need to develop to ensure that students are making connections to prior learning instead of the teacher just summarizing or introducing the new learning.
Ceri B., D., Hubbell, E.R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (2nd ed.). Denver: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
From David P. Ausubel, Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View (1978)
Jeanine M. , D., & Donk, T. (2007). Models of Teaching: Connection Student Learning With Standards. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.