Edge Enterprises, Inc.
You’ve probably heard of “watering down the curriculum,” but have you heard of “watering up the curriculum”? Well, the visual devices on this flash drive enable teachers to do just that! These devices, called SMARTsheets, are initially drafted by teachers during the planning process and then are constructed in partnership with students in a variety of activities in subject-area classes. They enable instruction to be focused on cognitive elaboration strategies and higher order thinking skills at all levels of schooling. Additionally, they focus learning on the essential understanding of big ideas rather than on the memorization of trivial facts. Nevertheless, students who participate in instruction guided by SMARTsheet construction learn and remember more. Included on the flash drive are more than a hundred types of blank SMARTsheets in color or black-lined masters plus many examples of how the SMARTsheets have been used in several subject areas. What makes them different from other visual devices and graphic organizers is that they contain prompts that cue the teacher or learner to engage in thinking strategies as they tackle academic tasks.
Edge Enterprises, Inc.
Several types of graphic organizers are contained within the Makes Sense Strategies program. Three of them are: Information Structure (IS) Frames (i.e., visual devices that illustrate four ways to structure information [e.g., hierarchical, compare/contrast, cause/effect, and sequence]), Essential Understanding Smart Sheets (EUS) (i.e., visual devices that focus student attention on the most important information related to a topic), and Generative-idea Smart Sheets (GS) (i.e., visual devices designed to focus student attention on generative ideas related to topics in class). In this study, the effects of the use of each of these three types of graphic organizers were compared to the effects of traditional text-based instructional tools. Participants included 96 tenth graders, each of whom was enrolled in one of eight American history classes taught by one of four general education history teachers. The students included 32 high achievers, 32 normal achievers (including 4 students with learning disabilities [LD]), and 32 low achievers (including 12 classified as having LD). Each teacher used all four teaching methods but in a different sequence to control for order effects. All four teachers taught the same units of instruction.
The outcome measures were the scores on a test for which students generated a concept map of what they knew about each unit topic and then orally explained the map in response to prompts to summarize important ideas, relate or apply those ideas, and think about each idea in a new way. This test was administered before and after each unit. Three scores were derived from the test: depth of relational understanding, breadth of relational understanding, and accuracy of understanding. Analyses of variance were used to determine the effects of the instructional methods. Tukey’s HSD was used for each post-hoc analysis.
With regard to depth of relational understanding, a significant difference was found between the results of the four methods, F(3, 360) = 9.825, p < .001. The follow-up tests revealed that the EU Smart Sheets and IS Frames produced the highest scores for the group as a whole. The text-based instruction was the least effective.
With regard to breadth of relational understanding, a significant difference was also found between the results of the four methods, F(3, 360) = 12.962, p < .001. The follow-up tests revealed that the EU Smart Sheets produced the highest scores. The text-based instruction was the least effective.
With regard to accuracy of understanding, no differences were found among the methods.
The use of graphic organizers in the Makes Sense Strategies program are related to higher scores of understanding when compared to traditionally used text-based methods. Students with LD react similarly to the different methods as the whole group of students. That is, they all earned higher scores when the EU Smart Sheets were used. They performed less well when the traditional text-based method was used.
Wills, S. & Ellis, E.S. (2007). Embedding graphic organizers with three types of semantic prompts on students’ relational understanding of history. Retrieved on June 20, 2009 from www.MakesSenseStrategies.com.
Edwin (Ed) S. Ellis, Ph.D.
My Background and Interests
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my interest in learning and teaching began way back in 1965 at age 15. My youngest brother had been diagnosed with learning disabilities, and with both parents working 80+ hours a week, many of the responsibilities for his treatment fell on my shoulders. This was back when perceptual motor training to establish brain hemisphere dominance to cure LD was in vogue. I spent countless hours doing “angels in the snow” types of activities with him and trying to help him learn to read and write, although I was somewhat clueless about how to do it. His and my own emotional experiences led me to pursue college studies in the area of psychology, and becoming a teacher never crossed my mind at that time. I accidentally fell into special education when an opportunity presented itself with a tuition grant to pursue a master’s degree in special education/learning disabilities. I didn’t have anything else to do, and it seemed like a way to extend my interest in psychology in a practical way. Only when I had my own classroom and became very invested in understanding my students did I realize that I was one of those people who was “born to teach”… and born to observe and think about learning. I’ve been hooked ever since!
During the late 1970s, due to my service volunteer experiences developing a pretrial diversion program for delinquent adolescents and working in a adolescent drug rehabilitation program, paired with my experience as a teacher of students with LD, I became the education coordinator for one of the Child Service Demonstration Centers (CSDC), which were federally funded programs charged with developing and validating interventions for students with LD. Our particular CSDC program focused on developing interventions for adolescents with LD who had been adjudicated (convicted). Of the many CSDCs that were funded, only a few focused on services for adolescents, and fewer still actually did anything to validate their effectiveness. One of these was a CSDC directed by Don Deshler, a new Assistant Professor at KU, and another CSDC was directed by Naomi Zigmond at the University of Pittsburgh. Those of us concerned with the validation of our programs would meet at conferences to share what we were doing and our data. These were exciting times for all of us, and especially for me because I was collaborating with some brilliant people, and we were all trying to figure out what to do, how to do it, and how well it worked. Most of the CSDCs, however, failed to validate their interventions, so subsequent federal support shifted to funding five research institutes where learning disabilities could be addressed in a systematic, empirical manner, and interventions could be scientifically validated.
Dick Shieffelbush and Ed Meyen were awarded one of these institute grants, and thus the Institute for Research in Learning Disabilities (KU-IRLD) was born. Don Deshler, who was the Coordinator for the KU-IRLD recruited many of us who had been collaborating with him within the CSDCs to come to KU for doctoral studies and to work at the KU-IRLD (now known as the KU-CRL). That’s how I landed in Kansas, and that’s how I became a part of an effort to change education that continues today.
The Story Behind Makes Sense Strategies
Makes Sense Strategies (MSS) is a collection of instructional resources found to be very beneficial to subject-area teachers and students. These resources closely align with the goals of Content Enhancement and can be used to supplement the Content Enhancement Routines. An analogy is that one first learns how to drive an automobile in all kinds of conditions (e.g., a teacher learns how to implement the Content Enhancement Routines) and then is exposed to a car dealership that has hundreds of automobiles from which to choose (Makes Sense Strategies). Some of the automobiles, like a Toyota Civic, are very basic, and some, like a Ferrari, are very sophisticated (some of the MSS resources can be used with students in primary school and some are more appropriate for students in high school or college).
MSS are based on principles of cognitive instruction and feature use of cognitive elaboration strategies and higher-order thinking skills when developing content, language, math, and social/behavior literacy in students. MSS also feature tactics for differentiating curriculum, so the focus is on teaching essential understandings of big ideas rather than on memorizing trivia.
Makes Sense Strategies (MSS) are based on scientific research and were designed for “watering-up” the curriculum. Data from a range of studies in schools throughout Alabama and in other states have documented substantial increases in academic performance for high-achieving, normal-achieving, and low-achieving students as well as students with learning disabilities when Makes Sense Strategies are used by teachers.
The development of Makes Sense Strategies was influenced by a number of factors – one of them being the amount of time, energy, and expertise needed by a teacher to readily employ them when teaching. During the field testing of the MSS in classroom situations and in pre-service teacher education contexts, one of the things I observed was that when given basic graphic organizers, teachers struggled with decisions about what information to depict on them. Differentiating the curriculum, or deciding what is essential to understand about a topic and making this information meaningful to students are probably two of the most challenging aspects of teaching subject matter. Thus one of the motivating factors involved in refining the MSS was to develop tools that simplified this process.
An analysis of lessons taught by social studies and science teachers resulted in the identification of 15 commonly taught topics. For example, many social studies and science lessons are likely to focus on a famous person or group, a place where something significant happened, a critical issue, an influential theory, an important process, etc. I developed a set of generic “Essential Understandings” for each topic (e.g., what is essential to understand about any famous person or group, what is essential to understand about any theory) and then developed a series of “Smart-sheets” for each of the 15 commonly taught topics. Each Smart-sheet contains embedded semantic cues designed to prompt the teacher or student to both focus attention on specific essential understandings of that topic and to engage in specific information-processing cognitive strategies.
My thoughts about Content Enhancement
When I read Lenz and Bulgren’s first piece introducing the concept of Content Enhancement (CE), I was intrigued, mostly by what seemed to be a new dimension that these researchers were integrating into strategic instruction. I didn’t fully appreciate the elegant simplicity underlying the notion of enhancing content because the article was what one might characterize as a “heavy read,” steeped in theoretical notions and complex analysis of related research. The more I worked with CE materials, however, the more I’ve come to realize what a simple, yet incredibly powerful notion CE represents. Two CE principles are paramount: (a) increasing the learnability of subject-matter is preferable to dumbing it down, and (b) extraordinary teaching that impacts all students should be implemented before taking extraordinary measures such as providing individual accommodations. CE puts the role of accommodations in its proper place — they should be used as a last resort, rather than the first option. Historically, education has been steeped in the notion that failure to learn is the student’s fault (e.g., the result of a learning disability, poor motivation, etc.). CE redefines failure to learn by adhering to the radical notion that failure to learn is first and foremost a teaching problem, not a student problem.
One of the positive trends resulting from the No Child Left Behind legislation has been the focus on scientifically validated interventions, that is those educational practices that have been empirically validated using scientific experimental research methodologies. What is often missing from research reports about the effectiveness of new techniques is information regarding their social validity. In other words, the new practice or procedure may be validated as effective because student achievement improves when it is used, but that does not mean it will be used in the “real world” of everyday classrooms. The new technique may not have social validity because it may be too difficult to learn to use, too time consuming to apply, require too much advance planning, students may not like it, and/or it may require teachers to make radical adjustments in their own teaching philosophy to accommodate its use. Fortunately, the Makes Sense Strategies seem to have clearly met the “reality” test. I’ve received a lot of emails from teachers and parents expressing appreciation. It’s difficult to be modest and proud at the same time, but I admit it. I’m very proud of the impact the Makes Sense Stategies have had. They continue to touch the lives of a great many students.
Teacher or Student Feedback on Makes Sense Strategies
I am very optimistic about the extent to which teachers at all levels of schooling are now using graphic organizers, and in particular the MSS. Graphic organizers comprise a set of tools that can be integrated across subject areas so that students can learn to use them in very flexible ways to be more successful in a variety of contexts. Research not only demonstrates that the MSS are highly effective, but also that teachers and students love them. One teacher characterized MSS as “graphic organizers on steroids!”
My Contact Information
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (205) 394-5512.