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Reinforcing Difficult Concepts
Benna Golubtchik

Sometimes it is necessary to teach a concept that is difficult for students to grasp, but that you know is essential for them to learn. Academic anchoring, or cueing, works well for such concepts.

One reason that students may find a concept difficult to understand is that they have no prior association with the concept. If we are teaching sequentially, or part to whole, using small, logical steps, students might miss the main idea. By introducing a global association, students may make the connection more easily. They can visualize the goal, even if they don't yet understand it.

It is wise to increase the use of the senses. Stimulate the visual by use of size, color, shape, and distance. Increase the auditory by introducing volume, pause, pitch, sounds, and voices. Introduce kinesthetics by using texture, temperature, movement, weights. Get the students involved in as many ways as you can. Find a way for students to demonstrate that they, in fact, understand what they have learned.

Here is an example of how I helped reinforce students' understanding of the states of matter (solid, liquid, and gas). I formed three groups. Each group had to work together to demonstrate their state. The others had to guess which concept they were demonstrating. The solid group stood closely together, hands at sides, and moved slowly in a formation. The liquids chose to "flow" by moving along the floor in waves. The gaseous group became molecules that floated throughout the room, taking up the volume of their container. By involving the kinesthetic with the visual, the demonstrations remained with the students.

In math, students often have a difficult time understanding which zeroes are necessary or unnecessary when working with decimal points. A teacher hung up paper numbers on the board, placing a decimal point in the middle. After the teacher's explanation, the students identified that the outermost zeroes on either side of the decimal point were unnecessary. The teacher then had students remove each unnecessary zero. She took scissors and excitedly cut up each unnecessary "0" and threw it into a garbage can. As these students encounter additional problems focusing on the necessity of zeroes, their blackboard experience will help them recall the rules.

At any age, our students can benefit from our creativity if we give them some association to help them recall new and difficult information. Be creative, and by all means, share your ideas with our readers.


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