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. Noticing “On the Fly” Sometimes a teacher becomes aware of a possible confusion on the fly while teaching and makes a preventive move right then. A student is correctly solv- ing an algebra equation but is manipulating terms in his head at a rate the other students might not be able to follow. So with an on-the-fly move to prevent confusing the other students, the teacher interrupts the student and says to the class, “Wait! See what he’s doing here. He’s doing two steps at once in his head; he’s cross-multiplying and taking the square root. Okay, go ahead, Todd.” This teacher has slowed the action for the benefit of the others and unpacked the two steps that Todd was doing simultaneously in his head, which the teacher antici- pates the other students might not be able to understand.

Anticipating confusion on the fly is one of the most subtle and difficult perfor- mances to observe because when one does this effectively, students do not, in fact, become confused. We “head it off at the pass,” taking care of the potential lack of understanding before it develops. For this reason, it represents a high level of sophistication in clarity. It requires both the disposition and ability to get inside students’ heads. This is, in fact, the foundation of this entire set of clarity

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skills. Teachers who are skillful at clarity want to know how learning is going for their students, and they have a repertoire of ways for finding out. They have a degree of cognitive empathy for the workings of the learners’ minds—an ability to put themselves in the learners’ shoes—and that guides everything they do.


This section is about that part of teaching and learning in which we are directly teaching (or reviewing) new content, concepts, and skills. Two major consider- ations here are the devices we use to introduce or explain a skill or concept and the characteristics of our verbal presentation that accompanies them.

Explanatory Devices

Explanatory devices are tools that can be used to present information and ex- plain concepts within any content and any approach to teaching. The repertoire includes the explanatory devices listed in Table 11.1.

When a concept or a process is being presented and explained, we know that some learners will rely heavily for understanding on visual representations (diagrams, models, demonstrations); some on auditory representation (verbal analogies, modeling thinking aloud); and others on tangible, concrete repre- sentations (physical models or materials they can manipulate, simulations they become a part of ). Most of us rely to varying degrees on all three modalities for taking in and absorbing information most effectively. Known for his extensive research on second language learning and bilingualism, Jim Cummins (2001)

Table 11.1 Explanatory Devices

• Analogies and Metaphors • Minimal and Progressive Cueing

• Gestures, Demonstrations, and Modeling • Simulations, Educational Games, and Role Plays

Modeling Thinking Aloud • Computer or Tablet Applications

• Physical Models and Visual Representations • Charts and Diagrams

• Graphic Organizers • Audio and Video Recordings Including Singing

• Interactive Whiteboards • Highlighting Important Information

• Mental Imagery • Pictures and Photographs

• Presentation Software • Translation into Simpler Language



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uses the terms “context embedded” and “context reduced” to describe the differ- ence between information communicated with and without accompanying con- textual clues (intonation, gestures, visuals, etc.) that support meaning making. He underscores the critical importance of accompanying verbal or linguistic presentations with visuals and other contextual cues to ensure that cognitively demanding concepts are made accessible to second language learners.

Thus when we think about how to best serve all of our students with these tools, we must ask ourselves, “Am I explaining in ways that enable all students to see, hear, and experience the content or concept?” If not, we are missing some learn- ers. An advantage to planning with this in mind is that we are more likely to maximize the benefits of even a singular explanatory device by enhancing how we use it. For example, we might want to use fraction rods (a physical model) to demonstrate the concept of equivalent fractions. Students will see the model and hear us talk through the explanation as we demonstrate. But if we give each of them a set of fraction rods to construct the model along with us, we incorpo- rate the third (kinesthetic) modality.

Any one of the explanatory devices—or a combination—can be powerful ve- hicles for supporting student understanding. Because many of the explanatory devices are self-explanatory, we discuss these in more detail: (1) analogies and metaphors; (2) gestures, demonstrations, and modeling; (3) modeling thinking aloud; (4) physical models and visual representations; (5) graphic organizers; (6) interactive whiteboards; (7) mental imagery; (8) presentation software; (9) mini- mal and progressive cueing; (10) simulations, educational games, and role plays.

Analogies and Metaphors

Analogies support student understanding when they connect the new learning to something the students already know. In some cases, they create visual images, for example: “The growth of a glacier is like pancake batter being poured in a frying pan. As more and more substance is added to the middle, the edges spread farther and farther out” (Ormrod, 2004, p. 245). When appropriately chosen, analogies are effec- tive devices for augmenting student learning (Bulgren, Deshler, Schumaker, & Lenz, 2000). However, Ormrod cautions that teachers must “point out ways in which the two things being compared are different, otherwise students may take an analogy too far and draw incorrect conclusions” (p. 224).

“A metaphor basically reimagines or re-expresses something in one category (domain) in terms of another category (domain) to clarify or further thinking” (Wormeli, 2009, p. 6). For example, English teacher Karen Molter describes an epic as a baseball game: “the hero starts at home, needs to leave for a quest, encoun- ters trials along the way that prevent him from his ultimate goal: returning home”



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(Wormeli, 2009, p. 151). These can be especially effective to support understanding for second language learners when we can create a metaphor that re-expresses a concept in a domain that is familiar to the students. Wormeli offers a “metaphor quality scale” as a guide to ensure that our metaphors serve our intended purpose of supporting understanding of a concept. He includes the following attributes:

p Items being compared are identifiable to the student.

p The metaphor doesn’t distort the truth or leave to chance students focusing on an attribute of the compared item that is misleading.

p Taken literally, the metaphor can’t be true.

p The items being compared exist in different domains.

p The metaphor engages the recipient personally (has personal meaning, is clever or witty). (Adapted from Wormeli, 2009, p. 12)

Gestures, Demonstrations, and Modeling

The best, most charismatic speakers and influencers know the importance of using hand gestures (Van Edwards, 2015). While it may seem a small or incon- sequential part of our presentations and explanations, there is a considerable body of research that highlights how beneficial the intentional use of physical gestures can be for reinforcing and highlighting the content we are presenting. In a 7-minute YouTube video, Vanessa Van Edwards (author and founder of the website The Science of People) highlights several ways in which we can use hand gestures to “underline or bold” our words and create anchors or hooks for our students. For example, anytime we mention a number (“there are 4 reasons why . . .” or “3 critical attributes of . . .”) we can punctuate by holding up a matching number of fingers. If we are talking about growth, “really BIG growth” or a “really BIG problem” can be represented by stretching our arms wide; “just a tiny bit of growth” or “just a little problem, no big deal” can be ex- pressed with a slight separation of two fingers. To support students in tracking and keeping separate our explanations of two ideas, groups, characters, etc., we gesture by holding one in the left hand and one in the right (“in this election, we have the leading Republican candidate”—left hand—“and the leading Dem- ocratic candidate”—right hand). Then, anytime we reference one group or the other, we hold them in the hand as originally referenced. For more examples of this kind of gesturing visit www.scienceofpeople.com.

Teachers of world languages capitalize on the intentional use of gestures and modeling when speaking in a language that students are learning. Students learn

Video: Gestures



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vocabulary and structure of the language by simultaneously hearing it modeled and seeing gestures that cue the meaning. Total Physical Response (TPR) is a pop- ular scheme for embedding gesture in language learning (Asher, 2003).

Demonstrations and modeling are more self-evident as devices for explaining a process or a concept. They might include a physical education teacher demon- strating the proper way to hold or swing a bat, a first-grade teacher modeling for students how to space letters when printing a word, an art teacher demonstrat- ing how to throw clay on a wheel, or a math teacher demonstrating the use of a graphing calculator. The teacher serves as an example when both visual and auditory demonstration of the steps in a process are needed. Note how this form of modeling is different from the one that follows, Modeling Thinking Aloud.

Modeling Thinking Aloud

Modeling Thinking Aloud is another one of the least seen and most powerful of the explanatory devices. It is especially useful in teaching any kind of problem- solving or multi-step complex operation or procedure. Yet it is noticeably absent especially in middle and high school classrooms (Lapp, Fisher, & Grant, 2008). It is done in front of the class as a dialogue with oneself thinking through a process step by step as a student would, and role-playing just what to do. This includes being puzzled, making mistakes, self-correcting, and checking oneself along the way. By doing the thinking aloud, we show students where the pitfalls are and how to get through common hang-up points, as well as model the ap- propriate steps.

A partial example of modeling thinking aloud for organizing notes to write an essay on the Civil War might sound like this:

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