Breaking down complex material can make high school curriculum digestible

Table of Contents

Dive Brief:

  • High school literary analysis and theory can be more engaging if the reading material is changed from complex literature to basic stories, 12th-grade English teacher Crystalee Calderwood writes for Edutopia. While she typically used texts from Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allan Poe, Calderwood flipped to children’s books and fairytales like Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” to examine base-level components.
  • Calderwood started by having students examine the stories through different viewpoints in small groups then share their findings with the entire class.​ Students were told there weren’t wrong answers to their analyses, but that they needed to support their theory with examples from the text.
  • Opening students to other points of view can help them gain life skills in addition to improving their academic work. 

Dive Insight:

Sometimes going back to basics may help students gain their footing before they unpack complex ideas, helping to strengthen what they’ve previously learned. The act of retrieving can actually facilitate deeper and more permanent learning, according to an article by Jeffrey Karpicke​, a cognitive psychology professor at Purdue University, for the American Psychological Association.

Breaking down lessons into smaller tasks may also help educators identify areas where students are in need of additional support and can ensure all students get extra help if it’s needed, notes Carnegie Mellon University’s Eberly Center. This practice, sometimes called explicit instruction, has shown to be very effective, especially in math classes, and can also boost a student’s ability to complete their work, according to Vanderbilt University’s IRIS Center.

Like steps in a recipe, breaking down a project into smaller actionable tasks can ensure students have the basics under their belt and a specific sequence they can follow to reach their objective.

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