By Scott Sterling
Too often, homework takes the form of simply practicing knowledge and skills students learned in class. Although that can be an important facet of the learning process, depending on the lesson, it can be much more beneficial to infuse exercises that ask students to work with what the Marzano framework calls “declarative knowledge”.
Declarative knowledge is the action of taking things you know—or have recently learned—and turning it into new considerations. This is opposed to procedural knowledge, the action of reciting what you’ve learned without the added layer.
In a simplistic example, picture a student learning a particular math skill in class. Homework asking for procedural knowledge of that skill would be a list of questions that require the skill in order to generate an answer. A declarative knowledge task would be asking the student to come up with a way in which the new skill can be applied in the outside world and then completing the task.
Here are some ideas to deepen your students’ homework with more declarative knowledge tasks.
Ask for a holistic view
When students are learning something new, context greatly enhances the likelihood of storage in long-term memory. Generate that context by asking students to fit the new knowledge into a broader view of the knowledge they have already mastered.
For example, in the above example with the math skill, instead of asking the student to come up with ways in which just the one skill is used in the outside world, ask the students to come up with ways the skill fits with other skills to solve even bigger problems or projects.
In another exercise that requires a broader set of knowledge, ask students to compare their new skill with things they already know. This works for most any topic.
In chemistry, the elements are practically begging to be compared. If there were not any differences between them, the periodic table would be quite flat. And because there are hundreds of elements, those sorts of exercises are almost limitless.
Asking students to review new knowledge is another way for the learners to take a step back and get a broader view. This doesn’t call for review in terms of study. Instead, ask students to think critically about aspects of the new knowledge and where it fits in the broader world.
Let’s bring back the periodic table. Is there a better way for us to organize elemental information? What about organizing the table in general? Can it be easier to read? These are all questions that ask students to consider information much more deeply.
Finding errors (whether they exist or not)
On any taxonomy, the ability to take new knowledge and find flaws with it appears near the top.
In a unit on American presidents, have students take a step back. What did the candidate promise during their election? Did it come true during the presidency? Why or why not? Were there errors or misconceptions in campaign literature or speeches? All of those questions go much deeper than just asking for rote facts about each president.
When students are learning multiple parts of a whole, ask them to group this new knowledge in ways that make sense to them. This can be in the form of any number of graphic organizers (this sort of grouping is what Venn diagrams were designed for).
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