Advance organizers are an excellent tool for preparing students to learn new information. According to Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, and Stone (2012) “advance organizers are stories, pictures, and other introductory materials that set the stage for learning“ (p.51). Most agree that people learn better if new information is organized in some logical way before diving straight into the material. Starting with the big concepts or ideas first can help frame the lesson for the student so they are not overwhelmed by all the details in the beginning. Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015) describe these two processes as progressive differentiation and integrative reconciliation. General ideas are presented first, gradually becoming more detailed and specific. Toward the end of the lesson, students integrate the new information with what was previously learned. “Advance organizers strengthen cognitive structures and enhance retention of new information” (Joyce et. al., 2015, p. 204).
There are four types of advance organizers according to Dean et. al. (2012): expository, narrative, skimming, and graphic. As I was reading about these different types of advance organizers, I noticed that I typically use the skimming advance organizer before reading without even thinking about it. I like to have a basic idea of what the chapter will be about and what I’m about to learn. Looking at the headings and subheadings and glancing at the graphics or visual examples helps me frame the information so that I can more easily learn it and fit it in with what I already know. I could see myself instructing my future students to briefly skim over a chapter about photosynthesis so they have a general idea about it before reading the entire chapter.
Narrative advance organizers are also a great tool to use to relate the information to everyday life. For example, students may not immediately see how calculating averages is important, but if you relate it to baseball, suddenly the students may be interested. Batting average is a mathematical calculation that indicates how often a batter hits the baseball and gets on base. Over time students will realize that a batting average over .300 is considered very good. That means that the batter gets on base 30% of the time. Telling a story about a practical example ahead of the lesson can grab the student’s interest and show them how to relate the information to real life situations.
I also like graphic advance organizers because I’m a visual learner. I like using charts to organize information or ideas. A specific chart I’ve heard a lot about is a KWL chart. This seems especially useful for teaching younger students as a way to prepare them to learn new material. They state what they already know and access prior knowledge. This helps bring their existing long term memory into their working memory so that it is readily accessed. This way they can retrieve it more efficiently and link it to the new information. Then they state what they want to know or what questions they have about the new material. The teacher can incorporate what the students are interested in in order to make the instruction more enjoyable for the student. In turn they will be more motivated to learn. Finally the students write down what they actually learned by reorganizing what they used to know with what they recently learned.
As David Ausubel (1978) stated, “Of all the possible conditions of learning that affect cognitive structure, it is self-evident that none can be more significant [than] organization of the material.” I plan to incorporate the use of advance organizers in my future classrooms so that my students have a better idea of what each lesson will be about and to help maximize their learning.
Ausubel, D., et. al. (1978). “Instructional Materials,” from Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View. New York, 1978.
Dean, C., Hubbell, E., Pitler, H., Stone, B. (2012). Classroom Instruction That Works: Research Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. 2nd Ed. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Joyce, B., Weil M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of Teaching. 9th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.