Better Thinking - Better Learning: Comparing 20 4. COMPARING 4.1 What does ‘to compare’ mean and why is comparing important? To compare is to look in a systematic way at similarities and differences between two objects or ideas. Virtually no thinking occurs without making comparisons. It is one of the most fundamental cognitive processes needed for higher level thinking. It is a part of the thinking needed to form and recognise relationships among objects, ideas and events and to categorise. It also helps in making choices. All comparisons are based on some standard from which similarities and differences are determined. For example, a pencil is considered long or short based on how it differs from the length of a standard pencil. Almost everyone knows how to compare from an early age. Some learners however do not have experiences that develop their awareness of the need to compare. This means they do not do so automatically. To compare automatically means to have learned how to compare so well, that comparing occurs without thinking consciously about the need to compare. The thinking skill of making comparisons helps with successful thinking that leads to better, easier and more meaningful learning. Because comparing is an essential part of learning, most teachers expect learners to make comparisons automatically. They expect learners to notice and correct careless mistakes. But to catch careless mistakes, learners must automatically compare what they say, write, or do with what they intended to say, write or do. When learners do not make these comparisons, teachers have difficulty knowing what they can do to help and might assume that learners really do not understand the problem. Teachers want learners to compare objects and form relationships among objects, ideas and events. Once the comparisons have been studied, teachers expect learners to know them automatically. The cognitive process of making comparisons is needed for all the Critical Outcomes. Mediating the process of making comparisons to learners can help them meet the above-mentioned expectations and use the other ‘cognitive verbs’ (identify, organise, analyse, etc.) embedded in the Critical Outcomes. Making comparisons helps us: To think about how two or more objects, concepts or ideas are the same or different from each other or from some standard To clarify the differences between expectations and actions To recognise and avoid careless mistakes To make choices To determine how others respond to us by noticing their behavioural cues To study and remember and avoid problems in learning Some examples of when learners need to compare on a personal level, at home, at school or in a social situation: PHASE PERSONAL HOME SCHOOL SOCIAL FOUNDATION Choosing what Deciding what Organising Identifying when PHASE to buy at the empty shapes, colours, a friend feels tuck shop containers can numbers, etc. sad, angry, etc. during break. be thrown away. INTERMEDIATE Choosing Choosing what Recognising Deciding what to Better Thinking - Better Learning: Comparing 21 PHASE acceptable TV programme careless istakes do when friends clothing for a to watch. when copying come and play. special event. from the chalkboard. SENIOR Organising and Working Comparing Deciding what is PHASE managing time together with sources of right and wrong and activities in family members pollution; under peer the afternoon. in deciding who characteristics pressure. should do which of different types chores. of soil, etc. 4.2 How can comparing be taught? By making learners aware that they already make comparisons and teaching them to use the label of making comparisons explicitly By making learners aware that there are certain important steps (a generic process) for making comparisons. The steps of the generic process are: Remember to make comparisons Focus and search for all necessary information and clues Think about information available in memory Identify what is the same and why Identify what is different and why Make meaning of the comparison Find a way to represent this. By building a shared vocabulary that learners can use to create their own personal learning strategies for making comparisons. By providing the learners with an opportunity to make comparisons and think about the important steps. By encouraging learners to make comparisons automatically without having to think too hard about doing so. By facilitating transfer of the learners’ knowledge about making comparisons to other situations where they need to make and use comparisons. Two examples that you can use to teach learners to compare are: Susan chooses a pet and Comparing penguins. 4.2.1 Susan chooses a pet Materials needed for this Activity for younger learners: copies of Making Comparisons. Better Thinking - Better Learning: Comparing 22 Introduce the thinking skill: Comparing – Which pet? 1. Say something like, ‘During this week we are going to learn about a new way of thinking which we can use every day – for example, when we have to choose between two or more things. I want you to listen very carefully to the story.’ Susan was very excited. Her mom had agreed that she could have a pet. The only problem was, Susan wanted both a cat and a dog. Her mom would not agree to two animals. They really could not afford two pets. 'I can’t decide! Help me!' said Susan. 2. Ask the learners how they can help Susan decide which pet to choose. 3. Get comments and facilitate with questions/phrases: Why should she choose the dog? OK. The dog is big and the cat is … (small). These words tell us that they are … (different from one another). But, do you think they are also the same in some ways? They are both … (animals/pets). Can anyone tell me what else is different between the cat and the dog? Let’s make a list of all the things that are different. 4. Draw the table below on the chalkboard to show learners a way of making comparisons visually. Mediate the process continuously (by explaining and discussing) while completing the table. Cat Dog Same or Susan’s choice Different Size Small Big D Yes - Dog Wild/tame Tame Tame S Either Hair Soft, Smooth D Either Fluffy Food Mice Bones D Yes - Dog Habits Independent Likes people D Yes - Dog Number of legs Four Four S Either 5. Say something like, ‘It is now much easier for Susan to choose a pet. She can think carefully what she wants in a pet and why she chooses a dog instead of a cat.’ 6. Ask/comment, for example: Why would she choose a big pet that eats bones? OK, she chooses a big pet, because she wants to be able to hug it, and they have a big backyard at home. Susan hates mice and she thinks a cat would bring them into the house, so she would prefer a pet that could eat leftovers from the table, like bones. 7. Summarise: If we have to choose between two or more things, we can think better if we ask ourselves what is the same and what is different. This is called making comparisons – the very important way of thinking we are learning about this week. Mediate the steps of the generic process of making comparisons and bridge knowledge of making comparisons to other situations. 8. Give learners photocopies of Making Comparisons. Ask learners to identify what they see, for example, the scale with two containers with different kinds of fruit. Better Thinking - Better Learning: Comparing 23 9. Ask something like, ‘How are they the same, how are they different, and why?’ Get comments. 10. Focus attention on the two containers representing the two most important generic steps (4 and 5 in the Making Comparisons diagram). 11. Explain that when we ask these questions, we are using an important way of thinking called comparing or we are making comparisons. Link with Susan’s experience and revise: What things about cats and dogs were the same? What things were different? How did Susan make comparisons when choosing a pet? 12. Summarise: All of us have to make comparisons every day. This means we have to stop and think and remember to look for what is the same and what is different until we can compare without having to think hard about it. 13. Focus learners' attention on the two most important generic steps of the Making Comparisons diagram by saying: If I compare, then I will remember to look for what is the same and what is different between things. If I do not compare, then I will not remember to look for what is the same or different between things. 14. Transfer or ‘bridge’ to other situations as illustrated below. Ask where else we can use comparisons: at school, at home, and with friends? 15. Consolidate the thinking skill comparing, give homework tasks where parents are informed about this thinking skill and asked to encourage children to be aware of and use similarities and differences within the home situation. Examples of home activities: Comparing different rooms in the house to decide what goes where. Comparing clothing items in terms of their suitability for the weather in order to dress appropriately. Comparing prices of food in the shop to buy the cheapest product. 16. At school, bridge to all Learning Areas, for example, comparing different colours, numbers, words, letters, facial expressions, forms of transport, sources and use of water, customs and traditions of different cultural groups. Better Thinking - Better Learning: Comparing 24 4.2.2 Comparing penguins Materials needed for this Activity for older learners: copies of Making Comparisons and Comparing penguins – graphic. Introduce the thinking skill: comparing 1. Tell the learners that this learning experience is about discovering an important thinking process that we need all the time. 2. Get their attention by giving them the pictures of the two different penguins and ask. ‘What is happening in this picture?’ 3. Invite comments and facilitate the discussion with questions and phrases like: Why do you think the big penguin looks surprised? OK, because the small one looks different! What is different about the small penguin? Can anyone tell us what is the same about the two penguins? Better Thinking - Better Learning: Comparing 25 4. Continue in this way until the learners have identified why the two penguins are different and why the big penguin is surprised. 5. Make sure everyone is listening and concentrating and then ask, ‘What thinking process did we have to use to find out what was happening in this picture and to work out what things were the same and what things were different about the two penguins?’ 6. Give clues if necessary, and then summarise by saying that making comparisons is the thinking process they are learning about today. Emphasise that it is a very important thinking process that we need in all the thinking we do. 7. Invite one or two learners to say whether they agree or not, and give their reasons. Mediate the generic steps of making comparisons and bridge knowledge of comparing to other situations. 8. Divide the class into groups and give each group a copy of Making Comparisons with the following instructions for group work: Compare the steps for making comparisons in the diagram with what you did when you looked at the picture of the penguins. Turn each step into a question and discuss. Decide who will give feedback and how you will do this. For example: Did we make comparisons when we looked at the picture of the penguins? Did we look at the picture carefully for all necessary clues? Why was it necessary to focus and look carefully? What information did we have available in memory that we could think about to help us? What things were the same about the two penguins and why? What things were different about the two penguins and why? How did the comparison that we made help us to understand what was happening in the picture? Explain. Is there a way to represent this comparison visually? How could this be helpful? 9. Facilitate feedback from all/some groups (depending on time available) and discuss in more depth number 6 and 7 of the diagram Making Comparisons. 10. Summarise the feedback by saying something like, ‘We can see that all of us used some or all of the steps involved in making comparisons when we compared the penguins.’ These steps in the diagram can be helpful in other situations when we have to compare. 11. Make the learners aware that we can use ‘self-talk’ to remind ourselves of these steps, for example: If I am making comparisons then I will focus and search carefully for all necessary information. If I am comparing then I will look for the similarities and differences between objects, events, etc. If I am not aware of the need to make comparisons then I will not see all the similarities and differences between objects, etc. 12. Invite a few learners to give examples of where they can use the process of making comparisons in other learning areas at school or at home and in social situations. 13. Consolidate the thinking skill of comparing by giving an appropriate homework task for the specific learning area (where the making of comparisons is needed and in which the generic process of making comparisons can be used), for example: Comparing seasons Better Thinking - Better Learning: Comparing 26 Comparing types of soil Comparing forms of pollution. The emphasis is not simply on expecting the learners to make comparisons. The teacher is mediating the process of how to make comparisons so that learners will be able to compare in other situations. Comparing is often the first step in categorising according to specific criteria. Comparing penguins 4.3 How can comparing be assessed? Comparing can be assessed through a Comparing rating scale. Questions for reflection include: 1. Did the learners understand the steps for making comparisons? If not, why not? 2. What went well in the learning experience? 3. What did not go well in the learning experience? 4. How could I improve the learning experience next time? 5. How can I take this learning experience further to improve the learners’ ability to make and use comparisons? 4.3.1 Comparing rating scale 0 Unaware of the need to compare; no knowledge and understanding of words like Not yet ‘compare’, ‘same’ or ‘different’. 1 Despite repeated inputs, learner has extreme difficulties in identifying similarities At risk and differences; does not notice careless mistakes at all; totally dependent on teacher-mediator for feedback to complete tasks accurately. 2 Some evidence of making comparisons and identifying similarities and differences Cannot at a basic level and with support; cannot always explain why things are the same really or different; sometimes notices careless mistakes and corrects them. 3 Aware of relevant prior knowledge that can be used to look for similarities and Developing differences but not consistent; can explain why things are the same or different but needs more practice; often notices and corrects careless mistakes; can probably work independently on comparison tasks. Better Thinking - Better Learning: Comparing 27 4 Makes comparisons automatically without having to think hard to do so; aware of OK the process/steps of making comparisons; able to make comparisons competently, consistently and confidently in a variety of contexts; mostly notices and corrects careless mistakes. 5 Makes comparisons consistently at a level above that which is expected; can Super represent comparisons in different visual forms; uses making comparisons automatically as a learning strategy.