But what if we could fine-tune our demonstrations so that more students were able to complete the task without needing this additional support? How can we improve our demonstrations? I think it helps to think about what a really good demonstration would include/not include, and what a less successful demonstration might include/not include.
The Task is demonstrated.
Extraneous information is included.
The task is broken into steps
Students are reminded of the steps
No extraneous information
I could have included other things in the ‘Good Demonstration’ list such as the use of subject-specific language but I want to concentrate on the goal of getting the students to leave the demonstration knowing what to do.
It is worth mentioning cognitive load and cognitive load theory at this point. Cognitive load refers to the used amount of working memory. Our working memory is very limited and can only hold 4 – 7 chunks of information. We don’t want to overload students working memory and we want them to commit learning to their long term memory. Cognitive Load Theory is a theory about learning built on the premise that since the brain can only do so many things at once, we should be intentional about what we ask it to do.
During a demonstration, we don’t want to overload a student’s brain with too many steps, we don’t want to distract them with extraneous information and we want to be sure that they start the task clearly knowing what the steps are. Don’t go off at a tangent about the artist, or let students distract you down a different route. Just concentrate on the clear steps you want your students to follow. Below are three models you could try for a successful demonstration. Each requires you to have broken down the task into up to 4 easy to follow steps. These need to be clear in your mind.
A very simple idea is to go through the steps more than once. Show your class, step by step the different stages. Number the steps: firstly you… secondly you… Then tell them that you are going to show them again so that they remember. Go through the steps a second time. The repetition and combination of visual and auditory learning will help your students retain the information they need. This is nothing new. 2,400 years ago Aristotle is credited with saying “Tell them what you are going to say, say it and tell them what you said.”
Tell your students you are going to demonstrate and then get them to describe the steps required to complete the task. This builds on the idea that students should be focussing on just one thing. In this instance just watching and taking in what you are doing. Not even listening at this first stage. You can then ask your class to describe the demonstration you have just given. Discussion can really reinforce memory! Then you demonstrate again, this time verbally breaking the demonstration down into steps.
Before you demonstrate, tell your class you are going to ask them to repeat the steps of the demonstration back to you. Then demonstrate and like above, show your class, step by step the different stages. Number the steps: firstly you… secondly you… Then ask your class to tell you the steps they need to go through. What do you need to do first? Get them to repeat the steps back to you. Making them think is always going to help them retain information. This is my preferred method of demonstrating.
Additionally, whichever method you go for, when your students are doing the task you can keep repeating the steps as you go around and help the students one-to-one.
I’d really love to know if you have a way to demonstrate in art lessons that works for you, that is not described above. Please comment below.
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