In the world of high stakes testing, we often worry about how we are going to “cover” all the standards in our curriculum, especially when we serve EL’s (English Learners) and struggling students that need greater amounts of support. It is a real concern with no easy answers. So what is one part of the solution? Chunking.
Chunking is an approach based on cognitive theories, or constructivism. It is based on how teachers “chunk” or group information into logical and related units. These units are then easier to commit to memory because it reduces the amount of cognitive stress levels as the amount of information that the learner has to process is divided into smaller, more manageable units.
Teachers’ ability to effectively chunk information for learners aides in and facilitates much needed information retrieval so that students are more easily able to engage in higher order cognitive demands. One of the most powerful benefits of chunking for EL’s and struggling students is the fact that since teachers are planning smaller chunks of information as a unit, it allows each element within that unit to serve as background knowledge for the next piece in the chunk. Teaching, then, simultaneously becomes new information and background knowledge for students to make vital connections to the information already present in their long-term memory.
So, for example, if I want to teach student how to compare themes in literature, I know that students must be able to do several things. They must learn how to make comparisons, make inferences, understand what a theme is, cite evidence from a text, etc. Each of these units could be sequenced as chunks that go deep into new learning before moving into the next chunk.
So when thinking about what to teach next in your unit, try not to think about what fun holidays or activities might be around the corner. Try to ask yourself, what’s the next chunk of learning that will make a difference for students’ ability to master the standards? Here are five great reasons that you should chunk.
- Creating small pockets of learning for students to hang on to promotes greater learning outcomes
- Sequenced “chunks” build background knowledge for the next “chunk”
- Chunking supports short memory functioning
- Allows for closure of each small “chunks” which enhances recall
- Facilitates comprehension