Traditionally, the focus of most teaching and learning has been in the component of knowledge. Learners were assumed to need a significant amount of knowledge before they could think seriously about a subject. Unfortunately, in conventional classrooms, teaching rarely moved beyond the accumulation of knowledge, leaving learners with a mental file cabinet full of facts, most of which were quickly-forgotten after the final test.
Knowledge is a critical factor in thinking. Without sufficient information about the subject being learned, the other systems have very little to work with and are unable to engineer the learning process successfully. A high-powered automobile with all the latest technological features still needs some kind of fuel to make it fill its purpose. Knowledge is the fuel that powers the thinking process.
Marzano identifies three categories of knowledge: information, mental procedures, and physical procedures. Simply put, information is the “what” of knowledge and procedures are the “how-to.”
Information consists of organizing ideas, such as principles, generalizations, and details, such as vocabulary terms and facts. Principles and generalizations are important because they allow us to store more information with less effort by placing concepts into categories. For example, a person may never have heard of an akbash, but once someone knows that the animal is a dog, he knows quite a bit about it.
Mental procedures can range from complex processes, such as writing a research essay to simpler tasks such as tactics, algorithms, and single rules. Tactics, like reading a map, consist of a set of activities which do not need to be performed in any particular order. Algorithms, like computing long division, follow a strict order which does not vary by situation. Single rules, such as those covering capitalization, are applied individually to specific instances.
The degree to which physical procedures figure into learning varies greatly by subject / learning area. The physical requirements necessary for reading may consist of no more than left-to-right eye movement and the minimal coordination needed to turn a page. On the other hand, physical and vocational education require extensive and sophisticated physical processes, such as playing tennis or building a piece of furniture. Contributing factors to effective physical processing include strength, balance, manual dexterity, and overall speed of movement. Many of the activities which learners enjoy in their leisure time such as sports or electronic game-playing require refined physical procedures.
Most curriculum assessment standards are organized around concepts which are usually labeled by one or two words. A concept such as “triangles” would include all the information components:
- Vocabulary (information): isosceles, equilateral, hypotenuse
- Generalization (information): All right triangles have one angle of 90 degrees.
- Mental procedures: Conducting proofs and figuring the length of the side of a right triangle
- Physical procedures: Constructing triangles with a compass and ruler
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