Wednesday, 11 April 2012

"One good analogy is worth three hours discussion." - Dudley Field Malone, US Poilitician

In my previous entry I mentioned the possibility of using analogies in History in order to develop attitudes, skills and knowledge.  This led me to consider the use of analogies in general in teaching, and to think about my (seemingly frequent) use in the classroom.

They are something that I've come to realise that I use all the time as  a teacher of History.  When I found the above quotation, I really started to consider whether or not analogies are a powerful learning tool, or just something I do!  Having spoken to colleagues in other disciplines, it seems I'm not alone in using them.  As a result, I've started to do some reading on analogies.

They are something that have long been a part of my teaching, but I've never really thought about them before.  I'm not even sure that I intentionally used them in the past.  I certainly never included them in a lesson plan (yes, I had one of those once...), but maybe I should.  Thus, I made a move to find out a bit more about effective use of analogies - are there specific good examples for teaching History?  Are they useful for students?  Do they confuse more than clarify?  Is there any benefit in asking students to make up their own, or do they remain the domain of the 'story teller teacher'?

One very good article I came across was in Teaching History, March 2006.  This, to some extent, raised my awareness of the importance of planning for effective use of analogies.  There was also suggestion that a poorly used analogy hindered understanding of a complex topic.  So, in my own teaching, am I actually doing more harm than good, or (purely by chance) am I aiding the learning experience without even really thinking about it?

When I was at school, one of my (superb) History teachers used 'memory pictures' to help with complex topics.  These were produced by the pupil with little/no input from the teacher.  I found them very useful, despite being appallingly bad at drawing.  Are these memory pictures analogies of a sort?  They certainly don't fit with the Oxford Dictionary definition, but they are a way of pupils interpreting complex issues in their own learning style.  Perhaps there is opportunity for this in written form as analogies?

I also had an interesting chat with an English teacher colleague who commented that analogies and allegories were often tricky for pupils to 'get'.  Thus, perhaps developing skills of making analogies in History (amongst other subjects) might help with understanding them in English.  Moreover, as we move ever-closer to a more integrated approach to delivery Social Studies, are there ways that teachers could use analogies in order to make more explicit links between the skills/content covered?  Perhaps there is more in this than I first realised.

So, I conclude by continuing to look in more detail at the use of analogies in the History classroom.  I'm currently considering some sort of small(ish) scale research on this topic, although I've no idea how!  Also, if I am to continue using analogies in my teaching, then maybe they should be more planned...  As a result, I have drafted the planning tool below... (ideas are basic, but it's a first step).

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