I love a good metaphor. In fact, I find that when I’m struggling to grasp a concept, were one to use a sporting analogy or metaphor to explain it, chances are I’d understand it pretty quickly (just ask the patient Oliver Caviglioli). The thing with an analogy is that when you have a knowledge gap, it can help to bridge the gap; making the abstract more concrete. Those of you that read my blog or articles regularly will have seen the way I have tried to use analogies and metaphors to explain concepts that I would otherwise confuse people with (not always because they’re difficult to grasp, more due poor articulation).
I’m not the only one that thinks this. In his book ‘Classroom Instruction that Works‘, Marzano (2001) provides evidence that identifying similarities and differences has an average effect size of 1.61. It is worth noting that the number of effect sizes are relatively low (31) and Marzano (2001, p. 9) himself recognises that some effect sizes may be more effective in certain subject areas, at certain grade levels and vary depending on student background and aptitude. In spite of this, the sheer size of the effect leaves one to assume that it must serve some benefit in raising achievement.
Hold on, what has identifying similarities and differences got to do with analogies and metaphors I hear you ask?
Well Marzano recognises that four forms of identifying similarities and differences that are particularly effective. These include:
- Creating metaphors
- Creating analogies
Though I use comparing and classifying, I find both analogies and metaphors more effective in my own practice to support learners in grasping new knowledge. For example, whilst teaching the cardiovascular (CV) system I have always related it to something more familiar (The heart is like a pump, the valves are like gates etc), or used an analogy to explain the flow of blood (blood flows through vessels like water through pipes, the heart is the boiler where it pumps oxygenated blood (hot water) around the body (house)). These almost always help learners to understand the concept better (though I appreciate that this is purely anecdotal). Further to this, I often hand analogy creation over to the learners to reinforce their understanding – there’s been some absolute belters. You should try it!
For those more experienced in the classroom, I’m sure that you have a catalogue of analogies and metaphors to support learner understanding, but if you haven’t, perhaps try using them more and let me know how you get on.