Updated: 15th Nov 2016
Please remember that I am not an English teacher and this is an exploration of a quick and dirty method of developing a student’s writing skills.
Since the mid 90’s I have been using the mobile comparison table to teach essay writing. More recently, my teaching colleagues have been adopting the same approach to support their students in understanding how to write their assessments or achieve lesson objectives. What is great about this approach is that it is accessible to all and can be used with any subject, as it is transferable. I have outlined my approach below, using learning objectives and tables.
First I identify the phones and keywords (figure one, below) and explain to the students that all their assessed work will include an analysis, evaluation and justification. This creates a growth mind-set by encouraging them to think about higher grades.
Compare and Contrast
Figure one) Pictures of phones and keywords
I explore with the students what each keyword means, keeping it very simple by using the following:
|Identify||Make a list.|
|Compare and contrast||What is the same and what is different?|
|Analyse||Compare and contrast – which includes the strengths and weaknesses|
|Evaluate||Link the analysis to a context/ scenario|
|Justify||Make a recommendation based on the evaluation|
Using the following learning objectives, I will demonstrate how I use this approach to scaffold and focus student attention on what is important, thereby increasing the student’s potential to achieve higher grades and improved writing skills. I also regularly reinforce this method within my teaching, learning and assessment.
Objective: Identify the features, functions and properties of two mobile phones
I use a very quick and simple process to help the students achieve the objective by creating a comparison table (see table one), which you find on most shopping websites. This creates a visual learning episode for the students and structures their thinking. It also allows the teacher to quickly assess student understanding of the keywords within the learning objective. The activity can be restricted to identifying three items for a) features, b) functions and c) properties. Students can then readily demonstrate their understanding of the keywords.
Table One: Identify the features, functions and properties of two mobile phones
|Features||Functions||Properties||Phone One||Phone Two|
Objective: Compare and contrast the features, functions and properties of two mobile phones
By completing table one, the student’s learning has been scaffolded. This will also act as a reference or checklist which the students can use when comparing and contrasting the two mobile phones. For example, the teacher’s learning instruction may be; ‘From your table, compare and contrast three features, three functions and three properties.’ This might look something like this:
Phone one has a keypad, whereas phone two projects the keys onto a touch screen. Also, phone two can send emails but phone one cannot. However, both phones have a plastic body.
At this stage, I would spend a lot of time talking about how words determine the students’ overall grade. For example, by using the word ‘however’ or ‘but’, you are signalling to the reader that you are about to create an argument.
Objective: Analyse the features, functions and properties of two mobile phones
The analysis could be considered as part three and is about adding the strengths and weaknesses to the compare and contrast content. To extend the table (see table two), you can add two additional columns; strengths and weaknesses.
Table Two: Analyse the features, functions and properties of two mobile phones
|Features||Phone One||Phone Two||Strengths||Weaknesses|
I have learnt/observed over the years that it is important to focus on getting the students to integrate the strengths and weaknesses, rather than writing separate paragraphs. This integration helps the students to develop their writing skills quicker. The analysis may look like this:
Phone one has a keypad which can be seen and felt by the user. The position of the keys never change, whereas phone two projects the keys onto a touch screen which allows the phone to be rotated, or the button size to be changed. However, the use of a keypad could result in the keys falling off, letter fading or even stop working, whereas the lettering never fades on the touch screen, although the screen may fail and prevent the keys from working.
At this stage, I ask the students to use a highlighting pen to emphasise all the signalling words in their own work. This allows the students to recognise the effect of keywords in their own work; prompting them to write at a higher level. This is a really good peer marking activity.
Objective: Evaluate the features, functions and properties of two mobile phones
To evaluate we need a context or situation: in this case, who will use the mobile phone and for what purpose? This is about two main factors a) the user needs and b) the environmental needs, see table three. The student also needs to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the features, functions and properties of the mobile phone, see table two.
Simply, the evaluation is an extension of the analysis, as the analysis is an extension of the comparison. Using this concept, quickly allows the student to develop and refine their understanding of the required writing skills.
Table three: evaluate the features, functions and properties of two mobile phones
|Blind person||Everyday life, Two children, Office worker||Keypad vs. touchscreen||
An example of an evaluation may look like this:
Phone one has a keypad which can be seen and felt by the user. The position of the keys never change, whereas phone two projects the keys onto a touch screen which allows the phone to be rotated or the button size to be changed. For a blind user, being able to feel the shape of the key and knowing its position is the strength of the keypad phone. However, the use of a keypad could result in the keys falling off, letters fading or even failure to work, whereas the lettering never fades on the touch screen but the screen may fail, preventing the keys from working. For a blind user, the lettering fading is not a concern and both phones could experience a failure to accept an input. It is worth considering that phone two can convert voice to text, thus, removing the need to press a key or use a touch screen.
Objective: Justify the features, functions and properties of two mobile phones
Justification or recommendation is an extension to evaluation, just as analysis is an extension to the comparison. You cannot recommend or make a judgement without first analysing the two phones. This justification or recommendation can be integrated within the paragraph(s) or written as a separate paragraph(s). For example:
It is recommended that if the user is able to use phone two, with a touch screen, then they should opt for this phone as it offers more features and functions, which can be used to speed the communication process. It also offers a wider range of features and functions, which allow the user to engage with their two children. However, if the user cannot use the touch screen than the keypad is a good alternative.
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