Finding #3: Novelty & variation are keys to engagement.
When it comes to standardized testing (and life in general), problems that arise don't come already labeled with the skills and strategies required to solve them.
This makes it important to provide mixed practice opportunities so students are focused to ask themselves questions about what the problem is asking and what they are trying to find.
This type of variation not only supports a deeper level of engagement, it also support the metacognitive strategies needed to analyze and develop a strategy to solve (Rohrer & Taylor, 2014).
The benefits of novelty in learning
A 2013 study supports the importance of novelty in supporting reinforcement learning (aka review) as well. The findings suggested that when task variation was provided for an already familiar skill it offered the following benefits:
- reduced errors due to lack of focus
- helped learners maintain attention to task
- motivated and engaged student
Using variety to build connections & deepen understanding
In addition, by providing variations in practice we can also help learners understand the skills and strategies they are using on a deeper level.
When students are forced to apply their toolbox of strategies to novel problem formats, they begin to have to analyze and observe patterns in how problems are structured and the meaning that brings.
This requires much more engagement than being handed a sheet full of multiplication story problems, where students can pull the numbers and compute with little focus on understanding.
Designing word problems that incorporate variety & novelty
Don't be afraid to shake things up!
Giving students practice opportunities with different skills or problem formats mixed in is a great way to boost engagement and develop meta-cognitive skills.
Here's a few tips for trying it out in the classroom:
- Change it up! Word problem practice doesn't have to match the day's math lesson.
- Give opportunities to practice the same skill or strategy in via different formats.
- Adjust the wording and/or topic in word problems to help students generalize skills.