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Improving high school science learning by promoting students' use of diagrams

Cromley ComEng PicJennifer Cromley and her team have developed and tested five methods for helping high school science students better understand the diagrams in their textbooks and thereby to learn the science content more effectively. Each method was implemented by putting diagram comprehension tips together with scanned textbook pages and questions for students to answer in class. Students work daily over 4-6 weeks to answer the questions individually or in pairs, followed by brief classroom discussion. The different methods include 1) Conventions of Diagrams (such as reading captions, using labels, etc.), 2) Coordinating text and diagrams, 3) Self-explanation of diagrams, and Student-completed diagrams (either 4) words removed from the diagram or 5) parts of the drawing removed). These were implemented by teachers mostly in biology classrooms, and in one case in chemistry. Prof. Cromley found that students improved in diagram comprehension in the subject, and sometimes also increased in subject-matter knowledge.  These methods could be easily implemented in biology and chemistry classrooms, and could also be adapted for any instruction requiring students to use diagrams. 

Prof. Cromley’s work is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Institute for Educational Studies.