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Factors to Consider in Writing Instructional Materials (Ornstein)

The following are the factors to consider in writing instructional materials: understanding, structuring /clarifying, sequencing, balancing, explaining, pacing, reviewing, elaborating, and transfer of learning.

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Understanding requires matching the materials to the learners’ abilities and prior knowledge. If students do not understand the materials, frustration sets in, making learning more difficult. The teacher/writer must know whether the materials are suited to the level of the students and whether they will understand those. Thus, the teacher/writer must provide for background lessons and check-up activities and exercises to assess students’ understanding. This is especially important for younger and slower students and when introducing new concepts.

Structuring /Clarifying involves organizing the material so that it is clear to the students. It is especially important when new subject matter is introduced, and when it is being linked to the previous lessons.

  1. Directions, objectives, and main ideas are stated clearly. Internal and final summaries cover the content.
  2. Transition between main ideas is smooth and well integrated.
  3. Writing is not vague.
  4. Sufficient examples are provided.
  5. New terms are defined
  6. Adequate practice and review assignments reinforce new learning.

Sequencing refers to the arrangement of the materials to provide for continuous and cumulative learning where complex concepts are taken only after prerequisite skills and concepts have been mastered. There are four basic ways of sequencing a material:

  1. Simple to complex
  2. Parts to whole
  3. Whole to parts
  4. Chronological arrangements

Balancing materials require establishing vertical and horizontal balance or relationships. Vertical relationships refer to a building of content and experiences in the lesson, unit and course level. Fourth grade language concepts build on third grade concepts; the second unit plan builds on the first, etc. Horizontal relationships establish a multidisciplinary and unified view of different subjects; for example the content of the social studies course is related to English and science.

Explaining refers to the way headings, terms, illustrations, and summary exercises are integrated with the content. Does the example illustrate major concepts? Are the major ideas identified in the chapter objectives and overview? Do the headings outline a logical development of content? Do the materials show relationships among topics, events, facts to present an in-depth view of major concepts? The students should be able to discover important concepts and information and relate new knowledge on their own through the materials.

Pacing refers to how much and how quickly the lessons in the textbooks are presented. The volume or length of the materials should not overwhelm students, but there must be enough to have an effect. As students get older, the amount of materials can increase, the presentation can be longer and more complex and the breadth and depth can be expanded.

Reviewing refers to the extent to which the material allows students to link new ideas to old concepts in the form of a review. High-achieving and older students can tolerate more rapid pacing than low-achieving and younger students, thus less proficient learners would need more review or linking than the more proficient ones.

Elaborating ensures that students learn better through a variety of ways. The idea is to provide in the textbook opportunities for students to transform information from one form to another, and to apply new information to new knowledge – by using various techniques such as comparing and contrasting, drawing inferences, paraphrasing, summarizing and predicting. A series of elaboration strategies help students learn new materials. The author must provide students with a broad list of questions (of comparing and contrasting, drawing, analogies, etc.)

Transfer of Learning may be done in a number of ways. Transfer of learning maybe concept-related, inquiry-related, learner or utilization-related. The first two organizers seem to work best with intrinsically motivated students and the second two best with student who needs to be extrinsically motivated. Since most students need some extrinsic motivation, learner-related and utilization-related materials will be more effective with majority of students.

  • Concept-related, drawing heavily on structure of knowledge, the concepts, principles, or the theories of the subject.
  • Inquiry-related, derived from critical thinking skills and procedures employed by learning theorists or scholars in the field.
  • Learner-related, related to the needs, interest or experiences of the students.
  • Utilization-related -show how people can use or proceed with them in real life situations.
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