History and Information Processing
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In this document, the use of the term information processing skills is taken to be the ability to process the information required to complete a specific task or problem. Sometimes the difficulty may be associated with performing tasks simultaneously e.g. listening to a speaker, making notes and formulating responses - for some students performing these processes simultaneously is problematic. Development of this skill may be affected by a number of factors such as if the student has dyslexia or dyscalculia and finds it difficult to extract the relevant information and organise it effectively. Another example could be if the student has ADHD and finds it difficult to focus on the relevant information without being distracted by external factors.
There are a number of instructional practices that can be used to help students on history courses to develop their information processing skills, and these can be summarised as follows:
- Prepare students for a teaching session by summarising the order of various activities that are planned. Explain, for example, that a review of a previous session will be followed by new information and that both group and independent work will be expected, as well as any practical activities.
- State the required materials well in advance of a teaching session - allow students plenty of time to obtain copies of reading material and/or equipment and become familiar with these prior to the learning session.
- Vary the use of learning materials - e.g. use audiovisual material to present learning sessions. Leaving useful information on an overhead screen while students are conducting group work is a way of allowing students to refer back to points of relevance while they are working on the task in hand.
- Check student performance - question individual students to assess their learning. Doing this reguarly can help to identify any potential problems and ways of working through them with the student.
- Ask probing questions - probe for the correct answer after giving the student sufficient time to process the information and work out the answer to the question. Count for at least 15 seconds before giving the answer or calling on another student. Ask follow-up questions that give students the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learnt.
- Help students correct their own mistakes - describe how students can identify and correct their own mistakes in their practical sessions.
- Help students to focus if they are experiencing difficulties - remind students to keep working and focusing on their assigned task e.g. by providing follow-up directions or assigning learning partners.
- Divide work into smaller units - break down assignments into smaller, less complex tasks.
- Highlight key points - highlight key words or instructions that help students to focus on specific directions and instructions.
- Use cooperative learning strategies - encouraging students to work together in small groups can help them to maximise their own learning and each other's learning. But it is important to check that this style of learning suits all students in the group as some students find this difficult.
- Use assistive technology - some students may find the use of visual technology (such as computers and projector screens during lectures) can help them to focus on key points at the same time as conducting a task.
Specific difficulties with using English
Difficulties can include the following:
- Poor reading comprehension skills.
- Difficulties with structuring and organising information.
- Difficulties with writing, phonics, spelling.
- Difficulty holding various aspects of a written piece in mind and combining them to achieve a final conclusion.
- Problems in sequencing information, and past/future events.
- Failing to equate the question wording with their knowledge of the subject.
- Difficulties reading the words that specify the relevant information and extracting it if it is embedded in large amounts of text.
- Slow reading, mis-reading or not understanding what has been read.
- Substituting names that begin with the same letter.
There are a number of instructional practices that can be used to help all students to develop their information processing skills, and these can be summarised as follows:
- Allow extra time for the student to undertake reading activity and try not to overload them with reading as this can exacerbate any difficulties.
- Question students about what they have read and allow them to orally relate their understanding of the text, as they may find this easier than writing about it.
- Consider the use of role play activities where students can act out or put themselves in the position of the character in a text during discussion sessions to help them relate to the feelings of the characters.
- Provide vocabulary lists for any new terms that are introduced or common terms that are used during the study of a particular text. Providing an explanation of common vocabulary can also help to reinforce the meaning for students.
- Allow and encourage students to use published book summaries, synopses, and digests of major reading assignments to review (not replace) reading assignments.
- Identify, agree and teach students the standards for acceptable written work, include factors such as format and style.
- Ask students to close their eyes and visualise a written paragraph as a piece of writing is being read out to them.
- Require students to proof read their work before submitting written assignments. Provide students with a list of items to focus on whilst proof reading.
- It may be useful for some students to allow them to dictate the assignments onto tape as an alternative to writing them.
Case study A: a History and Criminology student with dyslexia and asthma.
Case study B: an Archaeology student who has dyslexia and depression. The university allows her to study a largely practical topic as her final year project, rather produce the traditional, long, written dissertation.