Higher Levels of Learning

*How to produce big gains in your student learning

While preparing to teach, or throughout the semester, ask yourself what am I doing to encourage my students to:

• learn how to learn

• be motivated

• help them change their values

• learn how to interact better with other people

• integrate concepts that they are learning with other concepts, other courses, their lives, future careers, etc.

• apply their skills to new situations, as well as develop their knowledge

Remember developing knowledge is not the only aspect of getting a university degree

(Taken from Fink’s Taxonomy of Higher Learning)

*Helping student to accept that there is more than one right answer

I have heard many teachers say that our students have difficulty accepting that there might be more than one right answer or no right answer. Here’s an in-class way to help them:

1. Ask students for more answers after one has been given, when several possibilities exist

2. When you ask a question say, I am looking for three or more possible answers, meanings, results, interpretations, etc.

*Enhancing Learning

Learning is enhanced if students are asked to do the following:

1. Use their own words to restate material they learned

2. generate their own examples

3. recognize it in different contexts and formats

4. make connections between what they just learned and other facts or ideas previously learned

5. apply it in different ways

6. anticipate some of its consequences

7. state it in its opposite or converse

Planning Lectures

1. First consider what you are trying to accomplish. Lectures are best for the following:

- to pique student curiosity, motivate to learn if instructor’s style is very expressive

- to model an approach to solving problems or thinking style

- to give background knowledge/summary that might not be available or as integrated

- to help students learn very sophisticated material for which resources are not available at their level

- to present an organization, structure to help learn material

- to add personal viewpoint, insights into material-

- to present up-to date material that is not available elsewhere

2. If your purpose is > 1 of the above, then consider giving a lecture. If not, consider other student-active teaching formats. If you are planning to cover material in the textbook or other course materials, lecturing may not improve the students’ understanding. Once students learn that you are duplicating what is in the textbook they will choose to do either come to class or read the book few will choose to do both.

3. If you decide to lecture - follow these steps:

Prepare class objectives

Whenever possible limit class of 50 minutes to 1 major topic plan an overview of the lecture - time content schedule

Try to avoid the 2 most common mistakes of lectures - covering too much material and delivering the material too fast

divide the major topics into 10-15 minute chunks

plan student-active activities between the lecture chunks

Plan the internal organization of the lecture:

Introduction

the body

the conclusion

develop appropriate visuals

think about illustrating abstract concept and relations and examples

prepare easy to follow at a glance lecture notes, graphic notes may be fine

notes should be sketchy as you know the material

key concepts to cover do not write out notes

put directions to yourself in notes - ask students to do ___, write on board ____,etc.

*Increasing your student’s understanding

A goal of higher education is to increase our student’s deep learning. Deep learning is learning for understanding and not just memory. Deep approaches to learning are involve integrative processes where students actively synthesize and connect material to existing knowledge:

Four key ways to increase deep learning are:

1. Assignments should motivate students to learn

2. Teaching and learning activities should build on a carefully structured, integrated knowledge base

3. Use active student learning and involvement as much as possible

4. Maximize the learning interactions among students

*Making lectures more meaningful learning experiences

To make your lectures more meaningful learning experience for your students:

1. Let students know about the objectives that you are trying to achieve

2. Have an attention-gathering introduction

3. Divide your lecturing into mini-lectures of 15-18 minutes each

4. Give the students something to do in between the mini-lectures-a review of what was covered or a problem to solve

5. Conclude with a 2-5 minute time to let the students recap of the most important points in the lecture either through a classroom assessment technique or an oral summary

6. Encourage students to take their own lecture notes

7. Provide effective handouts.

*Helping students to learn more

If you want your students to learn more, then develop opportunities for your students to discuss, examine, challenge, and look at their learning from different perspectives. This allows the students it improve upon their learning before they internalize it.

The converse is also true-learning is least useful and perhaps may be inaccurate, if it is private and hidden. If students study alone, without have a venues to share and enlarge upon their learning, and only have 1 opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, their learning may be reduced. Lee Shulman Change editorial 2000.

Helping students to understand a difficult concept

If your students are having trouble understanding a concept that you want them to learn, try to give them an analogy in a completely different field, perhaps even in an non-academic field. For example, if your students do not write introductions and bridges in their papers, show them that TV shows and movies have a set beginning (title, main characters are identified, etc.) and specific ways to help the viewer know that the scene is changing (fads outs, etc.).

This tip came from a discussion among the participants at the TableTalk on creating dynamic videos.

*Are your students realizing that learning in your subject should not end when the course does

As the weeks roll on through the semester are your students coming to realize that their learning in your subject should continue after the course ends? What are you doing to help students continue learning when the course is over? Think about trying to do some of the following. Here are a few ideas to foster the idea that learning this discipline can continue after the formal class ends:

• Are you showing how interesting the subject is and how much you still enjoy learning about it?

• Have you made it clear that you will still be accessible to the students as they continue to learn?

• Have you fostered intellectual curiosity in this subject matter?

• Have you helped students to develop these learning to learn skills in this discipline:

o ability to ask good questions in this discipline

o knowledge of print, electronic, human resources that are available to them

o ability to evaluate the appropriateness of these resources for their continue learning

o ability to read the primary or secondary literature on this topic

If we can get our students to achieve this lifelong learning in a subject, we and they will have succeeded.

*Why the type of assessments used lead to the type of student learning

Assessment systems need to really reflect the level of understanding you want your students to achieve. If students feel that they only need to reproduce information, rather than make sense out of it and apply it to new problems, the students will assume their learning should have short-range aims and outcomes. If you want students to achieve critical thinking and problem solving, the students need to perceive that you require these skills of them.

*Planning for the functions of content coverage in your courses

Currently many teachers see the function of content is to build strong knowledge foundations. While we all agree this is important, the more comprehensive functions of content should be to develop learning skills and learner self-awareness as well as to build knowledge. As you are planning your specific teaching and learning transactions for next semester (this is not just what you will cover, but how you will get the students to learn the content) think of approaches that do not separate learning strategies from content. The implication of this is that teachers cover less, but student learn more.

*Encouraging students to read and come prepared for class

*Encouraging students to read current professional or relevant popular literature

If you want your students to read current professional (better for upper level courses) or relevant popular literature (such s Scientific American for lower level classes), you want to say that students can get few points each week for bringing in extra credit or points to count toward the class participation component of their grade

The pharmacy teachers who have implemented this idea find that few students take advantage of this way of bettering their grade so you will not be increasing too many grades.

Helping students to read the research or clinical literature

Teachers often say that students have trouble organizing or summarizing the primary, or secondary literature a discipline. Students often want the literature to flow without disagreements, yet we know this is not the case. If you are having the students review literature ask the students to classify each article, web site or reference they read into

1. standing on the shoulders of the previous generation - the writer sees the field as a steady progression of his/her work building on previous ones

2. major shift - the writer is proposing a new theory, paradigm or sending the field in another direction

3. warring camps - the writer is responding to warring camps. This might be a good way to help them organize their paper or reviews.

This idea is adapted from Walvoord and Anderson, Effective Grading, Jossey-Bass, 1998.

*Getting students to effectively read and use their textbooks

To get students to do their reading assignment, begin every or some (unannounced in advance) with a short 3-4 item quiz on their reading. From these quizzes, students earn a maximum of 10 bonus points towards their final total number of points earned (not the average). While the total number of points earned is very small, it will not really effect their grade, it will motivate the students to do the assigned reading.

Transmitting information electronically

Experience has taught us that all of us do not read detailed information from our computers, but we down-load it and print it.

Students have limited numbers of copies they can print from the computer

It is far cheaper and more efficient to photocopy multiple copies of your handouts, syllabi, outlines of your lectures, etc

Therefore if you think the students will be printing what you put it on-line, photocopy it for the students, or give a paper copy to the library for reserve

Further, when students print dark slides, they are using up much printer ink, wasting much toner. Before you put your slides of lectures on ERes or the Web or other electronic means, convert them to white backgrounds

*Getting your students to read with more meaning

Students read with more meaning if you give them a handout to guide their reading. For example, you might ask students in lower level courses to explain or diagram concepts and tell them what is especially relevant or important to study. In higher level courses, your reading guide does not have to hand-hold the students as much. Depending on the material, you might ask students to answer or think about answering application questions. You might ask student to relate what is covered in this chapter or reading to what has been previously covered. Reading guides are especially helpful when the material is complex, confusing or very new to the student.

*Helping students to master the content and study

We spend most of our time covering content. As content experts we forget how it felt to learn this content in the beginning. We need to help our students learn how to learn this content. We might model how to organize the material, i.e., hierarchical or do over-arching concepts tie everything together. We can help students develop an effective approach to studying this discipline (e.g., solve many problems, ask the big picture questions, or what are the consequences of impacts of an event or idea) since the disciplines have different skill requirements and a different type of logic.

*Getting students to write better reflective journals

More teachers are asking their students to write reflective journals, which is a good thing. However, some student have no idea what you mean by reflection (except perhaps what light does to a surface). You need to give them very specific directions or guidance as to what type of reflections you want. Generally you want students to reflect on 4 what’s : What happened, so what, now what and what does it mean?

*Getting students to question the written word, even textbooks

When you are planning your reading for your next course you might consider trying a few assignments like this to get students to see that textbooks differ in how they give the “facts”. Do not assign a particular text instead put many different textbooks on reserve for the class and assign each student to use the comparable chapter in at least two of them in order to complete the assignments for each week or a few weeks. This exercise is intended to get students to understand that the written word, even textbooks, are works of individual authorship and not TRUTH.

Gene Weimer from Bates College posted this to a librarian listserv and Mignon Adams forwarded it to me and we hope that it is good enough to share with all of you.

*Getting your advanced students to come lifelong readers in your discipline

Competent professionals need to remain current in their fields. Students may not know what journals they should be reading on a regular basis once they are no longer assigned readings. Therefore, spend some time telling students what journals they should be reading, how they can access them once they are no longer USP students (like memberships to organizations that come with quality journals, publishers, etc). Even more important show them how to read these journals as continuing education. You might want to bring in a copy and spend a seminar or journal club meeting showing what you do with a new journal issue.

*Getting students to participate more in class

To get more student involved in class participation, assign each student to facilitate a class discussion. The student should prepare the readings very well, develop focused questions, and be prepared to answer questions raised by other students. A few days prior to the class, the facilitator-student should meet with the instructor to be sure the student is on the same wave length and well prepared. After the class that student or another student should prepare a summary of the class discussion, which after approved by the instructor, can be posted on the Blackboard site for the class. At the beginning of the class, the instructor needs to explicitly model and discuss good facilitation skills. Some times students will participate more for fellow students than they do for teachers. The work done as a facilitator and summarizer should count as part of the class participation grade.

*Getting your students to reflect on what they should be learning in increase understanding

Ask your students to do a learning journal that you will collect (and if time allows offer individual feedback on) a few times during the semester. To make the students take this assignment seriously, have it count a significant amount of the final grade. In the learning journal ask the students to record either weekly or more often their reactions or responses to classes, readings, assignments commentary or critique on reading or lectures reflection on how understanding the subject matter changed during the course how they can apply what they learned to other courses, their career further questions or areas they want to learn about coming from the content, assignment, etc. other topics that relate to their learning.

This should give you feedback as to if the students are learning what you wanted them to learn, should increase their engagement with the reading and classes.

This idea comes from Park and was written about in the Jan. 2004 issue of the Teaching Professor.

*Does the amount of content taught influence how well students understand the material?

Thirty years of research strongly indicates that the more content taught in a course, the more students rely on memorization and the less they learn with understanding or acquire deep learning in the discipline. Decide what is the essential content that you need for the students to learn, and cut the rest out of your course. Then work with students to learn to use the content and not for you to cover the content.

*Helping students to become self-directed learners

All of us strive toward having students who are self-directed in their learning. Yet many of us are at a loss as to how to help our students achieve this goal. We must plan our courses so that the student participate in repeated, systematically designed learning experiences to explore and facilitate learner developed self-directed learning capacities. This means building in specific activities designed to teach students how to learn. It means spending a lot of time modeling these self directed behaviors yourself and giving students opportunities to practice them in low risk environments.

Getting a quick read on how students are doing while checking for who is enrolled

Once the add-drop period ends, the registrar’s office always verify student enrollment of each individual. Instead of taking roll in class or checking if all students have handed in at least one assignment, give the students a very brief formative assessment (i.e., 1 question on the major idea they have learned so far in the class, or their most confusing aspect of the content thus far), ask the question in several venues and request that each student complete the activity once with their name on their work. You can first give them a few minutes in class to complete the assessment, you can post it on your Blackboard site for your class and email your students (can be done quickly from your Blackboard page, if you created one) the same assessment assignment. You can also tell your students to tell their friends to complete the assignment if they still want to be considered enrolled in the class. A complete record from all your students will give you the information requested by the registrar’s office and some insights as to how much the students are learning or how confused they are.

Helping students to see flaws in their reasoning or correcting improper conclusions

Some times students fail to see why their logic or reasoning i flawed or they bring in extraneous facts which they think leads them to a conclusion. Other times students draw cause and effect conclusions that may not even be related or at best correlation. This can be a serious problem particularly with advanced or graduate students working on their research. Teachers may have a hard time trying to get these students see their flaws in reasoning. Try asking the students to graphically represent their reasoning either through a flow chart, concept map, time line relationship, cascade cycle, numerical graph of the relationship, etc. By forcing them to move from the verbal to a graphic they may better see what is wrong because they cannot use their arguments in the same way.

Planning your course so that students will come prepared to class

If your goal is to have students come prepared to class to engage in, discuss or apply the content, then you need to plan the course so that students will come prepared. Usually assigning 15% of the total grade for pre-class preparation should be enough to motivate the students. Use a variety of preparation activities to keep the interest high and to address different learning styles and goals. Some possibilities for preparation assignments might be:

• Turn in index cards with notes from the chapter that will be returned to the individual students for use during an exam

• Choose 1 sentence from the reading that you found the most relevant or confusing and discuss why

• Develop questions for discussion, and ask students to lead the discussion from their questions

• Create chapter study guides

• Generate questions on the content that they did not understand

Getting your students to read before class and engage more during the class through use of a communication form

Here is an idea to help students come to class having read the assignment and engage in the material. Develop a single sheet template for the students to copy and use for each class. The form has 4 parts. In the first part students put their contact information and a photo of themselves. The form with this part completed should then be copied to be used repeatedly. In the second part the students list the readings and their reflections of the readings and should be done before class. The third part focuses on the class meeting. It can contain questions such as, “What new information did you gain from today’s class? How did it help you? What did the instructor do particularly well today? Use questions that fit what your are doing. The fourth part is for the students to ask questions, clarifications or comments. Students should use the last five minutes of each class to complete parts 3 and 4; this serves as a good review. You should try to read these forms or a sample of these forms right after class so that you can respond to questions or concerns the next class.

This idea come from Suzanne L. Medina and was published in the October 2004 Teaching Professor newsletter.

Helping your students to take notes that are worthwhile and foster learning

Many students are not good note takers. Even good note takers often have a hard time keeping up with teachers lectures or discussions when words are unfamiliar to them. You might suggest that students leave a large space in their notes whenever they feel they have not gotten all the information they wanted in their notes. Then they can easily find the gaps later. You can encourage students to ask a peer for help or check their textbooks for the missing information first and then if they still have a question or need clarification then they can come to your office during office hours or email you for some help. If you see the student is having repeated problems taking notes you might suggest that they read and outline the textbook before coming to class. If the problem persists, you might think of other possible causes of this problems such as English difficulty, information processing problems perhaps needing some accommodations or non-academic problems interfering with his/her ability to concentrate in class.

Modelling your thoughts and problem solving skills for the students

Many of us believe that we need to show a perfectly solved problem for the students. Yet research shows that students learn more if you overtly show your problem solving processes to the students. A perfectly solved problem does not show your thought processes because you already did the problem. Therefore, as you plan your classes, show the students the perfectly solved problem as an illustration, but also work through a problem that you have not solved before. Talk aloud about what your are thinking as you solve the problem. Be explicit about the strategies you are using and why you think this strategy might work. Allow the students to see how you make mistakes, but more important how you correct your mistakes. It will take practice for you to be able to model your thinking by talking about the intermediate steps that you skip. You may want to spend the extra time on the process of problem solving, but it is time well spent in terms of student learning.

This idea is part of the model of cognitive apprenticeship and is backed up by lots of good research.

Helping students to answer questions or out of class assignments that involve research

When you are assigning students to answer questions involving research or outside reading, always be sure they are headed in the right direction in their search strategy to avoid the students from going off into a wild chase for information but not finding the answer. Cathy Poon suggests that before you send the student off, especially clinical rotation students, to research something that you ask the student for 3 possible places to look for the answers. If the student is right on at least 1 of them, there is a good chance the student will find the answer. If all three sources will probably not yield the right answer, you might want to suggest some specific resources or to talk to a librarian so that the student will have a worthwhile learning experience.

*Helping students to use text and other readings more effectively

Beginning students and some more advanced students consider the purpose of reading texts or other materials is to take information from the text. However, teachers consider the purpose of such readings is to make meaning out of the information contained in the reading. Ways to help students make this transition include:

1. Ask the students to answer specific questions about the reading that are not just factual recall

2. Direct students to a more analytical approach to the concepts that requires them to reflect, synthesize or evaluate the text

These ideas are adapted from an article by Blackman, Gandolfo, and Kowalski, “Linking composition and chemistry” that appeared in the Journal of Student Centered Learning, 2005, 2:145-152. This article will be discussed in an upcoming journal club on the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Planning your course to help students acquire the thinking skills of the discipline

The nature of the discipline, the process of critical thinking in a discipline is just as important as the material and concepts in your discipline. However, we often tend to give these skills and processes less emphasis in our day to day teaching. So now that you are planning or revising your courses, plan time within the schedule to go over how you think in this discipline. Role model what you do by thinking out loud as you solve problems. Students don’t get the thinking process naturally if they just hear about the content or see experts solving problems easily; however, once they understand the thinking process within the discipline, the content will come much easier to them. this emphasis on role modeling critical thinking skills applies at all levels of courses as the critical thinking skills requir3ed varies with the complexity of the material.

Assessing if students can read the figures, graphs or diagrams in your discipline

Early in the semester give students a quick, in class assignment to see if they can read, interpret and explain the non-text aspects of your discipline. Textbooks, professional articles, etc. are full of graphs, figures and diagrams that contain essential information. Students may skip over them because they may not see them as important or they may not be able to understand and use them. Then give students feedback on their ability to interpret a diagram, etc. You might want to explicitly teach how to read and explain them if the class as a whole has trouble with it.

*How to keep your teaching of the same material fresh

After teaching the same courses over time, the material can become a little stale for you. Here are a few suggestions to keep the material fresh:

1. Each year vary the readings, create new assignments, rearrange the classroom, design new tests/projects, and so forth. Be challenged by finding new and exciting ways to help the students learn.

2. Instead of lecturing on the topic, turn it into a small group assignment, a discussion or a question and answer session. Students will always think of new ideas or perspectives, even if you do not agree with them, and that can stimulate your own thinking about the content.

Helping students to use different kinds of resources for papers

We have all observed that students only read what they can find on the World Wide Web, sometimes often what they can google and not going to more scholarly data bases. Students lose by not reading different types of resources. Therefore, for term paper or library type assignments require students to cite from 3 different types of sources including books, reference materials found in the library, like specialized encyclopedias, digital or Web based resources, journals, etc. If you require different types of resources, give students guidance in how to use these resources, the types of information they are likely to encounter in each type and how to critically evaluate the information obtained. As we know, but students have not yet learned, using a wide variety of resources can lead to a better quality paper.

Engaging students in the course and the subject matter on the first day of class

Prepare a game show, trivia quiz, bingo or other fun activity for the first day of class. You can ask 2 different types of questions about your course, the syllabus, your expectations and course requirements, and about the subject matter to be studied. The subject matter questions might be about general terminology and well known concepts. Try to ask some questions that students will know to help them connect what they previously know to what they will be learning. Both types of questions are great stimuli to get students discussing, thinking about this course and asking you further questions.

This idea comes from Christine Flanagan.

Making your (large) lecture classes much more interactive

One of the problems with large lecture classes is that it is very difficult to hear from most students, either to assess their knowledge or determine what they do not know on an immediate and on-going basis. However,we now have a technology that can overcome these problems. Just like on TV and at large professional meetings, we now have an audience response system at USP. The hardware has been wired into all of our large lecture halls. We have 45 clickers for you to borrow to see how they work (you can ask groups of students to respond). If you use PowerPoint, you can easily learn how to incorporate interactive questions and get students’ answers to respond). If you plan to use clickers on a regular basis and want to record the students’ individual responses for participation grades, the students need to purchase their own clickers that are available from the bookstore.

Bernie Brunner has pioneered the use of this technology on this campus and as usual is willing to share his knowledge and experience.

Bernie Brunner has graciously agreed to let teachers observe him when he uses the clickers with his students. Bernie requests that you let him know in advance if you will be coming.

Personal reflective annotations for reading assignments: A writing-to-learn assignment

Here is a different way to get students to actively read an assignment and be ready to come to class to discuss it.

• In addition to the regular highlighting or underlining that student’s do, they need to add meaningful margin notes interacting with the reading. The notes do not have to be very long or too many per assignment.

• The instructor should give a sample of appropriate annotations and explain them such as including challenges to the reading, further examples, references to other sources, personal experiences that relate to the reading, ideas on applications, personal reactions to the reading, compare or contrast with similar concepts.

• The assignment requires that students hand in their copies of their book containing their annotations on a reading. Students need to put their name across the front cover of the book and an identifying mark (such as part of their student identification number) inside to confirm that it is their property

• These assignments should be completed prior to the class discussion of the reading.

• The grading can be done quickly and globally by preparing a checklist of comments and indicating which ones apply to each of the students’ work

• This type of assignment works best for prose or essay type of readings and probably not for textbooks. Russ Moulds, the author of this idea, recommends only using this annotations assignment for readings that the instructor has enduring value for the students and not on a routine basis.

This idea comes form Russ Moulds, and was published in the Best of the Teaching Professor, Magna Publication, 2005

Helping students to contribute more to class discussions based upon out of class assignments

If you want students to contribute more meaningfully to class discussions based on out of class assignments, they need to remember more about the assignment. Such assignments might be a reading, answering questions, or reporting on research they did. To help refresh the students’ memory of the assignment and help them change gears from their previous class, give the students a few minutes at the beginning of class to review the assignment. You might even want to direct their review in some way.

This tip came out of the TableTalk on using films and was suggested by Claudia Parvanta and Bill Reinsmith

Adding energy to a class when the students are dragging

If you have to teach a boring topic right around school break, you may find that the students’ energy is dragging. You can get the students more engaged in the topic and the class by using a game show format to make things livelier. Plan what you want to do several class periods before the day you plan to use it. Tell the students in advance of your plans, tell them to come prepared, and enlist their help. They may help you write the questions to be used for a quiz show, or the answers for jeopardy, or any other format. People who use games find that the students learn the material better that day, but there are other nice consequences also. Students tend to bond with those on their team and class discussion goes up even after the games session is over.

Good questions for reflection

We often want our students to be more reflective about the course or the content. However, asking good reflection questions can be difficult.

Here are a few suggestions:

Why would I have you read/write about this?

Why do you think we just did that exercise?

What about what we just covered is applicable to other subjects, to your life, to your career?

What is the bottom line message in what we did/read?

Thanks to Bruce Rosenthal for suggesting some of these.

Helping your students to do better presentations

If you are asking your students to do a presentation, give them a template for the presentation. Also meet with the students 1:1 in advance to help them to make a better presentation, correct any mistakes in advance and avoid the student from being embarrassed in class.

Another idea for a topic for a class discussion

Select a number of quotes that summarize your discipline or are written by famous people in your discipline. Put each quote on a separate piece of paper, and spread them out written side down for students to select them one at a time. After student has a little time to compose his/her thoughts, ask the student to speak for 1 minute on the quote. The remarks can come from their own personal experience, course material, news, etc. depending on the discipline and the quote. Then you can ask other students to respond to what the student said.

If you have a large number of students in your class, you can make a few sets of quotes and divide the students into separate groups.

This idea comes from Christine Staley, 50 ways to leave your lecture. Thompson, 2003

Having students share some of their learning from doing a review of the literature

If you require students to work on individual topics and do a review of the literature, either as part of another project or as a term paper, then you should ask the students to share what they learned. You can ask the students to make a simple poster (using PowerPoint slides) summarizing the literature they read about. Then you can devote 1 class to a poster session. You can also ask the students to develop a website summarizing the material or electronically send each other their summaries, if you do not want to spend class time. Then you can give the students a short assessment on the literature summarized so you know they read each other’s work seriously. You can even make it open-notes, as long as the answers cannot come directly from the material share.

Virginia Anderson of Towson University suggested some of these ideas.

Being more explicit than, “Do you understand”?

Many teachers do a quick comprehension check in their classes by asking the students, “Do you understand”? In most cases the responses are nods. Everyone thinks they understand. Some students may not know to what level or what detail they should understand. To help the students see if they really comprehend the material ask very explicit questions such as:

• Identify___________________ (the consequences, causes, etc)?

• Calculate the ______________

• Evaluate the effects of ____________

• Compare and contrast _____ with _____

• Determine the reasons why ______

Helping students to learn how to do good summaries

Give your students a very short lecture or have them read a short article. Ask them to develop a summary of the lecture or reading. Then give them your own summary. Ask them to describe in writing how and why your summary was different from theirs. Also ask them to describe what they learned from doing this activity. Collect their comparison and the reflection on their learning, but not their summary. This exercise should be enlightening for the students.

Helping students to do better peer teaching

If you are asking your students to do peer teaching or presenting of material to the class, give your students a template of what you expect them to cover, how to organize the material or a guide to follow.

Helping students to solve problems better or have better reasoning

Here are 2 suggestions to help you teach students how to solve problems better or use more effective reasoning to be used in different venues.

1. In class go over the correct way to solve problems and also go over common mistakes that students make and how students can avoid these mistakes.

2. When you are meeting with students 1:1 to go over content or how they did on an exam, explain what the student did correctly and also specifically show them how their logic or problem solving process was flawed. Then explain how to change their reasoning or problem solving techniques in the future.

Concentrating on both the positive and negative gives a balanced view and real ways to improve.

A possibility for an extra credit assignment for weaker students

Many instructors ask their students to write journals reflective on their learning in a course. I read a study that shows that these journals are more effective for helping weaker students than for stronger students. (Cisero, College Teaching, Spring, 2006).

So if you are looking for a possible additional assignment to give weaker students, you might ask them to keep a reflective journal on their reading from the textbook or other assigned reading. This should help them engage with the content more.

Having more meaningful discussions

Before you have discussions in class or online, set out the goals of the discussion and identify the student learning needs and learning outcomes. Then as the discussion transpires, periodically check that you and the class are meeting these goals. If you have to, make some mid-course corrections to make the discussion meet its objectives.

*Helping our students to come closer to being an experts in our discipline

A goal of higher education is to transform novices to beginning experts in their chosen field of study. Research shows that experts and novices approach problems and learn within the field very differently. Our job is to help our students to make this transition. Ways we can help students to make this transition include helping students realize that the discipline has knowledge that is organized and integrated and not just a collection of isolated facts. We can help students to organize information by using different encoding strategies in class and through their assignments. We can ask students to compare and contrast information, to make concept maps or organizing schemes, etc. When we explain information we should try to use analogies, visualizations and metaphors that make sense in the discipline.

*Planning on spending time to help students confront misconceptions

Research shows that unless students confront their misconceptions and really see the faults in their ideas, they never learn the new material properly. Therefore, you need to plan assignments that will force students to see their own misconceptions about your discipline. This might be in-class or outside of class. You might ask students to do something alone as homework and then work in groups to go over it or take the concept to the next level together. These activities could force you to change you plans for the course, alter the rate that you cover some topics, etc. Taking this time is worth it for the students to really learn your discipline beyond passing a test in your course.

Helping students to really understand and benefit from your course

Student need to overcome common misconceptions or stereotypes in your discipline to leave your course with a real understanding of your discipline. This is especially true in the sciences To help students overcome this common misconceptions, you need to give students several opportunities to see why these misconceptions are wrong as part of learning activities. In addition, questions on assessments at the end of the semester should ask students to explain why these misconceptions are wrong or to correct the concept. You might give an example and ask students to explain the concept.

A role model student in your class

If you have a TA, an instructional supplement assistant or can ask a superior advanced student, have that individual come to your class a few days toward the beginning of the class, but once you have gained a nice stride in the class, ask the assistant to be a model student in terms of note taking, participation, asking questions or whatever else your students are not doing as well as you would like.

Tell your students you asked this person to come to class to be a role model student. You might want to spend a few minutes at the end of the class debriefing on what the role model student did to further show the class the behaviors you are seeking in them.

Helping students to solve problems better

When you assign students to solve problems either in class, as homework or on a test, ask the students to write their rationale or how they came to solve the problems or the process they arrived at in their thinking on a few of the problems. Ask them to write on a problem they think they solved well and a problem that they had difficulty with or are not sure they solved correctly. Their insights will be very helpful in seeing how they think. You will be able to help them solve problems better both collectively and individually when you have a better understanding of their though process. When you teach how to solve these types of problems, say that you got insight from them.

If you ask students to write out their rationales, assign fewer problems as this takes a lot of time. Also, if this is a graded assignment, give students credit for writing their thought processes. You might give everyone points for showing their thoughts and more points for more explanation. You should not give fewer points for reasoning that is not correct as they probably are losing points for the answer itself.