From the category archives:


Learning Technique: Elaborative Interrogation

by Dr Davis on October 2, 2013

Although most studies have involved individual learning, elaborative-interrogation effects have also been shown among students working in dyads or small groups (Kahl & Woloshyn, 1994; Woloshyn & Stockley, 1995). (8)

the key to elaborative interrogation involves prompting learners to generate an explanation for an explicitly stated fact. (8)

The prevailing theoretical account of elaborative-interroga- tion effects is that elaborative interrogation enhances learning by supporting the integration of new information with existing prior knowledge. During elaborative interrogation, learners presumably “activate schemata . . . These schemata, in turn, help to organize new information which facilitates retrieval” (Willoughby & Wood, 1994, p. 140). Although the integration of new facts with prior knowledge may facilitate the organiza- tion (Hunt, 2006) of that information, organization alone is not sufficient—students must also be able to discriminate among related facts… (8)

elaborative interrogation does appear to benefit learners across a relatively wide age range (8)

prior knowledge is an important moderator of elaborative-interroga- tion effects, such that effects generally increase as prior knowledge increases. (9)

elaborative-interrogation effects are relatively robust across factual material of different kinds and with different contents. (9)

In a classroom situation as the place of study:
Performance was better for the elaborative-interrogation group than for the control group (76% versus 69%), even after con- trolling for prior knowledge and verbal ability. (10)

Dunlosky, et al “Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14.1 (2013): 4-58.


Knowledge and Memory

by Dr Davis on October 1, 2013

Research shows that “preexisting knowledge enhances memory by facilitating distinctive processing; e.g., Rawson and Van Overschelde, 2008″ (Dunlosky, et al “Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14.1 (2013): 4-58.)


What is Motivation?

by Dr Davis on September 9, 2013

According to Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, motivation comes from doing work that is complex, when you have autonomy, and there is a clear relationship between effort and reward (150).

How can I provide that in an English classroom?

If I adopted the five point rubric suggested in one of the articles I was reading recently, I might could do that. I need to consider it. Can I name the five without looking them up?

sentence structure

That’s not terrible, four of the five. I think identifying it as ideas, rather than content, which is what I do now, might be an improvement. I am far more likely to mark reasonable ideas as acceptable without thinking perhaps I should give it a superior. Content, on the other hand, is so general to me that I think if they put in only what applies and they did a decent job, perhaps it should receive more than acceptable.


The Manifesto Caught My Attention

by Dr Davis on May 30, 2013

A Manifesto for Community Colleges, Lifelong Learning, and Autodidacts

As some are raised a Catholic or an atheist or a vegetarian, I was raised an academic. …

Learners today are taking matters of education into their own hands. …

We have — we participate in — a system of education that works against the learner. The university is a place where students must abandon their passions and hopes…

I want to restore the high gloss image of the university as a vibrant campus of engaged learners. I want to free learning from the grip of education. …

Today’s learner is a doer and a maker of content….

Ultimately, what must happen is the development of a pedagogy, and an institution supporting that pedagogy, that is resilient in the face of the most rapidly-evolving learner in history. We must have pedagogies (and pedagogues) that are as responsive and flexible as our technologies. We must do more learning and teaching on the fly, collaborating with rather than corralling learners.

Interesting ideas.

male studying computerHow can we collaborate with our students? How can they collaborate with us?

I think it is more than “undergraduate research” as presently being implemented on many college campuses.

My colleague who brought one of her students into the reading of research as well as the creation of a new kind of class is an example of the kind of collaboration I think the author is calling for and that would be amazing. I don’t think many students are willing to do the kind of work that required, though. And this student decided not to become a teacher as a result. (Too much work and not that interesting to her.)


Students Teaching Themselves

by Dr Davis on May 29, 2013

It is a scary thought. If my students can teach themselves, what will I do for a living?

I doubt it will impact my job situation (since I won’t be teaching in 25 years and education is slow to change), but it might impact others.

But I also see it as a positive and hopeful sign for the world at large.

Listen to Sugata Mitra’s LIFT talk on the Hole in the Wall Project, found at TED. He won the 2013 TED Prize.


Best Practices in Teaching

by Dr Davis on February 26, 2013

Variety in instructional methods produces more significant learning experiences (Fink, 2003). As one colleague on campus put it, “The worst teaching technique to use today is the one you used last class period.”

Peer-teaching, in which students work together to explore new concepts under the guidance of a faculty member, improves comprehension of complex ideas and produces substantial improvements in end-of-course competency testing (Crouch & Mazur, 2001).

Hybrid course models, when compared to face-to-face and fully online models, produce the best learning outcomes (Dowling, Godfrey, & Gyles, 2003; Meyer, 2012).

From a report on teaching at my university.


Flipped Classrooms

by Dr Davis on September 23, 2012

Now, first, let me say that I think that flipped classrooms are a great idea. I think that having the students do engaging work in the classroom, as discussed by a long-time blog read Casting Out Nines. One of my friends is presently flipping her classroom and I am excited about her work.

However, EdTech Magazine‘s “Colleges Go Proactive with Flipped Classrooms” begins with a statement that can easily be read the wrong way:

Professors are moving away from the straight lecture approach and running more hands-on learning and group activities in class — and they’re using more technology to get it done.

When I first read it, even though I know what a flipped classroom is, I thought the article was saying that lectures were disappearing while group activities were being done in class. The third paragraph clears up this misunderstanding by explaining that students watch the lectures outside of class and do group activities in class.

There’s a big difference between having no lectures and having lectures but not in class. (Yes, I know the first sentence can be read that way. It is not the most common way of reading it, however, even by someone who understands the flipped-classroom concept.)

I have heard people question flipped classrooms because “If the teacher gives the lecture online, why do the kids even have to come to class?” and “You just want to flip the classroom so you can stay in your pajamas all day.” (WHAT?) These are academics saying these things, by the way.

If students can come to class already having heard the introductory material and then while they are in class practice applying that material, I think everyone will be better off.

Let’s flip classes, not burgers!


Mastery and Performance

by Dr Davis on May 30, 2012

The Tempered Radical has a post entitled, “Master and Performance are NOT the Same Thing.”

This is a confluence of readings. Perhaps I am noticing them because I am already reading on the topic. But today I was reading Drive by Daniel H. Pink about mastery and have read several other books recently about it.

Tempered Radical’s article says:

My thinking started when Dean Shareski challenged me to make self-assessment a larger part of the work that I do in my classroom. It was pushed further by a candid confession from one of my students that her determination to “do well” distracts her from actually learning anything.

Wow. That does sound familiar. At Location 2059 of 3487, Pink is finishing up his discussion of self-assessment, which he frames as a monthly performance review.

Tempered Radical’s Bill Ferriter’s differentiation between mastery and performance reminds me of Pinks discussion at Location 1922 regarding purpose goals versus profit goals, and their impact on life. It also reminds me of something else I’ve been reading (or maybe Pink and I just can’t find it) about performance goals versus learning goals. Students with learning goals do better than students with performance goals. (So making an A is not as strong a goal as “learning all about Old English literature” in my Brit Lit I course.)


Goldilocks as Metaphor

by Dr Davis on May 29, 2012

I’ve run into two uses of Goldilocks as metaphor today. One was in this set of posts on the topic of first language acquisition that I am posting here so I can find them again to share them with my linguistics class next spring.

Image by Phillip Martin

Babies Pay Attention Like Goldilocks, from Scientific American.

Scientific American’s Cynthia Graber (author of the article linked above) got the metaphor from the open access article by
Celeste Kidd, Steven T. Piantadosi, and Richard N. Aslin, “The Goldilocks Effect: Human Infants Allocate Attention to Visual Sequences That Are Neither Too Simple Nor Too Complex”.

But she ended her article so perfectly for the metaphor:

Like Goldlocks’s porridge, it has to be just right.

Baby Attention Learning from Live Science is another news version of the open access article by
Celeste Kidd, Steven T. Piantadosi, and Richard N. Aslin, “The Goldilocks Effect: Human Infants Allocate Attention to Visual Sequences That Are Neither Too Simple Nor Too Complex”.

“You would think that the more complex something is, the more interesting it would be. That’s not the case with babies,” study researcher Richard Aslin of the University of Rochester said in a statement.

No, I don’t think that. I give up when something is too complicated. Why wouldn’t babies?

These articles (all three) reminded me of reading I’ve been doing–Daniel H. Pink’s Drive and Julie Dirksen’s Design for How People Learn, both of which use other research (such as Csikszentmihalyi’s on Flow) about adults’ need for not too easy, not too hard. I don’t think the Goldilocks’ attitude is limited to babies.

Pink, in his 2009 book Drive says:

First, they provide employees with what I call “Goldilocks tasks” –challenges that are not too hot and not too cold, neither overly difficult nor overly simple. (Kindle reading access 1574 of 3487)

By the way, neither Pink nor Csikszentmihalyi are referenced in the open access article. Perhaps someone forgot where they got the idea? Or maybe they came up with the same idea at the same time? The article was published in 2011. Or maybe they all borrowed it from someone else? Or maybe it is just such an obvious metaphor that lots of people use it?

How Babies Learn, in photos, from Live Science.


Get Focused

by Dr Davis on December 26, 2011

Do one thing at a time.
With so much coming at us so relentlessly – emails, texts, people, and information – we assume the only way to get to it all is to juggle multiple tasks at the same time. In fact, moving between tasks creates something called “switching time.” When you shift attention from one focus of attention to another, the average time it takes to finish the first task increases by at least 25%.

from 99%’s A Master Plan

Here are the rules: All work must be done in blocks of at least 30 minutes. If I start editing a paper, for example, I have to spend at least 30 minutes editing. If I need to complete a small task, like handing in a form, I have to spend at least 30 minutes doing small tasks. Crucially, checking email and looking up information online count as small tasks. If I need to check my inbox or grab a quick stat from the web, I have to spend at least 30 minutes dedicated to similarly small diversions.

On the flip side, the percentage of time spent in a flow state was as large as I’ve experienced in recent memory. I ended up spending 2.5 hours focused on my writing project and 3.5 hours focused on my research paper. That’s six hours, in one day, of focused work with zero interruptions; not even one quick glance at email.

At the same time, the careful pre-planning required to satisfy my batching rules increased the efficiency of my small task completion. Even though I dedicated 6 hours in one 10 hour work day to uninterrupted focus, another 1.5 hours to exercise and eating, and another 1 hour to a doctors appointment, I still managed to accomplish an impressive collection of logistical tasks both urgent and non-urgent.

from 99%’s A Day Without Distraction