From the category archives:



by Dr Davis on March 27, 2016

Karen Svendsen Werner, McLennan CC
“Seeking Retention Improvement in FYC 1”

first semester taught at CC, shocked at # of empty seats
sick children
parole judge
chronic CC problem = low retention rates
grad rate, after 3 years, 21%
grad rate, after 6 years, 39%

complex of issues could place more responsibility on FYC profs
–political promises
–WSJ “prehire assessments” 26% in 2001 to 57% in 2015
–Ft Worth Star Telegram “to improve bottom line” tests given often contain language competency

orientation activities/approaches
spending time on certain activities increases retention (time)
behavioral expectations explained
college technology access practiced (email, Canvas, type up and print)
1-2 students in class of 25 always seem to be trying to catch up
usually help retain students during 1st month
evaluate resources and access student resources
tutoring, counseling, veterans
originally NOT successful—worksheet, scavenger hunt, reps talk
choice over efficiency –I preferred efficiency. Students want choice. Choices and consequences. “If you choose, x… experience has shown, y…”
Direct approach (efficiency) did not work for students from generational poverty.
“continuity of care” needed, too—walk the student from class to the person they need to talk to –LOWEST level students need a hand off, feel too overwhelmed by system and expectations
Orientation document—
KEY is developing choices ahead of time (tell them what the obstacles will be and possible helps)
Lack of time available outside of class—include a description and schedule
Transportation—main way, options if not working
Other responsibilities—
Lack of goals
Why are they in English 111, English 112, English 326? Ask the students that first day.
Make sure students have a degree plan and know why they are here.

Lack of connections/relationships
Be a part of an organization.
Academic difficulties
Emotional stress
Scavenger hunt—so they know WHERE the things are (5-7 things have to get sigs)
Then they can choose from a list of options, so that they go to the one they are most likely to need.

Tasks on technology
Including drop by my office

Writing Center Visit
The very lowest students, the ones you wonder how they got in… I require every person to go to the Writing Center for the first essay.
This helps them feel less overwhelmed. –This is the handoff “continuation of care.”
Had to actually be tutored to stick.

from CCTE 2016: Teaching Strategies


Lecture v Active Learning

by Dr Davis on September 14, 2015

“Given that active-learning approaches benefit all students, but especially those who are female, minority, low-income and first-generation, shouldn’t all universities be teaching this way?” NYTimes, “Are Lecture Courses Unfair?”


Why Folks Avoid Literature

by Dr Davis on September 1, 2015

girlwithabook via art inconnuThe authors says it’s all about us. If the readings were interesting, the students would be there.

What can students learn from literature that they cannot learn elsewhere? Why should they bother with it? For understandable reasons, literature professors assume the importance of their subject matter. But students are right to ask these questions. All courses are expensive, in money, time, and opportunity costs.

No, the real literary work is the reader’s experience.

This means the first thing a teacher needs to do is help students have the experience the author is trying to create. There is no point in analyzing the techniques for creating an experience the students have not had.

Students need to have such experiences, and not just be told of their results. It is crucial for them to see how one arrives at the interpretation and lives through that process. Otherwise, why not simply memorize some critic’s interpretation?

Why College Kids Are Avoiding the Study of Literature


Gaming the Classroom

by Dr Davis on August 30, 2015

Gamification: Engaging Students With Narrative begins:

When looking at how engaged students are in playing games, it makes sense to capture some of the ideas that game designers use to engage the player. This idea of applying gaming mechanics to non-game situations is known as gamification.

What defines a game is having a goal or objective. However almost all games also have some sort of theme or story.

Interesting. Relates to book read three years ago and book on game design read two years ago.


Make It Stick

by Dr Davis on August 18, 2015

Went to a faculty presession on this topic. Four folks who have attended a reading group on the book Make It Stick and who have begun implementing the ideas.

These are the main points they had up on the PowerPoint:
(with my comments and questions in parentheses)
Not all practice is equal.
Mix up your practice.
Embrace difficulties.
Avoid illusions of mastery. (Don’t just read again and again.)
When the mind has to work, learning sticks better.
Don’t rely on what feels best.
Effortful learning changes the brain.
Making mistakes and correcting them advances learning.
Learning is hard.
It’s not what you know but how you practice.
Learning is stronger when it matters. (How do you make it clear that it matters?)
Use testing as a tool for learning.
Delayed, detailed feedback yields better long-term learning. (How do you get the students to read this? Or do you do something else?)
Sleeping between study sessions improves retention.
Reflection is a form of retrieval practice.
To learn, retrieve.
Design the work the students do, not what your lectures are going to say.
Errors are important and integral to the process of learning.

These are my notes on their talks:
Not going to fix everything you’ve ever taught. Book about learning. Start with understanding how students learn. Lots of studies included in this book. Lots of data.
We are practitioners.

Not all practice is equal.
Lots of folks cram. Evidence shows cramming works, but not in the way you want it to. Students who cram retain 50% of information 2 days later. It is not a long-term solution.

A lot of the practices we use are ineffective.
One that doesn’t help is re-reading.
Re-reading is inefficient AND counterproductive.
When we re-read, we develop an illusion of mastery.

Active methods of studying.
Cornell method for notetaking… not simply underlining, but interpreting them—putting them into your own words.

The people who practiced once a week (not all in one day) were far better.
How to implement? Most people go over the syllabus on the first day; emphasize the most important parts. Second day have a quiz on syllabus. Then come back and have a quiz again.

Learning: acquiring knowledge and skills that are readily available from memory so that you have them to use in future situations

Learning requires a core reservoir of information (memory). You still have to have a repository of info.
Learning is an acquired skill.
Most effective strategies are often counterintuitive.
Focus on what the students are doing—rather than what you are going to say.
Is our goal that the students know the material long term? Often that’s not what happens. We test what they know over x and then we go on to next chapter.

We said “here’s the book and we’re messing with you”…
One example of many practices we changed:
Changed our reading guides to something like Cornell notetaking… lot more reflective…

For retention, there is a level of difficulty.
Quick/fast/easy learning dissipates.
NYTimes article on importance of memorization. Comments… interesting. Memorization is okay; we need that.
Without the memorization, there is no foundation of prior knowledge. You’ll have to learn vocabulary words for a new language. You can’t start building a building from the third floor.

Techniques: retrieval practice
Repetition doesn’t necessarily lead to long-term retention.
Quiz yourself. If students don’t quiz themselves, they overestimate how well they know the materials. Going through and retrieving the information “interrupts forgetting.” Act of retrieving changes memory itself and makes it easier to retrieve.
When mind has to work, the learning sticks better. “Just enough time to begin forgetting” and then reinforce again.

How long should I space out the practice? Long enough to begin the forgetting process.
Sleep on it. Take a nap.

Rather than mass cramming, practicing before class, space it over a week –look at their names 2-3 times a day.
Flash cards.
Quizlet—online resource to create quizzes

Low stakes quizzing helps the students significantly.
We create a quizlet that the students put together over learning each other’s names.
Canvas is marvelous when it comes to quizzing.

Maybe you don’t want to do the same thing over and over again…
Varied practice is one of the foci of the book.
You need to have a variety of tasks that your brain is doing. That helps with the little bit of forgetting, come back to it, repeat…
8 year olds, throwing beanbags into bucket—practiced 12 weeks
How would you teach mastery of this?
One group never threw the beanbags into 3 ft… They’d have 2 and 4 ft buckets.
The people who had never thrown a 3 ft shot beat the pants off the people who only practiced that.

We transitioned from presentation/lecture and then quiz.
We have introduction at end of class.
Then they read.
Then next class we give rest of discussion.
Here’s where we were, here’s where we are going, and here’s what we are doing today.

When we try to solve a problem, we feel uncomfortable if we haven’t seen how to do it. Trial and error. If you pose the problem before you explain, and they work on… They start trying to connect to things they do know. They learn more from the fresh thing (the effort), even if they make errors. In the process they have learned and changed their memory.
We must provide corrective feedback.
Errors are important and integral to the process of learning.

Talk about: Learning should be difficult. Making errors is important/good.
Before everyone failed. Then talked about learning difficult. Next time, the group who had that discussion succeeded, while the others did not.
Babies fall down all the time. You’ve made hundreds, thousands of errors—but now you can walk.

“The better you know something the more difficult it becomes to teach it.”

Students don’t have models or they are faulty.
But we do want them to get to the point where they have mental models.

Why does it matter? We have to up the significance of what we are doing.
Why is it important? Explain the so what. Put it in a bigger context.

How do you respond to failure on an exam? If whole class did poorly…
Think about our assessments and what we are trying to accomplish with those.

Performance goals = goals that validate what student knows
Learning goals = goals that see what students have learned/are learning


Definition of Rhetoric

by Dr Davis on July 13, 2015

I’m always interested in definitions of what rhetoric is, particularly simpler ones which can be understood by non-academics. I have used a selection of rhetoric definitions to introduce rhetoric in my section of the graduate class on history of rhetoric (which I won’t be teaching this next year) as a way to make the students aware of what rhetoric is and to create some of the dissonance that Dr. Janice Lauer believes is significantly responsible for creating learning.

–I find that very ironic considering that I was very uncomfortable with the “throw the baby in the ocean” aspect of my PhD program, but it is a way to start them thinking.

ancient woman with bookKendall R. Phillips, in his introduction to the edited collection Framing Public Memory, wrote that rhetoric is “an art interested in the ways symbols are employed to induce cooperation, achieve understanding, contest understanding, and offer dissent” (2).

While “interested in” seems vague to me, the other aspects of the definition–symbols, cooperation, understanding, and dissent–are particularly noteworthy.


HOF: Following Directions

by Dr Davis on January 1, 2015

Well, Fishprof, I think you’ve done your duty on this one. The time has come to put your energy into people who can read and follow instructions.

Good. Do you have any I can borrow until the end of the semester?

From fishprof and polly_mer

Because sometimes we should be silly–which I am less willing to do in the classroom now than ever before.


University Cannot Educate You

by Dr Davis on December 12, 2014

“You must realize that a university cannot educate you. You must do that for yourself, although a college or university is the place where it is likely that you can study most efficiently.” –Seville Chapman, in chapter 2 of How to Study Physics, 1955. Found online at:


Plagiarism sources

by Dr Davis on December 11, 2014

The first one I found referenced on the CHE fora is a flowchart of levels of plagiarism–though not all the academics agree it is accurate. I linked it because it is a place to start talking.

The second one is an online test for recognizing plagiarism from Indiana U.

Another plagiarism source–which I cannot watch because my flash is out of date–was recommended to me. It is at Northern Arizona U.


Fiction Readers Make Better Lovers

by Dr Davis on November 30, 2014

mic dot com people read fictionThe article on doesn’t actually say that.

It does, however, say that “Fiction readers make great friends as they tend to be more aware of others’ emotions.”

Brains are changed when people read!