From the category archives:

Students

D = Deliberative Practice

by Dr Davis on April 15, 2017

“Deliberative practice is characterized by a high degree of focused effort to develop specific skills and concepts beyond one’s current abilities” (Schwartz, Tsang, and Blair 39).

Students (and perhaps faculty too) often mistake practice for deliberative practice.

Our memories have limited capacity, so we can’t learn too much at one time. Therefore we need to chunk information–for ourselves and for our students.

“Over time, engaging in deliberative practice changes people’s knowledge organization, making it more specialized for the tasks they regularly face” (43).

That is an interesting aspect of the idea of deliberative practice and may help students understand why they have to have another writing class when they have been writing for the last 12 years in school.

Deliberative practice, however, doesn’t take place during the meaningful activity itself. This means if we want students to practice changing their sentences for style (a fairly basic point), they should be practicing BEFORE they write their next essay. How do we add that to the curriculum?

Obviously exercises, where we provide the sentences and they change them, would work. But then they aren’t their writings.

Maybe start there. Then have students find a paragraph they have already written and have them change it. Then perhaps incorporate the exercise into a standard class exercise, like the four-minute writing at the beginning of each class session.

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair.

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C = Contrasting Cases

by Dr Davis on April 10, 2017

Showing things that are similar to each other help us understand what a thing is.
Showing things that are different also help us understand.

I find it odd that these were presented in the chapter in the opposite order. When I came to write down notes, that order seemed problematic, so I changed the order (book had contrasting/contrasting, then showing/showing ideas).

Contrasting things that are very different show fundamentals.

Contrasting things that are similar to each other highlight the things that are different. These can be very subtle and they are usually more important than the differences highlighted with very different examples.

When giving contrasting examples, make them specific to individual things. If you wanted to learn how to tell other flowers from daisies, you might get individual “not daisies” that have a single difference and have multiple “not daisies” which have differences in color, petals, stems, and leaves.

Compare/contrast alone does not allow the students to see what they need to be looking for.

Instead compare/contrast with a specific function or feature in mind.

I am trying to imagine what this would look like if I were having students c/c emails during the section where I teach email etiquette.

Could we have multiple examples of subject lines and have students identify whether or not those are appropriate? Or rank them according to how specific they are? (Specificity increases readability in the emails.)

I could make these up or I could go back through my emails and use actual examples (though removed from the actual emails) to give contrasting cases.

Okay. I can see that working.

How would I do this with introduction options–ways of writing introductions? Do I make up my own? Have to think on this more.

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair

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B = Belonging

by Dr Davis on April 7, 2017

I want people to like me. I want to be seen as being worth listening to. I want people to miss me when I’m not there. That means I want to belong.

My students want to belong, too.

“Learning is social” (Schwartz, Tsang, and Blair 13) and the classroom particularly shows the social aspects of learning.

Students are placed into a class and we then say they belong there. BUT if they don’t feel they belong there, they will not work optimally.

They might feel they don’t belong because this is too easy for them. How can we get them to feel they belong? They are the leaders? They can offer others their expertise?

They might feel they don’t belong because they perceive the work as too hard for them. If that is their feeling, can we talk about placement and how we can support each other?

Changing Feelings of Belonging:
For at-risk students
There was a study (Walton and Cohen 2011) that had students read essays written by college seniors saying that as freshmen they felt like they did not belong, but that as they engaged with the learning environment they came to see that they did, in fact, belong in college. Students then wrote about their own feelings and recorded them on video.

The study found that some students who did this was were more successful than those who did not. AND that students who had been at-risk (in this study African American students who generally had a lower GPA than the European Americans, but I can see where it would matter for first gen folks too and probably other at-risk groups that I am not thinking of) closed the GPA gap between themselves and the non-at-risk by 79%–which is a significant improvement in GPA.

This particular study did NOT find an impact on the European Americans.

For all students
Facilitate discussions about classroom norms and values. What is most important? Turning in homework on time or checking understanding and asking for help? Students might think that turning in homework on time is most important because that is what I grade. BUT if they check understanding and ask for help, their homework will be easier and will be done correctly and they will see the reflection of understanding and getting help reflected in the grade.

Students can see themselves as belonging to the group through collaborative activities and discussions.

The first few days are probably particularly important for creating a feeling of belonging. Having students meet each other in groups right away might be useful. Or having everyone in the class introduce themselves, using Vicki’s toilet paper idea, might be better. After that perhaps have groups discuss ideas about some other aspect of the class or classroom. I definitely need to think about this before school starts in the fall.

Belonging increases persistence, so feelings of belonging challenged when the work gets harder needs to be countered so that students persist in the course (19). This is relevant right now as well as at the start of next semester.

Being part of a group within the class increases persistence. For FYC-semester2 the casebook essay groups would increase persistence. Perhaps also dividing the research paper groups into categories (like social science research or health research) might increase persistence. That is worth thinking about.

For middle school students
Middle school students who were asked to do a self-affirmation where they wrote about their most cherished values reduced negative issues and had improved performance in both the course they did the self-affirmation in and their other courses.

While I don’t know if this would translate to college, I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t and having students write about their most cherished values could easily be a second-day exercise. It would introduce me to their writing and it might give them a stronger sense of connection to the course.

Would it be worthwhile to discuss these in small groups? Would it be counter-productive to ask how the values apply to the class?

Reframing Beliefs:
A student may seem feedback as the teacher saying “where they aren’t any good” OR as “a place they can improve.” How do we get students to see feedback as something they can improve?

RIGHT NOW: I have no idea if it will, in fact, make a difference, but if I go change the titles on the rubric from Excellent, Good, Needs Work to Done Exceptionally Well, Done Well, Can be Improved maybe that would make a difference. Need to do this.

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair

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A = Analogies

by Dr Davis on April 4, 2017

Analogies are useful for learning because, once we disregard the surface similarities, the shared structures can be illuminating.

Providing two analogies rather than one improves learning (Schwartz, Tsang, and Blair 3). Basically it creates a Venn diagram of the shared ideas that can elucidate the idea/theory/practice we are attempting to focus on.

Confession:
When I first heard of this, I thought it was a simple and fascinating concept. Just give students random things and they could try and figure out how those things “were like” the topic.

I have done that for a single random item (a bunch of small toys) in an FYC course during the introduction of students, asking them to explain how the toy was like their chosen major. It worked really well and was interesting.

However, for focused learning, I probably can’t throw random physical objects around the room for them to work with/on.

Random Practice Example:
Looking at the table in front of me, how is a bowl like writing? You fill it up with something significant. It is not particularly useful empty. It is designed to hold and transport things (or ideas).

Looking at the table in front of me, how is a cheese stick like writing? It needs to be wrapped up. It needs a particular level of wrapping to be useful. The cheese/writing can go bad if the wrapping/words are less than optimal. You consume it in small bites. You can put it up and eat/read it later.

Looking at those two objects, the ideas/food are what are wrapped/carried in the package or bowl and if the bowl or package is inappropriate (by type or size or whatever), the food/ideas go bad or do not get properly delivered.

That means that how we present our ideas really matters. Certain key concepts (like a thesis, topic sentence, and transitions) help create the correct carrying case for our ideas.

Application:
Can the students make that big of a connection? Or could they make better connections?

What if we had two or three students working together? Synergy and collaboration could lead to the sum being greater than its parts.

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair

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Retention

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—
Absences
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

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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?”

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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