THE Teaching Professor Blog
The Teaching Professor Blog is written by Dr. Maryellen Weimer, professor emerita at Penn State Berks and one of the nation’s most highly regarded authorities on effective college teaching. Many of you know Maryellen as the editor of The Teaching Professor newsletter and from her book Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice, which is considered the go-to guide for educators looking to adopt a learner-centered approach in their classrooms.
The Teaching Professor Blog features a new weekly post from Maryellen on such topics as: the scholarship of teaching and learning, student engagement, classroom policies, active learning, assignment strategies, grading and feedback, and student performance.
“In our class: 1) everyone is allowed to feel they can work and learn in a safe and caring environment; 2) everyone learns about, understands, appreciates, and respects varied races, classes, genders, physical and mental abilities, and sexualities; 3) everyone matters; 4) all individuals are to be respected and treated with dignity and civility; and 5) everyone shares the responsibility for making our class, and the Academy, a positive and better place to live, work, and learn.”
I just read a couple of interesting studies exploring the relationship between the content in texts and the content covered by the teacher. The analysis was of introductory psychology courses and the conclusion not terribly surprising. The lecture and textbook material corresponded closely. If the chapter was long and the coverage extensive, a larger amount of lecture time was devoted to the topic as well.
Whether it’s a student who is texting during class, an online student who makes minimal comments to the discussion board, or a teacher who marches nonstop through mountains of material, the learning environment is defined by a combination of individual behaviors, and everybody contributes to what that environment becomes.
June 11 - Playing with Questions
Preparing one of the plenary sessions for the recent Teaching Professor Conference provided me the opportunity to do some more work on questions, which if you’re a regular reader of this blog you will recognize as an ongoing interest of mine for more than a year now. In fact, the post on May 28, 2014 is a reprint of an article I wrote for the March 2013 issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter. It represents some of my early thinking on the topic, including ways of emphasizing questions in our teaching and modeling good question types for our students. The ability to ask good questions is often an underrated and underdeveloped skill, yet questions can play such a significant role in learning when used properly.
June 4 - “I Tried It and It Didn’t Work!”
Someone sought me out recently to say that she’d tried something I had recommended and it didn’t work. “You need to stop recommending that to people,” she told me. “How many times did you try it?” I asked. “Once and the students hated it,” she responded. This rather direct feedback caused me to revisit (and revise) a set of assumptions that can create more accurate expectations when implementing new instructional approaches.
I am on my way to speak at another professional development day at a college. I do these events with misgivings—frequently persuading myself on the way home that I really shouldn’t be doing them.
Some time ago, a colleague and I reviewed the literature on interventions to improve instruction. If I were to do that paper again, I would pay special attention to those changes that improved student learning. The research we looked at then did not give workshops very high marks. If teachers changed, they did so right after the event, but soon reverted to their old ways of doing things
Lots of good writing on the science of learning is coming out now and it’s needed. For too long we have known too little about learning—I won’t digress into the reasons why. We need to take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about this science.
Here’s a case in point. Most students (about 80% according to survey data) “study” text and other assigned reading materials by rereading them. Yes, I know. It’s a huge struggle to get some students to do any reading. We have addressed that problem here previously and you’ll find another good way to get students reading in the June/July issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter. But for this post, let’s consider those students who’ve done the reading and are now “studying” it to prepare for an exam. Most students do that by simply rereading the material.
I just taught a dear friend how to knit, and in doing so I revisited how very challenging it is to teach something you can do easily.
Knitting, like so many of the skills we teach, including concrete skills like running a lathe and abstract ones like critical thinking, cannot be learned in theory. It is learned by doing. “Now you try,” I say after several slow, deliberate demonstrations of the motions. Oh my, such clumsy confusion. “Here, let me show you again.” I slow down even further and talk through the movements needed to make a stitch. Good gracious, I can hardly watch these tortured, truncated movements, so far from the peaceful, rhythmic flow of knitting. As the confusion continues, thoughts start going through my mind. How many times am I going to have to show her? It can’t possibly be this hard? And why am I feeling frustrated?
April 30 - What’s the Story on Learning Styles?
We have this tendency in higher education to throw babies out with bath water. It derives from dualistic thinking. Either something is right or wrong, it’s in or out, up or down. As mature thinkers, we disavow these dichotomous perspectives, but then find their simplicity hard to resist. They make complicated things easy.