Using “Frameworks” to Enhance Teaching and Learning

I want to explain the use of what I call “frameworks” in my college teaching. I have used them during nine years of teaching graduate and undergraduate classes, and my students tell me that they are particularly helpful. Although I teach in Utica College’s Education program, this tool has application across a broad number of disciplines and courses at a variety of levels.

The tool I call a “framework” is a visual structure to capture students’ thinking. It has a non-linear format and provides writing space to record what students are thinking about course content as well as how they are thinking about it. I start students out early in the semester with a framework I provide them: A sheet of paper with three shapes on it: a square, a triangle, and a circle (see sample #1). The shapes have three associated phrases: “Something that ‘squares’ with your beliefs,” “Three ‘points’ to remember,” and “A question ‘circling’ my mind.” The students complete the framework by hand after reading the assigned chapters in their text.

The frameworks are required work although not graded, and they serve a dual purpose:
(1) They provide students with an opportunity to make notes about their reading and course content. I rarely lecture; thus, some students are looking for “notes.” Their completed frameworks from throughout the semester serve as notes for students to refer to at a later date.

(2) They provide me with an opportunity to evaluate how students are thinking about course content. This is important for formative assessment purposes: I am able to get a glimpse into how students are processing the material and what thoughts or questions they may have, both of which inform my teaching. For example, sometimes I am able to provide a quick, written response to a question directly on a student’s work. Other times, when more than one student poses a similar or related question or addresses a particular concept, I may bring it up for a class discussion.

Helping students understand what they read
I generally assign frameworks on a weekly basis, to be completed with course reading outside of class. I collect them weekly, when assigned reading is due, which helps students stay accountable to the reading and on track with our course calendar. I read their completed work, make brief comments on individual papers, and make notes for myself about the class responses as a whole, which often provides me with insight about where concepts and ideas from the reading may need to be explained better in class or be presented differently. The frameworks provide an added benefit of creating an opportunity for me to address students in person, on a one-on-one basis, in a casual manner that builds personal connection and supports their learning.

After students have had an opportunity to use student-generated frameworks from previous classes, they then have an opportunity to create their own. Each student’s framework is expected to meet certain criteria and include: (1) a visual, non-linear format; (2) a cognitive/logical component; (3) a personal/affective component, and (4) a place to question or challenge one’s thinking. Often times, student submissions reflect their own personality and interests. This student sample of the archery target is a case in point (See sample #2.) “Material that ‘missed the mark’” addresses course content that students either did not agree with or did not make sense of. “Your ‘Bullseye’ Beliefs” captures course content that is consistent with student beliefs—something that students could already “connect” with. “Some ‘over-arching’ concepts” captures key points from the assigned reading. “What still needs sharpening” gives students an opportunity to express their questions or highlight course concepts and ideas that may need further clarification. Sample #3 provides a glimpse at another student’s personal interpretation of the task, which is represented as a camera.

The use of the frameworks is grounded in principles of learning and cognition. A non-linear format gives students an opportunity to transform linear text into “representations of knowledge … for constructing and remembering, communicating and negotiating meanings, and assessing and reforming the shifting terrain of interrelated knowledge” (Hyerle, p. 11). The cognitive/logical component allows students to use analytical skills as they summarize key points or ideas based on course content; this requires students to “…distill information into a parsimonious and synthesized form (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, & Stone, p.78). The personal/affective component allows students to make personal meaning. When students are expected to question or challenge their own thinking, they learn to become reflective critical thinkers.

For me, capturing all of this in one document means I am also collecting data on my own teaching. I can use what I learn from students to inform how I teach, which makes for more effective teaching and, in turn, student learning. Finally, the interactive nature of the frameworks gives me the opportunity to know my students as individuals. The ability to connect with students on a personal level, as Bain (2004) says, is one of the most fundamental elements of successful college teaching and learning.

Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Dean, C.B., Hubbell, E.R., Pitler, H., & Stone, BJ. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Hyerle, D. (1996). Visual tools for constructing knowledge. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Dr. Patrice W. Hallock is an associate professor of education at Utica College.