Now here’s an argument I haven’t heard before: Improving your instruction makes it easier for students to learn. If it’s easier for them to learn, they won’t work as hard in the course, and that means they could learn less. It’s called offsetting behavior and we can’t ask students about it directly because it would be disingenuous for them to admit to studying less when learning becomes easier.
Effort and habit are instrumental to learning and writing, but they are often dimly lit in our grading systems. That light needs to brighten with the help of new research and popular literature that highlight how essential habit, effort, and perseverance are to learning. I’ve used an effort-aware grading system in my teaching for some time now, a B-grading contract that locks hardworking students into a minimum final grade of B. For grades rising above B, the quality of the writing is the focus (the product), but only for students who fulfill the contract (the process).
When Goldilocks visits the three bears’ house, she tastes the porridge they left out in the kitchen; papa’s porridge is too hot, mama’s is too cold, but baby bear’s porridge is “just right” for her. Believe or not, this notion of “just right” is meaningful to college professors as they prepare content for their classes.
In our role as instructors, most of us deal with the problem of too much content. We often embrace a “content coverage” model in designing our courses, in which we attempt to cover all of the material that we deem important or interesting in the area of our course. The result is a course that increasingly balloons out of control each year as more and more content is added, resulting in a harried instructor and frustrated students.
we want students to be critical thinkers, we must routinely and explicitly give them structured practice opportunities to critically examine their own thinking. Squeezing two or three metacognitive activities into a hectic semester teaches students that such reflection is only for special occasions. Rather, student self-evaluation should be a daily course routine.
Twenty-first century skills necessitate the implementation of instruction that allows students to apply course content, take ownership of their learning, use technology meaningfully, and collaborate. Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is one pedagogical approach that might fit in your teaching toolbox.
A quote from my June 3 blog post appeared in the October 18 issue of the New York Times. I was thrilled until I read the beautifully written op-ed piece. It proposes more lecture and less active learning. My quote was used to illustrate the perspective of those of us who favor active learning.
Peer assessment in groups has been shown to effectively address a number of group process issues, but only if the peer assessment has a formative component. Many studies have shown that if peer assessment is used at the end of a group project, group members will punish their dysfunctional members—those who didn’t do work, didn’t turn work in on time, didn’t come to meetings, and didn’t do quality work—but they won’t confront those group members when they commit those dysfunctional behaviors. After-the-fact peer assessment gives the teacher input on who did and didn’t contribute in the group, but it doesn’t change what happened in that group or help students learn how to confront group member problems when they emerge.
See if this sounds familiar.
You’re scheduled to teach a course you have taught before that desperately needs revision. The content and pedagogy go back for a decade or more and are both sadly obsolete, or the grades have been abysmal and the students are threatening to revolt, or someone (the department head, a faculty committee, or you) has decided to offer the course online, or maybe you’re just bored and dread the thought of teaching it again.
Goals for my First-Year Seminar students include proficiency with a host of study skills as well as course content based on what we call “learning about learning.” To support new college students in understanding what, exactly, learning is, my colleagues and I introduce a number of themes and authors to our students over the course of the first semester. Themes can include locus of control, memory learning and the brain (including information processing models), current research on learning disabilities, theories of motivation and learning, mind-set theory, emotional intelligence theories, and research on millennial students just like them. Students read materials written by authors doing work in these areas.