November 5, 2013
Thinking like an expert: Develop student skill with disciplinary approaches to reading
When I settle into my hammock with a new novel, I read differently than when I read an article in a scholarly journal or review a manuscript submission for a journal editor. Regardless of how skilled students may be with basic reading, they may need guidance in how to read scholarly materials, which requires students to adopt disciplinary habits of mind and approaches to thinking about problems and evaluating evidence.
Below are some suggestions for reading assignments from faculty at Wilfrid Laurier University. These assignments require students to read disciplinary materials and practice disciplinary approaches to thinking and reading.
Talk about what it means to be a professional in your discipline (e.g., geographer, biologist, social worker, or historian). How does a historian think about history, solve historical problems, read the historical literature, write about history, and so on? What questions do they ask themselves when they begin to read a particular text? What are the conventions for discourse in the discipline? Describe disciplinary thinking skills explicitly to students and, if possible, model them as you think aloud about an assigned reading to make these skills transparent and accessible to students.
Develop an activity associated with assigned reading(s) that supports classroom discussion or completion of a course assignment. For example, instructors in the Wilfrid Laurier first year course, Religion and Culture (Evil and Its Symbols), ask students to identify a short passage or identify a quote from the reading that is salient to them, write a short paragraph describing why the passage spoke to them, and explain how the passage connects to topics discussed in class. Students submit their work 24 hours before class. The written assignment supports discussion in the next class meeting. The students' total grade should be based in part on the quality of these submissions.
Model critical reading in the classroom. Professor Shelagh Crooks of St. Mary's University (Canada) provides students with a short reading (it could be a reading from the list of assigned readings). Students work in groups to answer the following questions.
• What is the topic under discussion?
• What is the issue at hand?
• What position does the author take?
• What evidence does the author provide?
• How credible is the evidence?
Student groups prepare and submit a collective answer to the questions.
When this activity is repeated several times over a number of class meetings, students develop increased skill and confidence in their ability to read disciplinary material with a more critical eye.
Create a worksheet and pose questions to structure reading and reflection on the content. The worksheet can structure either individual reading assignments and reflective writing or in-class group discussions of the reading. The completed worksheet can document the quality of reading or completeness of the group discussion. Instructors in different disciplines might include questions on the worksheet to reflect specific reading and thinking skills that characterize the discipline or the area of research.
Arrange a class visit from a disciplinary expert Bring a reading to life by inviting the author of an assigned reading into the classroom. Authors located in distant locations can visit the class via Skype or web-based conferencing technology.
Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom (John Bean, 2011)
This tip is based on teaching strategy submitted by Jeanette McDonald and Anna Barichello, Wilfrid Laurier University (Canada) to the Western Kentucky University Teaching Issues Writing Consortium.
November 13, 2012
Why students don’t read: Strategies to increase student preparation for class
A “flipped” class requires students to read assigned materials and complete other assigned work that prepares them to apply new learning during in-class activities that promote deep learning of course content and skills. Instructors can assign readings, but what if students do not complete these readings before coming to class?
Hoeft (2012) reports that 56%-68% of students in a first-year class reported that they did not read assigned material before class. The most common reasons students give to explain why they did not read assigned materials are:
Students who say that they read the assigned materials usually said that they were motivated to complete reading assignments because they were concerned about grades.
Students who say that they did not complete assigned readings suggested that instructors might increase the number of students who read assigned material if they
Hoeft tried each strategy in one of three different courses. She found that reading quizzes and supplementary graded work successfully motivated students to complete assigned reading (74% of students in a course that used reading quizzes; 95% of students in a course that used an assigned, graded reading journal). Although more students reported reading when the journal assignment was used as a motivator, an independent measure of reading comprehension indicated that quizzes improved comprehension more than the journal assignment. Students in the reading journal assignment class appeared to read superficially, skimming the readings to find answers to questions included in the assignment; students in the reading quiz class appeared to read more deeply because the reading quizzes tapped reading content in less predictable ways than did the journal assignments.
Instructors can implement reading quizzes by creating self-grading quizzes in eLearning as graded assignments. Close access to the quizzes on the due date for the assigned reading to motivate students to complete the reading before class sessions. Alternatively, some instructors implement reading quizzes in the first 5 minutes of the class meeting (perhaps as clicker questions). If completed during class, the reading quizzes also serve to motivate students to attend class and participate in planned learning activities.
Hoeft, M. E. (2012). Why university students don’t read: What professors can do to increase compliance. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6, (2). http://academics.georgiasouthern.edu/ijsotl/v6n2.html
February 21, 2012
Promote critical thinking skills with a pro-con-caveat homework assignment
Encourage critical thinking skills by creating assignments that require students to consider multiple points of view and describe the evidence that supports each perspective. In a pro-con-caveat assignment, students must identify arguments in favor of a certain decision, against the decision, and identify caveats or other considerations that might impact the decision. This assignment can motivate students to complete assigned readings in preparation for a class discussion. Provide guidelines on the number of entries expected for each category (pro, con, caveat) and the quality of writing expected for entries (e.g., should students write complete sentences or will a list of bulleted items be an acceptable response format?).
Use work on the pro-con-caveat assignment to support small group discussion during class. To encourage advance preparation, require students to post one copy of their assignment in eLearning before the class meeting or turn in a copy of their assignment at the start of class. In either case, students should bring an additional copy of their completed assignment to use while engaged in small group discussion during class.
Small group discussion activity based on the pro-con-caveat assignment. Students work in small groups (3 to 5 students) to create an in-depth pro-con-caveat grid that identifies the best ideas from each student. Call on one or two groups to share their collective pro-con-caveat grids with the class.
This assignment encourages students to prepare for class, reflect on issues discussed in assigned readings and apply these to a realistic problem or decision. The small group activity provides additional practice with critical thinking skills when students evaluate individual suggestions for pro and con arguments and caveats, evaluate the supporting evidence for these suggestions, and make decisions about which arguments and caveats should be included in the final grid.
Grading individual grids can be as simple as assigning pass-fail credit or assigning one point for assignments that include an entry for a grid element (3 points maximum).
This tip is based on teaching strategy suggested by Barbara Millis, Teaching and Learning Center, University of Texas at San Antonio. (www.utsa.edu/tlc)
January 25, 2011
Improving student skill in critical evaluation of media
Media literacy has been defined as a framework to guide the access, analysis, evaluation and creation of messages in a variety of forms, including print, video, images, and web-based media. Media literacy entails articulating the role of media in society and developing the inquiry and communication skills necessary for functioning effectively as citizens of a democracy (Center for Media Literacy).
The core concepts of media literacy include the following:
The following activities can be assigned to help students develop media literacy skills:
Each student should select an example of a message delivered through visual media and answer each of the following questions:
Illustrate the way a complex media message functions with discussion of a short film clip or short video.
Based on a teaching tip submitted by Taimi Olsen, Ph.D., Assistant Director, Tennessee Teaching and Learning Center, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
MediaLitKit. Center for Media Literacy.
Visual Thinking. Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University.
International Visual Literacy Association http://www.ivla.org/drupal2/index.php
Film Vocabulary Flashcards. Quizlet. 2010.
Potter, J. (2004). Theory of media literacy: a cognitive approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Davis, B. (2009). Tools for Teaching ( 2nd Ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
January 12, 2010
Help students succeed in your course by sharing effective study strategies
As experts in academia, faculty sometimes forget that the study habits that enabled them to be successful as students and distinguished them as competitive applicants to graduate programs were (and continue to be) rare skills among undergraduate students. Share your expertise as a student with your students and describe the skills and habits they should acquire to be successful in your course.
An example of this sharing of expertise is the following handout that Julie Ann Williams provides to students in her Operations Management course at the beginning of the term. Although some of her advice is specific to successful completion of this course, much advice is transferrable to other courses.
How to Be Successful in MAN3504
Thanks to Julie Ann Williams for sharing this handout.
Julie Ann Stuart Williams, Ph.D., P.E.
Department of Management/MIS
University of West Florida
March 31, 2009
Getting Students to Read
Create an assignment in which students write three reading questions/comments based on the text for each reading assignment. The reading questions/comments are graded for content.
The quality of the reading questions/comments must provide evidence that:
Before the semester begins, randomly select 12-15 days when you will collect the comments and note the date in your calendar. This strategy encourages students to bring their questions every day and ensures that you collect comments with a reasonable frequency without being tempted to punish absent students by collecting comments on a day with low attendance.
Inform students that the purpose of the assignment is to get them to read. Award up to 5 points each time students turn comments in during class; use the total score to determine about 10-15% of the final grade.
Grading need not be onerous. Award 5 points if students clearly put some thought into their comments. Deduct a point or two and include a specific comment to suggest to students what they should have included to earn full points. Deducting a point or two for lower quality submissions encourages students to use the feedback and improve future submissions. Over the course of the term, student responses improve and show evidence of deep, critical thought. The questions often work well as the basis for a good class discussion.
Thanks to Brien K. Ashdown, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Saint Louis University, for this suggestion.
March 3, 2009
Coach students in the cognitive skills associated with the discipline
Experts differ from less accomplished performers in terms of the amount of disciplinary content they know, the nature and fluency of specific disciplinary cognitive skills, and, for disciplines such as music, sport, and dance, physiological adaptations that emerge following extended periods of practice and training (Ericsson & Charness, 2004). Discipline-specific cognitive skills used by experts may be so deeply embedded in expertise that experts may not be fully aware of the speed and fluidity with which they deploy these skills. Expert skills include cognitive strategies such as approaches for analyzing a problem and strategies for reading the technical literature. Experts may have difficulty articulating how they acquired these skills or describing their decision processes when using these skills. Ericsson and Charness (2004) argue that novices require extensive practice and expert coaching to achieve expert levels of performance on these skills.
Coach students on discipline-specific reading strategies
Scholarly reading is a specialized skill that requires both instruction and practice. As novices in the discipline, students might not have acquired these cognitive skills. Additionally, they might not have engaged in enough practice with these skills to transform them into discipline-specific habits.
Coach your students in the use of discipline-specific reading skills by assigning a short reading from the scholarly literature. Students may be reluctant to mark printed text or make marginal notes after spending years in a school environment in which books are loaned and students are forbidden to mark up their books.
First, ask students to work with an assigned reading on their own. Then ask students to describe the notes they made to the group. After the group finishes its discussion of its reading and annotation strategies, show the students a page of the text that you marked and annotated. Describe how you approached the reading. Identify which sections of the text you decided were important and explain your decisions.
If students will read journal articles in your discipline, describe the process you use when reading a journal article. Do you preview parts of the article first? Describe the types of information you expect to find and the questions you want answered in each section of a journal article. Describe the types of notes you make when reading an article (highlighting, marginal notes, or separate reading notes).
Describe how your discipline defines close reading of text material. Describe the strategies students should use to identify main ideas. Discuss how you identify important ideas and key passages in the text. Describe the kinds of notations you created to help you locate important sections when you read the material at a later time.
Ericsson, K. A., & Charness, N. (2004). Expert performance: Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist, 49, 725-747.
Dartmouth College, Academic Skills Center
Resources for student study skills for reading textbooks:
Getting to Know your Textbook
Using your Textbook
February 3, 2009
Use online technology to engage students with assigned readings and improve class discussion
The ELearning system can be used to encourage students to read assigned material before class. Instructors can create a “quiz game” in which students take a short quiz to accumulate a “high score” for the assignment. Each quiz might contain only 4 or 5 multiple choice questions on the assigned reading from a larger set of 12-15 questions. The questions should be selected to help students focus on target issues that will be discussed during class. Quizzes can be structured (using D2L or Respondus) so that students answer different questions each time they take the quiz. This can be a low-stakes assignment, but some credit should be assigned so that students complete the activity. Advance completion of the quiz will improve the quality of discussion during the face-to-face class.
Thanks to Xuan V. Tran, MBA, Ph.D. and Assistant Professor in HLES for this teaching tip.
October 14, 2008
Creating Active Learning in Lectures by Getting Students to Read Assigned Material before Class
How often have you assigned a chapter for students to read for a given week only to discover that your lecture on the material is actually their first encounter with the content of the chapter? Instructors tend to control the structure and pace of their review of required readings by preparing a detailed PowerPoint presentation. With this level of organized review, students may question the value of advance reading. Some may even question whether purchasing the book is necessary. Under these conditions, motivating students to read assigned material before coming to class can be a challenge.
One approach to this problem is to require your students to prepare detailed study notes for the assigned reading as graded assignments. Structure the class meeting time around student learning from their advance reading. Begin the “lecture” with the question What did you learn from your study of today’s assigned reading?
In a large class, most of the key points of the chapter will be addressed after discussing the responses of 9-10 students to this question. Instead of delivering a prepared lecture, use class time to respond to student comments and questions. Clarify misunderstandings that might emerge. Augment the assigned reading with relevant practical examples. This approach transforms a lecture that simply reviews the reading to an interactive and engaging discussion that still “covers” the content of the reading.
Based on a teaching tip described by Mick La Lopa, Purdue University (Indiana) in the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Digest, August 28, 2007 and summarized by the Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching, Western Kentucky University.
April 22, 2008
Getting students to read course material increases student engagement, but how can you get them to read?
Engaging students in meaningful discussion during class is easier if students have read the material in advance. Assign students homework that requires them to read the material and prepare a written response that will be brought to class. The homework should require students to make use of the content of the reading. For example, students might complete a graphic organizer for the material, respond to a prompt (e.g., compare the evidence in support of each of two competing explanations or models), or relate the material to an event or problem they encounter in their daily lives or to events in the news. The homework should be meaningfully related to a class activity that builds on this homework. For example, students might engage in a debate, discussion, or pair-share activity that requires them to use the material they prepared in the homework. Collect the homework at the end of class (students will need it to participate in the class activity) and simply mark it with pass/fail (done/not done) points that contribute to a larger homework or class participation grade. Students will initially engage in the activity to earn the points, but the homework preparation ultimately gains instructional value because prepared students are able to participate and make effective contributions to the class activity.
IDEA Paper #38: Enhancing Learning – and more! – Through Cooperative Learning (Barbara J. Millis)
March 11, 2008
Relate the material you are teaching to real-world contexts and potential careers. Information in textbooks can often be abstract or very theoretical in nature. Students will understand, appreciate, and remember information a lot better if they can relate it to current events, how it is used in real settings, how it relates to what they will do after they graduate, how it relates to other topics in their field or even other disciplines, etc.
Another strategy to encourage students to actively engage with class material is to ask students to bring a standard 3X5 index card to each class for a brief “quiz.” Present a question on the topic of the day that requires the student to consider how the topic relates to something real in their lives. This strategy requires the student to consider the relevance and implications of the course material to their lives outside of the class. Any response that indicates reasonable consideration of the issue is regarded as “correct” and receives credit. In addition, because the quizzes comprise a portion of the final grade for the course, this activity encourages attendance and affords an easy way for the instructor to take attendance for record keeping.
Thanks to Eman El-Sheikh (Computer Science and CUTLA Fellow) and Ron Belter (Psychology) for these suggestions.
January 29, 2008
Students who prepare for class are more engaged with their learning.
Create a module in D2L that students must complete before they arrive to class for discussion. Students must read material in the module and prepare themselves for the discussion and activities in the class. When students arrive prepared, they can engage in class activities more effectively and learn more from these activities.
Updated 04/23/13 cdw
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