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Mar 16, 2011

Importance of Students’ Prior Knowledge

“. . . the contemporary view of learning is that people construct new knowledge and understandings based on what they already know and believe . . ..”

Implications for Teaching and Learning

“A logical extension of the view that new knowledge must be constructed from existing knowledge is that teachers need to pay attention to the incomplete understandings, the false beliefs, and the naive renditions of concepts that learners bring with them to a given subject. Teachers then need to build on these ideas in ways that help each student achieve a more mature understanding. If students' initial ideas and beliefs are ignored, the understandings that they develop can be very different from what the teacher intends.”

Try the following strategies to determine if your students understand the material, and to uncover possible misconceptions:

  1. Have students put a key concept into their own words.  You might even identify a particular audience. (Examples:  Explain the concept of “corporation” to high school students; Explain an “irrevocable trust” to a group of retirees.)
  2. Have students offer their own applications and/or examples for a key concept (Examples: Stephen Covey recommends “Win-win performance agreements”: give two specific applications, one related to current news and one related to your own life. Give a concrete example of the concept “due process.”)
  3. Have students formulate ways to show relationships (Example: concept maps)
  4. Have students summarize the main points after 15 minutes of lecture or demonstration. Stop part way through your presentation and ask students to summarize your main points so far. Keep the papers anonymous. If students are confused, ask them to write questions they need answered. Collect the papers and quickly sift through them to confirm and clarify the important points for everyone.
  5. Have students summarize the main points at the end of class by using a “Minute Paper.” Ask students to respond to two questions: What is the most significant thing you learned today? What question about the material is foremost in your mind that you would like answered next time we meet? You can keep the responses anonymous, or you can use them for attendance by having students sign and turn in their responses. After class, review student comments, sort them by categories, and use them to structure a review for the next class session.

Resources:

  • Academy of Art University, Feedback in a Flash! Accessed 3/9/2011 at http://faculty.academyart.edu/resource/tips/1840.html
  •  Angelo. T. A. and Cross K. P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, 2nd ed. Jossey-Bass.
  •  Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.



To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Contributor:
Barbara Millis
Teaching and Learning Center
University of Texas at San Antonio
http://www.utsa.edu/tlc/


Author: francine_glazer

Mar 08, 2011

How Experts Differ from Novices


Purpose: To help faculty members appreciate the gulf between their expert knowledge and their students’ novice understandings so they can create positive teaching and learning situations. 
 
Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000) have identified some important characteristics of experts that have implications for teaching and learning:
 
“1. Experts notice features and meaningful patterns of information that are not noticed by novices.
2. Experts have acquired a great deal of content knowledge that is organized in ways that reflect a deep understanding of their subject matter.
3. Experts’ knowledge cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or propositions but, instead reflects contexts of applicability: that is, the knowledge is ‘conditionalized’ on a set of circumstances.
4. Experts are able to flexibly retrieve important aspects of their knowledge with little attentional effort.
5. Though experts know their disciplines thoroughly, this does not guarantee that they are able to teach others.
6. Experts have varying levels of flexibility in their approach to new situations,” p. 31.
 
The teaching implications are numerous. For example, when students must acquire content knowledge in order to later become experts themselves, repetition must be built into the learning process, preferably through as many modalities (text, diagrams, animations, films, problem-solving, testing, etc.) as possible.  Group work can be helpful because often students who are more knowledgeable than others can “translate” difficult material in ways that make more sense to other students than the professor’s expert explanations.  
 
Source:  
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.


To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Contributor:
Barbara Millis
Teaching and Learning Center
University of Texas at San Antonio
http://www.utsa.edu/tlc/

Author: francine_glazer

Mar 01, 2011

Working with Student Teams: Send-a-Problem

Purpose:  To challenge students to think critically about key issues and open-ended questions in each discipline.  This three-part process encourages students to question assumptions and explore alternative solutions.  
 
How to Conduct:  The instructor brings to class file folders or envelopes with a single problem posted on each one.  She announces the activity and its time limits.  She distributes the folders, one per team.  In large classes several teams can work simultaneously on the same problems with the caveat that they cannot be seated close together.  The activity proceeds in a highly structured manner:  

  1. Each team discusses its particular problem and generates within the given time frame as many solutions as possible; the solutions, recorded on a sheet of paper, are placed in the folder or envelope on which is written the problem addressed.  
  2. The folders are then passed clockwise to another team which does not open the folder.  That team, seeing only the problem posed but not the solutions generated by the previous team, follows an identical procedure and brainstorms solutions, placing their recorded conclusions in the folder or envelope.
  3. The folders are passed a third time, but in this case, the third team opens the folder and reviews the ideas/solutions generated by the other two teams.  They can add additional ideas of their own or consolidate those already suggested by the two other teams.  Their primary task, however, is to identify the most viable solutions to the given problem or issue, usually by synthesizing all three teams’ answers.  

Those familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) will recognize that this activity brings students to the highest levels of critical thinking because the final step requires sophisticated evaluation and synthesis.  Group reports can provide useful closure.  
 
Discipline-Specific Applications: Instructors will find that Send-a-Problem activities are limited only by their imagination.  Virtually all disciplines lend themselves to problem-solving activities where “many heads are better than one.” For example:

  • What things would a clinician need to know before considering a diagnosis of Attention-Deficit Disorder/AIDS/Alzheimer’s?  
  • What features would an art historian look for to authenticate an original Rembrandt/Renoir/Klee?  
  • Biology students could be asked to design various experiments, including a list of equipment:  Compare the rates of growth of two different kinds of bread molds; compare the rates of growth of fruit fly populations under different vitamin supplements; compare the rates of growth of two hybrid varieties of bean plants.  
  • A class in religion might identify challenges facing the Catholic Church today (challenges to Papal authority; the declining priesthood, etc.) and have students discuss the ramifications of these issues and possible solutions.  
  • A class in history might outline the various claims to territory of the cattleman, the farmers, and the native Americans.  
  • Courses in literature could break down various aspects of a novel or short story with teams locating and explaining examples of things such as color imagery, symbols, and figures of speech in books such as The Great Gatsby.
  • Geography students could discuss these topics: What makes the Balkan region unique as compared to other shatter belts?  Explain the effects of linguistic diversity on European unity. Describe and explain the impact of colonialism and the resulting economies of a given region.

The Send-a-Problem concept does not need to be limited to issues.  In place of the folders, geologists can pass around rocks needing identification; nursing instructors can have teams complete a patient chart; and ESL teachers can have teams caption various cartoons using the target language.
 

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Contributor:
Barbara Millis
Teaching and Learning Center
University of Texas at San Antonio
http://www.utsa.edu/tlc/


Author: francine_glazer

Feb 23, 2011

Working with Student Teams: Structured Problem Solving

Structured problem solving is a technique that is easy to introduce. It is effective in both small and large classes and is easily adapted for online and blended courses.

Purpose:  To increase students' problem-solving abilities by ensuring that all students in a team are actively involved with given tasks and able to serve as the team's spokesperson; to set an expectation that students will coach/teach one another (positive interdependence).

Steps:

  1. Assign identities to each student within the team. You can have students simply number off (1,2,3,4) or use some other method such as playing card suits (heart, diamond, spade, club) or colored post-it notes (red, green, blue, and yellow, for example).
  2. Assign a challenging task that each team must complete together. In large classes, different teams can tackle different tasks. It might be questions in response to a case study (Management); a worksheet where students identify the parts of a flower (Botany); or an ill-defined problem in Engineering or Economics.
  3. Set a time limit. Tell students that you will not allow teams to select the spokesperson if they are called on to report back to the class. You will determine just prior to the report which student will speak based on their “identities” – for example, students with the yellow post-it notes will serve as spokespeople.
  4. Encourage teams to ensure that all members can articulate the team’s solution. This requirement means that all students are likely, if not to actively contribute, at least to pay attention. It also encourages students to request and offer clarifications and to engage in peer coaching.


Results: This approach discourages high achievers from dominating and slackers from "goofing off." It also means that you will hear from students who would rarely volunteer responses. You will find that they are more willing and more able to serve as team spokesperson because the selection process is not personal and because team coaching builds their confidence: they are providing a team response, rather than an individual one

Suggestion:
Because students work at different speeds, it is useful to give each team a "sponge" or "extension" activity to move on to if they complete the originally assigned task. This ensures that the students stay focused on course content and allows teams to move on to more challenging activities rather than fritter away unused time in off-task "chit-chat."

Conclude the activity: In-class reports from all teams would be repetitious.  Use "luck of the draw,"—particularly in large classes—to determine which person in which team will report.  Draw cards from a deck matching teams and student identities:  “I just drew the jack of hearts.  Will the person in that team please summarize your group’s solutions to the problem?”  

Resources:  

  • An, Y-J. (2010). Scaffolding Wiki-Based, Ill-Structured Problem Solving in an Online Learning Environment. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6 (4). http://jolt.merlot.org/vol6no4/an_1210.htm accessed Feb 23, 2011.
  • Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., and Smith, K. A. (1998). Active learning: Cooperation in the college classroom. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.
  • Millis, B. J., and Cottell, P. G., Jr. (1998). Cooperative learning for higher education faculty, American Council on Education, Series on Higher Education. The Oryx Press, Phoenix, AZ.
  • Slavin, R. E. (1995). Cooperative learning: Theory, research, and practice (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.



To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Contributor:
Barbara Millis
Teaching and Learning Center
University of Texas at San Antonio
http://www.utsa.edu/tlc/

Author: francine_glazer

Feb 15, 2011

Teaching Writing in the Disciplines

 

Remind students that writing is a process that helps us clarify ideas. Tell them that writing is a way of learning, not an end in itself. Let students know that none of us knows exactly what we think about a topic or issue until we put our views on paper. Also let students know that writing is a complicated, messy, nonlinear process filled with false starts. Help them identify the writer's key activities:
  • Developing ideas
  • Finding a focus and a thesis
  • Composing a draft
  • Getting feedback and comments from others
  • Revising the draft by expanding ideas, clarifying meaning, reorganizing
  • Editing
  • Presenting the finished work to readers
 
Ask students to write what they know about a topic before you discuss it. Before discussing a topic or lecturing on it, ask students to write a brief account of what they already know about the subject or what opinions they hold. You need not collect these; the purpose is to focus students' attention. (Source: Tollefson, 1988)
 
Ask students to respond in writing to questions you pose during class. For example, at the beginning of a class, list two or three short-answer questions on the board and ask students to write their responses. The questions might call for a review of material previously covered or test student's recall of the assigned readings. Asking students to write down their responses also helps generate more lively discussion because students will have a chance to think about the material. (Source: Tollefson, 1988)
 
Ask students to write from a pro or con position. When an argument has been presented in class, stop for a few minutes and ask students to write down all the reasons and evidence they can think of that supports one side or the other. Use these statements as the basis for discussion. (Source: Walvoord, 1986)
 
Explain that writing is hard work. Share with your class your own struggles in grappling with difficult topics. If they know that writing takes effort, they won't be discouraged by their pace or progress. One faculty member shares with students a notebook that contains the chronology of one of his published articles: first ideas, successive drafts, submitted manuscript, reviewers' suggested changes, revised version, galley proofs, and published article (Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, 1989).
 
Give students opportunities to talk about their writing. Students need to talk about papers in progress so that they can formulate their thoughts, generate ideas, and focus their topics. It is also important for students to hear what their peers have written. Take five or ten minutes of class time for students to read their writing to each other in small groups or pairs or to talk about what they plan to write.
 
Structure small group discussion around a writing task. For example, ask each student to pick three words of major importance to the day's session. Then ask the class to write freely for two or three minutes on one of the words. Next, give the students five to ten minutes to meet in groups of three, sharing what they have written and generating questions to ask in class.
 
Use peer response groups. Divide the class into groups of three or four students, no larger. Tell your students to bring to class enough copies of a rough draft of a paper for each member of their group. Give students guidelines for critiquing the drafts. The most important step in any response task is for the reader to note the part of the paper that is the strongest and describe to the writer why it worked well. Readers can also be given the following instructions (adapted from Walvoord, 1986, p. 113):
  • State the main point of the paper in a single sentence.
  • List the major subtopics.
  • Identify confusing sections of the paper.
  • Decide whether each section of the paper has enough detail, evidence, and information.
  • Indicate whether the paper's points follow one another in sequence.
  • Judge the appropriateness of the opening and concluding paragraphs.
  • Identify the strengths of the paper.
The critiques may be done during class time, but written critiques done as homework are likely to be more thoughtful. Use class time for the groups to discuss each paper and critique. Students then revise their drafts for submission.
 
Encourage students to revise their work. Provide formal steps for revision. For example, ask students to submit first drafts of papers for your review or for peer critique. Or give students the option of revising and rewriting one assignment during the term for a higher grade. Faculty who extend this invitation to their students report that 10 to 40 percent of the students take advantage of it. (Source: Lowman, 1984)
 
Explain thesis statements. A thesis statement makes an assertion about some issue: "The savings and loan crisis resulted from the relaxation of government regulations." A common student problem is to write papers that have a diffuse thesis statement ("The savings and loan crisis has caused major problems") or papers that present overviews of facts with no thesis statement.
 
Stress clarity and specificity. Let students know that the more abstract and difficult the topic, the more concrete their language should be (Tollefson, 1988). Tell students that inflated language and academic jargon camouflage rather than clarify their point.
 
Explain the importance of grammar and sentence structure, as well as content. Don't let students fall back on the rationalization that only English teachers should be judges of grammar and style. Tell students you will be looking at both the quality of their writing and the content.
 
Distribute bibliographies and tip sheets on good writing practices. Check with your English department, composition program, or writing center to identify materials that can easily be distributed to students. Consider giving students a bibliography of writing guides, for example:
  • Crews, F. C. Random House Handbook. (6th ed.) New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992. A classic comprehensive textbook for college students. Well written and well worth reading.
  • Lanham, R. A. Revising Prose. (3rd ed.) New York: Scribner's, 1991. Techniques for eliminating bureaucratese and restoring energy to tired prose.
  • Tollefson, S. K. Grammar Grams and Grammar Grams II. New York: HarperCollins, 1989, 1992. Two short, witty guides that answer common questions about grammar, style, and usage. Both are fun to read.
  • Discipline-specific guides may also be useful. Petersen (1982) has a dated but good bibliography on writing in particular content areas. Other publications follow.
 
Science and Engineering:
  • Barrass, R. Scientists Must Write. New York: Chapman and Hall, 1978.
  • Biddle, A. W., and Bean, D. J. Writer's Guide: Life Sciences. Lexington, Mass.: Heath, 1987.
  • Connolly, P., and Vilvardi, T. (eds.). Writing to Learn Mathematics and Science. New York: Teachers College Press, 1989.
  • Day, R. A. How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper. (3rd ed.) Philadelphia: ISI Press, 1988.
  • Maimon, E. P., and others. Writing in the Arts and Sciences. Boston: Little, Brown, 1981.
  • Michaelson, R. How to Write and Publish Engineering Papers and Reports. Philadelphia: ISI Press, 1990. 
Arts and Humanities:
  • Barnet, S. A Sbort Guide to Writing About Art. Boston: Little, Brown, 1989. Biddle, A. W., Steffens, H. J., Dickerson, M. J., and Fulwiler, T. Writer's Guide: History. Lexington, Mass.: Heath, 1987.
  • Goldman, B. Reading and Writing in the Arts. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1978.
 
Social Sciences:
  • Biddle, A. W., Fulwiler, 1, and Holland, K. M. Writer's Guide: Psychology. Lexington, Mass.: Heath, 1987.
  • Biddle, A. W., Holland, K. M., and Fulwiler, T. Writer's Guide: Political Science. Lexington, Mass.: Heath, 1987.
  • Lanham, R. A. Revising Business Prose. (3rd ed.) New York: Scribner's, 1991.
  • McCloskey, D. N. The Writing of Economics. New York: Macmillan, 1987. Steward, J. S., and Smelstor, M. Writing in the Social Sciences. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1984.
  • Tallent, N. Psychological Report Writing. (4th ed.) Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1992.
 
Ask a composition instructor to give a presentation to your students. Invite a guest speaker to talk to your class about effective writing and common writing problems. Faculty who have invited experts from composition departments or student learning centers report that such presentations reinforce the values of the importance of writing.
 
Let students know about available tutoring services. Most campuses offer individual or group tutoring in writing. Distribute brochures or ask someone from the tutoring center to give a demonstration in your class.
 
Use computers to help students write better. Faculty are beginning to use commercially available and locally developed software to help students plan, write, and revise their written work. Some software lets instructors monitor students' work in progress and lets students collaborate with their classmates. Holdstein and Selfe (1990) and Hawisher and Selfe (1989) discuss computers and composition.

 
Resources:
  • Boris, E. Z. "Classroom Minutes: A Valuable Teaching Device." Improving College and University Teaching, 1983, 31(2), 70-73.
  • Elbow, P. "Using Writing to Teach Something Else." Unpublished paper, 1987.
  • Hawisher, G. E., and Selfe, C. L. (eds.). Critical Perspectives on Computers and Composition Instruction. New York: Teachers College Press, 1989.
  • Holdstein, D. H., and Selfe, C. L. (eds.). Computers and Writing: Theory, Research, Practice. New York: Modern Language Association, 1990.
  • Lowman, J. Mastering the Techniques of Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1984.
  • Petersen, B. T. "Additional Resources in the Practice of Writing Across the Disciplines." In C. W. Griffin (ed.), Teaching Writing in All Disciplines. New Directions in Teaching and Learning, no. 12. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1982.
  • Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education. Bright Idea Network, 1989. (For information contact David Graf, Iowa State University, Ames.)
  • Pytlik, B. P. "Teaching Teachers of Writing: Workshops on Writing as a Collaborative Process." College Teaching, 1989, 37(l), 12-14.
  • Tollefson, S. K. Encouraging Student Writing. Berkeley: Office of Educational Development, University of California, 1988.
  • Walvoord, B. F. Helping Students Write Well: A Guide for Teachers in All Disciplines. (2nd ed.) New York: Modern Language Association, 1986.
  • Watkins, B. T. "More and More Professors in Many Academic Disciplines Routinely Require Students to Do Extensive Writing." Chronicle of Higher Education, 1990, 36(44), pp. A13-14, A16.
 
To follow up on these ideas, please email me at fglazer@nyit.edu. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from the hard copy book Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis; Jossey-Bass Publishers: San Francisco, 1993. Used with permission.

Author: francine_glazer

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Profiles
Cody Souffrant Cody Souffrant
Campus: Manhattan
Major: Life Sciences/Biology, B.S.
Class Of: 2014
Zack Ortmann Zack Ortmann
Campus: Old Westbury
Major: Criminal Justice
Class Of: 2016
Eugene Cunningham Eugene Cunningham
Adjunct Faculty
Department: Communication Arts
Campus: Old Westbury