The Teaching Professor
Current Issue: November 1, 2014
Most teaching professionals are heavily invested in the idea that learning isn’t about being able to regurgitate facts on an exam. We also worry, and with good reason, that emphasizing rote learning steals time and effort away from the deeper thinking that we want students to do. But in my work I’ve come to realize that memorization deserves some airtime because it is one important route to building content knowledge and expertise. Furthermore, acquiring content knowledge doesn’t have to detract from critical thinking, reasoning, or innovation—rather, it can complement all these. Cognitive scientists are making new discoveries all the time about the connections between memory and processes such as drawing inferences, making predictions, and other skills that make up the ability to think like an expert in a discipline.
Despite the availability and increasingly widespread use of ancillary textbook materials, so far only limited research has explored their impact on learning. Two psychology professors, both teaching the introductory course in that field, decided to explore that impact, specifically in terms of the use of practice tests that are a part of MyPsychLab published by Pearson and ancillary to an introductory psychology text authored by Ciccarelli and White. These professors were motivated by a very pragmatic concern. “Is it worthwhile to require students to purchase access to these resources?” (p. 229)
When learning is presented as a story, students are more likely to understand the material as relevant to their lives. I incorporate the person in teaching and learning, making flexible but structured space for students to consider their relationships to ideas, texts, and other people. My goal is to enable students to risk approaching learning as people who might be affected by what they read and by what they create. Taking this risk depends on students’ having confidence and finding a purpose in self-reflection.
I came into education as a mental health counselor and play therapist. In reaching into my psychology bag of tricks for assistance in effectively managing my students, I have found the most help from my play therapy training, particularly the strategies I learned from noted Adlerian Play Therapy founder Dr. Terry Kottman and the strategies offered by Foster Cline and Jim Fay, co-founders of the Love and Logic Institute. The goal of my classroom management approach is to interpret student behaviors and then respond appropriately in order to minimize classroom disruptions and improve the learning process.
I was visiting one of the graduates of our theological college some eight years after he had completed his studies. It was fascinating to observe that in the course of a 60-minute conversation, he made clear reference to five specific course themes—three from courses he took with me and two from a colleague’s courses. It was not simply the references but the way in which they were shaped and used that fascinated me; the essence was almost verbatim, but the application was local and contextual to his own situation. The question then was what key factors contributed to this sort of long-term and formational learning? I would suggest two in particular: (1) the creation and repetition of “big ideas” and (2) significance.
As a high school and college history teacher for 35 years, I have come to value extra credit as an effective tool in my “teaching resource kit.” Here’s why, explained by how I use it.
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