I have been an educator for 49 years. Throughout the years, I have seen innovation and experimentation in educational theory, practice, and style. I have experienced personal success, and failure in meeting the needs of students. For most of that time I have loved the practice and the art of teaching. I was rewarded by the feedback I have received from the many individuals whose lives I have influenced along the way. I relished the success of my students, both those school leaders and those I taught in a graduate education school leadership program.
The Teaching Professor May 2018
Here’s a description that will resonate with many faculty: “Whole-class discussion often fell flat, so I shifted to heavier reliance on small-group discussion as a warm-up for talk in the larger group. This change got students talking, but not necessarily reading, and the talk frequently seemed to sit on the surface of the issues, or even skirt them altogether in favor of personal storytelling that might be tangentially related to the central course concepts.” (p. 146) That’s an observation Jane West offers in an article that describes an assignment developed by others but modified and adapted by her in some unique ways.
The easier description of metacognition is “thinking about thinking.” To be metacognitive implies having knowledge of cognitive processes and having the ability to regulate them. In the case of students, that’s knowing about study strategies, their effects on learning, and the ability to act on the knowledge. Knowing that shorter, but regular encounters with content (distributed practice) promotes learning is fine, but that knowledge produces no learning benefit if the student doesn’t act on it.
Listening is important—everyone agrees. Would there be any point talking if no one listened? And for most people, it’s a skill with potential for improvement. Increasingly, it’s been seen as an essential professional skill. Sandra Spartaro and Janel Bloch’s excellent article on listening references a job search website where “active listening” appears as a qualification or required skill in 17,000 postings for business positions in management, accounting, and sales. Shortly after that, they cite a reference that learning goals related to listening were listed by less than 15 percent of AACSB-accredited business schools compared with 76 percent of the schools that had goals related to presenting.
As a longstanding psychology faculty member at my institution, I routinely teach junior-level classes on research methods in the social sciences. Successful completion of an undergraduate course in research methods is vital not only in my field but in many others where, if not expected to conduct research, students (especially those headed for graduate school) must understand applied research mechanisms and processes. Many college graduates in a variety of professional positions need to be able to make informed decisions about research findings. However, the technically complex content of a research methods course often makes it difficult to keep students interested and motivated, and, at the same time, provide meaningful learning experiences. In meeting these challenges, I find it useful to integrate constructivist learning assignments into the course.
A lot of students are terribly optimistic about the grade they’ll be getting in a course. They start out imagining that they’re going to do very well, especially if they’ve decided it’s an easy course. And when they miss an early assignment or get a grade lower than what they expected on the first assignments, they tell themselves there’s plenty of time to recover. If they do finally get things going in the right direction, it’s often too late with only a small percentage of points left to earn in the course. For teachers, the question is how to get students doing what they need to be doing when they need to do it.
It’s a senior-level ecology course and one in which students must develop a research grant proposal. They do their first draft of the proposal after three days in the field and then that draft is reviewed in a process that simulates how grant proposals are evaluated. What’s unique is that the four-person review panel includes two faculty members and two students from the class. After discussing a proposal, each reviewer prepares written feedback that the grant proposal author then uses to write the final draft.
It’s an expressive writing activity, and it couldn’t be much simpler or more straightforward. Before students start an exam, on a sheet fastened to the front of it, they spend five minutes (or some other designated time period) writing about their thoughts and feelings regarding the exam.