And we begin a new year – not a new teaching year, we’re now well into Week 5 of the University of Minnesota term. But it is a new year – the start of a second year of the Center for Teaching and Learning publishing its own blog. To celebrate that year – and mark that it is creeping up to that “early mid-term” time of the semester, the post today includes bits from three of the most read posts published initially at this time last year:
I. Listen Up – ideas for fostering active listening,
II. Feedback to Move Learning Forward – low stakes, high impact feedback ideas, and
III. Mid-Term Teaching Feedback – in two minutes and at two times during the term.
I. Listen Up!
Being invited to “Listen Up!” is perfectly timed for this early-term transition from the first weeks of learning in new courses into the more complex middle weeks of analytical thinking, deeper modes of investigation, and application of ideas in problem solving.
And, listening isn’t exactly an easy thing given the mismatch of thought speed and speech speed; Elisa Carbone reports that
thought speed is estimated to be about 500 words per minute, while speech speed is only about 125 words per minute. This means, roughly speaking, that we have about 400 words of extra thinking time between listening and speech…The differential between thought speed and speech speed leave a lit of time for the mind to wander…I encourage my students to counteract this by using the extra thought time to mentally summarize the lecture material.
“Listening Up” reminds us that learners in the midst of comprehending ideas during a presentation or discussion do have the brain processing time – and need – for synthesizing
So, how do we use our words in presentations to provoke acts of listening?
1. Clarify the day’s underlying topic and name the embedded learning objectives to illuminate the big picture.
- It’s additionally helpful to offer a one-word recap of the previous day’s focus and a one-word/phrase preview of the topic to follow – we can do this as teachers and/or develop a daily habit among students of starting their notetaking with this recall and retrieval, planning and prediction exercise.
2. At the beginning of lecture, establish connections with recent lessons: review main ideas covered previously or ask students to summarize main points from previous lecture.
- As teachers: This is a practice of providing transitions for lectures / presentations akin to those we would write into research articles and conference papers. We both cue and queue listening at these points.
- As learners: At the end of a segment, students can also be cued to write in the margins of their notes (or as a comment text in a word document) a summary sentence or nagging question signaling their understanding of that segment of a presentation.
3. Throughout a presentation
- As teachers: Insert transitional sentences, phrases and diagrams as you would in creating a written document use to set out “chunks” of an idea, to signal a new point of analysis or to re-cap previous elements of an argument that you have been developing. This process reminds us to signal how the parts fit together, to highlight our own meaning-making process, to set out the clear sign-posts (e.g., What I plan to discuss today, Moving on to subtopic three) that enhance listening in ways that fleeting verbal or non-verbal cues (e.g., OK, all right, next; pointing to a screen or text) do not.
- As students: Set up a paper notebook, a word document, or the presentations materials you’ve downloaded so that note taking happens in three areas as set out in the diagram at the left: a main area for taking notes as you listen to others; a column where you cue what you are hearing to earlier learning by noting down questions and connections, or recall readings and observations; and a summary area where every 10-15 minutes you write out a sentence or key phrases that will summarize information you’ve collected into a synthesized idea that will move you forward.
4. In closing a class session, incorporate five minutes of time during which students can synthesize a class session by swapping notebooks (paper or computer versions) in a 3Ms exercise: In this comparative review, students note what’s Missing, what Meaning they make from the notes, and what’s the Main/Memorable point (or collection of connected points).
Allow the use of electronic devices so that learners can review the material as many times as necessary.
- This might include allowing taking of photographs of white-board notes/overheads, saving a corner of the whiteboard as a place where you can spell out acronyms, define key terms/jargon (again these could be photo’d).
- Encourage recall and rephrasing by allowing students to download from GoogleDocs an outline of the class session seeded with difficult-to-spell terms, disciplinary jargon, reminders of links to follow up readings/resources to guide their notetaking.
- If you provide a set of notes or a lecture outline to students, leave room – as with the diagram above – for students to make annotations and incorporate summaries: for example, a wider column on the right where your notes appear and can be supplemented, puts a narrower left column for students’ questions and notes connecting to earlier reading/lectures. Encourage students to format their own notetaking in similar ways.
When presenting challenging information orally, complement with visuals, allowing students to cue verbal with visual.
- These illustrations, charts, advance organizers, concept maps, photographs need not come only from the teacher, ask learners to find or create and bring to class their own diagrams or illustrations as they unpack and explain challenging concepts. In providing a narrative for these drawings, whether written and/or spoken, teachers and learners alike learn by listening, by speaking to learn.
Make use of lecture capture software or podcasting to post lectures. Some teachers do this daily, some at key junctures in a course (with a short list of key integrative questions to prompt reflection and synthesis ahead of an exam), some at the end of a week with small groups of students in a weekly rotation providing video annotations (main points, links to readings, suggestions for where to learn more) for the group of lectures posted.
Quite simply, feedback is the sharing of information about the student’s performance.
Positive feedback serves to sustain behavior that is appropriate and effective. Negative or corrective feedback serves to change behavior that is inappropriate or ineffective. Thus, the student should receive a mixture of positive and corrective feedback.
The feedback should be specific enough that the student understands which behaviors are appropriate and which ones need to be changed. General comments such as “you’re doing a really super job!” may be pleasant to give, but do little in the way of teaching.
Feedback is most meaningful when it is based on solid data obtained while observing or interacting with the student.
As researcher John Hattie notes, the single most effective moderator of achievement and learning that a teacher can offer to students is feedback – as in “providing information how and why the [learner] understands and misunderstands, and what directions the student must take to improve.”
Also, Hattie’s most recent (2000) studies of learning from pre-school through higher education adds an additional factor: “feedback was most powerful when it was from the student to the teacher” via informal classroom assessments that prompt students to show
what they know, what they understand, where they make errors, when they have misconceptions, when they are not engaged -then teaching and learning can be synchronized and powerful. Feedback to teachers helps make learning visible.
When learning is visible in the process of everyday learning, feedback becomes possible. And, when students can make use of this specific feedback to move their learning forward in a timely way, feedback allows for revision – which is significant to the processes of unlearning and relearning that lead to that much sought after outcome: “understanding.”
Use Feedback Strategies to Build in Opportunities to Revise
- With a homework assignment that requires problem solving of some sort (from computer science coding, analysis of reading based on specific questions, or response to a case study) have students write for 5 minutes at the end of class a final note on their homework assignment about what, why and how they would amend or correct or extend the homework.
- At the end of a problem solving session ask students to write on a 3×5 card both the muddiest point and the clearest point – the thing they cannot explain and the thing they can most readily explain. As an extension of this, teachers could ask students describe how a particular reading, lab exercise, problem set or lecture that proved difficult or confusing. The next day, draw on what you have learned in skimming the cards to clarify concepts, introduce a new study strategy, provide sample quiz questions. You might ask students to demonstrate the new understanding in a day or two by complete a short individual, team, or concept test.
- At the start of a class session or unit, conduct a quick survey of student knowledge and misconceptions regarding the topic to be pursued – this might take shape as a poll, a background knowledge probe, or a concept test sequence. Project and address – that day or the next day – the common misconceptions and current correct understandings. In this way, students see not only where they need to learn more, they gain a sense of what they already know and that they are not alone in needing to unlearn misconceptions. You also set up a reference point for taking a minute each day to offer feedback on what you’ve heard and see related to learning via in class and in homework activities.
- At an early point in working on a large, writing-based project – a researched essay, a field or lab experiment, a problem-solving team project – do respond to preliminary drafts of individual student writing; early feedback on strengthening ideas, organization and selection/integration of resources has a stronger impact on student thinking/writing than does corrective feedback on first full drafts, and can be conveyed as local comments to individual students and/or as global comments to the full class.
More often than not, RIGHT Feedback is as simple as saying something aloud about the learning you observed in class that day and describing what it is you would recommend that students do more of, do differently, learn more about, learn to do in another way, or learn more about from another perspective, so that students can “feed forward” with the new insights to prepare for the next time you meet together.
Mid-semester assessment of learning and teaching based on two basic questions –
What Could Work Better?
– can serve as a reminder to students that as teachers we are, indeed, interested in how they are learning, as well as in how we are teaching. And here’s one format that’s perfect for use as both an “early mid-term” and “later mid-term” formative assessment of teaching.
Two Minute Writing Format
Based on the quadrant grid reproduced below, create a handout (two grids per page, cut full size paper in half) or project a template to guide students (who write on an index card – plus on front, delta on back). Share with students the purpose of the assessment, information on how to complete the forms, the amount of time you’ve allotted, and where to leave their responses as they leave the room. Then stand outside the classroom door – out of sight but available if students have course questions as they leave the room. Before the next class session, take time to review, summarize and plan how you will act and report on the data.
What across all aspects of the course is helping me to learn in this class?
What examples can I offer of changes could be made in this course to improve learning?
What am I doing in and out of class to improve my learning in the course?
What changes do I know or think I need to make to improve my learning in this course?