Thursday, June 7, 2007

More Recommended Teaching Approaches to Ensure Student Learning

Part 2 of my installation on how student learning in urban schools can be improved.

Recommendation #3. Frequently check students’ understanding of the concept or material.
After teaching a concept it is best to pause for a moment and gauge students’ understanding of the material. This can be done informally or formally. Informally, an instructor can check students’ understanding with a short review discussion or through simple Q&A sessions. Questions can be those generated by the instructor, from fellow students, or from the text. Formally, the instructor can offer a quiz or questionnaire or have students complete a problem. All too often, students are given seat work or worksheets to complete. I hate worksheets; worksheets are the devil. Students are buried in a sea of papers; and the material seldom challenges them beyond the second tier of the cognitive domain. Learning is about thinking. Checking their understanding helps the instructor fix any misconceptions or incorrect understanding of the material. Plowing ahead does not achieve learning. Plowing ahead is indicative of a teaching style that assumes that covering the most information possible will ensure student success on assessments. It’s better for students to properly understand a little information than for students to memorize lots of facts that mean nothing to him/her beyond the next examination. They’ll just dump it and they’re back to being as ignorant as they arrive or still depending on the same old misinformation to inform they’re decisions.

Recommendation #4. Offer immediate feedback to students on any and all assessments.
I cannot emphasize this enough. Check their work and correct it as soon as possible. Return their papers with comments and recommendations for improvement as soon as humanly possible. Feedback is the basis of revision and correction. If students understand the concept or material then the instructor can continue to the next topic or delve more deeply into the present topic. If the students do not understand, then it is imperative for the instructor to slow down and review. It might be beneficial to modify the teaching style or use alternative examples that the students can better relate to. There is no sense forging ahead to more difficult topics if the students fail to understand the simpler ones. Their marks will be low because they lack a basic understanding on the material.

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