"Students given the lower level of new content learned and retained the lecture information better." ------------------------------------------------------------------------ TOMORROW'S PROFESSOR(SM) LISTSERV "desk-top faculty development, one hundred times a year" STANFORD UNIVERSITY LEARNING LABORATORY (SLL) http://sll.stanford.edu/ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Folks: The article below makes a strong case for "less is more" when it comes to the delivery of course content. It is number 12 in a series of selected excerpts from the National Teaching and Learning Forum newsletter reproduced here as part of our "Shared Mission Partnership." NT&LF has a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. If you are not already a subscriber, you can check it out at [http://www.ntlf.com/] The on-line edition of the Forum--like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of learning. National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, May 2001, Volume 10, Number 4. © Copyright 1996-2001. Published by Oryx Press in conjunction with James Rhem & Associates, Inc. (ISSN 1057-2880) All rights reserved worldwide. Reprinted with permission. Regards, Rick Reis firstname.lastname@example.org UP NEXT: Scholarly Reflection About Teaching Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning ----------------- 1,408 words ------------------ WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT STEP WE MUST TAKE TO BECOME GREAT TEACHERS? Craig Nelson, Indiana University Although I have known many quite good teachers, I would only regard a couple of them as truly great. One of these, Tracy Sonneborn, once said of research that it was the closest thing he knew to prolonged orgasm and that as soon as he found anything that was more fun, he was going to switch. Tracy's guest presentations in my classes brought such a gripping intensity and evocation of insight to the classroom that it seemed as if the students were suspended a few inches above their seats. Tracy's comment is core to what has been for me the greatest paradox in learning to teach better. I regard the content I choose to teach as mostly quite fascinating, very exciting and fundamentally important. And it seems to me that this sense of fascination, excitement and importance is the core of much of what students respond to most positively in my teaching. But they are also the core of the biggest problem I have had to struggle with in my teaching-the tendency to try to teach much more than can be learned and, thereby, to also lose the students so deeply among the details that they fail to grasp the larger picture. In much of academia, a tendency to try to cover too much is encapsulated in traditional curricula and courses-in the academic cultures we are inducted into as part of our undergraduate and graduate training. BULIMIC LEARNING Because we find the material so fascinating and important we often learn it ourselves almost instantaneously and may have trouble recognizing the extent to which we "cover" too much content. However, I suspect that most faculty can remember courses where they were forced to learn so much content that they retained almost nothing. For me the paradigm example remains a cell biology course I took in graduate school--one taught in triplets of a name, a year, and a fact. I learned these with mnemonic matrices-matrices that I had no intention of remembering long enough to exit the examination room. Nor did I! It is often clear that many of our own students are engaged in similar "bulimic learning"-they memorize the material, "regurgitate" it on the exams, and forget it so promptly and completely that no mental nourishment remains. LESS IS MORE A conclusion that many of us are presenting substantially more than the optimal amount of content is also supported by some of the scholarship on teaching and learning. From their comparison of content intensive major courses with more concept focused non majors courses, Sundberg and Dini concluded: "The most surprising, in fact shocking, result...was that the majors completing their course did not perform significantly better than the corresponding cohort of non-majors" (M.D. Sundberg and M.L. Dini. 1993. "Science Majors v Non-majors: Is There a Difference?" Journal of College Science Teaching. Mar / Apr 1993: 299-304). They suggest that we should reduce the information density in major courses so that it matches that which we have usually regarded as appropriate only for non-majors. Similarly, Russell, et al., compared lectures in which 90% v 70% v 50% of the sentences disseminated new information (remaining time in each case was used for restating, highlighting significance, giving more examples, and relating the material to the student's prior experience). Students given the lower level of new content learned and retained the lecture information better (I.J. Russell, W.D. Hendricson & R.J. Herbert. 1984. "Effects of Lecture Information Density on Medical Student Achievement." Journal of Medical Education 59: 881-889). I have found it hard to fully implement the obvious conclusion because that means letting go of much of the content that I love so dearly. However, a similar conclusion, "less is more," follows from much of the other scholarship of teaching and learning. For example, if students learn more when we incorporate active learning into our lecture periods or replace the lectures with active learning classes, then we obviously must cover less material in order to teach more (I summarized key pieces of this literature here earlier, NTLF 10 (1): 7-8). Similarly, if we are to concentrate on higher order critical thinking, as I advocated here previously (NTLF 9 (5): 7-8), we have to reduce coverage to allow time for thinking. And to get effective commitment, we may have to use cases or even service learning-an approach well exemplified by Jane Harris Aiken's "Striving to Teach Justice, Fairness and Morality'" (1997, Clinical Law Review 4: 1-64; see my summary here earlier, NTLF 10 (2): 10-11). TOOLS TO HELP RESTRAIN COVERAGE I have developed a few tools that help me do this. One is to use reading study guides. When I assign a chapter or article, I usually write out the key questions I would like the students to be able to answer as a result of doing the reading. This is helpful in several ways. First, chapters in texts often cover much more material than students can meaningfully learn-I didn't realize this clearly until I found that I could write as many as 1150 short essay questions from some single chapters I was assigning. This caused me to ask what, exactly, I wanted the students to get. The typical way to constrain the scope of the content in many fields is to limit exams to the material that the teacher can articulate in lectures. This leads to rapid delivery, to high densities of sentences that disseminate new information (compare above) and to a tendency to allow little or no time for processing or questions. Giving the students a selective set of questions over the readings and telling them that the relevant questions on the exam will be drawn from among those questions means that I only need to treat in class those aspects of that material that are difficult for the students to learn directly from the reading. The study questions also facilitate effective small-group studying outside of class. A second powerful technique is to explicitly designate one of the class periods each week for extended, structured, small-group work. This requires me to select particular material, readings, exercises, problems or cases for deeper processing. I also have found it very useful to explain to other faculty what I am trying to do and the extent to which I do or do not have any evidence of how it is working. This is often most useful with faculty from other areas, as they are more likely to ask questions that reveal my tacit assumptions. FOCUSING ON PROCESS My encounters with my colleague Tracy Sonneborn's teaching arose from a case where I was presenting the results of one of his elegant studies of multiple sexes in protozoa (where mating type A can mate with B, or C, or...but not with other As). I asked him if he could come to my class to present his own work for as little time as he wanted to give. He said that he was too busy, as it would take him a whole day to prepare. I emphasized that I didn't need a literature review, just a quick summary of one nice study. He said that I didn't understand, that it would take him a day to prepare, but that (to get me out of his way) he would do it next year. I remembered and, although he protested again about the day of preparation, he came to class. Rather than presenting the final elegant experiment and its results (which usually had taken me about 10-15 minutes in class), he started with what they had known initially and asked the students what they would have hypothesized and what experiment they would have designed. He then agreed and presented the results of that experiment. He noted that the results did not support the hypothesis but did provide new information and asked what they would now hypothesize and how they would now hypothesize and they would test the new hypothesis. This continued for several rounds until a hypothesis emerged that was supported by the data (and eventually published). In 75 minutes he interactively taught about 15 minutes worth of conclusion and more than 75 minutes on the process of science! Funny thing-the process was much more exciting than the conclusion. Another funny thing-Tracy's course for non-majors had a reputation for stealing the best majors from other departments and converting them to biology majors. Maybe there is another way to use our enthusiasm than to dump vast quantities of conclusions on the students? CONTACT: Craig E. Nelson Biology, Jordan Hall 142 1001 E. 3rd St. Indiana University Bloomington, IN 47405-3700 Telephone: (812) 855-1345 E-mail: email@example.com source: Tomorrow's Professor Listserv
H. M. Blamires describes C.S. Lewis as someone who knew both how to 'nourish a pupil with encouragement and how to press criticism when it was needed without causing resentment'... Luke Rigby further describes Lewis; 'What stands out in my memory is the warmth of the man. He was always welcoming and showed interest and concern. The startling contrast between his achievement and my mediocre promise did not open a gulf; he was a true master, the true teacher. He shared his appreciation and enthusiasm and thereby instilled confidence.' (Quoted in Edward Sellner, Mentoring: The Ministry of Spiritual Kinship, Ave Maria Press, 1990, pg. 40permalink source: Anonymous
We still believe that teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin, but we ought to realize that they are not: one learns a subject, and one teaches a person. By: Peter Drucker Source: in TIME, Jan. 22, 1990, pg. 6permalink source: Anonymous
…and the highest authority is that which rests on an adequate knowledge of things and long experience in different occupations. Master the subject matter and you will come and go with grace and ease and speak with the force of a teacher; for it is easy to master one's listeners if one first masters knowledge. No sort of abstract speculation can give you this authority; only continual practice in one occupation or another. Mastery arrives from an action done often and well... Authority originates in nature and is perfected by art. Those who attain this quality find things already done for them. Superiority itself lends them ease and nothing holds them back: they shine, both in words and deeds, in every situation. Even mediocrity, helped out by authority, has a certain eminence, and a little showiness can make everything come out right.permalink source: Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom
If you've got the stick figure blues, David's got a wonderful cure that he picked up from a Stanford professor. Whether you're a kindergartener or a senior executive, he teaches the same way. Make your usual circle for a head, then imagine you're drawing a droopy, bulbous leaf. Resist those crabby old stick arms. Let your pen sweep out like a four-pointed leaf, one for each arm and leg. I think you'll be surprised. In five minutes I've seen David teach the most art-resistant corporate types how to sketch a far more friendly, human-looking person.permalink source: Tom Kelley, The Art of Innovation, p 182.
On Not Teaching Everything You Know
Two years ago I wrote among sixty-seven articles one, the eighteenth, on the Eucharist, in which I wrote many things with a view rather to the times than to the thing itself. For not even Christ could praise enough the faithful steward of His word who in due season sets meat before the household of his Lord; of whom He speaks with admiration in Matt. 24:45: "Who," that is, how great, "is the faithful and wise steward to whom his lord hath entrusted his household to give them food in due season?" I determined, therefore, unceasingly so to dispense the word as to reap the greatest harvest for my Lord. For who would not cast off a servant who should proceed to plough the ground in the dead of winter and to sow seed in it? These things are to be done in the spring time. So I made many concessions at that time to the tender minds of those for whom I wrote, but all for their edification. After the example of Christ I distributed and kept in store as well; for after He had instituted the Eucharist, He said [Jn. 16:12-23] that He had yet many things which must be told to the disciples, but they could not bear them then; therefore He determined to keep them until the coming of the Holy Spirit. When, therefore, kind reader, you come upon some things here which you have not seen in my earlier writings, or some things said more plainly here than elsewhere, and some things said differently, do not be astonished. I did not wish to give food when the time was unseasonable, or to cast pearls before swine [Mt. 7:6].permalink source: Ulrich Zwingli, "Commentary On True and False Religion" (1525)