Steps instructors should take to engage college students.
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College instructors lament over the fact that many students do not heed their syllabi. The suspicion is that they don’t read them. The problem might be solved if instructors wrote short, simple, easy-to-read syllabi. Or would it?
What Every College Instructor Needs to Know
I want to share some advice for creating assignments and writing test questions based on the work of Benjamin Bloom, specifically Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy is well known by many academics. However, unless you have studied education and teaching, you may not be familiar with it. Nevertheless, you should be!
Recently, I came across a website entitled TeacherVision®. It focuses on the needs of K-12 teachers, but there is quite a bit of information of value to college instructors. In fact, it has given me some ideas for future posts. This site includes useful information about Bloom’s Taxonomy. I recommend it to those of you who wish to learn more about Bloom’s Taxonomy basics without getting bogged down by the in-depth explanations one would encounter in a scholarly journal filled with highly academic jargon.
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Why Don’t Students Like School?This is actually the title of a book I am reading. You can get the citation by clicking on the title of my other article above. It should come as no surprise to college instructors that many of their students don’t like to think. That, however, is one of the reasons students don't like school. The question is why and what an instructor should do about that? Before I move one, you need to consider one more point. Even many "A" students don't like to think. Tell them what will be on the test and they will regurgitate it in exemplary fashion on the exam. This is the first time I ever used regurgitate in this context, but it truly tells the story. Regurgitated cud does nothing to nourish the cow, at least not if she spits it out. (Gross!) Similarly, regurgitated facts do nothing to educate a student. Pretty profound, isn't it. ;-)
Why Students Don’t Like to ThinkMany younger students, those in K-12 as well as traditional college students, have been conditioned to look for answers in their long term memory. If it is not there, so be it. Guess, quit, choose “C” because it is the most common answer to a multiple choice question, complain, whatever. Many students have not learned how to challenge themselves to think about what they know and how they can put that information together to construct an answer.
Why haven’t students learned to think? We all have an opinion. Every No Child Left Behind? Is that the culprit? How about the dad who solves his child’s problems for them? How about the mom who discouraged constant questioning from her young one? How about too much time watching TV and playing video games? I can argue all the above.
What Teachers can do to Help Students ThinkWhen you ask your student to solve a problem, think about what your students already know. It is okay to occasionally test the overachievers who always read ahead in the text. However, you will discourage those who may not have even read the text. Some instructors like to punish these students by directing questions at them and exposing their lack of preparation to the entire class. WRONG! Good questioning, questioning that motivates students to think, has one important characteristic. The answer lies within what has already been learned. For example, assume that you have covered liberal and conservative perspectives in your political science course. Your students know that Republicans are more conservative than Democrats and what that means. Then it is fair game to ask them what they think Woodrow Wilson would say about President Obama’s health care plan. What if your students can’t answer a question like this? Try a little Socratic questioning. Ask questions like what party Wilson was. Ask about the economics in Wilson’s time versus today. Ask them to compare Wilson’s job of selling the Federal Reserve Act to Congress to that of Obama’s challenge. By guiding students to the answer with facts they already know, you help them learn to think. You help them experience the rush they can get when they themselves figure out the answer to a question that is not in the book. For those who don’t remember or never learned the “pieces of the puzzle,” perhaps there is something you as an instructor could have done to help them learn and remember. Memorizatin is the mechanism by which your students transfer information from short term memory into long term memory. Was there a mnemonic technique you could have taught them? The trick to helping students think is to help them use information in the have in their long term memory and toss it around in working memory. Thought deftly crafted guided discussions you can make this happen. Sometimes that prior learning need not be anything you covered in class. A great way to draw in students who are underachievers is to ask them about something that is common knowledge and how it might apply. I once observed my HVAC instructor ask a question that received no response. He then asked if anyone in the class every worked on cars. Many hands went up. What do you do check for when your car hesitates and wanted accelerate? He guided them to apply what they know about gasoline combustion in an engine to gas combustion in a furnace. One more thought. As I have commented in earlier articles, critical thinking skills are one of the most lacking skills among college students today. The thinking process I am talking about is one in the same. Whether is be answers to question that are not in the book, or solving a problem, or critically evaluating a scholarly article, it all relies on the same thinking process.
Your Homework AssignmentThink about ways in which you can get your students to think. However, if you do not like thinking you have a problem. Yikes! You weren't one of those students who didn’t like school were you? :-(
© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.
Posted July 20, 2010
Student grade appeals can be an unpleasant, time consuming annoyance. However, there are steps the wise college instructor can take to avoid them.