Reflect on these questions and then discuss them with a colleague, with your department, or with other interested parties:
Adjustments: What are the most common complaints from students in our courses?
What parts of those complaints are justifiable? Which are not?
How might we adjust to address and minimize the justifiable complaints?
How might we help our students better understand our reasoning for persisting in the areas of their non-justifiable complaints?
What tasks or concepts in our courses consistently seem to cause the most confusion or problems for the students? What are the most predictable “pain points” for the students?
How necessary are those facts, skills, or assignments to the overall objectives of the course? Could they be skimmed or even skipped without threatening the desired outcomes?
If these trouble areas are essential, how can we make them more relevant and meaningful for our students so they feel more motivated to invest more effort and energy in them?
What instructive set of examples and non-examples could we provide the students to help them see where past students have run into the most problems and how they might avoid repeating those same mistakes? (This might include difficult assignments, concepts, skills, or applications of theories or principles from your course.)
Audience: Who are the students in our courses?
Why are they taking our courses? What is their likely level of engagement and achievement? How could we encourage them to reach higher levels of both?
What are their greatest fears and anxieties in real life? How can our courses help them grow and succeed beyond just passing our tests?
What could we do to not just teach but also reach out to our students so they recognize we are trying to teach more than just their left brains?
How could we establish and maintain a better pulse on our students level of readiness to learn and then dynamically mix things up in the instructional time we have with them?
Applicability: What do we see as the most relevant parts of our courses in the lives of our students? Why should they care about what we are teaching them? How do we want them to use knowledge and skills gained in our courses once the term ends?
What would be the best way to frontload this relevance in the syllabus and in the earliest course material to get them more excited about our course?
How could we have our students appropriately wrestle with the question of significance and the importance of our subject in their lives outside of our class? How could we appropriately have them help answer the questions, “So, what?” and “Who cares about this class material anyway?”
Adaptability: Which levels of learning (using Bloom’s Taxonomy below) do we require from our students? Approximately what proportion of our students’ effort in our course is spent in each area?
How could we get increased “buy-in” from the students to do more than just remember and understand the basics in our course?
What could we do to help our students interact more meaningfully with our course material at the higher levels of this taxonomy?
The 3 Ex’s of Learning: Do we maintain an appropriate mix of teaching with explanations, examples, and encouraging students to learn from experience?
How could we segment our teaching into bite-sized chunks to better retain student attention and focus?
Accentuation: (See the Spacing Effect Handout for additional help in this area) What are the most important learning outcomes in our courses? What teachings do we wish students would master and never forget? (Consider all cognitive, behavioral, and affective aspects of your course, including facts, theories, ideas, skills, processes, products, or feelings as appropriate to your discipline.)
How might we increase the Recency aspect of memory throughout the term for each of these essential outcomes?
How might we increase the Frequency aspect of memory for these outcomes?
How might we increase the Potency aspect of memory when teaching aspects of these outcomes?
Assessment: What are the “Whole tasks” we expect students to be able to perform at the end of our course or program?
What difference would it make for our students to have a whole-task perspective when we are teaching about the individual component parts?
How could we adjust our assignments and tests to have them wrestle with increasingly complex “whole task” assignments throughout our courses?
How could we adjust our assessments to be forward-looking rather than backward regurgitating?
Achievement: What is the difference between the “product” of learning in our field of study and the “process” of learning we experience?
What are the main tools we use to learn and understand the major ideas in our field? How might we better train our students to use those same tools rather than just giving them the products of our learning?
Excerpted from “Below the Surface: Strategies for Deep and Lasting Learning.” Magna Publications, 2015.
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