Integrating Content and Learning Strategies: An Example
Integrating Content and Learning Strategies: An Example
It's a 400-level Development of Sociological Theory course for majors and instructor Julie Pelton aspires not only to teach the content but to introduce students to either different styles of learning or self-regulatory and metacognitive strategies. She writes that most of the students have some familiarity with learning styles.
It's a 400-level Development of Sociological Theory course for majors and instructor Julie Pelton aspires not only to teach the content but to introduce students to either different styles of learning or self-regulatory and metacognitive strategies. She writes that most of the students have some familiarity with learning styles. Many have taken one or another of the various learning style inventories and have some idea of how they learn best. She's become convinced that instruction in metacognitive and self-regulatory strategies is more useful because “many of my students say they have given little thought to the idea that they can control the process and outcome of their learning and this feels empowering.” (p. 280)
She uses a variety of approaches to teach the metacognitive strategies relevant in this course where students read a number of difficult primary texts. She has students write reading guides using different learning modalities. “Several of the guides ask students to draw a model, diagram, or pictorial representation of the theory; construct outlines of the text, or categorize key theoretical arguments from the reading.” (p. 280) She continues, “We spend a good deal of class time critiquing and revising individual pictures or models until the students arrive at a final image that best represents the most important theoretical arguments from a particular text.” (p. 280)
She gives each student a bookmark inscribed with advice on reading tough texts. The bookmarks tell students to read slowly and reread often, to have faith that later passages will clarify earlier parts, to write and not highlight, to ask questions and argue with the text, to connect it with personal experience, and to challenge themselves to struggle with a difficult text for as long as it takes to understand it. The bookmarks are visible in student texts throughout the course. Class conversations are peppered with reminders about the importance of metacognition and self-regulatory practices.
The example here is not one that can be replicated unless you teach some sort of upper division theory course, but it's such a thoughtful and compelling example of how a teacher can successfully integrate a particular kind of content with the learning strategies most suited to mastering it.
Across the years as Pelton has been working on this integration, she has been collecting data on how well her approaches are working. At the beginning of each section of the course and then at its conclusion students take Pintrich's Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ), a “self-report instrument designed to assess college students' motivational orientations and their use of different learning strategies for a college course.” (p. 281) The questionnaire has 81 items. Pelton has modified it, omitting questions about exams, for example, which she doesn't use in the course.
At the beginning of the course, most of the students report heavy reliance on study approaches related to elaboration, i.e. relating ideas, writing summaries, making connections and applying concepts. They don't rely on organization study skills such as outlining, making charts, diagrams, and tables. Students also report that they make heavy use of rehearsal skills “indicating that upper class sociology majors still engage in surface-level learning strategies such as memorization, making lists, and reading over notes.” (p. 282) Pre-test scores also show that students are more motivated by extrinsic factors, like grades, than intrinsic faculty like interest in the material in their chosen field. Finally the scores point to students “not highly engaged” in using peers as learning supports and students not always likely to seek help from teachers when they need it.
By the end of the course, students register statistically significant changes in several areas. “The greatest change over the semester was in students reported use of organizational strategies.”
(p. 283) They also are using more critical thinking strategies, resulting from, Pelton believes, the emphasis on “doing theory” vis-à-vis at set of Film Analysis Papers written during the course. Students are registering small gains in self-regulation with those gains increasing across the semesters Pelton has taught the course. “I have included more training and practice of the strategies and. . . have improved my abilities to teach these skills.” (p. 283) The levels of intrinsic motivation increase as well.
There are some nonsignificant gains of note as well. Students did not move away from their reported reliance on rehearsal strategies and levels of self-efficacy are not significantly different. The amount of personal control students felt as decreased. Pelton offers some theories about the lack of changes in these areas.
Finally she's been looking at correlations between learning strategies, motivation and confidence. “The strongest connection exists between increased use of self-regulatory behaviors and increases in intrinsic motivation
(r = .493), suggesting that teaching about metacognition and helping students learn how to control the process of learning leads them to place a higher value on internal rewards like mastering the material and increasing their own competence.” (p. 285)
The article is exemplary on a number of fronts and well worth reading even if sociology is not your field and you don't teach an upper division theory course. It's an article that in a compellingly persuasive way shows how content and skills can be integrated, and how taking a scholarly approach to one's teaching improves the efficacy of efforts to do so. What Pelton's learning about teaching this course and how she's learning it are model from which all of us can learn.
Reference: Pelton, J. A., (2014). How our majors believe they learn: Strategies in an undergraduate theory course. Teaching Sociology, 42 (4), 277-286.