Thursday, February 16, 2012

VTLC Reading Circle 2012 (part 2 of 7)

This post is the second in the series on the VTLC Reading Circle on How Learning Works by Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, and Norman.  There are several ways to participate, including reading and reflecting on this series of blog posts.  For more details, see our website.

The previous post asked reflective questions about students' prior knowledge.  The second concept in the book is "How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know."

Questions for reflection:
  • What knowledge organizations do students need in order to understand your course content? 
  • Around what knowledge organizations do you organize your course content, syllabus, and/or lesson plans? 
  • One recommendation in the text for helping students organize their knowledge meaningfully around "deep features" of the domain is to give students problems that are already solved and explain the solutions to themselves.  This seems like a strategy that works in any discipline.  Do you employ this strategy?  What knowledge organizations does it/would it reveal to students?
  • In what ways do you make the needed/optimal knowledge organizations "visible" to students in your courses?
  • Which of the strategies suggested by the research do you plan to use? 

1 comment:

  1. I actually confronted this problem head-on in fall 2011 (the day before I was about to begin teaching a one-semester American Literature class). Most survey classes I have taken or taught have been arranged chronologically, and given the way that this "knowledge structure" addresses and reflects social, policital, cultural, historical, and aesthetic changes over time, there is a lot to be said for the effectiveness of using that as an organizational structure around which to design a syllabus. But for some reason I found this made me very uncomfortable as I was about to print off my syllabi--perhaps it was the sheer volume of time encompasses in a one-semester class; perhaps it was the giant leaps we would be taking from class to class.

    I was rather sullenly paging through my selected anthology when I stumbled upon a series of epigrams on the idea of "America" in the text and I made an eleventh-hour change to a "thematic" organization (one which I might employ for courses that aren't intended to be surveys, for example). I found several interesting epigrams that I thought highlighted the important trends of hundreds of years of American Literature and cut and pasted the texts I wanted to assign into thematic units. The result was a syllabus organized around concepts, questions, and debates in American Literature instead of chronology. Had I stuck with my original chronological organization, we would have covered the same questions, concepts, and debates, but by choosing this knowledge organization over the other, I hoped I was choosing a more relevant and "deep" structure over the other. I addressed this choice in class multiple times, and it became a way to "make the connections explicit," as the authors recommend. I was happy about how this choice put readings in conversation with each other, and some of my favorite discussions were ones where students pointed out how some readings could have been put in different categories as well.

    At that time, I hadn't read this book. So, I wasn't thinking about why I wanted to do this or why I was making this decision, but as far as accomplishing the pedagogical goal of students "understanding American Literature," the structure that better reflected ideas about American literature would facilitate better learning (and, kind of selfishly, better teaching).

    I have new preps coming up next fall, and I am looking forward to thinking about those concepts in the design process rather than just having a "gut feeling" what I wanted to do would be "better."