Student views of learning: Change your teaching

As teachers, we must take steps to communicate desirable views on learning throughout instruction. While specific strategies and activities that directly confront student views of cognition will impact student views, more careful attention ought be paid to the implicit messages sent via general instructional practices.  Some of the implicit instructional strategies I have used to convey desirable views on cognition are outlined below.

Implicit strategies

Student views on cognition are shaped via implicit messages throughout their schooling. Powerful messages are sent to students about learning and thinking when topics are covered once and never revisited or exams require identifying one right answer with no explanation or teachers only value correct responses in class.  Because actions speak louder than words, teachers ought pay close attention to possible implicit messages being sent via general classroom instructional practices.

To suggest to students that learning is not always quick or easy, I continually revisit topics and provided struggling students with extra time to learn material.  Rather than moving from a topic after a set amount of time, student demonstration of understanding dictates the pace of my course.  Furthermore, students often receive “effort grades” and/or written feedback based on my perception of their effort.

Scaffolding student learning may help to demonstrate more desired views on how to learn.  By introducing topics, then adding more complex thinking and continuing to piece together deeper and deeper conceptual understanding, students may conclude that learning is accomplished through continued interaction with content and thinking about concepts at deeper and deeper levels.  I often note that the more students understand topics, the more complex the connections they would be able to make among concepts.

In addition to implicit messages about how to learn during instruction, we must consider the message of our assessments. I give open-ended exams and often evaluate student understanding through individual, group, or class projects that expect students to apply conceptual understanding to new situations.  Students are likely used to being assessed in an “objective” manner using exams with one clear answer for each question.  Hopefully, student views on how to assess learning are modified to include ability to use and explain concepts, not just pick right answers.  Importantly, this reduced emphasis on “right” answers may help students understand the role of ambiguity in thinking and that not all issues are clear-cut.

In an effort to convey how various background factors affect learning/thinking.  Multiple student ideas are sought during class discussions.  When students have differing ideas, I encourage the students to explain their thinking and causes in these differences are explored.  Instead of telling students how to interpret phenomenon, I act interested in idiosyncratic interpretations and encouraged students to consider other ways to make sense of information.  Instead of simply telling students the scientifically accepted views, I provide students with guidance and further encourage reflection and thinking on the part of the students. By removing myself as the source of all knowledge, I hope to convey that authority figures are not necessarily the source of knowledge and that learning and decision-making are internal processes.

During student discussion, opposing ideas often come up.  When this happens, I work to not settle the disagreement, but moderate the discussion.  By not silencing the differences, students may come to understand how different perspectives arise, why each perspective has value and that “right” answers are not as easy to come by as they may have thought.

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