Small Teaching by J.M. Lang presents methods for making small changes in your teaching practices (hence the name) that can significantly improve your students’ learning. Each chapter provides the research-based evidence behind the practices Lang proposes so you can have confidence that Lang’s ideas work. The Coulter Faculty Commons will be boiling the Small Teaching chapters down into blog posts to provide instructors with concepts they can apply to a lesson, a class, or a course.
Let’s get started.
Chapter 1: Retrieving
Every subject requires students to know some foundational knowledge to successfully engage in higher levels of learning. For example, they need to know what a line is before they can understand more complex geometric shapes or the history of the earliest immigrants to the North American continent before they can discuss the nuances of current immigration policy. For your students to be successful, they need to be able to retrieve knowledge so that they can apply what they know.
Students need to retrieve knowledge from memory, but as Lang points out, “if you want to retrieve knowledge from your memory, you have to practice retrieving knowledge from your memory” (Lang, 2016, p. 20). How do you get students to practice retrieving knowledge? To illustrate a simple practice Lang cites studies where students were divided into three groups: one was given additional study time before a test, one given a practice quiz before the test, and one group where no intervention was taken. In one of the studies students that were quizzed prior to the test scored two letter grades higher than those that weren’t. Perhaps equally significant, students that were given additional study time scored no better than those that received no intervention. Re-reading did not improve knowledge retrieval.
Rather than just think of quizzes as assessment activities, consider them a means for your students to practice knowledge retrieval. But quizzing can take many forms. Here are the Quick Tips Lang suggests in Chapter 1:
- Give frequent, low-stakes quizzes (at least weekly) to help your students seal up foundational course content; favor short answers or problem-solving whenever possible so that students must process or use what they are retrieving.
- Open class periods or online sessions by asking students to remind you of content covered in previous class sessions; allow students time to reﬂect for a few moments if you do so orally.
- Close class by asking students to write down the most important concept from that day and one question or confusion that still remains in their minds (i.e., the minute paper).
- Close class by having students take a short quiz or answer written questions about the day’s material or solve a problem connected to the day’s material.
- Use your syllabus to redirect students to previous course content through quizzes or oral questions and discussion (Lang, 2016, p. 39).
As always, if you’d like to discuss these or other ideas with the Coulter Faculty Commons you can schedule an appointment at https://affiliate.wcu.edu/cfc/consultations/
Lang, J. M. (2016). Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/hunter-ebooks/detail.action?docID=445500