Backward Design

We started with the difference between backward (adjective) and backwards (adverb). Then we got onto the actual focus of the presession. It was very useful.

Backward design that you are designing backwards.

Course design is like soccer/football
Clear goal
Simple, but not easy
Kicking ball into net is really complex

Teach people how to play soccer, varying levels of difficulty
Look at it from player, spectator
Begin with the end in mind. –Stephen Covey

How do we measure success?
How will we measure success?

That is backward design.

Choose textbook ? lecture over book ? use visual aids ? powerpoint ? test
Then send them out assuming they know exactly what to do.

Content ? activities ? assessment

Design with a clear objective in mind… measurable objectives.
How will we measure and assess their learning?

Target identified, acceptable evidence THEN choose learning activities

Identify desired results (essential questions) ? determine acceptable evidence ? plan learning experiences and instruction

Teaching to the test is GREAT, if it is a good measure of what the students should know/believe…

Id desired results:
Big ideas?
Specific understandings?
Predictable misunderstandings? –point of word count…
Essential questions? How do we make it intriguing? How do we make it seem relevant?

Determine acceptable evidence:
Performance tasks? –changing oil, not leaving any parts over
Evaluation criteria? –solid rubric
Student reflection? –help them look back on what they’ve learned, apply knowledge and tie it together
Other evidence? –quizzes for retrieval practice, cumulative exams…

Plan learning experiences and instruction:
Content consumption
Small group discussion
Direct observation
Hands-on interaction
Virtual interaction
Design and prototype
Try and fail. Try and fail. You learn something from it. It’s a learning activity.

Introduction? find examples of good introductions (from student papers?)

What do we really want them to do/know?

Thesis on Facebook…

In doing backward design, we need to think like an assessor.

B&P= come up with what I really care about them learning—that writing/communication is essential for any job and the better writers they are, the better they can do their jobs (and live their lives—writing clearly is important for many other out-of-job experiences…)
Then start with examples of when/where/how that is true.
Back this up with case study experiences/quizzes that are about how to use the information in the chapters.
Connect the writing they are doing with the end of being better x’ers, which is their goal.

Linguistics = idea will be to introduce them to linguistics and all the different aspects of what that means and how these very different areas could impact/improve their lives
Spend more time on the interesting stories and apply those through the work we are doing.
How can linguistics improve their writing? Their teaching? Their reading? Their personal lives? Their care for their children? For their parents?

112 = understanding what credible, educated arguments are—proof = writing credible, educated arguments on variety of topics
stress that

003 = writing skills needed for everything…

We are presupposing some amount of motivation.
How have you made goals for this class?

As a presenter, be positive about our students’ motivation.
I supposed there were things you were willing/able to change.

Make It Stick

Went to a faculty presession on this topic. Four folks who have attended a reading group on the book Make It Stick and who have begun implementing the ideas.

These are the main points they had up on the PowerPoint:
(with my comments and questions in parentheses)
Not all practice is equal.
Mix up your practice.
Embrace difficulties.
Avoid illusions of mastery. (Don’t just read again and again.)
When the mind has to work, learning sticks better.
Don’t rely on what feels best.
Effortful learning changes the brain.
Making mistakes and correcting them advances learning.
Learning is hard.
It’s not what you know but how you practice.
Learning is stronger when it matters. (How do you make it clear that it matters?)
Use testing as a tool for learning.
Delayed, detailed feedback yields better long-term learning. (How do you get the students to read this? Or do you do something else?)
Sleeping between study sessions improves retention.
Reflection is a form of retrieval practice.
To learn, retrieve.
Design the work the students do, not what your lectures are going to say.
Errors are important and integral to the process of learning.

These are my notes on their talks:
Not going to fix everything you’ve ever taught. Book about learning. Start with understanding how students learn. Lots of studies included in this book. Lots of data.
We are practitioners.

Not all practice is equal.
Lots of folks cram. Evidence shows cramming works, but not in the way you want it to. Students who cram retain 50% of information 2 days later. It is not a long-term solution.

A lot of the practices we use are ineffective.
One that doesn’t help is re-reading.
Re-reading is inefficient AND counterproductive.
When we re-read, we develop an illusion of mastery.

Active methods of studying.
Cornell method for notetaking… not simply underlining, but interpreting them—putting them into your own words.

The people who practiced once a week (not all in one day) were far better.
How to implement? Most people go over the syllabus on the first day; emphasize the most important parts. Second day have a quiz on syllabus. Then come back and have a quiz again.

Learning: acquiring knowledge and skills that are readily available from memory so that you have them to use in future situations

Learning requires a core reservoir of information (memory). You still have to have a repository of info.
Learning is an acquired skill.
Most effective strategies are often counterintuitive.
Focus on what the students are doing—rather than what you are going to say.
Is our goal that the students know the material long term? Often that’s not what happens. We test what they know over x and then we go on to next chapter.

We said “here’s the book and we’re messing with you”…
One example of many practices we changed:
Changed our reading guides to something like Cornell notetaking… lot more reflective…

For retention, there is a level of difficulty.
Quick/fast/easy learning dissipates.
NYTimes article on importance of memorization. Comments… interesting. Memorization is okay; we need that.
Without the memorization, there is no foundation of prior knowledge. You’ll have to learn vocabulary words for a new language. You can’t start building a building from the third floor.

Techniques: retrieval practice
Repetition doesn’t necessarily lead to long-term retention.
Quiz yourself. If students don’t quiz themselves, they overestimate how well they know the materials. Going through and retrieving the information “interrupts forgetting.” Act of retrieving changes memory itself and makes it easier to retrieve.
When mind has to work, the learning sticks better. “Just enough time to begin forgetting” and then reinforce again.

How long should I space out the practice? Long enough to begin the forgetting process.
Sleep on it. Take a nap.

Rather than mass cramming, practicing before class, space it over a week –look at their names 2-3 times a day.
Flash cards.
Quizlet—online resource to create quizzes

Low stakes quizzing helps the students significantly.
We create a quizlet that the students put together over learning each other’s names.
Canvas is marvelous when it comes to quizzing.

Maybe you don’t want to do the same thing over and over again…
Varied practice is one of the foci of the book.
You need to have a variety of tasks that your brain is doing. That helps with the little bit of forgetting, come back to it, repeat…
8 year olds, throwing beanbags into bucket—practiced 12 weeks
How would you teach mastery of this?
One group never threw the beanbags into 3 ft… They’d have 2 and 4 ft buckets.
The people who had never thrown a 3 ft shot beat the pants off the people who only practiced that.

We transitioned from presentation/lecture and then quiz.
We have introduction at end of class.
Then they read.
Then next class we give rest of discussion.
Here’s where we were, here’s where we are going, and here’s what we are doing today.

When we try to solve a problem, we feel uncomfortable if we haven’t seen how to do it. Trial and error. If you pose the problem before you explain, and they work on… They start trying to connect to things they do know. They learn more from the fresh thing (the effort), even if they make errors. In the process they have learned and changed their memory.
We must provide corrective feedback.
Errors are important and integral to the process of learning.

Talk about: Learning should be difficult. Making errors is important/good.
Before everyone failed. Then talked about learning difficult. Next time, the group who had that discussion succeeded, while the others did not.
Babies fall down all the time. You’ve made hundreds, thousands of errors—but now you can walk.

“The better you know something the more difficult it becomes to teach it.”

Students don’t have models or they are faulty.
But we do want them to get to the point where they have mental models.

Why does it matter? We have to up the significance of what we are doing.
Why is it important? Explain the so what. Put it in a bigger context.

How do you respond to failure on an exam? If whole class did poorly…
Think about our assessments and what we are trying to accomplish with those.

Performance goals = goals that validate what student knows
Learning goals = goals that see what students have learned/are learning

Beginning Class with Writing

One of the things I like to do in my writing classes is have the students start each day with writing. I usually assign a topic, but say they can write about other things if they wish. Then I set the timer on my phone and let them write for four minutes.

This exercise does several very helpful things. These are in no particular order.

1. For this generation, who are unused to handwriting, it helps them to build physical muscles for intense writing–which is required during the final exam.

2. It encourages students to arrive on time.

3. It gives them an opportunity, albeit in short bursts, to reflect on their lives at college.

4. It lets me continue to access their writing. (I don’t always attempt to do this, but it does let me know if students are able to consistently write.)

5. It gives a daily grade that encourages attendance.

6. It starts class out with the focus for the class.

7. Late students are far less disruptive, as they attempt to get enough writing done to qualify for the daily grade.

I keep these together in a folder and about once a week I go through them all putting them in alphabetical order and then recording the grades.

At the end of the semester, I hand all the papers back to the individual students. I encourage them to hold on to them, to give them to a parent or put them in the attic (or some equivalent), explaining that they are a small “slice of life” picture that will help remind them of their freshman year at college in some distant future, which is another benefit.

Writing Tip for Students

The weakening I versus the strengthening I

Often prefacing something with “I believe” or “I think” lowers the audience’s perception of the truth of the following statement. However, if you are specifically talking about your faith OR you are an expert in that area, then saying I think or I believe actually adds credibility.

I use an example from Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics as an illustration; he says “I think” regarding comics. Why does this not weaken his statement? It does not weaken his statement because he is an expert on comics; he not only writes comics, he also writes about comics.

Happy File B&P

Happy Face My business writing class was very small this semester. Apparently late afternoon classes are not popular with our students. (A scheduled class for next semester in the same time slot did not get any sign ups.)

Sometimes instructors focus on the “I could have been better.” Let’s face it. Yes, if you are a normal human, you could have been better. You could have done at least one thing in the semester better.

But at this time of the semester, when we’re all breathing a sigh of relief because our grades are in (or are frantically finishing the stacks as finals begin), we should also take a bit of time to think about what we did well.

I borrowed a colleague’s idea and had my students come in early with their résumés and cover letters and do an interview with me. That was great! (Thanks, Heidi.)

I integrated digital presentations into the business writing class. I like this idea. I think it has a lot of potential. It also stretched my students to see composing a video as “writing” (or at least communicating).

Students in my business writing class had to do primary and secondary research on a topic. Most of them did a stellar job.

One of the students created a flyer basically answering the question, “What can you do with an English major?” I liked it. I’m going to be carrying it with me to all those meetings I have with prospective students’ parents. (That’s the single most common question I get asked.) Whoo too! Student created something for my class that will have a real-world use. Thanks, Student!

And, for the actual point of the post, here are the three emails I received from students in this class:

I really enjoyed your class and every assignment we did was something I am going to need experience with and I enjoyed learning how to do them. Thank you for your time this semester.

This was definitely one of the most helpful classes I have taken at OurU, and I was especially glad to learn about résumé writing and cover letters. I’ve recommended it to several of my friends.

Thank you for everything. I enjoyed your class and learned a lot that I will carry with me when I get back into the “real world.”

I love my job!

Happy File

Happy FaceSomewhere along the way in my career, someone suggested keeping a “Happy File” or “Gold Star” file, where I put all the nice things (notes, comments, emails) that students send me about my classes. They also suggested keeping it handy and opening it up and reading it whenever the semester becomes overwhelming.

I have haphazardly done this. (Meaning I have about ten things in the happy file, which is about two semester’s worth of stuff–at most.)

So this semester I thought I would put all the email comments online where I can find them easily. I may start a new category called Happy File, too.

Here is what students from my Brit lit class had to say:

I really enjoyed your class and having you as a professor. You have been great!

You are an amazing professor! I thoroughly enjoyed your class! I cannot thank you enough for being such a wonderful professor! I hope you have a blessed break and hope to see you around campus!

I have thoroughly enjoyed your class. I have definitely learned a lot.

I enjoyed the class all throughout the year, and I know some of these stories I read and did an LA over will always stick with me. There were a lot of stories this year that had good meanings and themes behind it and that was something I loved.

Really enjoyed your class this year! I learned a lot for sure.

I really enjoyed having you as a teacher. You made English fun for a science major. As I may not see you again, I wanted to say thank you for the effort that you put into this class.

Thank you, Dr. Davis, so much. You stuck with me the whole time and means a lot!

Two Texts Essay: Song Lyrics v. Music Video

Yesterday I was checking my email and discovered an email I had missed from last month.

The author wrote:

I am an adjunct at a community college. I am gearing up for my Fall semester and have been searching the web for new essay ideas for my FYC class. I came across your blog and was wondering if you would mind elaborating a bit on your assignment posted back on May 8th of this year. I am interested in the Lyric and Video comparison essay. I guess I am just wondering since most videos follow their song’s stories what they were comparing–were their contrasts as well as similiarities? Also how long was this essay? … I was just hoping you could give me a little more information.

Oops! I hadn’t seen it. I sent her an email yesterday, but I thought I would post here so that others who might be interested could see the information.

She was referencing a retrospective post that said this:

Thankfully I have an amazingly gifted colleague, Dr. Mikee Delony, who shared her assignment for this paper. She came up with the idea of comparing the lyrics of a song with an official music video for the work.

I introduced the idea using Tata Young’s “Cinderella” and Randy Travis’ “I’m Going to Love You Forever.” An interesting aspect of these two sets of lyrics, which was serendipitous, was that they both have a “they say/I say” aspect—which is the name of our new text for the course and a focus for the class. “Cinderella” says “My momma used to read me stories…. I’m going to rescue myself.” Excellent way to begin this discussion! Then Travis’ song says “They say that I’m … I’m no longer one of those guys.” That allows us to talk about reputation and change, something that students in a residential college setting may well have to deal with.

The assignment was very successful. The students enjoyed it because they were allowed to pick any music and the videos, it turns out, were sometimes quite bizarre. I think some of the students went looking for really odd videos to start with!

HeadphonesThe students don’t have any trouble at all finding videos that aren’t exactly like the lyrics or that are unexpected. A lot of music videos don’t follow the song as well as one might think. Yes, the creators knew the song when they put it together, but they didn’t necessarily design it in an expected manner.

As I mention, I start with two examples. We use Randy Travis’ “I’m Gonna Love You Forever.” We read the words of the song and talk about what we would expect from the music video. Older folks might think of Grease. There should be a young man singing to a young woman, or maybe even starting out they are young but then later they are middle aged and old. It should be about a couple. It should mostly have only them in it. It might have some shots of old men and old women sitting around talking.

Then I play the music video. It’s a guy singing at his sister’s wedding. Not what you are expecting, though there are some definitely sweet moments. “Honey, I don’t care. I ain’t in love with your hair. If it all fell out, I’d love you anyway” accompanies a shot of a woman kissing her husband’s bald head. Turn about is fair play.

Then we look at the words for Tata Young’s “Cinderella.” What do you expect? This is a song about someone not being a captive. It is about an empowered woman who is taking charge of her life. I would expect video of a woman whose life is filled with connection: friends with whom she meets regularly for coffee or meals, family with whom she stays in contact, a job that she is good at and is obviously respected in.

Then we watch the music video. Do you expect a girl in a bed? In very frilly girly clothes? A bed like a cage? No, so we talk about the rhetoric of the video.

After students find the song and video they are going to use, they take their song and list out lines, what they expected to see from that, and then what the video showed. Sometimes this is very different and sometimes it is not. I would hope that the students would write their expectations down first, but I am sure some students did not do that.

Two examples of the pre-writing exercise:
Blown Away Carrie Underwood
We are never getting back together

The second song actually has two videos, both official as far as I can tell. One has strange animals showing up at regular intervals. It is definitely unexpected as the animals are never explained and, while we tried, neither the student nor I could come up with a rational explanation that showed why the animals needed to be there or how what types of animals were chosen.

Honeymoon Inn musical cover WCThen the students wrote the paper.

The paper is 3 to 4 pages long.

Students enjoyed reading the papers that others wrote during the peer review process and for fun you might add a class period where everyone watches each other’s music videos and writes down things that they see in it. (After the student has done the prewriting.) This gives more ideas and might add depth to the paper. I haven’t done that for this particular assignment, but I have for a different one and it worked out well.

Just in case you are interested, here is the Two-Texts Essay Rubric I use to grade the final essay.

5 Potential Teaching Alternatives

light bulb idea from beginanadventure blogspotOne idea:
“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” Etienne Wenger (

This tactic also calls on research that demonstrates “students working in small groups tend to learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same content is presented in other instructional formats.” Barbara Gross Davis. “Collaborative Learning: Group Work and Study Teams,” Tools for Teaching (1993).

My thoughts:
This idea is similar to earlier educational models. It is particularly related to the apprenticeship model where a student who is more experienced, such as a journeyman, might instruct the neophyte. However, usually this was done under the careful oversight of the master. I do not think that instituting students-teaching-students will allow the university to create larger classes (or at least not significantly larger classes) for the professor to administer.

Second idea:
Numerous studies suggest that intensive courses produce equivalent or superior learning outcomes compared to traditional formats. Students are more easily able to focus on the material and are less likely to become distracted by the life events that may happen over the course of a long semester.

Sources for this idea:
Pascarella, E. and Terenzini, P. 2005. How College Affects Students, Volume 2. San Francisco. Jossey-Bass.
Daniel, E. June 2000. “A Review of Time-Shortened Courses Across Disciplines.” College Student Journal: 34(2).
Kucsera, J. and Zimmaro, D. 2010. “Comparing the Effectiveness of Intensive and Traditional Courses.” College Teaching. 62.
“Shorter Classes Are More Effective.” Machine Design. 80(11): 110-111.

student thinkingMy thoughts:
I am actually teaching a more learning intensive course, during the regular semester, but I don’t think that is what they are talking about here. I know that my three-week British literature course studied the same things and had the same homework as my long-semester British literature course, when I was teaching at the community college.

My students DID do better in the short course, but those were also generally students who were home for the summer from UT, A&M, or SHSU. They were taking an “easy” course (which it was not!), but it was certainly a different experience from their long semesters in classes with 100+ students.

Musings for the future:
If the university decided to offer courses in three-week blocks throughout the long semester, so that a student could take five courses in 15 weeks, would I want to teach those courses? (When I would be teaching one more course than the normal load for faculty at my university.)

I have taught business writing and British literature in three-week courses and would be perfectly happy to continue to do that.

I would not mind teaching my third of the intro to rhetoric grad class in a week instead of five weeks (assuming I still get to assign the same reading/writing responsibilities).

I would NOT want to teach fyc in a three-week course and, indeed, don’t think that I could do so without significantly impacting the quality of my teaching.

BusinessThe three-week courses are INTENSIVE, not just for the students, but also for the professors, and five back-to-back intensive courses would be exhausting. A month off would not lead to time to do research but simply be used to recover for the next fifteen-week sprint.

Perhaps offering students two six-week courses at a time, over an eighteen-week semester, where students could do twelve hours in a shorter early or late semester, would be an alternative that allows for more concentration (two courses rather than four to six) but without quite the same pressure to get the grading done–especially for writing intensive courses, which all of mine are!

Colorado College has a three-week intensive course series, which requires only four classes per semester to be taught.

Some courses would be far easier than others to do this way.

Third idea:
Problem-based learning, which is “a curriculum and a process. The curriculum consists of carefully selected and designed problems that demand from the learner acquisition of critical knowledge, problem solving proficiency, self-directed learning strategies, and team participation skills. The process replicates the commonly used systemic approach to resolving problems or meeting challenges that are encountered in life and career.” Barrows, H., and Kelson, A. C. (1995). Problem-Based Learning in Secondary Education and the Problem-Based Learning Institute (Monograph 1), Problem- Based Learning Institute, Springfield, IL.

My thoughts:
Not quite sure how this would work for a literature classroom. Less confident of fyc courses here, too. Rhetoric classes, on the other hand, might work like this, though the approach would significantly change what we are doing now.

I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing. Just different.

typingFourth idea:
Hybrid classes. Elements of face-to-face and distance learning are combined in a single course.

“”Hybrid courses’ those that are offered online but also involve substantial face time can produce better outcomes than those that are delivered exclusively on the Web or in the classroom.”

Kolowich, S. (September 22, 2009). Sustainable Hybrids, Insider Higher Ed.

“The hybrid flexible model is delivered using a combination of face-to-face seminars and electronic delivery and communication tools. It is found that academic performance is higher for students who studied under the flexible delivery model.”

Dowling, C., Godfrey, J. M., & Gyles, N. (2003). Do hybrid flexible delivery teaching methods improve accounting students’ learning outcomes? Accounting Education: An international journal, 12(4), 373-391.

My thoughts:
I actually like this idea. I think it would be good to teach a course where, perhaps, every two weeks the class got together for class discussion and in-class work that would help students develop, while normally they have time outside of class to read, write, and prepare for the course.

If the hybrid were set up with flexibility, some students might do better because they would be able to get their work done, but not have to have it done every two days. On the other hand, some students would do worse because they need the schedule.

Fifth idea:
Flipped class.

The traditional course model (content delivery in class, practice outside of class) is reversed. Class time is used to practice, answer questions and address problems.

Because of its emphasis on information application, rather than transmission, flipped teaching offers potentially better learning outcomes (Eric Mazur).

“It’s a whole different paradigm of teaching,” says Mr. Wieman, likening the professor’s role to that of a cognitive coach. “A good coach figures out what makes a great athlete and what practice helps you achieve that. They motivate the learner to put out intense effort, and they provide expert feedback that’s very timely.”

My thoughts:
I have read Robert Talbert (Casting Out Nines, writes for the CHE) for years and his talk of flipping his calculus course was my first introduction to the concept.

One of my friends is doing a flipped literature course this semester. She said that it is very labor intensive before the semester begins and less so once the class has started. In fact, she says, one day she felt superfluous and sat in the corner of the room creating a reflection on the students being so engaged in what they were doing that they wanted her to not be there. (She did say that towards the end of class they wanted to show her what they had done.)

She doesn’t use as many writing assignments as I do in my literature courses (probably shows my writing background/bias), but she does have some amazing projects. The students do dramatizations, write sonnets, and create art as a group. Very cool.

I think that digital presentations and group assignments would be particularly useful in this venue.

Best Practices in Teaching

Variety in instructional methods produces more significant learning experiences (Fink, 2003). As one colleague on campus put it, “The worst teaching technique to use today is the one you used last class period.”

Peer-teaching, in which students work together to explore new concepts under the guidance of a faculty member, improves comprehension of complex ideas and produces substantial improvements in end-of-course competency testing (Crouch & Mazur, 2001).

Hybrid course models, when compared to face-to-face and fully online models, produce the best learning outcomes (Dowling, Godfrey, & Gyles, 2003; Meyer, 2012).

From a report on teaching at my university.