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

Definition of Rhetoric

I’m always interested in definitions of what rhetoric is, particularly simpler ones which can be understood by non-academics. I have used a selection of rhetoric definitions to introduce rhetoric in my section of the graduate class on history of rhetoric (which I won’t be teaching this next year) as a way to make the students aware of what rhetoric is and to create some of the dissonance that Dr. Janice Lauer believes is significantly responsible for creating learning.

–I find that very ironic considering that I was very uncomfortable with the “throw the baby in the ocean” aspect of my PhD program, but it is a way to start them thinking.

ancient woman with bookKendall R. Phillips, in his introduction to the edited collection Framing Public Memory, wrote that rhetoric is “an art interested in the ways symbols are employed to induce cooperation, achieve understanding, contest understanding, and offer dissent” (2).

While “interested in” seems vague to me, the other aspects of the definition–symbols, cooperation, understanding, and dissent–are particularly noteworthy.

Plagiarism sources

The first one I found referenced on the CHE fora is a flowchart of levels of plagiarism–though not all the academics agree it is accurate. I linked it because it is a place to start talking.

The second one is an online test for recognizing plagiarism from Indiana U.

Another plagiarism source–which I cannot watch because my flash is out of date–was recommended to me. It is at Northern Arizona U.

Gaming the Classroom

Having had some success with gaming the classroom in my spring 2013 British literature course, my eye was caught by “Why Gamification?” when I was reading a different post on Metawriting.

gamification_learning brain on games

The article begins:

Gamification, the use of game-design elements for a non-game purpose, interests me because I do not want my classes to be about the grade. I want my students to stop obsessing over what will please me enough to give them an A and instead focus on exploring and experimenting. Every semester and every class I find myself adding more elements of gamification to my classes because I believe gamification supports learning by motivating and engaging students and it supports writing development. And there is something about gamification that encourages community and collaboration that a traditional grading structure does not.

Learning from Students

I’ve been thinking about the question of learning from our students (what do we learn and how do we learn it). I saw a post on Twitter that caught my attention.

3 students studyingDeanna Mascle posted a link to a blog post she wrote last year. However, as many blog posts, its relevance is not time limited. “What Can You Learn From and About Your Students?” talks about doing IRB approval for pedagogical research each semester. That is something I had not considered before.

Rhetoric of Academics: Making a Living

I’m thinking a lot today about the rhetoric we use in relationship to our profession. This has been brought on by a series of readings, mostly unrelated to each other in terms of clear point-by-point connections, but related to each other at least through my interest in them and that they have comments about how we speak (mostly) about the profession.

Won’t Make You Rich

William Pannapacker @pannapacker
Saying academe “won’t make you rich” obscures the reality that most academic workers are adjuncts making $2,700 per course on average.

My response to this was, who makes $2,700 per course? I know there are some places that pay $4,000 a course, (I believe it was University of Anchorage.) but Cost of Living there more than makes up for that difference.)

But this was actually a later post. His earlier post said this:

William Pannapacker @pannapacker
Think we need to stop telling students that going into academe “won’t make you rich,” as if material considerations were purely mercenary.

What about the mercenary material considerations?
My eldest son chose not to go into teaching, even though he is good at it and enjoys it, because “it’s twice the work for half the money.”

I think he would have been okay with twice the work or half the money, but not both.

What did Pannapacker mean by mercenary material considerations? Maybe he meant that we shouldn’t say “you won’t get rich” because students aren’t really concerned about being rich. If that is what he meant, then I definitely agree.

If Pannaker meant we shouldn’t talk about work in terms of finances, which I do not think was his point, then he would be way off track.

But his first post in the list (the later Twitter post) actually clarifies what he meant. Don’t tell your students they won’t get rich. Tell your students they will barely survive financially.

Why don’t students believe that?
So why would our students, who read as well as we do–and sometimes read more, believe us when we say academics don’t get rich? They know it’s not necessarily true.

People tend to dwell on the extremes. So the professor who sold the freshman calculus book and owns a multi-million dollar home in Canada is news as well as the full-time adjunct with a PhD who gets food stamps.

Students aren’t idiots. They know these are the extremes. They don’t expect to be on food stamps and they don’t expect to own a multi-million dollar home in Canada (or anywhere else).

What they do expect is to be in the middle. It’s the norm.

What is the middle?
My response to Panneker’s post, which probably did not appear particularly relevant, said:
They read. “study shows that at UC-Boulder tatt prof ave salary $103,513.teach & office hours ave 4.93 hrs/wk” –It was Twitter. I only had 140 characters.

I read the above statement just yesterday in the comments on an article about adjuncts, I believe. Yes, WNPR News: Adjuncts in Academia.

A study under way shows that at UC-Boulder tatt professors have an average salary – excluding a myriad of benefits – of $103,513. They teach and hold office hours for an average of 4.93 hours a week (and that’s for the 30-week academic year). They publish an average of 0.63 papers and 0.06 books a year; the median number of citations of their works is 3.35 per professor/year. In a word: the faculty at Boulder are paid high salaries for teaching 148 hours a year and for publishing works that are not only extraordinarily little in number but are demonstrably of almost no interest to their fellow academic.

The commenter’s point was that professors get paid too much to do too little.

This is what students think is the middle.

At My University
Even at my school, where ft tt professors make considerably less than their public school counterparts, there are professors making six figure incomes. Students may think, okay, I won’t make that starting out, but they do think that eventually they will get there. And they might–if they are teaching business or law.

What students at our college don’t realize is that those six figure incomes are the extremes here.

The university employs very few adjuncts (both percentage and in raw numbers) and most of those are truly part-time. They teach a class or two and they are rarely hired two semesters in a row. They cannot make a living on it, a fact true of most adjuncts anywhere, but there is not systemic abuse. This semester my department, the largest on campus, has 1 adjunct teaching 2 classes. I am fairly sure if a department were hiring multiple adjuncts for multiple classes it would be news on campus.

Students here know you can’t make a living as an adjunct. They haven’t even seen people try it, though they may have seen past graduate students cobbling a living together doing a combination of full- and part-time jobs. But they also know that there are plenty of people doing those full-time positions and living on that salary. They assume the part-time work is for love of the discipline—which it often is.

What happens when you tell students academia is a poor choice for a career?
Students don’t believe it. I think the number one reason they don’t believe it is because it is our career. We are the professors doing what they want to do and we are saying don’t do it. Normally that would make us an expert. In this case, though, I think it works against us.

They see the professors telling them they won’t survive surviving. They don’t see the loans, the unfixed floors, the vacations that are working trips funded by grants. They don’t even see our salaries, since we are private.

They may look at professors at public universities and think that is the norm and they look at the range of salaries and expect to be in the middle—not realizing that the range of salaries is dependent on both time in the field AND the field.

In the humanities, our students will start at the bottom—if they can find full-time work.

But students don’t believe that. No one believes that. Everyone always believes they are the exceptions.

Dr. Lee Skallerup @readywriting and I have had this conversation before. I have a ft-tt position. I was an adjunct for years. She has a ft, non-tt position. She was an adjunct for years. Our students see us having made it and they think that they will make it, too.

That’s why they don’t believe us.