Monday, July 11, 2016

Summer Reading

Summer Reading Book Club for 5-Star Consortium

Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons From the Science of Learning by James Lang

I first became familiar with James Lang when his articles on “Small Changes” started appearing in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The first article to catch my eye was “Small Changes: The First 5-Minutes of Class.” He posits that a teacher does not have to make BIG changes to effect positive change. Small changes can lead to powerful changes in any classroom – he tells us that we only need minimal preparation to employ small changes if we have several back pocket techniques. People who have read his book say things like:

"Be ready to underline, add comments, attach sticky-notes, and share your copy.  In fact, buy two because your first copy will forever be on loan to colleagues ready for easy-to- adopt ideas that offer real results." - Susan Zvacek, Associate Provost for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning
 at the University of Denver

"Small Teaching is packed with ideas that will have you highlighting like mad. But this is no mere collection of tips – instead, it’s a powerful, coherent framework aligned to the realities of teaching in higher education today."
- Michelle Miller, Dept. of Psychological Sciences Northern Arizona University, Author of Minds Online: Teaching with Technology

My own copy, which I watch over carefully, is already highlighted, and like Susan Zvacek, I also have sticky notes galore! All of his strategies are practical and can be leveraged into the first 5 minutes as well as the last 5 minutes to support student mastery and success. I have purchased multiple copies of this book for use with new faculty.

Here’s Amazon’s description:

Employ cognitive theory in the classroom every day

Research into how we learn has opened the door for utilizing cognitive theory to facilitate better student learning. But that's easier said than done. Many books about cognitive theory introduce radical but impractical theories, failing to make the connection to the classroom. In Small Teaching, James Lang presents a strategy for improving student learning with a series of modest but powerful changes that make a big difference—many of which can be put into practice in a single class period. These strategies are designed to bridge the chasm between primary research and the classroom environment in a way that can be implemented by any faculty in any discipline, and even integrated into pre-existing teaching techniques. Learn, for example:

  • How does one become good at retrieving knowledge from memory?
  • How does making predictions now help us learn in the future?
  • How do instructors instill fixed or growth mindsets in their students?

Each chapter introduces a basic concept in cognitive theory, explains when and how it should be employed, and provides firm examples of how the intervention has been or could be used in a variety of disciplines. Small teaching techniques include brief classroom or online learning activities, one-time interventions, and small modifications in course design or communication

Here are some “book club” questions, similar to what you might find at the end of what you

might be reading for pleasure:

1. Why are the first and last 5-minutes of your class so important for student mastery?


2. What techniques mentioned in Small Teaching are you likely to try, and why?

3. Lang says, “Asking students to make predictions requires a very small investment of time, which makes predicting an ideal small teaching activity” (p 59). Do you agree or disagree? Why?

4. Why is reflection a critical skill for students to develop? Why is it important for faculty to develop a reflective practice?

5. Lang promotes “retrieval practice” citing the fact that “every time we extract a piece of information or an experience from our memory, we are strengthening neural pathways” (p 28). How might you implement retrieval practice at the beginning or end of class?

6. Here’s a quick tip from Lang: Practice! He recommends having a list of the practices he recommends (a list of “back pocket techniques” that you are ready to use) and practice them. No need to try everything at once! What are 3 back pocket techniques that you are ready to implement next week and share with your colleagues?

7. You may be familiar with the terms growth mindset and fixed mindset, made popular in teaching literature by Carol Dweck and other colleagues. Lang focuses on small changes “to your course design your feedback on student work, and your communication with students that will enable you to create a growth-mindset- classroom” (p 206). Are you familiar with growth mindset? How can you implement “growth-language feedback” (p 208) in your classes?

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