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Learning Theories

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Tanner, K. (2013).  Structure matters: twenty-one teaching strategies to promote student engagement and cultivate classroom equity.  CBE-Life Sciences Education. 12, 322-331.
I’ll be honest, one of the reasons this article resonates with me is because it is easy to implement the strategies. Not only does Tanner present the strategies but for most of them she explains why they are important and presents the research that supports them. When I read the article last year I had already heard of most of the strategies but I did not understand why the might be useful and I definitely did not know the research supporting them. While I had used several in my classes before I started implementing them in a more intentional way, I started having students work more in pairs then in groups, I started “random calling” (something I hated the idea of before) and having students explain before I did. My classroom changed almost immediately. I had always used active learning but I found that with pairs instead of groups that everyone was active instead of just some people leading the group and the others following (or not paying attention at all). I also found that after using pairs for a while that even when they got in bigger groups everyone was participating because they knew it was expected.

Freeman, S., Eddy, S., McDonough, M., Smith, M., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., and Wenderoth, M.P (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. PNAS. 111, 8410-8415.

I am actually using this article as a stand in for a talk I heard Scott Freeman give in 2011 about active learning. Freeman was the first person to present data behind active learning to me. I knew there was data supporting it but it was not until I heard Freeman’s talk that I had actually saw any of this data. In a way Freeman’s early data on clicker use was what really sold me on the benefits of the teaching model I was already using (because it was less boring).

Handelsman, J., Miller, S., and Pfund, C. (2007). Scientific Teaching.  New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company.

I find this whole book useful. Not only does it go through the importance of active learning it also reviews the importance of assessment and data collection. It gives concrete examples of how to integrate the two. Another aspect of this book that is of importance to me is it covers institutional reform not just a single classroom. Institutional reform is proving to be the bigger challenge for me. Changing my teaching has gone pretty smoothly but trying to get institutional assessment are participation has been more of a struggle.  To help with institutional reform half the book is dedicated to running workshops on various topic associated with active learning and assessment.

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