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Learning Theories

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Promoting Student Metacognition.  Kimberly Tanner. CBE Life Sciences Education  (2012)

 This article is one of my “go-to” favorites in terms of thinking of how students learn.  The article begins by presenting two scenarios.   The first student, Josephina comes into instructor office hours to commiserate about a test grade.  When asked how she studied for the test, she reports that she studied hard  the weekend before the exam, made note cards, and wonders why she didn’t do well on the exam.   This article first resonates with me because the first thing I have always asked a student when they want to talk about a test is “How did you prepare for the test,” and I’ve heard some version of Josephina’s response probably hundreds of times.  

The article continues with another student, Maya. Maya has developed metacognitive approach towards effective, intentional learning:  planning, monitoring her own understanding of concepts, reflection about her understanding these concepts, and strategies to resolve confusion.   The second reason this article resonates with me is that I struggle to guide more of my students in their evolution from Josephina’s approach to Maya’s approach.   Although I’ve tried many of the activities/strategies in this article (Muddiest Point, modeling problem solving), my own classroom is not at the point of being “grounded” in metacognition.


Scientific Teaching: Defining a Taxonomy of Observable Practices.  Brian Couch, Tanya Brown, Tyler Schelpat, Mark Graham, Jennifer Knight.  CBE Life Sciences Education (June 1, 2015)

This recent article provides a tangible, accessible framework for Scientific Teaching.   The taxonomy is a set of 15 pedagogical goals aligned with 37 supporting practices and observable behaviors for each of those practices.    In terms of student learning, the taxonomy includes cognitive processes that should be cultivated in students, and provides specific goals, approaches, and practices that support these cognitive processes, and support in the form of research based evidence in which these practices are based.    Some of the cognitive processes in the taxonomy include exploring the relationship between science and society, engaging in experimental design and interpretation and participating in formal scientific discourse, with the “dual intentions of preparing scientifically literate citizens as well as training future scientists.”    The taxonomy also provides specific goals for HOW students participate in a course, through a constructivist approach in which student “build their own mental models through active engagement.”   This article resonates with me as I’m a strong proponent of the principles of Scientific Teaching, but sometimes I have trouble putting Scientific Teaching into practice – sometimes due to time constraints or inertia in my teaching practices.  However I find one of my greatest obstacles to Scientific Teaching is often student resistance.  The taxonomy provides a practical framework, that I hope will allow me to incorporate incremental changes into my courses.   Because the taxonomy is so detailed and well-aligned, I foresee it will be a valuable resource to specifically assess specific  changes and practices.


The Social Contract of Education.   Robert Carroll, Claude Bernard Distinguished lecture published in Advances in Physiology Education.  (March 1, 2015)

 In this lecture Dr. Carroll ‘s objective is to “extend beyond the typical cognitive content and delve into the affective domain.”  My teaching philosophy has always been based on a foundation of mutual respect and responsibility for student learning, so this lecture really peaked my interest.  In many ways his perspective of the learning environment as a “contract” seems harsh and impersonal .   But his basic premise is that students learn and respond better if expectations are made clear to them, and ultimately the “contract” is beneficial to student learning.  He sees an effective learning environment as a “contract” in which the instructor: (a) establishes the basis for the contract; (b) makes it clear what the value of the contract is to the students; (b) establishes personal relationship with the students; (d) deals with students as individuals and let’s himself/herself be seen as an individual; (e) clearly identifies what the instructor is willing to provide as well as clarify the expectations of student efforts

 Finally, Dr. Carroll emphasizes that the social contract needs to have an exchange of value, showing respect for the time and effort of the student.  That brings to mind the student I spoke about in my first citation “Josephina” who feels she deserves a better grade because she put in the effort to make note cards and study.   This brings to mind so many questions:  How do I match what my expectations are for my students, and what they perceive as the expectations of them?  How do I best provide value in terms of student learning?   How do I strike that balance of guiding students, while also expecting them to develop independent skills and metacognition?   

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