Part 4 of a book Review of Learner-Centered Teaching by Maryellen Weimer

Concerns about content are not trivial–for those of us committed to getting it covered and for those of us who want to change how it functions in courses.
-Maryellen Weimer

textbooksIf I Don’t Cover Content, then What Do I Do with It?

The author lays out several options:

1. We build a knowledge base through active teaching strategies. Earlier in the book, Weimer presents a lot of research that could be summed up in the phrase “use it or lose it.” Deep learning, learning that is retained, happens when students are interacting with the content and with one another.

2. We use content to develop our student’s learning skills. This is called strategy instruction.

Thankfully, we are not left to figure out how. She details how to begin the shift from covering to using content through making small changes and scaling back out content as we become practiced in new teaching skills. The rest of the chapter spells out a handful of effective learning strategies that aim at both deep learning and learning skill development.

Using Content in Our Online Courses

Reflecting on this chapter, I thought it would be helpful to at least provide three examples of using course content instead of covering course content in the online environment.

1. Focus an online discussion on course reading and reading skills.

Here’s an example discussion prompt:

In your reading this week I would like you to note three to four statements that you found most helpful in understanding…(this period in history, this scientific concept, etc.). Type these out in your discussion post and label them statement #1, #2, and #3. Then, below each statement write a brief paragraph for each of them that explains why you found the statement helpful or significant. Finally, take a moment to reflect on what questions arise about…(the course reading, the specific topic)…and end your post with 2-3 of those questions.

 2. Develop Research Skills

Teachers bemoan the poor research skills of their students. I’ve been one of those bemoaners. But are we giving them opportunities to practice and develop the skills before they are expected to write a paper? For most of my years teaching, I wasn’t giving my students that opportunity. I’m working with a professor who is. He designed a research paper for his online course where many of the research materials, because they are so specialized, have to be delivered directly to the students.

The strength of this is that he gets to make sure his students have access to high quality articles and commentaries. The weakness, and his concern was this: giving them all the materials short circuits their process of finding and evaluating resources. His solution was excellent. He decided to require students to locate 2 scholarly articles (electronic versions) using our library’s databases, to evaluate each, and to submit them to him for evaluation. He would then give them brief feedback on whether or not the articles met the criteria for the paper.

By incorporating this process, he is giving his students an opportunity to think critically about the articles they are choosing. He is also providing them with the tools to do it: direction on how to use the specific databases, and criteria that they can use to evaluate articles.

3. Make your syllabus review interactive

I’ve been in grad school for the last eight years and I can’t tell you how painful it has become to sit through a whole hour of having a brilliant professor read through a syllabus. I figure I’ve spent an entire work week (5 eight-hour days) listening to syllabi. What’s worse is watching a recording of a syllabus review.

Why not make it a brief required discussion? In a similar format to the first example above, students could be asked to identify three important elements from the syllabus, then to pose three questions for their classmates based on learner-centered-teaching-book.jpgthose elements. For example, let’s say the syllabus stresses the importance of the late-work policy, gives a 35% weight to course discussions, and that the readings for each week must be completed by Saturday evening in the week they are assigned. The student would post: 1) Explain the course late-work policy. 2)How much do discussions count toward the final grade. 3) What day are the readings for week 3 due(month and day) ?  Then,students are expected to respond and answer another group member’s questions.

Those are just a few ideas. The next post will look at how to involve students in creating a classroom climate where they are responsible for their own learning.


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Part 1 – Overview of The Learner-Centered Teacher

Part 2 – The Role of the Learner-Centered Teacher

Part 3 – The Balance of Power in the Learner-Centered Classroom

Part 4 – The Function of Content in the Learner-Centered Classroom

Part 5 – The Responsibility for Learning in the Learner-Centered Model

Part 6 – The Purpose and Process of Evaluation in the Learner-Centered Model

Part 7 – Transitioning to Learner-Centered Teaching (a developmental approach) – coming soon

Part 8 – Dealing with Resistance to the Learner-Centered Approach – coming soon