"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Science of Learning for Nonexperts

For a classroom teacher who is not actively engaged in education research, it is not easy to digest information from primary literature. Scientists often write articles not with the intention of reaching non experts. A book that attempts to bring recent advances in the science of learning into much more readable nuggets can therefore be very useful. One example is Applying Science of Learning in Education: Infusing Psychological Science into the Curriculum (2014) from the American Psychological Association, and this book is FREE. I have only browsed through the content, it has about 300 pages and 24 chapters, but each chapter is a stand-alone. And, of course, the first chapter I chose to read is on General Chemistry. Surprisingly, what is described in this chapter can easily apply to other subjects.

Above copied from
Samuel Pazicni and Daniel T. Pyburn (2014).
Intervening on Behalf of Low-Skilled Comprehenders in a University General Chemistry Course. In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/asle2014/index.php
The authors begin this chapter with the story of a first-year undergraduate student. The student starts seeing the instructor during office hours recognizing that her high school preparation may be inadequate. The student, however, still fails the first exam. The instructor then decides to work harder with the student, spending quite a bit of time solving practice problems together. The second exam comes and the student fails again. The instructor sends the student to a Learning Resource Center to find out if the student has a learning disability while continuing with more office hours developing strategies and solving practice problems. The student fails the third exam and the instructor gives up. The student fails the final exam and the course. At the beginning of the next semester, the student informs the instructor that Academic Services finds no learning disability, but the student reads at the 9th grade level.

Reading comprehension is important in chemistry and one particular aspect of comprehension is key: making inferences. Both lectures and textbooks often require reading between the lines for the sake of both time and space. Not all details are provided and it is up to the audience or reader to connect the dots. Making inferences requires connecting what is currently being learned to what is already known. A student therefore needs to combine prior knowledge with current information. This is called Construction-Integration and Structure Building.

Not having such a skill correlates with low test scores in a General Chemistry class. Spotting the problem is good, but having a solution is better. One nice thing about this chapter is that it does offer an intervention, one that does not involve a direct reading comprehension intervention. It is multiple testing. The results are very encouraging:

Above copied from
Samuel Pazicni and Daniel T. Pyburn (2014).
Intervening on Behalf of Low-Skilled Comprehenders in a University General Chemistry Course. In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/asle2014/index.php
The above graph summarizes the results of the study. The course has various learning goals and for each learning goal, there is a final exam that have questions that are open-ended in nature and require calculations and/or explanations. Some of the learning goals come with two multiple choice quizzes while the students are still learning the material (MC) while some of the goals do not come with quizzes, just a final exam (control). The testing effect is clearly significant. These results basically support the hypothesis made by the authors that high-skilled comprehenders owe their skills from their ability to question and answer what they are currently learning, which is partly mimicked by taking quizzes. Quizzes therefore help low-skilled comprehenders build their knowledge.


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