To Teach By These
excerpts from Tom Angelos article published in the
AAHE Bulletin, A Teachers Dozen: Fourteen
General, Research-Based Principles for Improving Higher
Learning in Our Classrooms, describe some of what research
has to tell us about the nature of learning.
While few savvy faculty would
argue that we know nothing useful about learning, many still
protest that we dont yet know enough to inform
teaching practice. It is true that theres still much
to discover, but at the same time we do collectively know a
great deal about how people learn. Solid research by
cognitive scientists, psychologists, ethnographers and other
researchers offers much more direction to college teachers
of the 1990s than was available even a decade ago. To argue
that we shouldnt use what we know in teaching because
our knowledge is incomplete is like arguing that sailors
shouldnt use available knowledge about weather and
currents in navigation because that knowledge is incomplete.
Only by using what we already know can we learn more.
Active learning is more
effective than passive learning.
Active learning occurs
when students invest physical and mental energies in
activities that help them make what they are learning
meaningful, and when they are aware of that meaning-making.
As George Stoddard put it, We learn to do neither by
thinking nor by doing; we learn to do by thinking about what
we are doing.
Having students teach or explain something to others
helps them learn it much more effectively, especially if
they actively rehearse that lesson ahead of time
and get feedback. To assess actively, ask students to
paraphrase a central concept in a couple of sentences for
one specific audience, and then to paraphrase the same
explanation for a completely different audience. The two
audiences might be parents and children, professionals and
lay people, novices and experts. Assess these directed
paraphrases for both accuracy and appropriateness.
Learning requires focused
attention, and awareness of the importance of what is to be
One of the most difficult
tasks for novice learners in a field is to figure out what
to pay attention to and what to ignore. Students in
introductory courses often cannot tell what is central from
what is peripheral.
You can help novices by pointing out some of the major
landmarks, by writing a list of the five key points in your
lecture on the board before class, for example. You can also
assess how well they are learning to read the maps
those lectures or readings provide. Using a Minute
Paper to find out what students thought were the most
important points in a lecture or reading and what questions
they still have can provide useful information on where they
are getting lost (see Classroom Assessment Tip for details).
Learning is more effective
and efficient when learners have explicit, reasonable,
positive goals and when their goals fit well with the
When learners know what their
educational goals are and figure out how they can best
achieve them [and when they] know how and how well their
goals fit the instructors they tend to learn more and
get better grades.
Early in the term, ask students to write down a few
specific learning goals they hope to achieve. Then involve
them in comparing their learning goals with those of other
students, and with your teaching goals. Look for and build
on areas of congruence, but dont gloss over potential
conflicts or disconnects.
To be remembered, new
information must be meaningfully connected to prior
knowledge, and it must first be remembered in order to be
The more meaningful and
appropriate connections students make between what they know
and what they are learning, the more permanently they will
anchor new information in long-term memory and the easier it
will be for them to access that information when its
Provide many and varied examples/illustrations,
descriptions/drawings, images, metaphors and analogies. But
ask students to provide them as well, then give the students
feedback on their usefulness and appropriateness. For
instance, two simple ways to help students make connections,
and to assess the connections they make, are to ask them to
compose a metaphor (Learning is _____) or an
analogy (Teaching is to learning as _____ is to _____).
Unlearning what is already
known is often more difficult than learning new information.
Habits, preconceptions and
misconceptions can be formidable barriers to new learning,
all the more treacherous because, like icebergs, this prior
learning is usually 90 percent hidden from view.
Before you present new material, find out what students
already believe and know
.A quick diagnostic probe,
containing a few questions, often can help you locate
Information organized in
personally meaningful ways is more likely to be retained,
learned and used.
Humans seek regularity and
meaning constantly and we create them when they are not
.To be most useful, the ways learners organize
knowledge in a given domain need to become ever more similar
to the ways experts in that field organize knowledge. This
requires making what is usually implicit, explicit.
Show students a number of different, useful and acceptable
ways to organize the same information. Use prose, outlines,
graphs, drawings and models. Assess students
organizing skills by [examining] their mental models.
Learners need feedback on
their learning, early and often, to learn well; to become
independent, they need to learn how to give themselves
Regular feedback helps
learners efficiently direct their attention and energies,
helps them avoid major errors and dead ends, and keeps them
from learning things they later will have to unlearn at
great cost. It can also serve as a motivating form of
interaction between teacher and learner and among learners.
Dont assume students understand, ask. Try asking them
to jot down what the muddiest point was in a
particular reading, lab or lecture, then respond to the most
common muddy points in your next class. Find out
what students are doing with the feedback youre
already giving them. Do they read and use the comments you
write on papers and exams? Explicitly demonstrate how you
get feedback on your work and what you do with it.
The ways in which
learners are assessed and evaluated powerfully affect the
ways they study and learn.
For generations uncounted,
students have annoyed their teachers with the question; Will
this be on the final? Knowing what will be on the
final, or any upcoming test, helps students figure out where
to focus their attention
.One way to improve learning,
then, is to make sure our test questions require the kind of
thinking and learning we wish to promote, and that students
knowat least generallywhat those questions will
sure your questions are testing what you want students to
learn, give them a sample exam or a list of study questions
from which exam questions will be selected. Give students
regular opportunities to practice answering similar
questions and get feedback on their answers. If students
work in study groups, corrective feedback can come from
Mastering a skill or body
of knowledge takes great amounts of time and effort.
In a study of talented young
Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues found that
at least 15,000 to 30,000 hours of time and intense practice
were required to reach the highest level of mastery in a
variety of fields. If we halve those figures to guesstimate
the time needed to achieve an acceptable mastery level, were
still left with about 7,000 to 15,000 hours of preparation.
Students need to know how long it actually takes to
attain mastery in their field. Then they need to find out
how much time they are actually devoting to the task. Give
students a simple form on which they can log all the times
they study/practice for a week and how productively they
used each block of time.
Learning to transfer, to
apply previous knowledge and skills to new contexts,
requires a great deal of practice.
Most learning is highly
context-bound, and few students become skilled at applying
what theyve learned in one context to another similar
context. In fact, many students cannot recognize things theyve
already learned if the context is shifted at all. This is
one reason students will point at questions that are only
slightly altered versions of homework questions and protest,
Weve never done problems like these before!
If you value transfer, teach transfer. Direct students
attention continually [to both] the general and the
specific. Give them many different examples of the same
concepts or principles, and make sure they see where the
similarities and the differences are. Challenge students to
identify and then create similar but different examples or
encourage high achievement.
For some time now, weve
known that younger students tend to achieve more by working
with teachers who expect more of them
. For [this
effect] to work students must share the teachers high
expectations themselves and perceive them as reasonable.
Begin by finding out what your students expect of themselves
in your class, letting them know what you expect and
discussing those expectations. Begin the course with
assignments that diligent students can succeed in. Have
learners interview successful former students, or invite
them to class, to illustrate that high expectations can be
To be most effective,
teachers need to balance levels of intellectual challenge
and instructional support.
The weaker the students
foundation in the subject, the stronger the instructional scaffolding
(structure and support) required. This is one of the reasons
in the third year generally require less structure and
direction [than those in a first-year course] in the same
discipline. This also helps explain why students of lower
ability or weaker preparation often benefit from and
appreciate highly structured courses.
Even when learner ability or preparation or both are weak,
expectations should remain high. To reach those
expectations, less-prepared students will need more explicit
instructional scaffolding, such as tutoring,
highly structured directions, and more personal contact with
the instructor. Students who are better prepared can be
encouraged to master their learning by serving as tutors,
help create scaffolding for others, and take responsibility
for their own learning through independent studies.
Motivation to learn is
alterable; it can be positively or negatively affected by
the task, the environment, the teacher and the learner.
Though we tend to talk about
students being either motivated or not
motivated, most students are very motivated to learn
certain things and not at all motivated to learn others.
Research suggests that you stand a good chance of increasing
motivation to learn if you can positively influence your
students beliefs and expectations about one or more of
if they see the value of what youre
teaching; believe learning it will help them achieve
important goals; believe they are capable of learning it;
and expect they will succeed.
Give students lots of specific examples of the value and
usefulness of what theyre learning and help them make
connections between short-term course goals and their own
long-term goals. Use simple, anonymous surveys to gauge
students expectations, beliefs and self-confidence
levels, then respond to that information with specific
examples and encouragement.
teachers and learners is one of the most powerful factors in
promoting learning; interaction among learners is another.
It isnt interaction in
and of itself that promotes academic learning, its
structured interaction focused on achieving meaningful,
shared learning tasks. Our students need to learn to work
more effectively in teams.
Most students have to believe teachers know and care
about them before they can benefit from interactionsor
even interact. Learn students names as a first step,
then try to engage them in working with you to learn. If you
want students to cooperate effectively with other students,
first, challenge them with assignments that groups can carry
out more effectively than individuals can; second, provide
guidelines and guidance for group work, especially for those
who havent had experience and third de-emphasize
competition among individuals for grades and approval.
T. A. 1993. A teachers dozen: Fourteen general,
research-based principles for improving higher learning in
our classrooms. AAHE Bulletin 45 (8): 313.