By Charlie Sweet, Teaching & Learning Center, Eastern Kentucky University; Hal Blythe, Teaching & Learning Center, Eastern Kentucky University; L. Dee Fink, Dee Fink & Associates; and Gregg Wentzell, CELTUA, Miami University
In Learning To Think Things Through: A Guide to Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum (Pearson, 2001), Gerald Nosich defines a fundamental and powerful concept as “one that can be used to explain or think out a huge body of questions, problems, information, and situations. All fields have F & P concepts, but there are a relatively small number of them in any particular area” (pp. 105-106). Such concepts become useful as they help to concentrate a feast of ideas into a bite-size pill.
Recently, the four of us wondered if major issues in the burgeoning field of faculty development could be reduced to one of Nosich’s fundamental and powerful concepts. In specific, we were discussing student learning and what students could do in each class in each class meeting. Years ago we had come up with a simple acronym to help students take ownership of their learning, ARTS:
• Attend class. As Woody Allen once noted, half of life is showing up.
• Read the class material. And this idea came along before reading skills started to drop.
• Take notes. Active fingers aid an active mind.
• Study. With the recent NSSE surveys indicating college seniors slipping to a mere five hours per week, perhaps we hit on something.
Given the recent advances in neuroscience, what should millennial students be doing beyond ARTS to ensure their learning is more deep than shallow? We produced a response we call the Four R’s.
One, students must RECEIVE information. Their minds must be open to taking in new information whether through lecture, assigned reading, group presentations, or even flipped classroom videos. In essence, students will learn best when they can make connections between this new information and old knowledge in order to construct this hybrid known as new knowledge.
Two, students must RETRIEVE this information in order to solidify the connections between old knowledge and new knowledge (Dee likes to call this “practice”). In Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (Harvard University Press, 2014), Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel point to research in cognitive psychology that emphasizes retrieval practice, “recalling facts or concepts from memory” (p. 3). The more often students retrieve from memory, the deeper the learning, the stronger the connections. Constant retrieval tells students what they do and don’t know as well. In-class activities can promote retrieval—discussion, daily quizzes, papers.
Three, students must RATE the information through meaningful and immediate feedback. In short, the student must develop critical thinking skills to assess the information. Instructors provide help–such as going over the correct answers for the a quiz, commenting on individual and group responses, and even notes on papers and tests–but students can also initiate that feedback by asking questions both in-class and through email and visitations to the instructor’s office.
Four, students must REFLECT on that information. Each reflective act necessitates retrieval and may result in an alteration of the newly-constructed knowledge. Making flashcards where the key concepts are on one side and the correct responses are on the other provides immediate feedback and a time for students to reflect on what they know, don’t know, and knowledge they would somehow change. Instructors can aid that learning by having students reflect orally and on paper, such as short, end-of-class comments on what they found the most interesting or difficult concept of the day. Sometimes instructors can ask leading questions that force student reflection on knowledge connections.
In short, instructors can aid student learning, but ultimately, the students will deepen their learning by following the four R’s of Receive, Retrieve, Rate, and Reflect.
About the Authors:
Charlie Sweet (http://newforums.com/title-list/featured-authors/charlie-sweet/ ) is currently Co-Director of the Teaching & Learning Center (2007+) at Eastern Kentucky University. Collabo-writing with Hal Blythe, he has published well over 1000 items, including 15 books; of his 11 books with New Forums Press (http://newforums.com/ ).
Hal Blythe (http://newforums.com/title-list/featured-authors/hal-blythe/) is currently co-director of the Teaching and Learning Center for Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to the 11 books he’s published with New Forums Press (http://newforums.com/ ), Hal has collaborated on four books on a variety of subjects, over 1000 pieces of fiction/nonfiction, and a host of television scripts and interactive mysteries performed by their repertory company.
L. Dee Fink is a nationally recognized expert on college teaching and faculty development. After receiving his doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1976, he accepted a faculty position at the University of Oklahoma. In 1979 he founded the Instructional Development Program at the University of Oklahoma and served as its director until his retirement in May 2005. He was president of the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network in Higher Education (2004-2005), the primary professional organization for faculty developers. At the present time he works as a national consultant in higher education. He is the author of Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses (Jossey-Bass, 2003) and co-editor of Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups in College Teaching (Stylus, 2004). More information can be found on his website: www.finkconsulting.info
Gregg Wentzell is Assistant to the Director of Miami University’s Center for the Enhancement of Learning, Teaching, and University Assessment. He earned his Ph.D. in English at Miami in 1993 and was awarded the Sinclair Fellowship. He is managing editor of the Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, a peer-reviewed international forum for the scholarship of teaching. He has over 20 years of college teaching experience and teaches part-time in the English Department. In addition to providing editing support for various Center projects, including being Lilly Conference Publications Manager, Gregg does faculty consulting on teaching and writing. He presents seminars on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning both on-campus and at teaching and learning conferences. He has experience with and has participated in faculty learning communities.