by Eric Ritholz

Why is it that sometimes, even though you have found the right exercise to illustrate a point in your lessons, it doesn’t hit the mark and result in that moment of discovery from a student that we are looking for? Even an activity that has been successful in previous semesters can have unpredictable results. In some cases a single exposure to an exercise may not be enough. Luckily, we have a lot of tools at our disposal that allow us to revisit the same concepts in different ways. If more perspectives can be added easily to the structure of a lesson, chances are the students will succeed. Make the problem/activity/concept at hand into a ‘hot potato’ for a productive result. Below is a list of tools we can use to revisit an activity from different angles; each time, the student developed more context for the problem at hand as they discover their conclusions.

Wiki: Build information around the idea, even if the class adds details to this resource that don’t fit the issue, eventually that will become clear.

Discussion: Guided and specialized discussion about how to approach a problem explore different opinions and perspectives while everyone involved are exposed to the terms necessary to understand the problem at hand.

Surveys & Polls: Translating contradictory perspectives into statistics or charts can people see things in a different way.

Podcasting: As individual expressions in the audio format for others to hear out loud or group discussions (in an organized academic fashion).

Presentation: Through video or in the production of a Powerpoint.

Comments & reaction: to any of the above methods or as part of all of them (maintaining the proper netiquette) adds to understanding.

Journal: Used for predictions, reactions, and conclusions

Many years ago, I was teaching a class of students training to become teachers themselves. There were a lot of terms and methods to be covered in each unit yet our class met twice a week. This wasn’t too much of a problem on Wednesday as we had just met two days before, but Monday classes degenerated almost exclusively into review. How could I improve retention? My solution was as follows:

Friday: Post a provocative opinion on the class discussion board accompanied by a link to a Youtube video, Tedtalk, or article. They were free to share their thoughts (with support) and encouraged to use terminology from class to clarify their points. [Individually graded]

Monday: Group 1 was assigned to do a recorded group discussion about this topic. Due Tuesday (unscripted) [Group graded]. Group 2 was assigned to analyze the recording and draw conclusions.

Wednesday: Students were asked to participate in a survey posted after class [ungraded] Group 3 provided a grade with a rubric they took part in creating at the beginning of the term. [Group Graded]. Instructor comments made on both were open for Q&A with a focus on terms and methods. Group 4 added the terms and method definitions to a wiki [Group graded]. Group 5 had a light week. This would rotate throughout the semester i.e. 1234-2345-3451-4512-5123 twice in the semester and took less than 30 minutes of in class time per week once it was set up. Their mid-term presentations related to the content of these assignments and were graded both as a group and individually.

Depending on the discipline and scheduling issues this would need to be adjusted to reflect different course objectives. I would like to add that overall class understanding of the material was significantly improved. In the end, the goal of this method is to get people to understand better how to clearly express an idea within the context of the terms and language related to the specific subject and in doing so understand the answers more fully.

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