Creating Opportunities for Practice
Any effective learning experience provides students with opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills through practice.
In some courses, it’s obvious what students should practice: playing the violin, drawing patients’ blood, speaking a language, etc. In other courses, it may be less obvious what students should practice. We may not yet have defined, or made explicit, what students should be able to do by the end of the course.
Sometimes the skills we assume students possess when they enter our courses are the very ones we need to teach. Perhaps they need to practice thinking historically, or applying a theory, or assessing their own solutions to problems.
Sometimes what we see as a single skill (e.g., critical thinking) is actually a whole set of skills that students will not be able to practice effectively until we break complex tasks into their components. Students need to start with some basics and build toward the more complex and challenging work.
When you’re defining what your course will help students to do, or do better, here are some places to start:
- Work Backward from the Final Project: What kind of final project do you usually ask students to do? What skills are needed to be able to do that project well? Which ones does it make most sense to help students develop in your course?
- Help Them Think Like Experts: What ways of thinking are important in your discipline? How should students reason their way through a problem? What kinds of questions should they get good at posing? What habits of mind should they develop?
- Introduce Them to Ways of Knowing: What methods do experts use to create knowledge in your discipline? What are some related level-appropriate skills students could develop in your course? For example, should they practice making predictions? Conducting observations? Collecting data? Analyzing texts?
- Coach Their Argumentation: Most students have not had much practice making and supporting claims, especially using disciplinary conventions. How can you help them to identify claims in other people’s arguments? What kind of evidence is considered to be persuasive in your discipline? How can they practice evaluating evidence?
Once you have determined what kinds of thinking your students need to master, you can create the necessary opportunities for practice. Students can do these activities in or out of class, individually or in groups, in writing or out loud, and in ways that are graded or ungraded. They will need sustained practice and targeted feedback in order to master skills.
Knowledge and cognitive skills develop better together. Opportunities to practice help students apply, think more deeply about, and better remember course content. Well-designed practice also shows them what they can use their new knowledge to do, which helps them to see value in the work they do for our courses.
We’d love to help you define goals, design activities, and plan ways to give feedback. Please get in touch at email@example.com or 850-644-6641.
Interpreting and Responding to Student Evaluations
Thursday, January 23 | 2:00-3:30 p.m. | DIF 432 | Sign up to attend
Student feedback is essential for reflecting on our course designs and teaching practices, but finding out how students responded to us, and to our courses, can be an emotional, sometimes overwhelming experience. In this interactive workshop, we will share strategies for analyzing and interpreting the data collected at the end of each semester, and help you to make the best use of the feedback students provide in their comments. We’ll also discuss a variety of effective ways to collect feedback from students throughout the semester, so you don’t have to wait until a course is over to adjust it for better results.