Step 2: Uncover the Mental Operations that Students Must Master to Get Past the Bottleneck
The second step in the Decoding process is to make explicit the mental operations that students must master in order to overcome specific bottlenecks in a course. Since many of these are so automatic to instructors that they have become invisible, a systematic process of deconstructing disciplinary practice is necessary.
The most powerful method for becoming clear about the steps that students must master to overcome specific bottlenecks is an interview process in which two interviewers work with instructors to explore how they themselves accomplish the task that many students have trouble with. Detailed descriptions of the process may be found in David Pace, The Decoding the Disciplines Paradigm (pp.39-47, 123-125), Joan Middendorf and Leah Shopkow, Overcoming Student Learning Bottlenecks (pp.48-59), and Peter Riegler, “The Decoding interview – an exemplary insight” in “DiNa 07/2020 Decoding the Disciplines” [N.B. This English translation that should be available on line in the next few days. The original German is available at ““DiNa 11/2019Decoding the Disciplines””. ]
Joan Middendorf has also explored a series of alternatives to the full Decoding interview. See Joan Middendorf and Leah Shopkow, Overcoming Student Learning Bottlenecks (pp.38-48).
The links below provide examples of the process in action.
The Decoding Interview, Live and Unplugged
- A transcript of an interview with a physicist
- A transcript of an interview on reading graphs
- An annotated transcript of an interview with a history professor
- Turning Mental Operations Revealed in Step 2 into Strategies for Increasing Student Learning
Once the mental operations required for success at the task at hand have been identified, these must be modeled for students in Step 3.