Turning the Mental Operations from Step 2 into Strategies for Increasing Student Learning

This interview process has, thus, revealed an important set of bottlenecks to learning in this course and number of important mental operations that students must master to get past these obstacles. The next step would be for the instructor to develop a strategy for systematically responding to the learning needs reveal in the interview and to make this strategy an integral part of the course. The precise response would, of course, be dictated by the nature of the course, the range of students, and the situation of the instructor. But here are some of the steps that would probably need to be considered:

1. Decide which of the operations revealed are most essential to success in this aspect of the course.
2. Determine which of these are problematic for significant numbers of students. (This may involve complex practical and ethical choices is there is a wide range of skill levels within the class. It may also be useful to do an assessment of students’ mastery of some of these operations at the beginning of the course to check whether one’s assumptions about student mastery are correct.)
3. Develop a logical sequence for dealing with those mental operations which are both essential and problematic.
4. Develop a strategy for modeling each of these operations for students. (In the case of demanding processes it will almost certainly be necessary to repeat the modeling process in several different forms at different points in the course.) [Step 3]
5. Create occasions in which students can practice and receive feedback on each of the operations. It is generally important to avoid having students practice too many of these skills at the same time. [Step 4]
6. Consider whether it is also important to help students combine these operations in more complex tasks, such as writing a paper. In some cases it may be necessary to model and give practice at this process of combining operations in addition to the modeling and practice on the individual parts. [Steps 3 and 4]
7. Make all of this an integral part of the course, integrating it both with the subject matter and the means of testing.
8. Pay attention to the emotional reaction of students to both the processes and the subject matter of the course to see if there are dysfunctional mismatches between student expectations and what they actually encounter in the course. [Step 5]
9. Develop means of assessing student mastery of each of these operations across the semester and of their ability to mobilize these skills for more complex tasks [Step 6]
10. At the end of the semester evaluate which parts of the process. If significant numbers of students are still having difficulty with some of the essential tasks in the course, reconsider the strategies used for modeling, practice, and assessment or probe deeper to see if there were essential operations that were missed in the initial interview and, thus, remain untaught.
11. Share what you have learned in the process through conversations with colleagues, a faculty interest group, presentations or publications in the scholarship of teaching and learning, or contributions to this web site. [Step 7]