Sunday, October 01, 2006

Helping students learn to listen

Originated in a comment on Terminal Degree about coping with undergrads' lack of training in how to prioritize lecture information:

They don't know how to take notes. That is not taught any more in K-12 public-systems, which "No Child Left Behind" has forced to teach to standardized tests. They are not taught to synthesize or to assess more vs less significant data. One does in fact have to teach them.

However, the "teaching-to-the-test" syndrome has taught them something of potential usefulness: how to follow templates. Every assignment I give has a "help-file" which both articulates in prose how the assignment is to be completed (to complement my in-class description and provide a handy reference to instructions) but *also* a "sample"/template. If I don't want them to follow the template too slavishly, I'll supply 2 or more variants (e.g., "essay" model versus "bullet-point" model); this permits different students to process data in different but equally-effective ways.

You say" I do NOT want to ask students to turn in their notes--I'd have to read over 150 sets of notes, and I don't have a TA."

I'd submit that you need not conflate "completing/turning in" the assignment with your having to "read every one." Instead, have them turn in the assignment (we use WebCT) and *spot-check* 1 in 10 for recurrent problems. That gives you a much more precise sense of where the problem areas are concentrated and you can in turn highlight those problems in followup lectures. If you have the students *both* submit assignments via upload *and* bring hard-copies, they can mark their own assignments in response to your followup remarks. Those marked-up assignments then become additional, individually-tailored help-files (and files which those individuals have *specifically* processed on their own with your prompting).

"I've found that the less I write on a powepoint slide, the more they will write down."

Yes! If I have five bullet points for a PPT slide, I will do a "Ctrl-Insert-Dup" file 5 times, so that the five-points are spread over 5 slides, viz:

[Slide I]
* Bullet Point I

[Slide II]
* Bullet Point I
* Bullet Point II

[Slide II]
* Bullet Point I
* Bullet Point II
* Bullet Point III


This way, you don't have to advance from I to II, or II to III, until they have had the opportunity to write down the depicted bullet point and *you* have had the opportunity to discuss *each point in detail while they are paying attention."

"I also use "fill in the blank" slides."

Yes. Or, simply put up a "single-question" slide. (Any PPT text that ends with a question will *absolutely* be transcribed verbatim in their notebooks--and that question mark will definitely cliam their attention)

"When we watch DVDs, I give out handouts in the form of questions which they have to answer."


In addition, we have a detailed worksheet which they are obligated to fill out, to their best of their abilities, for each piece heard in class. We use LaRue's SHMRG acronym for style characteristics, and the 1-page worksheet breaks each of the 5 categories into about 10 individual prompting questions. We do not expect students to respond while listening to *every* question, but we can be reasonably confident that each student is being forced to *consider* each question as s/he listens.

Students are required to maintain an up-to-date running tally of worksheets, one per piece heard over the full course of the semester, and to keep them in a 9x12 manila envelope, brought to class, which is subject to collection in any class meeting w/out warning. This puts teeth in their sense of the necessity of staying up to date.

"And I do frequent "break into groups" breaks"

Excellent. I would add, to this, time at the *end* of the group-break sessions for each team to be called upon to report their individual group conclusions. This is a great way to get dialog going between different groups of students (which of course diversifies and enlivens class interaction).

"But during a lecture (and I keep those lectures short, I promise), they don't apply pen to paper."

We have lecture-note taking assignments, in which I will give a short, 5-minute potted lecture (highly detailed, often based upon a Grove biographical summary), and which notes they will then have to upload for my spot-check. We similarly have lecture-note-taking sections in exams, in which they are required to supply Scan-Tron'ed answers to a lecture excerpt given during the exam.


Terminaldegree said...

Coyote, your comments are incredibly helpful, both in affirming what I'm doing that works, AND in suggesting ways to improve. Thanks.

Mistykalia said...

Yes! Being able to give the students a template or a specific group of steps to follow is something all students coming out of the standardized test world seem to flock to. As a teacher of applied music at the 6-8th grade level, I can relate to the frustration of having trouble helping students link their problem solving skills across subject areas. I've found myself asking test-swamped core subject teachers (math, english) for advice on how to communicate these skills to my students, and the resounding answer has been templates and specific step-by-step strategies.
I'm still working on how to use this process to teach thinking "outside the box" but I've found the template strategy to be an excellent one for grabbing the students' attention (it's a known skill!) and opening the lines of communication.

lonesomepolecat said...

hoping yr absence bodes no ill--some of us are hooked on the blog

CJS said...

No, no problems here--just snowed under with work. Have a bunch of 100 Greats (David Lindley, Tom Binkley, a bunch of others), but haven't had time to complete--I've found it actually takes some mental and emotional energy to crank 'em out.

Thanks for your interest.