Got to make the connection between research and the classroom

Front view of students in a classroom looking forward with on raising his hand

If you’ve ever flown, most likely you’ve had to make a connecting flight. There’s nothing like the realization that your first flight is arriving much later than anticipated, and you are in a different terminal from your second flight. When planning a trip, it’s helpful to know the minimum suggested layover time, the airport layout, etc. It’s good to bring a snack along in case you can’t stop for one as you power walk (or run!) to the next gate. It’s also helpful to use the same airline for both tickets as you are less likely to have to switch terminals. You learn these things — and more — by trial and error or by researching what the “pros” have done.

How does that pertain to your classroom, though? I recently re-read Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning. And I was talking with a professor who said he wished he had the time to read more research, but always appreciates the highlights summary of research of books like this one, Make it Stick: the Science of Successful Learning, etc.  But it’s not enough to just peruse the articles. How can we make some connections between the research and our classrooms?

In a nutshell, the research referenced in these books and related articles focuses on building a framework for knowledge by pre-testing students with respect to what material means. You can help students practice information retrieval, and make use of the powerful tool of interleaving. (If you’re new to that idea, here’s another great article.) Helping students develop conceptual understanding of the subject requires practice, assisting them with making connections in subject material, and teaching meta-cognition strategies as well. And of course, we need to provide the inspiration for learning by teaching the ideas of growth mindsets, the necessity for grit, helping students expand their horizons, etc.

Both the aforementioned texts and Carol Dweck’s Mindset provide practical changes you can make to help accomplish your goals that won’t take a ton of time. Here are a few:

  • Give a brief pre-test on the material. It might be similar in format to your final test even.
  • Have students write down what they already know about the concept or guess what they will learn. You could use Learning Catalytics to capture these results for your usage and students can access their predictions for reference later. Use the tool like Word Cloud to track responses.
  • Block and interleave material; keep interleaving sessions short and frequent. Use low-stakes quizzing.
  • Use something like a KWL chart format to have students identify what they know and what they want to learn; use concept maps, minute theses, or give students the framework of the lecture material only. Let them complete it with their own connections.
  • Space out practice.
  • Use well-structured peer instruction/group learning activities with feedback. You can use Learning Catalytics’ Team settings to track results for this as well. Feedback is an essential component regardless of which feature you use.
  • Design your class for growth, communicate with a growth mindset would look like in your class, and provide feedback. For example, I ask my students to summarize how they can be successful in the beginning of the semester. I then have my students write a self-reflection for me (they can choose to share with their colleagues, too) at the end of the semester about why they were successful. I might choose a few of these to share anonymously on the discussion board the next semester.

It’s all about making connections. We care about personal connections between college representatives and students as well as content connections, so the material we learn can be added to existing mental schema. As we navigate the “airport” of resources and knowledge, let’s remember to bring our TripAdvisor reviews along and share them with fellow passengers.


About the Author
Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister has been teaching college courses since 1992. In June 2015, she resigned from her full-time position at Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pennsylvania, where all the math courses have undergone some level of redesign. She still teaches online there and now is part of Pearson’s Efficacy team, helping instructors to implement programs and strategies that bolster student success.

She is intrigued by neurobiological research and learning theory, and she was quick to adopt adaptive learning as a new tool in her courses. Not only does she strive to help her students succeed, but Diane enjoys the collaboration with her peers. She has taught a variety of courses and loves learning how new technology and resources can help students be more successful.