Tag Archives: recommended reading

“Doughnut Rounds” (after Fleiszer et al., 1997)

A great teaching method that engages students with literature, and that Cathy Bovill recently introduced me to, are “doughnut rounds”: Students (or workshop participants) are asked to read an article and formulate a certain number of questions, that are then discussed in groups. This leads to people being able to fill in gaps in their understanding (for example due to superficial reading…) and to general engagement with the topic.

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Currently reading: Relationship-rich education (Felten & Lambert, 2020)

I read the book “Relationship-rich education. How human connections drive success in college” by Felten & Lambert (2020) almost a year ago and found it super inspiring, but also very hard to summarize. You should check it out yourself, of course, but here are my key take-aways.

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“Systems conveners in complex landscapes” (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2014)

If I had to pick one book that has influenced my current thinking about teaching and learning the most, I would pick Wenger’s 1998 “Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity” (link to my summary of the book and some later work on CoPs). What I find really helpful to think about in the CoP framework is that there are many different, but legitimate, roles, that can also — again, legitimately — change over time. The description of one specific role, the “broker”, really spoke to me when I first read the book: Someone who is involved in many different CoPs and facilitates information flow between them. That’s kinda what I have always been doing because that’s what I find most interesting (much more interesting than really digging deep into one topic), without thinking about that being an important contribution to all those CoPs. And now I read another Wenger work which made me realize that while I was probably a broker for many years, maybe now I am on my way of becoming a “systems convener” (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2014): “They are dreamers but they are also schemers, with a solid dose of strategic thinking and tactical acuity.”

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From “education for sustainable development” to “education for the end of the world as we know it” (reflecting on Stein et al., 2022)

A lot of things are happening around teaching sustainability at LU right now! As I am planning the second iteration of my “teaching sustainability” course, I am reading more about what we actually mean by “teaching sustainability”. It is clear that this is not a good title for my course, but we haven’t come up with a better one yet, and I think me struggling with finding a good name is a symptom of me struggling with what the essence of that course is. I don’t want my course “just” to be about how to teach about the SDGs or problems or solutions, it needs to be bigger than that. But then how to make sure there is still a clear focus?

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Reading Gin et al. (2021) on “how syllabi can serve as communication tools for creating inclusive classrooms”

This is mostly a “note to self”: Found a really interesting article on “how syllabi can serve as communication tools for creating inclusive classrooms” by Gun et al. (2021). A review of 60ish biology syllabi as well as the literature of what should be included, and pointers on which group of students especially benefits from the information and why, as well as examples. This is great to help students build “cultural capital” and level the playing field! And strong motivation to pay more attention to syllabi as actual communication tools and how they — as oftentimes first point of contact between instructor and students — can shape the classroom climate.

They even provide a template syllabus here: https://zenodo.org/record/4317968#.Y8EIaC8w0f8
Highly recommended reading!

Gin, L. E., Scott, R. A., Pfeiffer, L. D., Zheng, Y., Cooper, K. M., & Brownell, S. E. (2021). It’s in the syllabus… or is it? How biology syllabi can serve as communication tools for creating inclusive classrooms at a large-enrollment research institution. Advances in Physiology Education.

Currently reading: “Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice” (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006)

Somehow a print of the “Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice” (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006) article ended up on my desk. I don’t know who wanted me to read it, but I am glad I did! See my summary below.

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Creating a “time for telling” (Schwartz & Bransford, 1998)

As we are talking more and more about co-creation and all these cool things, I find it important to remember that sometimes, giving a lecture is still a really good choice. Especially when it happens at the right time, when we have created conditions for students to actually want to be told about stuff.

One way to create “a time for telling” for students with very little prior knowledge is described in Schwartz & Bransford (1998), where students work with contrasting cases to the point that they are really curious about why the cases are different (one example I have heard mentioned in this context is the coke-and-mentos experiment, that only leads to this cool fountain when you use diet coke, not any other type of coke. But why???), and are prepared to listen to someone giving them an explanation. In this case, listening to a lecture is perceived as the fastest way to learn the information that is relevant and interesting in this moment, rather than, in many other cases, listening to a boring monologue that needs to be memorised because someone thinks that it should be.

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Currently reading: “Motivating personal growth by seeking discomfort” by Woolley & Fishbach (2022)

I really enjoyed reading the article “Motivating personal growth by seeking discomfort” by Woolley & Fishbach (2022). They investigate the discomfort, for example awkwardness, we often experience when engaging in activities of personal growth. This discomfort might lead us to not engage as much with an activity, or even avoid it, but what if we managed to reframe the feeling? They conduct five studies where participants actively try to experience discomfort in situations that could lead to personal growth (think acting classes to help with fear of public speaking), and where discomfort is interpreted as a sign that personal growth is happening, that they are making progress towards their goals. And they find that this increased engagement and motivation. This worked even when engaging in conversations with people on difficult topics: When instructed to feel discomfort rather than just to learn, people performed better.

I can very much relate to this article. For example, going to free diving training for the first time on my own, as a new beginner in a foreign country, where I’ll be in a pool wearing a swimsuit among divers wearing wetsuits is a situation that made me … let’s say, nervous. Or uncomfortable. But once I told myself that it is really only this once that I will feel this awkward, and that the next time I will know where the changing rooms are, and will be able to look back on all my experiences and how it really wasn’t so bad the first time, it became more of a fun challenge than a threat. Similarly, the first time I had to speak in front of a large group of people, using microphone and all, after a 2 year covid break, I knew that gaining that experience would make all subsequent public speaches easier. So to me, reading this article explained an observation I had just recently made myself. And I definitely talk myself into a “stress is enhancing” mindset before I have to “perform” (be it speak publicly, or play a concert), which is also mentioned as a technique that actually works.

But I talked about this paper with a colleague who could not relate at all, he says he never feels the discomfort in the first place. Lucky him, I guess? But still, I think this is a message that I will carry with me into my teaching. If you do feel discomfort, what if that’s a sign of growth and not a sign to stop?

Woolley, K., & Fishbach, A. (2022). Motivating personal growth by seeking discomfort. Psychological science, 33(4), 510-523.

Currently reading: “Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning” by Lang (2021)

On the “tea for teaching” podcast episode on trauma-aware pedagogy that I wrote about here, the book by Lang (2021) on “Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning” was recommended. It sounded so interesting that I decided I had to read it*, and I am glad I did!

The book is full of small (really, really small!) tweaks that individually, and even more so collectively, can improve teaching. But the implicit expectation isn’t to change everything at once, which is obviously not really realistic anyway. Instead, the reader is asked to think about the class tomorrow morning (is there one small change for five of the 90 or so minutes I’m teaching? How about if I open up in a new and motivating way?), next semester (can I, for example, change a whole session, or the language on the syllabus?), and then your whole teaching career (if I’m going to do this for another couple of decades, where do I want to develop to?).

What I also really like about this book is how all the information is presented on several levels in parallel: In really concrete “small teaching quick tips”, which are also presented in form of their underlying principles, and in a more comprehensive explanation that brings in the learning science that they were derived from. For me, this led to fun, non-linear reading: For some chapters, I wanted to know the whole background and then see what follows from it, for others I just checked the quick teaching tips and then sometimes dove back into the background to see what they were built on.

I don’t want to give away all the teaching tips here or summarise the whole book, but I am going to mention a couple of things that stood out to me.

In the chapter on belonging, which was the first one I read (again, love the modular way the book is structured, that makes it super easy to jump back and forth), the focus is on one big obstacle to belonging: a fixed mindset and doubts about whether one is good enough to actually be at university. Things we can do to help students feel like they cognitively belong are for example

Asset-spotlighting: an activity to focus on what is good, not what is lacking: Inviting students to introduce themselves on notecards to the teacher not just with the usual information, but also with something they are especially good at, proud of, or interested in, and the promise to try and find a way to include it into the class. How inspiring is this! I can totally see how that will influence the teacher and the way they meet the students, but also the students’ mindset because they are reminded of what they bring to the course that might help them succeed, and how the course relates to other interests they have. Especially if the teacher actually follows through and includes (some of) the topics they mentioned to actually make the course relevant to students’ skills and interests!

Name good work: it’s as easy as the name suggests. Point out when someone did really well, either in front of the class, or in short messages afterwards. This does not have to be “just” about deliverables, but could also about leading a group discussion or any other form of participation. Pointing out that someone contributed is also pointing out that they are in the right place. One really important tip here is to keep a list of who you’ve praised & make sure that over the course of the semester, everybody receives praise at least once (based on something good they do, obviously, but everybody does at least one good thing during a semester!).

Normalize help-seeking behaviour: For example by including a statement on syllabus to let someone know if there are problems with, for example, food and housing: Those things don’t exclude you from belonging at university! This is something that I have always taken for granted, but that really isn’t granted at all, not even in Sweden. So important to be reminded of that! And of course help can and should be sought for other issues, too, like mental health, or study skills, or anything else.

One tiny teaching tip mentioned in the book is to not call on anyone to answer a question before at least five hands are raised. What I’ve been thinking about since: then how do you decide who gets to speak? Which is really interesting to reflect on. How do I usually decide who gets to speak in what order? Is it really only about how quick people are to indicate that they want to say something?

One thing that stood out to me in the chapter on “connecting” is the connection notebook. I have been keeping those all my life but have not explicitly included them in my teaching so far. In fifth grade math, we had a “Merk- und Regelheft” (Something like “rules & other stuff to remember”), a special notebook that we kept for the purpose of writing down rules that we learned (in our best handwriting, no less!), and that I actually kept to this day (see pic at the top of the blog post. This is something that I wrote in 1992, 30 years ago!). Later, during my studies, I was given a “Schlaues Buch” (“clever book”) by my friend: again a special, pretty notebook to keep all kinds of notes related to my thesis work. And I have been keeping lab books ever since, even now that I have not worked in a lab for a really long time, where I keep notes of things I read, presentations I see, thoughts I have, plans I make, brainstorming, sketches, everything. It’s still a physical notebook that travels with me everywhere! Long story short: based on personal experience, I think it is super useful to keep notes on all kinds of things in one place. In order to find them quickly, but also, as is stressed in the book, to discover new connections. And I love the suggestions of how to use this explicitly in teaching, by making time for students to take notes on new things they learned, thoughts they had, connections they made, and by explicitly prompting them to explain where they recognise concepts from the course outside of the classroom in real life, on TV, in another class. But this is something that I was taught at a young age, and which was then prompted again by a role model. So the advice to “build into your teaching approach frequent opportunities for students to come up with their own examples, analogies, and reasons.” is really one after my own heart! It also relates very much to the advice given in the chapter on motivation: your favourite subject is very unlikely to become all of your students’ favourite subject as well. But you can  make them start noticing things, wondering what is going on, creating connections with what they see around them!

All these points are just a tiny fraction of all the great advice collected in the book. I totally recommend you read it!

*I requested and received a free digital evaluation copy of the book, which I am grateful for. However, this is not a sponsored post, and I am writing this without having been prompted or receiving any compensation for it.

Lang, J. M. (2021). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. John Wiley & Sons

Summaries of two more inspiring articles recommended by my colleagues: On educational assessment (Hager & Butler, 1996) and on variables associated with achievement in higher ed (Schneider & Preckel, 2017)

Following the call to share inspiring articles, here are two more that I’m summarising below. See the three previous ones (on assessment (Wiliams, 2011), workload (D’Eon & Yasinian, 2021), and quality (Harvey & Stensaker, 2008)) here. And please keep sending me articles that inspire you, I really enjoy reading and summarising them! :)

First up, recommended by Jenny:

“Two models of educational assessment” by Hager & Butler (1996)

Hagen & Butler (1996) look at educational assessment and how it has changed over time: from a scientific measurement model towards a judgmental model, and recommend using the latter.

The scientific measurement model aimed at summing up performance in one number (or letter) grade, based on criteria and using statistics, to be “maximally objective”, valid and reliable. Examples for this are IQ scores or multiple-choice exams. The tendency with those measures is to make the results about people rather than about their performance on that one specific task of taking the test. But it has been shown over and over that those scores are not a good predictor of future performance in, for example, a job. Not surprisingly, because what is tested is not what is actually required in the job: they test in a very limited context, usually often knowledge and not skills, often using methods that are not suitable, and with no regards to who the test-takers actually are or what their attitudes are like.

The newer judgemental model, on the other hand, is about assessing the competencies that are required in the job, relying on competency models that describe what those competencies are and what it would look like if someone had them. This is how for example problem-based learning or portfolios are typically evaluated. In this model, rather than using only one fixed dataset to come to a conclusion about performance, it is possible to gather more data when a case is unclear, and to come into dialogue with the person being assessed. This dialogue makes it possible to integrate learning and assessment more closely.

Hagen & Butler (1996) suggest a model of assessing professional development with three levels:

1. Knowledge, attitudes, and skills

This level can be assessed following the scientific measurement model and consists, for example, of multiple-choice tests of knowledge and cognitive skill, subject-specific problem-solving skills, and observation of skills in practice setting. So far, so good, but when professionals, for example, medical doctors, are asked to judge colleagues, this is not what their focus is on. So knowledge, attitudes and skills are necessary, but not enough.

2. Performance in simulations

Performance is context dependent, so on this level, artificial simulations of real-world contexts are created so that the performance can be evaluated on a macro level that depends on bringing together knowledge and skills from several domains. Usually, this is done using checklists. But again, only passing this level is not enough.

3. Personal competence in the practise domain

On this level, people are observed “on the job”. In contrast to the previous two levels, now evaluation happens without formalized checklists and criteria. This makes it very much dependant on who the judge is, but judges can and should learn from each other to get rid of personal biases: “Objectivity is the intelligent learned use of subjectivity, not a denial of it. In the judgmental model of assessment it is the assessor who delivers objectivity, not the data.”

Comparing the underlying assumptions of the intelligence approach/scientific measurement model vs the cognitive approach/judgemental model, Hagen & Butler (1996) write: “Whereas the intelligence approach encourages selection of people to fit prespecified jobs, the cognitive approach enables us to view the workplace as a set of opportunities for people to learn and grow.” And isn’t the learning and growing why we are in the job as educators in the first place?

When trying to find this article online, I came across the response by Martin (1997), supporting the original article, who warns falling for the Macnamara’s fallacy: “making the measurable important rather than the important measurable”. Which I had never heard put in those terms, but will keep in mind as a very nice way of making a very important point!

And now on to article no 2, recommended by Sandra:

“Variables associated with achievement in higher education: A systematic review of meta-analyses” by Schneider & Preckel (2017)

Schneider & Preckel (2017) is a review of meta analyses and a great start for when you want to know “what works” in higher education. I wrote a longer summery here, and here is my summary of that summary, mostly based on their “10 cornerstone findings”:

There is A LOT of evidence of what works and what doesn’t in higher education. What comes out is that it doesn’t matter so much what you choose to do, but it does matter that, whatever you do, you do it well. Ideally as a combination of teacher-centred and student-centred approaches, and with equal attention to assessment than to the rest of teaching.

Additionally, there are many small elements that, combined, have a large effect on student learning. In a nutshell: Creating a climate in which questions and discussions are encouraged and valued and feedback happens often and focussed, make it clear what learning goals are, relate course content to students’ lives, goals, dreams.

Also be aware that there are a lot of biases and obstacles depending on who the students are and their prior trajectories, and that good study strategies can help any student succeed (and study strategies are best taught within the disciplinary context, not in separate courses).

It is totally worth reading the original article!

What other articles are inspiring you right now? Let me know and I’ll include them in the list!

Hager, P., and Butler, J. (1996). Two models of educational assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 21(4), 367–378. https://doi.org/10.1080/0260293960210407

Martin, S. (1997). Two Models of Educational Assessment: a response from initial teacher education: if the cap fits …, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 22:3, 337-343, DOI: 10.1080/0260293970220307

Schneider, M., Preckel, F. (2017). Variables associated with achievement in higher education: A systematic review of meta-analyses. Psychol Bull. 2017; 143(6): 565-600.