Does Differentiated Instruction belong in higher education?

The arguments for…

  1. In higher education, learners are predominantly adults with a clearer idea of what they wish to learn compared with children. According to the adult learning theory devised by Malcolm Knowles in the 1960s that popularised the term ‘andragogy’ (vs ‘pedagogy’), one characteristic of adult learners’ motivation is the willingness to learn when the subject matter is relevant to their perceived needs. In this regard, differentiated instruction (DI) offers an advantage in that, amongst the repertoire of DI strategies are some which differentiate content of learning for individual students. As an example, following a pre-test of relevant knowledge, lecturers can ‘curriculum compact’, i.e. excuse a learner from studying particular content because they have already exhibited sufficient mastery, thus buying time for them to acquire other knowledge. A second DI strategy that applies here is the ‘learning contract’, the negotiation of which factors in a student’s needs and interests. So, DI does offer a range of techniques to tailor courses for individual adult learners.
  2. At colleges, polytechnics and universities, student populations are often highly diverse. Besides readiness, interest and learning profiles (Tomlinson, 2005), there are numerous other factors that distinguish students from each other:
  • nationality
  • physical disability
  • specific learning disorder, e.g. dyspraxia
  • age
  • gender
  • socioeconomic status
  • ethnicity
  • religion
  • mode of study, e.g. part-time
  • etc.

In this situation, it can be argued that the question is not whether such diversity should be catered for but how it should be catered for, and DI is a rare example of a systematic yet versatile response that is available to higher education lecturers.

  1. Educators in higher education can draw confidence from the insights gained by researchers who have looked into the impact of DI in school-level education. There have been positive findings about the effect of DI on motivation, for example. (For a list of key findings about DI, see my blog entry on the topic.) Although it may be retorted that primary and secondary level education is not sufficiently relatable to higher education, it is interesting to note that in other areas, research discoveries from elementary and high school education are highly respected at university level, e.g. Black & Wiliam’s seminal work on the effectiveness of formative assessment.
  2. There have been some experiments with DI at tertiary level with positive results. As an example, Ernst & Ernst (2005) reported that “students generally responded favorably to the differentiated approach, reporting higher levels of intellectual growth”.

The arguments against…

  1. Another assumption about adult learners in Knowles’ andragogy theory runs counter to the one of the main tenets of differentiated instruction. Adult learners, says Knowles, need to be self-directed in their learning whereas in DI, the person making decisions about learning is usually the instructor, with some input from learners. Since DI was developed for younger learners, the element of control by teachers is stronger than one would expect to encounter in university settings.
  2. There have been some experiments with DI at tertiary level with negative results. In the same paper, Ernst & Ernst (2005), flags were raised about the increased time commitment needed to implement DI and it was reported that “instructor’s concerns related to the fairness of the approach”.
  3. There are alternatives to DI such as Universal Design for Learning and the increased use of Technology-Enhanced Learning in order to accommodate individual learning differences.
  4. Compared with school teachers, university lecturers may not always know their students that well. This is because student cohorts may be large, contact hours may be lower, and students may go AWOL from time to time. If the lecturers are not that well informed about the learners, then any attempt at differentiated instruction would be based upon assumptions. By contrast, primary/elementary school teachers will have much greater opportunity to find about their learners and therefore apply DI more meaningfully.

So, what to do? Adopt or ignore DI?

As I have proposed in another blog entry, entitled Can differentiated instruction lead to self-directed learning?, I suggest that DI could serve as an interim measure in higher education. There may be many university students who are already self-directed but, given the increased access to higher education compared with a generation ago, it is reasonable to suppose that a more directive approach such as DI could be appropriate on occasion and for particular learners.

References

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998) Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5(1), 7-74.

Ernst, H.R. & Ernst, T.L. (2005) The promise and pitfalls of differentiated instruction for undergraduate Political Science courses: Student and instructor impressions of an unconventional teaching strategy, Journal of Political Science Education, 1:1, 39-59.

Tomlinson, C.A. (2005) How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Key research findings about Flipped Learning

Students supplied with video lectures came to lessons better prepared than when they had been given textbook readings.

(DeGrazia, Falconer, Nicodemus, & Medlin, 2012)

Students preferred live in-person lectures to video lectures, but also liked interactive class time more than in-person lectures.

(Toto & Nguyen, 2009)

According to Bishop & Verleger (2013), who conducted a meta-survey on research into Flipped Learning, there has only been one empirical study on the influence of flipped classroom instruction on objective learning outcomes:

Students in the flipped environment scored significantly higher on homework assignments, projects, and tests.

(Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, 2009)

There is a need for a scientific research base if Flipped Learning is to be taken seriously by decision-makers in schools, colleges and universities.

Additional support for Flipped Learning comes from Clintondale High School, Michigan, USA, which took the extraordinary step of converting to a Flipped School, i.e. Flipped Learning is the sole method employed:

The failure rate among freshman math students dropped from 44 percent to 13 percent in one year’s time.

Finkel (2012)

References

Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. (2009). Criteria for accrediting engineering programs effective for evaluations during the 2010-2011 accreditation cycle. Baltimore, MD.

Bishop, J.L. & Verleger, M.A. (2013). The Flipped Classroom: A survey of the research. 120th ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

DeGrazia, J.L., Falconer, J.L., Nicodemus, G., & Medlin, W. (2012). Proceedings from ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition 2012: Incorporating screencasts into chemical engineering courses.

Finkel, E. (2012). Flipping the script in K12. District Administration. Retrieved from www.districtadministration.com/article/flipping-script-k12

Toto, R. & Nguyen, H. (2009). Proceedings from Frontiers in Education Conference 2009: Flipping the work design in an industrial engineering course. San Antonio, Texas.

Reflections on STEM education

Definitions of STEM

There is no single, agreed definition.

In higher education institutions, STEM seems to be a convenient way to refer to 4 major academic disciplines – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The faculties of Social Science and Medicine are usually regarded as distinct from STEM.

From the perspective of government ministries, particularly immigration and labour, STEM refers to professions including scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians but also occupations that necessitate some STEM knowledge and/or skills. These days, that means many types of workers including people in social scientific and medical disciplines.

From the perspective of educators, the definition of STEM that I favour is “An interdisciplinary approach… that removes the traditional barriers separating the four disciplines… and integrates them into real-world, rigorous and relevant learning experiences” (Vasquez, Sneider & Comer, 2013). Integration is the special characteristic that marks out STEM as distinct from traditional subject teaching.

Origin of the term ‘STEM’

The acronym first appeared in 2001 and is associated with the National Science Foundation in the USA where STEM is perceived as a national priority. The reasons for this go back to the 1950s. The USSR’s launch of Sputnik and early lead in the Space Race precipitated heavy investment and promotion of science and engineering by a panicked America. Since that time, there have been successive top-down interventions from government to promote development of this vital economic sector. For example, in 2011 Congress passed the Race to the Top bill. Gradually, use of the term ‘STEM’ has spread around the world and many other national authorities have instigated top-down STEM initiatives or rebranded prior, similar initiatives as ‘STEM’.

Purposes of STEM education

  • Economic
    • To foster interest in STEM careers
    • To cultivate future innovators and inventors, and hence…
    • To remain globally competitive and to be able to participate in international endeavours.
  • Societal
    • To help citizens participate and thrive in a highly technological world
  • Educational
    • To deepen conceptual understanding
    • To develop valuable transferable skills

STEM educational approaches

Papert’s Constructionism is worthwhile reading about if you are a STEM educator. Although his approach is consistent with the more well-known Constructivism, Papert shifted the focus from internal construction to external creation. LEGO’s Mindstorms robotic products are a good example of the application of Papert’s ideas about learning. In fact, Mindstorms is named after one of his seminal texts. A word that sums up his approach is BRICOLAGE, translated as tinkering, i.e. playing about and making changes until one gets it right. There is even a newly-appointed Professor of Play at Cambridge University, as evidenced by this job advertisement:

LEGO job

International comparisons of STEM – Attitudes and relative success

The table below shows % of respondents who agreed with positive statements.

Picture1

Australian Council of Learned Academies http://www.acola.org.au/index.php/stem-consultants-reports  [STEM Education in the USA]

Positivity towards science and technology appears to vary considerably. For example, Indians seem to be less optimistic than South Koreans. (Please bear in mind that these are not results from a single survey but collated results from several surveys conducted between 2001 and 2010.)

With reference to two example developed economies – Japan and the UK – the output of STEM-related research differs considerably.

Capture3

Australian Council of Learned Academies http://www.acola.org.au/index.php/stem-consultants-reports  [STEM Country Comparisons: Japan]

The above table shows that Japan’s researchers produced almost 70,000 papers in one year. The figure for the UK was even higher at 75,914. The latter was achieved with just 200,000 research staff in the UK compared with 650,000 in Japan. Moreover, the citation impact of British research articles was greater. So, it might appear that the UK was more successful. However, Japan’s efforts were much more fruitful in terms of turning research findings into patent applications and eventually into viable products. To me, this shows the complexity of the challenge of promoting a national STEM sector. There are more variables than just getting young people interested in STEM careers and providing quality STEM training opportunities.

Technologies for STEM projects

Currently trending technologies include 3D printing, robots, drones and inexpensive computers like the Raspberry Pi. In future, may we expect to see VR, virtual labs, and the Internet of Things coming to the fore?

However, STEM projects can be achieved with much less expensive resources if the following definition of technologies is accepted:

“Any modification of the natural world made to fulfil human needs or desires” [US] National Research Council

For instance, a freely downloadable STEM lesson from Young Engineers (www.youngeng.org.uk) requires only cardboard, paperclips, corks, fabric and toilet rolls.

 

Flexible design of self-access learning centres for longevity

This article is not a discussion about the efficacy of self-access learning centres. (In recent years, some universities have backed away from physical centres, switching to online resources instead.) Instead, my assumption is that there is value in making available spaces for independent learning equipped with suitable resources. Moreover, my focus is on the secondary/high school level of education rather than on tertiary.

My concern is how relatively small educational institutions can maintain and develop quite costly self-access learning centres in the long-term. Initially, when an institution establishes such a learning facility, its novelty value stimulates student participation. However, this enthusiasm tends to peter out. Therefore, I suggest a way to keep such facilities well-utilised and worth the investment.

That way is flexible room design.

Some physical learning centres are beautifully designed, with sculpted furniture, carpets, etc. and work well as inviting environments. Here is an example:

picture-7

On the down side, rooms like this usually have fixed furniture and are space-inefficient, in other words there are relatively few seats and computers. (With the increased use of tablets and other mobile devices, however, a low number of networked PCs is becoming less of a concern.)

Another common room design is almost indistinguishable from a traditional computer lab; desktop computers are arranged in rows or in clusters, like this:

picture-6

The room can accommodate many learners but is not that enticing and restricts interactions. Yet the main problem, to my mind, is both designs’ static nature. Compare this learning centre:

picture-1

picture-2

The computers are around the edge of a large space. The furniture is movable and can be flexibly arranged. At the front of the room is an interactive whiteboard. So, this room can easily double as a classroom that is ideal for, e.g., project classes, enquiry-based learning or academic writing lessons.

Such versatility means that more use can be made of these expensive facilities. The room still operates as a self-access centre during lunchtimes and after school.

Here is an alternative design that is also flexible:

picture-3

In this room, the desks and wheeled-chairs can be moved easily and there are power sockets in the floor for laptops and tablets. Some paper-resources and a few desktops are present on the edge of the room. Again, there is an interactive whiteboard and other AV aids at the front.

Finally, here is a smaller space that is very versatile:

picture-4picture-5

This room is intended for small group work, consultations, meetings and club activities as well as individual self-access learning.

In sum, flexible room design is one measure to  make it more likely that the facilities will continue to be genuinely useful for learners and schools.

Motivation for secondary/high school students

During my years in schools, it has been my observation that motivation is a particular challenge for students aged 14-16. This view is based upon my experience as a teacher and teacher trainer in Japan, the UK, Singapore, Kazakhstan, Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China. Whether learners are in secondary or high schools, this age group must study a broad range of subjects, some of which they enjoy and others not, according to individual interest and other factors, e.g. the syllabus, the learning and teaching methods but perhaps most importantly, the qualities of their teachers. Twelve and thirteen year olds, by contrast, are still fresh to the “big school” and seem more content to follow a prescribed diet of studies. Seventeen and eighteen year olds are focused on school leaving examinations. Of course I am generalising but I do think it is worthwhile to reconsider how to stimulate the enthusiasm of 14-16 year olds.

Option 1 is to tell them to be motivated, basically. It has not failed to amaze me that many teachers act like motivational speakers and assume that pep talks work. Maybe they do, I do not have data to contradict that assumption. However, I have observed this approach meeting a stony silence from many adolescents. They may be at an age when it is just not cool to follow adults’ advice. However, in some environments this is the accepted way to encourage learners.

Option 2 is for teachers to strive to make their subject as fascinating as possible. For some disciplines, for example language arts, there is flexibility over choice of content. So, some teachers work hard to research their learners’ interests and select, e.g. reading texts that are more likely to be engaging and provoke a reaction. Skilled teachers of all disciplines can also spice up lessons through clever task design, making the learning interactive and fun in spite of the students’ indifference to the lesson topics. This is basically my approach, too, but I admit that it doesn’t always work.

Therefore, I wondered whether I could get learners in this age group to reflect upon different types of motivation and come to the realisation that a particular school subject may still be worth applying themselves to even if they don’t have interest per se. I put together a session for learners with some tasks to complete that hopefully led them to this realisation. My workshop was entitled Motivating yourself to learn and its objectives were as follows:

  • Realise what motivates you to study
  • Understand definitions of types of motivation
  • Become aware of connections between subjects studied and types of motivation
  • Find reasons for positive attitudes to studying all subjects

The description of four types of motivation is debatable, of course. There are rival theories of motivation with different categories but I felt that these 4 types were accessible enough to 14-16 year olds.

I attach the learning materials Motivation_HO1 Motivation_HO2 Motivation_HO3 Motivation_HO4 and PPT show Motivating yourself to learn from that workshop for your consideration.

Do you think that these reflective exercises could positively impact on teenagers’ motivation to study?

 

From reading to reading critically

In many EFL/ESL/TESOL coursebooks, the approach to reading is usually to proceed from pre-reading strategies of, e.g., content prediction, vocabulary activation, to while-reading sub-skills of skimming and scanning and then to detailed understanding with the occasional inference question and possible post-reading exercises that exploit the text for lexical or grammatical development, or focus on discourse features.

For EAP and mainstream secondary/high school readers in open societies, there is a need to go further by developing the skills of reading critically. This is because writers of media articles may seek to persuade the reader to accept a certain explanation of an issue, or a certain moral stance on an issue. Critical readers are not won over by propaganda or marketing-style tactics such as the use of images that evoke sympathy, the misuse of logic, or the inclusion of emotive words. By contrast, critical readers fairly judge the validity and soundness of writers’ claims.

Critical reading is a learnt skill. Teachers and coursebook authors can help learners by guiding them to search for particular features of persuasive writing. Through responding to skillfully devised questions, students can learn to identify the…

  • issue itself
  • causes of the issue
  • writer’s identity and background (if available)
  • reasons for the writer’s concern and interest in the issue
  • stakeholders, i.e. groups in society with a vested interest in the issue
  • possible value conflicts between stakeholders
  • writer’s conclusion
  • writer’s reasons
  • writer’s assumptions (= hidden reasons)
  • evidence for the writer’s proposition
  • sources of that evidence (if cited)
  • ambiguous, emotive and euphemistic vocabulary
  • logical fallacies, e.g. hasty generalisations

Teachers and authors can provide helpful support by setting questions that require identification of these features. Once the skill of identification is mastered through practice, students can progress to setting similar questions for their peers and finally formulating such questions independently for themselves when they encounter other media articles in future.

To help authors and teachers, a questioning framework is a useful reference. There are many available, but suggested here are Socratic questioning and Biggs & Sollis SOLO Taxonomy.

Below, I provide an example of a reading lesson that begins conventionally but ends with more critical reading by means of Socratic questions. A similar result could be achieved with the SOLO or Bloom’s taxonomies. It is based upon a 2007 article that appeared in the South China Morning Post on the issue of conservation of historic buildings.

Taxi driver lone dissenting voice as conservationists plead for pier (10th May 2007 SCMP)

http://www.scmp.com/article/592156/taxi-driver-lone-dissenting-voice-conservationists-plead-pier

Pre-reading

Speculating 

Cover the text. Describe what you see in the accompanying photograph (with the original article). Can you guess the situation?  (clue = date: 10th May 2007) What do you imagine the people are looking at? How are the people feeling? The placards are blank. Can you imagine what was written on them?

Sharing personal experiences related to the topic of the article

Have you ever been involved in a protest? If so, can you describe the experience? If not, do you know anyone who has? Would you join this protest? Why/why not?

Comparing initial opinions on the issue involved

How do you balance heritage conservation with economic development?

Activating related vocabulary

Now that you know the topic of the article, predict 10 words and phrases that you believe will appear in it.

Capture2

Researching key vocabulary 

Work in small groups. Use a dictionary and race to complete the table below using 4 of the following words/phrases: dissenting, public hearing, conservationist, public sentiment, plead, antiquities.

Capture

While-reading

Skimming

Choose the most appropriate title for this article:

  • Pier preservation incontestable argue conservationists
  • Taxi driver lone dissenting voice as conservationists plead for pier
  • Queen’s pier – new symbol of civic movement


Scanning & identifying key points

Who expressed the following opinions?

Capture3

Summarising the article

Complete the chart below to summarise the opinions, reasons and possible consequences described by Mr Lam and Ms Lung.

Capture4

Critical reading

Distinguishing facts from opinions

Which of the following statements from the article are factual?

  1. “Queen’s pier has a high level of heritage collective memory.”
  2. “Reconstructing the pier between two public piers might be cheaper and easier, but the pier would be much more significant as part of the City Hall complex.”
  3. “Mr. Lee was a government architect between the 1960s and 1970s.”
  4. “What has happened since the demolition of the Star Ferry pier in December has given Queen’s Pier a new meaning.”
  5. “Representatives of 11 conservation groups and a lone taxi driver spoke at an unprecedented public hearing…”

Socratic questioning

  • Questions that probe assumptions

What belief is behind the words of Ms Man-wah when she says that “The pier witnessed how Hong Kong evolved…”?

 The term ‘heritage collective memory’ was used by Mr Cheong. What do you understand by this term?

  • Questions that probe reason and evidence 

Is any evidence reported in the article to support the views expressed?

What kind of evidence might support Mr Cheong’s opinions?

  • Questions about viewpoints or perspectives

 Do you see any relation between the opinions expressed and the vocations of the people who expressed them?

What opinions do you think would be expressed by a prominent business leader, a representative of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, or a traffic police officer?

  •  Questions that probe implications and consequences

What are the consequences of asserting that the Queen’s Pier is “an inseparable part of the City Hall complex”?

References

Biggs, J.B. & Collis, K.F. (1982) Evaluating the Quality of Learning: Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome Taxonomy. Academic Press Inc.

Brown, M.N. & Keeley, S.M. (2007). Asking the right questions: A guide to critical thinking. Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-220304-9

Van den Brink-Budgen, R. (2000). Critical thinking for students. How To Books. ISBN 978-1-85703-634-3

 

What is ‘global competency’ for university students?

Francois Ortalo-Magne describes global competency (GP) as (partly) “an appreciation of the diversity of the human race”. Similarly, Richard Yelland says that GP is “to have an understanding that different cultures do things in different ways”.

The above views are not controversial to me. Cultural norms exist and, for an outsider, behaviours can only be understood by reference to the culture in question. Such ‘cultural relativism’ has been accepted in anthropology since the early twentieth century (Franz Boas). However, although knowledge about cultural diversity is an important starting point, one wonders how a higher education institution could prepare its students to appreciate the rich diversity of world cultures while avoiding the pitfall of stereotyping. The solution, it seems to me, instead of getting students to learn about a multitude of cultures at a superficial level, is to equip students with tools of enquiry to learn about aspects of given cultures in more depth as and when they need to do so during their working careers. Competency is thus partly at the level of metacognition; one should have the ability to step back from a situation and question whether there is something that one is misunderstanding, something related to the target culture, and then research it. Healthy scepticism can also be encouraged, too, in case the situation is atypical for that cultural setting.

Otherwise, as Pavel Zgaga mentions, GP is in danger of being characterised in such an abstract, decontextualised fashion that it will become unfit for any specific purpose. If GP relates to the whole world then it can only be relevant to truly global matters. However, that will be a minority of situations. More commonly, one, two or several cultures would be involved in a situation and then GP would be better understood as “relating to all parts of a situation” (Cambridge English Dictionary) or, in other terms, relating to the perspectives of the stakeholders. Incidentally, being able to take differing perspectives into account is an oft cited attribute of critical thinkers.

Let me provide an example. I conducted research (Andrews, 2005) on recently qualified teachers of English who had trained in the UK and had consequently taken up teaching positions overseas. Although they were appreciative of the teaching knowledge and skills that they had acquired during their training courses, a perceived shortfall was the lack of preparation they had received to adjust to different working practices in other countries. Expectations of what made a “good teacher” and “good employee” differed enormously between, e.g. a private South Korean language academy owner and their foreign teaching staff, and could result in conflict. Had the teachers looked into the educational traditions and values in that society, they may have relaxed in the light of their findings, or simply left if they found it unpalatable.

Awareness of other cultures, although an essential foundation, is still insufficient. Competency also implies procedural knowledge, or skills, and appropriate attitudes. At one institution where I was employed, in Hong Kong, the relevant graduate attributes were phrased thus:

Our students are expected to have a deep understanding of Chinese culture and with it a sense of national identity and pride; they should also have an appreciation of other cultures, and with that appreciation also a high degree of inter-cultural sensitivity, tolerance and a global perspective (my emphasis). The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Reference

Andrews, P. (2005). Effective online professional development for novice English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers. The Teacher Trainer. http://www.tttjournal.co.uk/

Ways to tackle plagiarism

 Some recommendations:

  • Investigate the extent and nature of plagiarism & collusion in your institution.
  • Commission lawyers to investigate related legal issues in your country – copyright, paternity right, database rights, moral rights, data protection, deception/fraud, derogatory treatment.
  • Develop an easy-to-understand definition of plagiarism that is highlighted and clarified. Be aware that there will still be ambiguities.
  • Clarify which kinds of resources may be used without naming author, e.g. collective works such as yearbooks.
  • Develop disciplinary procedures that are transparent to students & staff. Discipline could include learning as well as punishment.
  • If non-compliance is detected, investigate reasons for non-compliance & the intention of the student.
  • Discuss common issues in order to raise awareness, e.g. the thin line between collaboration & collusion.
  • Promote academic integrity as part of Integrity as a desirable quality of all graduates of your institution. Academic staff can lead by example of course.
  • Teach students critical analysis, how to build an argument, citation and referencing skills & provide them with ample practice activities that are discipline-specific. This may be initiated in language & communication subjects, but can continue in all subjects.
  • Put emphasis on teaching students time management skills. Also, avoid giving students multiple concurrent deadlines for submission of work.
  • Invest in detection software and train staff in its use. For deterrence purposes publicise that your institution uses this software but do not advertise its limitations. Decide how the software is going to be used, e.g. random samples or comprehensive checks.
  • Require students to submit written work/images electronically together with a declaration that it is their own work. Establish a searchable database of student work for each course. Make new students aware of the existence of the database. Inform students of the reason for collecting their work (data protection issue).
  • Train academic staff to be sensitive to changes in discourse style.
  • Design assessment tasks that minimize the effectiveness of plagiarism or collusion.

 

 

Key research findings about questioning skills to promote higher order thinking

A study in the 1980s revealed that over 90% of questions posed by teachers prompted factual recall only.

Dains, D. (1986). Are teachers asking the right questions? Education 1, (4) 368–374.

Another study of that period revealed a figure of 75-80%.

Dillon, J. T. (1988). Questioning and teaching: A manual of practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

When teachers increase the time allowance for students to think before they reply to questions, responses become longer and reach a higher cognitive level. Similar benefits occur when teachers also wait a few seconds after students have answered, plus other students become more participative.

Rowe, M. B. (1974). Wait-time and rewards in instructional variables, their influence on language, logic, and fate control: Part one—Wait time. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 11, 81-94.

Rowe, M. B. (1986). Wait-time: Slowing down may be a way of speeding up! Journal of Teacher Education, 37(1), 43-48.

Teachers have a tendency to echo student answers; when they do not do so other students are more attentive to their peers’ responses.

 Craig, J. & Cairo, L. (2005). Assessing the relationship between Questioning and Understanding to Improve Learning and Thinking (QUILT) and student achievement in mathematics: A pilot study. Appalachia Educational Laboratory (AEL).

During discussions, thought-provoking statements are viable alternatives to questions in order to stimulate student participation.

Wilen, W.W. (1991). Questioning skills, for teachers. National Education Association of the United States.

Individual, pair or small group interviews conducted by teachers reveal students’ awareness and understanding and provide an opportunity for teachers to notice and develop their questioning competency.

Moyer, P. & Milewicz, E. (2002). Learning to question: Categories of questioning used by preservice teachers during diagnostic mathematics interviews. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 5, 293–315.

I have attached a lesson observation form based upon the above research findings:

Questioning skills observation form

Concept checking – a valuable technique for any educator

In this entry, I will demonstrate the art of concept checking, i.e. using questions to elicit whether students have understood a difficult concept, or are able to distinguish commonly confused concepts.

Concept checking is a tried and tested technique in teaching grammar and vocabulary. Personally, I learnt the technique when I was training to become a TESOL practitioner. There is a good description of concept checking for language teaching at http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/checking-understanding

However, in this entry I would like to show how concept checking can be used for other subject teaching. In every subject there will be terminology that is hard to grasp or is easily confused with a related concept. For instance, how about “Internet” and “World Wide Web”? In everyday conversation they are used interchangeably but they are not the same.

My example concepts are ‘plagiarism’ and ‘copyright infringement’. These two concepts are often confused or conflated no matter how clearly they are presented. On more than one occasion I have been tasked to help university students and lecturers comprehend the difference between them.

Step 1: Present the concept(s) as clearly as possible

“Plagiarism occurs when someone tries to pass off another person’s work or ideas as their own without acknowledgement.” http://edc.polyu.edu.hk/PSP/teacher.htm

“Copyright infringement occurs when someone copies, publishes or distributes a piece of writing, music, picture or other work of authorship without permission.” http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/copyright

Step 2: Pose concept checking questions

What kind of offence is plagiarism – moral or legal? (moral)

What kind of offence is copyright infringement – moral or legal? (legal)

Who carries out punishment for plagiarism? (higher education institutions / the academic community)

Who carries out punishment for copyright infringement? (courts of law)

How can plagiarism be avoided? (acknowledge sources)

How can copyright infringement be avoided? (seek permission or pay)

Is there any flexibility in plagiarism rules? (No)

Is there any flexibility in copyright law? (Yes)

Reasons for concept checking

  • It intercepts and corrects misconceptions at an early stage, prior to application of knowledge and assessment.
  • It informs decisions whether to re-teach the concepts in another way or continue with, e.g., additional input.
  • It is a tool for formative assessment.
  • It can improve learning.
  • It is a diagnostic tool for differentiation by readiness.
  • It is a tool in inquiry-based learning and other inductive approaches.
  • It is a model of effective study skills.