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.

Loop input: A valuable training strategy

First off, I want to thank Tessa Woodward for the idea of loop input. She introduced the concept in a 1986 article in The Teacher Trainer journal and articulated it again in her 1991 book, Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training: Loop Input and Other Strategies.

Since reading about this training strategy, I have experimented and found it to have the distinct advantage of making the content of professional development workshops highly memorable.

So what is it? In short, with loop input the message of the training and its means of delivery coincide. This is best understood through examples, and in this post I would like to present a couple that I have developed. This has been done before, for example in this entry on John Hughes excellent blog elteachertrainer. However, the additional contribution I would like to make is to provide examples beyond the language teaching profession. Below are two examples of loop input for trainers of all disciplines.

Example 1: An opening activity to introduce the topic of thinking skills

I was tasked by a secondary school to provide a staff development session on the topic of developing students’ thinking skills. When I was writing the materials for this session, I decided that I needed a dynamic, interactive opening activity that would also serve to introduce the topic. My goals for this activity were mainly to engage the participants, but following its completion I wanted to be able to provoke initial reflections on different ways of thinking. This would then lead into more detailed consideration of the ways of thinking that are needed for success in different school subjects, e.g. history or mathematics.

As I was searching for inspiration, I recalled an entertaining language activity in Jill Hadfield’s Intermediate Communication Games that I had used many times in ESOL lessons and had always proved a winner. It is called Detective Work and is a card game designed originally to practise reporting past events. Students work in small groups, turn up one card at a time from a pile, and discuss the clues to the murder that are on the cards. In the process, they should use several verb forms.

I adapted Detective Work in two ways. Firstly, I changed the context of the murder to the school in which I was leading the professional development session. Seeking approval beforehand, I made one of the vice-principals the victim and one of the teachers the perpetrator. This was the cause of some hilarity in the session. Secondly, after the task was completed and the groups had all solved the murder mystery, in plenary I posed the question, “How did you solve the crime?”. This led to a discussion of the distinctions between deductive and inductive reasoning. Having just directly experienced deductive reasoning themselves, teachers appeared not to confuse it with inductive reasoning, as could easily happen. Moreover, sometime later teachers from this school remarked upon that task to me. Their recall was partly due to how much they had enjoyed playing the role of detective and competing with other groups to solve the murder. My hope is that they also recalled the message of the activity.

Example 2: A complete development session on the topic of learner autonomy / self-directed learning

My overall goal for this whole-day staff development session with 70+ teachers at a secondary school was to help teachers grasp the importance of scaffolding the process by which students become more independent. I also hoped that the outcomes of this session would dovetail with earlier professional development at this school on the topic of differentiating instruction.

So, instead of leading a conventional training session, which typically would include input on research findings from me followed by discussion work on how to apply those findings in the school’s distinct learning environments, I opted to give the participants more freedom of choice.

At the outset, I helped teachers to synthesize a plausible working definition of “learner autonomy” from several that had been sourced from the literature. Then, I provided eight possible learning objectives for the session and invited teachers to select two or three that were most relevant to their individual needs. They also selected the sequence in which they would try activities designed to bring them closer to their chosen learning goals. These activities had been designed as self-access materials with accompanying instructions. The teachers were aware of a prescribed, overall time limit and managed their time accordingly.

At the end of the time limit, teachers came together and reflected on whether they had chosen learning objectives wisely, what they had actually learned, and whether they had managed their learning appropriately. Participation in this process led participants naturally to the apparently paradoxical conclusion that independent learning still needs to be guided by teachers, at least until students’ metacognitive awareness has developed sufficiently.

Conclusion

I have found loop input to be a useful addition to my training strategies repertoire. It is not always appropriate, but sometimes combining the message and the process is potent and memorable.

Hadfield, J. (1990). Intermediate communication games. Nelson.

Woodward, T. (1986). Loop input – a process idea. The Teacher Trainer, 1:6-7. Pilgrims.

Woodward, T. (1991). Models and metaphors in language teacher training: Loop input and other strategies. Cambridge University Press.

Managers’ feedback and its impact on development & motivation

Recently, I read an article by Anmol Jain highlighting the role of continuous feedback in motivating junior colleagues. I appreciated the way it was written because he provided a concrete example of feedback from a manager to a team member:

‘The deliverable you produced is very nice and very close to my expectations, but if you can just make these few minor changes it would really stand out’.

This example exhibits features of worthwhile feedback. The manager indicated that the deliverable was almost aligned with expectations. As long as the team member knows and understands the expectations, this is useful information. The manager goes on to detail changes that would enhance the deliverable, thus refocusing the team member’s actions and efforts. The manager could also have commented on the efficiency of processes by which the deliverable was produced, if those had been observed. The feedback aids motivation because it is constructive, acknowledging what has been achieved already and enabling further progression.

To build upon Anmol’s article, I thought that I would provide a few more details on feedback summarised from educational research. If the arenas of education and business are sufficiently relatable, my hope is that this might prove useful information for managers.

There are several ways that managers can respond to completed work tasks and they are not all beneficial.

Try dividing the following types of feedback according to their effects on performance and achievement. Which do you believe have a positive impact, and which a negative impact?

  1. giving material rewards for a high quality deliverable
  2. directly correcting errors in the deliverable
  3. providing prompts to enhance the quality of the deliverable
  4. confirming what is good about the deliverable
  5. inviting peer evaluation of the deliverable
  6. penalizing flaws in the deliverable
  7. verbally praising a good quality deliverable
  8. clarifying how the deliverable meets or doesn’t meet expectations

Well, perhaps surprisingly, the following negatively impact on achievement and enthusiasm:

1. Rewards

2. Correction

6. Penalties

7. Praise

Why so? Because they are controlling strategies. Generally, people dislike being coerced, and, in the case of correction, by taking control a manager is effectively doing the task rather than letting the junior staff member develop so that s/he can do it better next time. Praise by itself is not useful because it does not describe what is good and therefore does not inform future development.

My recommendation to managers, therefore, is to utilise feedback types 3, 4, 5 and 8 above.

References

žBrookhart, S.M. (2008). How to give effective feedback to your students. ASCD.

Butler, D.L. & Winne, P.H. (1995). Feedback and self-regulated learning: A theoretical synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 65, 245-281.

Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77, 81 – 112.

10 advantages of self-directed learners in the workplace

There is evidence that, in the workplace, self-directed learners…

1. adapt to changes in their environments better

Guglielmino, L. (1977). Development of the Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale. Dissertation Abstracts International, 38, 6467.

2. remain resilient in the face of challenges and obstacles

Zsiga, P.L. (2008). Self-directed learning in directors of a US nonprofit organization. International Journal of Self-Directed Learning, 5(2), 35–49.

3. demonstrate enhanced performances in their jobs 

Artis, A.B. and Harris, E.G. (2007). Self-directed learning and sales force performance: an integrated framework. Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, Vol. 27 No. 1, pp. 9-24.

4. exhibit superior critical thinking and questioning skills

Candy, P.C. (1991). Self-direction for Lifelong Learning: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice. San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass.

5. demonstrate increased confidence and problem solving capabilities

Durr, R.E. (1992). An examination of readiness for self-directed learning and personnel variable at a large Midwestern electronics development and manufacturing corporation. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL.

6. actively share knowledge and build networks with others

Rowland, F. and Volet, S. (1996). Self-direction in community learning: a case study. Australian Journal of Adult and Community Education, Vol. 36 No. 2, pp. 89-102.

7. show stronger emotional commitment 

Cho, D. and Kwon, D. (2005), Self-directed learning readiness as an antecedent of organizational commitment: a Korean study. International Journal of Training and Development, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 140-52.

8. find their jobs more meaningful

Kops, W.J. (1997). Managers as self-directed learners: findings from the public and private sector organizations. in Long, H.B. and Associates (Ed.), Expanding Horizons in Self-directed Learning, Public Managers Center, College of Education, Norman, OK, pp. 71-86.

9. experience “deep” rather than “surface” learning, and

Stansfield, L.M. (1997), “‘Employee – develop yourself!’ Experiences of self-directed learners”, Career Development International, Vol. 2 No. 6, pp. 261-6.

10. are more likely to realize their potential as leaders.

Klute, M.M., Crouter, A.C., Sayer, A.G., & McHale, S.M. (2002). Occupational self-direction, values, and egalitarian relationships: A study of dual-earner couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 139–151.

For anyone unfamiliar with the term “self-directed learner”, a reasonable account can be found at http://www.selfdirectedlearning.org/what-is-self-directed-learning

To get an indication of the degree to which you are  a self-directed learner, try the Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale at http://www.lpasdlrs.com/

A Prezi version of this blog entry is available at http://prezi.com/v8eu6aioif2j/advantages-of-self-directed-learners/