Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer GTC: Effectiveness of different tutorial recitation teaching methods and its implications for TA training

Our first meeting of summer GTC reading club was a success! We had roughly a dozen participants show up, and saw quite a few new faces. To all who are traveling this summer but want to make sure you can also participate in the readings, you are welcome to leave your comments after each each post, and of course this invitation is extended to those who are present at meetings as well.

Last Monday we discussed this article:

K. M. Koenig, R. J. Endorf, G. A. Braun, Effectiveness of different tutorial recitation teaching methods and its implications for TA training. Physical Review Special Topics Physics Education 3, 104+ (2007).

The paper discussed a study where students attended one of four different recitations, each taught in a different style:
1) Lecture
2) Students working independently
3) Students working in groups and able to check their answers at checkpoints with TAs
4) Students working in groups and able to engage in dialogue with TAs

The paper found that method #4 was the most successful at improving student achievement on a post-test. (The classes preformed similarly on the pre-test.)

During our discussion we talked quite a bit about 'socratic dialogue,' which was one of the techniques used by the TAs teaching recitation style #4. (This site has some information on socratic dialogue for those of you unfamiliar with it, or wanting clarification. This is by no means the final word on it... many discipline use parts of this technique and blanket it under the term 'socratic method'. If you have other socratic dialogue resources please share!)

Many of us were reluctant to take the point of the paper as being that you need to use the socratic method in your classrooms to be successful educators, however, I believe that we were close to consensus on the idea that successful educators are those that engage with their students in some way. In short, it's important to get an idea of what our students are thinking, and talk to them at a level and in a manner in which they can understand.

We seemed a little split on whether or not educators should be thought of as 'keepers' of information. Some of the GTC felt that in order to establish a safe environment where students would freely discuss their thinking processes without worrying if they were 'correct' or not, it was important to break down the authoritative teacher-student hierarchy. One way this could be done is by emphasizing (admitting?) that the TA doesn't just know the answer, that they have to think about it (albeit faster than the student), and that there are certain questions or thought processes that they go through each time they approach a situation. Other members of the GTC felt that sometimes situations call for a strong hierarchy, (for example when an educator feels as though they need to prove their intellectual status to the students in order to gain credibility) and that in these situations it's important to emphasize a strong familiarity with the material.

There were several other questions raised, here are the ones I can remember:
1) How do you decide how much material to put into a quarter (or semester) long course?
2) How can TAs be trained to use socratic methods?
3) What are some ways that you can get your students engage in critical thinking?
4) When is it appropriate to explain (or lecture) to your students?

Please let me know if I've misrepresented any opinions, and continue the conversation below in the comments section.

Next Monday (July 12th) Ann will be discussing the following paper with us:
W. Felps, T. Mitchell, E. Byington, How, When, and Why Bad Apples Spoil the Barrel: Negative Group Members and Dysfunctional Groups. Research in Organizational Behavior 27, 175 (2006).

See you then!


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