Winter 2018: Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning

During winter term 2018, we read Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning.

Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Week 1

Introduction: Small Teaching & Part 1: Knowledge (pages 1-18).

Discussion Questions for Small Teaching

  1. Define small teaching
  2. What are some of the advantages of the small teaching approach over the larger changes people often discuss and think they need to make in order to reform their
  3. What do you already know about cognitive science tell us about student learning?(We want to gather information about what you already know)
  4. Identify problem you experienced this first week of the term or that you anticipate this term. As you read the book, keep this problem in mind so that you can think
    about ways to address it. Have you already read something in this first part that could help you address this challenge? [How could this be addressed with a small teaching technique? (i.e. What’s something you’re not satisfied with)]
  5. After reading the introduction what questions or expectations do you have about small teaching?
  6. What’s foundational knowledge in your discipline that you hope students learn in your course this term?

Week 2

Chapter 1: Retrieving

Discussion Questions for Small Teaching Chapter 1

  1. Try to recall some types of retrieval practice you could have students do at the beginning and end of class. Practice by writing them down.
  2. How could you do this in a large class? (We get to practice in a small class in the journal club)
  3. Why does retrieval work?
  4. What are other ways to build retrieval practice into a course?
  5. What retrieval practice could fit into your course? Write a question you could give your students that would make them practice retrieval.
  6. What’s your understanding of retrieval practice now?

Week 3

Chapter 2: Predicting

Discussion Questions for Small Teaching Chapter 2

  1. Name, department, class you’re associated with this term. What were you doing 10 years ago? (should we predict instead of recall?)
  2. With a partner, make a quick summary of what we talked about last week. Predict how that relates to what we’re going to talk about this week. (Retrieval
    and prediction)
  3. Share an example of when you’ve used prediction as a teacher or experienced it as a student. How did it go? How could it have been improved?
  4. Come up with an explanation for why prediction helps students learn that you could give to your students.
  5. The principles outlined at the end of the chapter (things to keep in mind when asking students to make predictions) are: Stay conceptual, provide fast feedback, and induce reflection. Why is each of these important and how can you incorporate them into your prediction exercises?
  6. Describe a predictive activity or question you could use in your class. Use the list at the end of the chapter with the various types described.
  7. Next week’s chapter is Interleaving. Make a prediction about what interleaving is and how it works. If you already can define it, make a prediction about the reasons why it works.

Week 4

Chapter 3: Interleaving

Discussion Questions for Small Teaching Chapter Four

  1. Last week we reflected on what we were doing 10 years ago… this week predict what you will be doing in 10 years? Point out that next week is Week 5- consider doing a mid-term assessment of how things are going in class.
  2. Compare/contrast retrieval, blocking, massing, spaced learning, and knowledge transfer. Need 5 groups – Each group defines 1 term and interleaving.
  3. Why is it useful to implement interleaving strategies? How can you communicate the usefulness to students?
  4. What would an interleaved course look like?
  5. Differentiate between course-structure based interleaving and student study-habit interleaving.
  6. What is a small change you could make in your course to include more interleaving?

Week 5

Part II Understanding & Chapter 4: Connecting (pages 85-111)

Discussion Questions for Small Teaching Chapter 4

  1. Titanically fun Ice-breaker. Favorite flower/plant. OR What is your favorite/least favorite Winter Olympic sport? (How’s that for fabulous and timely?)
  2. Describe how making connections are important for students and relevant to their learning process? What is the role of instructors to help students make
  3. Is there a connection in material you teach that is particularly challenging for students? Or was particularly challenging for you to make as a student? How do you find out what information students already know (either correct or misconceptions)?
  4. What can you do to scaffold the learning experience to help students make that connection?
  5. Let’s practice Minute Theses:
  6. Can you use minute thesis in your course? Concept maps vs minute thesis.

Week 6

Chapter 5: Practicing

Discussion Questions for Small Teaching Chapter 5

  1. Name, department, class you’re associated with this term. Pet Peeve What’s your favorite hike in the area?
  2. How is mindful practice different from repetition?
  3. What skills do you want your students to develop?
  4. Unpack: Think of an assessment you’ve recently given your students. What skills would they need to do well on it? Is the assessment aligned with your initial list?
  5. What opportunities do they have to practice these skills?
  6. How could you build in more opportunities to practice these skills?
  7. What type of feedback do you give students on the skills you’re asking them to practice?
  8. How can you give students feedback? Did anything from the chapter stand out for you? Do you have other ideas for ways to stimulate mindful practice? From p. 133: Why have you chosen to use that strategy for your introduction?
    • What alternatives might you have chosen?
    • Is that the only formula that you could have used to solve this problem?
    • Have you ever encountered a question like this outside of this course? How did you answer it then? If I posed this question to someone who had not taken this
    course, how do you think they would go about trying to answer it?

Week 7

Chapter 6: Self-Explaining

Discussion Questions for Small Teaching Chapter 6

  1. Name. Favorite place to go hiking?
  2. What is self-explanation and why is it useful? How is it similar or different from metacognition?
  3. How have you experienced self-explaining in a course? (Both in what context and what was the experience like?)
  4. One version of self-explanation discussed in this chapter was having students either identify or select principles or categories that are related to a problem. Think of a problem or type of problem in a course you teach. Generate a list of principles that students could select from in the process of answering that question.
  5. The more cognitively demanding version of self-explanation was having students describe their thought process when answering a question. Think of a problem or type of problem in a course you teach. How can you create opportunities for students to self-explain as they work through a problem?
  6. What questions does this chapter bring up for you that isn’t necessarily addressed?

Week 8

Part III Inspiration & Chapter 7: Motivation (pages 161-193)

Discussion Questions for Small Teaching

  1. Name. Ideas for next time (Favorite Hike in the area? Favorite Place in Eugene?) What makes you enthusiastic about your content area?
  2. How do you show your students your enthusiasm? Do you think it helps to motivate them?
  3. How do the reasons you are interested in your subjects differ from why your students are interested in the course?
  4. What are reasons you could give students about the purpose of your course, both specific and big-picture (long term, change the world goals), and when do you communicate those reasons to students?
  5. Do you tell stories in your courses? What stories can you tell in your course to draw students in? Where do you find these stories
  6. Lang suggests talking to students before class begins – “You don’t have to wait for the clock to strike to begin teaching” What are the benefits for the students (and maybe for the instructor) in engaging students before class begins?
  7. Stuff comes up–how can you create a classroom structure that shows compassion for your students?

Week 9

Chapter 8: Growing

Discussion Questions for Small Teaching

  1. Names – What areas of your life are you growth vs fixed mind-set focused?
  2. What fixed and growth mindset language do you hear from students?
  3. Design for growth
    Syllabus swap + Get in groups How could you include growth mindset language?
    Exam/Assignment structure
    What is communicated right now in your assessment structure? How can you change your assessment structure to reflect growth mindset?
  4. Communicate for growth
    What fixed mindset language (written or spoken) do you use with students
  5. Feedback for growth
    Do you give students individual feedback? Is your feedback typically growth oriented? What opportunities can you take to make feedback more growth-oriented?

Week 10

Chapter 9: Expanding & Conclusion: Beginning

Discussion Questions for Small Teaching

  1. Name: Chapter talks about big ideas – what activity-based learning (service learning or games or simulations) example could you imagine in your department?
  2. How can you use theories of prediction or pretesting to create an opening-day activity that will activate the prior knowledge of your students and prepare them for learning?
  3. How can you ensure that students will continually cycle back to the material they have already learned, to take advantage of the learning power of spacing and interleaving?
  4. How can you elicit self-explanations from students when they are engaged in practicing skills you will test them on?
  5. Where might a day spent on the Minute Thesis game pack the most learning punch for your students?
  6. What about your communication with them? Can you revise the language of your syllabus to include recommendations on how students will succeed in the course? Will you modify the language you use when you give feedback to your students to ensure that it promotes a growth mind-set?
  7. How can you let students know about the ways practitioners in your field are making the world a better place–and the ways they might do so someday as well?
  8. Which of the big ideas for course change do you want to explore spring term?
  9. Look at your name tent from week 1—after reading the book can you think of a way you can address your concern with small teaching? Or something that came up this term that you were able to address with small teaching.