By Dr. Laurie Rocco, School of Health Sciences Instructional Faculty and 2016 Distinguished Faculty Award Recipient
My Excelsior professional development award for 2016 allowed me to attend the 30th Annual Human Anatomy & Physiological Society (HAPS) Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The goal of the HAPS organization is to promote excellence in the teaching of human anatomy and physiology and their annual conference draws nearly 600 educators from around the country.
The annual conference encompasses seminars on new topics in the field of anatomy and physiology, poster presentations, and nearly 90 workshop presentations to choose from. The presentations were held on the beautiful campus of Georgia Tech University.
The presentation that garnered the most attention this year was the topic of metacognition, which was attended by nearly 250 of the attendees at the conference. Our presenter was Rachel Hopp, PhD, from the University of Louisville.
The presentation began with Dr. Hopp asking everyone to write down their own definition of metacognition, it was an easy task, or so we thought. There is nothing like asking a group of educators to agree on a topic. This was exactly the point that she was trying to make. Our students all seem to know what it means to study, but if you ask a class of 25 students to write down their thoughts on the topic, you will get almost 25 different answers.
Every student either believes that they know the proper way to study or they have come to understand that they have no idea at all, there seems to be no real common ground on this topic. We have all had the students who will tell you that they read the chapter and their class lecture notes one hundred times and they still performed poorly on their exam. Sound familiar?
Dr. Hopp provided us with many ideas to help our students to understand that there is a difference between the fluency of the material they are studying and a true understanding the material. Fluency is when your students have reread the material and have a familiarity with the structure of the words but no real understanding of what they mean. Fluency is a deceptive way to learn the material.
When a student tells us they have reread and highlighted their textbook we need to suggest that they write out the answers to the learning objectives as they will often find that this is much more difficult process and they will truly begin to see where the gaps in their learning are occurring. When a student says they have reread their class notes we need to suggest that they create a graphic representation of their notes, such as a concept map or a flow chart. If we feel that they have merely memorized “facts” we need to suggest they try to teach the material to someone else. As Albert Einstein once said “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
Dr. Hopp pointed out that when we look at the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy the Knowledge level requires only fluency whereas all levels above this level require an actual understanding of the material. Most high school students are experts in fluency and are well-versed in memorizing material and are very proficient with their highlighters but once we ask them to summarize, organize, manipulate, and predict concepts they are now swimming in much deeper water and they begin to look for the old tried and true ways. It is our task to help them to learn to navigate these deeper waters and to help them to feel confident and safe without their life-preservers.
We have to begin by gaining the trust of our students, in other words, they have to buy-in. We start by teaching them that their level of intelligence is not fixed, but malleable. It is not taboo to show them the concept of Bloom’s Taxonomy and to explain our expectations to them. We have to help them see that it is our job to help them to get from the bottom of the pyramid to the top, and this requires trust.
If you have ever taught in a brick-and-mortar institution, you will most likely already know that students that study in groups are generally more successful in the course. This can also occur in the online learning world. Students can have chat rooms and use these rooms to quiz one another or ask a classmate to explain a concept to them. This also requires great trust. Through these interactions the students learn to take these leaps of faith in exchange for a deeper level of learning.