Smart Juice: Is There a Magic Formula for Intelligence?

Post-spring recess, we are back to exploring Daniel T. Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School? with renewed appreciation for our own times of reluctance to be in the classroom. Spring fever hits tenure-track faculty just at the time when grading and professional review expectations increase, and our students are also showing signs of restlessness in the midst of their growing lists of assignments.

Not much of a surprise, then, to find that our teaching challenge discussion concerned student behavior or that we wanted our students to establish classroom norms for themselves rather than to shift responsibility to their instructors. Nor was it much of a surprise to find that we were nearing the end of our semester-long discussions by sharing our struggles to keep students on track despite differences between those who master material and concepts quickly and those who seem far behind our intended schedules.

Willingham’s eighth principle states that people “do differ in intelligence, but intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work.” He breaks this principle into two main areas for discussion, one of intellectual capacity and one of intellectual development. He argues that the two are closely entwined.

Intelligence, read through Willingham’s research, connects closely with thinking. Intelligence is a combination of problem-solving skills, use of working memory, and expansion of both working and long-term memory to support mental tasks of increasing complexity.  Intelligence, then, is active and can be affected by intentional practices that increase its capacities as well as by neglectful or passive practices that allow working and long-term memory to atrophy. This is good news for those of us raised to believe that brain cells die over our lifetimes without the regeneration typical of other organs: we do not necessarily become less intelligent as we age. (Willingham does not address fatigue, hormonal changes, or stress as factors that might cause aging to affect intelligence temporally or indeed long-term).

In reading this chapter, I was reminded of a NewsRadio episode [http://youtu.be/pfOd4ccy8p0] in which the media editor Matthew, generally hapless and more than a few steps behind, drinks a potion called “Smart Juice.” Convinced that he has been doped into genius, Matthew renames himself SMatthew (Smart Matthew) and marvels his colleagues with his abilities to reason and to absorb new information. Sadly, SMatthew discovers that he has been drinking a placebo, and his smart self is unable to sustain the fiction his less capable self happily embraced.

Willingham’s principle clearly opposes this magical thinking. Sustained hard work is the subtext of each chapter’s argument for enhancing intellectual abilities. Moving from the capacity of intelligence to its development, Willingham then reviews the nature versus nurture debate. Which is more important to intelligence, genetics or environment? Willingham points out that this is in some ways a false dichotomy: what seems to occur in our lives is not only an increase in intelligence but a self-selection towards the environments in which our specific strengths of intelligence (verbal, quantitative, analytic, and creative, as examples) are supported in continuing to intensify and improve. We seek out what reinforces our sense of who we can be.

This sounds encouraging, and yet in this text, Willingham does not address the environments within which most of us live and work, engaged with identities of race, gender, ethnicity and culture, sexuality, religion, and economy. How much can any of us self-select into a supportive intellectual environment that maximizes our capacities when our capacities for health, prosperity, and overall self-determination are so limited? These are questions that are and should be present for us in the classroom and in our preparations and assessments of our teaching.

As we move into the final chapters of our shared text and the final weeks of the term, we are facing these questions with a deeper understanding of what brings each of us to teaching and learning. The experience of sharing teaching challenges across disciplines in the context of a larger discussion of how we and our students learn and can learn now brings us to the question of how we practice our teaching more effectively at the same time that we ask our students to learn more effectively.

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The New Lehman Connect Homepage is online

Lehman Connect homepage

On behalf of Ron Bergmann and his team I do want to “hyper-promote” Lehman Connect. Not just for the reason that they worked so hard on it but for the potential it has for increased communication! Its easy to make it your featured homepage on your computer to act like a one stop portal for the most frequently used sites.

Here’s the navigation which gives you access to the popular links at a quick glance

Log in and give it a shot- the Lehman Connect site is accessible via the Faculty and Staff tab (on the home page of the College web site) or at https://connect.lehman.edu/.  To sign-in, use your Lehman email user name (firstname.lastname) and your email account password.  If you are not able to sign-in, you will see a link that asks you to register your email account.

Lehman Connect Features:

  • One Location for College Information:  The home page of Lehman Connect is the place to find up-to-date college information, news feeds and events. You can also sign-up for alerts when new information is posted.
  • Single Sign-On: You will find one-click access to Webmail and other Lehman applications that you use daily on your “My Lehman Connect” page.
  • Team Sites for Collaboration: Team Sites provide new ways for departments and committees to work together and share documents, meeting minutes and action items. You can edit documents in a web-browser and ensure that your team is working on the same document through version control.
  • Document Storage“My Content” provides mini cloud storage that allows you to access key documents any time, anywhere.
  • Knowledge Base: Lehman Connect features a Wiki-type knowledge base that can be used by faculty and staff to collect, organize, share and search information.
  • Useful Resources: You will find a variety of tools and links to Library resources, Institutional Research data, the Teaching and Learning Commons, Research and Sponsored Programs, Blackboard and College forms, among others.

Lehman Connect Overview Video and Classes:

Orientation Video: Please visit the “Training and Documentation” page for a brief video tour of Lehman Connect and to view related guides.

Orientation Classes: Are open for all faculty and staff as follows. Please RSVP at connect@lehman.cuny.edu to reserve your space:

  • Thursday, April 19, 2 to 3 PM, Carman Hall IT Center, Room 120
  • Wednesday, April 25, 10 to 11 AM, Carman Hall/IT Center, Room 122 and from 2 to 3 PM, Carman Hall IT Center, Room 121
  • Thursday, April 26, 2 to 3 PM, Carman Hall/IT Center, Room 120
  • Tuesday, May 1, 10 to 11 AM, Carman Hall/IT Center, Room 120 and 2 to 3 PM Carman Hall IT Center, Room 120

Lehman Connect is the result of significant work within the IT Division supported by many in the Lehman community who participated in focus groups and provided feedback. In particular, thanks are due to David Stevens and his Web Services team, Venu Gopal and his IT Systems Team, Dr. Joe Medved and his Applications Team and Joe Middleton, for his overall guidance.

 

 

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Making and Maintaining Meaning: Finding Reasons to Keep Going, Sharing Resources to Keep Breathing

The academic life: alternating rounds of teaching, committees, and scholarship that sometimes skip and trip over one another. For some faculty, the tenure track race is energizing, and for others, exhausting. For lecturers, the teaching load and service expectations can be daunting. Most faculty will admit that they experience periods of high energy and of near burnout rather frequently, especially in their first years at an institution. How then, can an institution support its faculty in making and maintaining meaning throughout their professional lives?

This past week, Lehman’s second year faculty met to discuss this question. We have a core group of nine second year faculty members who participate in monthly workshops and social activities: the group represents faculty from African and African American Studies, Biological Sciences, Education, English, Political Science, Sociology, and the Leonard Lief Library. Each lecturer and assistant professor works with a different set of departmental expectations for teaching, research, and service, and although there is some overlap, their student audiences also differ.

Many of the first and second year faculty are eager to continue developing their research and are questioning their capacities to negotiate between their dedication to teaching and the urgencies of investigation and publication. The lack of easy fixes can be discouraging, as can the ongoing struggles of students to manage personal tragedies while pursuing professional hopes. By Spring Break, many faculty members feel their energies and motivations dwindling.

To counter this, our workshop participants identified and shared recent success stories of teaching, research, mentoring, and collegiality. We were surprised and pleased to realize that many of our successes were connected to student successes, such as transfer of skills across courses and positive feedback about assignments. In the second year, faculty members are also feeling more confident with course management and navigating the college and university resources.

A series of discussion questions followed (see the Files section of the Lehman Faculty Professional Development Group for these) as we traded partners to share reflections about present satisfaction, past plans, and future changes. Each faculty member listed his or her key points on the whiteboard after completing the conversations: we enjoyed seeing the interplay between our lists and our priorities. Each participant emphasized overall well-being as well as partnership with students and peers as essential to finding meaning in their work.

Some of our findings: our professional growth and energy are cyclical and need support from regular exercise, reflection, and connection with others; many of us feel better when we balance independent and collaborative work in both our research and teaching rather than over-privileging one at the expense of others. When asked to choose from a list of “developmental tasks for adults,” the choice was unanimous: each faculty member wanted “to find support for one’s own growth and to support the growth of others.” (from “Developmental Tasks of Adults” in the Files section of the Lehman Faculty Professional Development Group)

This was one of the most meaningful and inspiring workshops in which I’ve taken part; it continues to be an honor and privilege to share these monthly (and with the new faculty, weekly) conversations about what it means to teach and to think within the context of higher education.

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Respect the Student, Respect the Work: Lehman’s New Faculty Seminars

People, Daniel T. Willingham writes, “are more alike than different in terms of how they think and learn.” Discussing this principle in the context of different learning styles and multiple intelligences was our new faculty seminar challenge this past week at Lehman.

Our group changes from week to week, with faculty members attending as schedules and tasks permit. This has created a unique teaching challenge for me as the seminar instructor/facilitator, as we attempt to work through a shared text and keep each other up to date on what we have learned and discussed. Working with faculty in this context has been a marvelous piece of development to sharpen my teaching and facilitation skills with this group of advanced critical thinkers and experienced teachers in their own disciplines.

Each week, we take a different approach to reviewing the previous week’s material so that those who have been absent have the chance to catch up and those who were present can refresh and extend their working memories. This past week, we tried a round-robin version of “recall, summarize, question, connect, and comment” to bring back our memories of YouTube videos and boardwork about the differences between novice and expert thinking. The strategy works well even when participants have little recall to share: encouraging peers to help extend the details builds the group’s working memory while the instructor can prompt and provide clues.

Our review led us into questions of individual learning needs and preferences that nuance or complicate the differences between expert and novice thinking. We turned to Chapter 7 of Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School? to look at these questions in more depth. We found that Willingham reviews the research on different learning styles and multiple intelligences with several examples of each, and he concludes that whether or not these styles and intelligences exist, tailoring instruction to these does not seem to be effective.

He suggests instead that the content be the focus of teaching, with changes of pace and strategy to keep students attentive. This increases the likelihood of students retaining what they experience in the classroom (“memory is the residue of thought”) and assists students in making the most of their working memories.

Willingham inserts an impassioned plea to care for students as valuable people regardless of their intellectual capacities or development, arguing that it can be damaging to tell students that they are “smart” when there is much to improve, just as it is damaging to assign more or less merit to students based on their competencies (which he distinguishes from assessing student work: respect your students as people and their work as work, might be one translation of his argument).

We moved, reluctantly, from discussing this potential transformation of classroom assumptions to an energetic exploration of a teaching challenge presented by one of our new Assistant Professors of Library Science, Robin Wright. She asked for feedback on reaching students more effectively in research skills workshops and in making the best use of the time she has with them. Our discipline specific and pre-professional faculty asked excellent questions about her contact with instructors and assessment techniques; the questions led to a set of recommendations that Ms. Wright will be able to implement both in person and online in the near future.

We will take a break next week for the spring recess and return to examine methods of working with differently paced learning in the classroom (some students seem to master material more quickly than others), followed by a week of self-reflection on improving our own thinking.

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Where Is the Mini-Me in My Classroom? Lehman’s New Faculty Seminars

When I was in high school, my chemistry teacher once barked at me to “answer what I mean, not what I say!” Fortunately, this did not extend to qualitative analyses in the afternoon lab sessions, when directions and explanations were easier to understand.

This past week, our new faculty seminar group took a look at this misalignment of communication between experts and novices as we discussed Dan Willingham’s chapter on getting students “to think like experts.” We watched two YouTube clips of the infamous Sheldon Cooper at work in “The Big Bang Theory” for context:

Sheldon Attempts to Give a Guest Lecture:

http://youtu.be/z83fHRjnNAg

Sheldon Attempts to Teach Physics to Penny:

http://youtu.be/hPUjtzS_zwY

with Willingham’s “Implications for the Classroom” at the end of chapter 7 in mind. In viewing both videos, we decided that Sheldon does have a sense of the difference between novices and experts: his teaching challenge is to understand how to communicate with novices so that they can learn rather than shaming them with his superior grasp of context and detail. Expertise does not always translate to great teaching!

We then took apart the chapter to examine what Willingham argues that experts “do,” as well as what resources experts have at their disposal that differ from novices. Experts have more capacity in working memory than novices because experts have automated much of the base knowledge needed for effective problem solving. This extended working memory allows experts to consider multiple alternatives and to rely on long-term memory to indicate which details are important and which can be safely ignored or discarded. Experts also transfer their problem solving skills (remember that Willingham equates thinking with problem solving) more easily than novices, largely because their working memories are not as concerned with acquiring surface details in order to resolve challenges.

In terms of teaching, we suggested that faculty quiz their students early to uncover students’ awareness of context and significance in relation to the material being covered. When teachers follow this assessment with an explanation of how students will learn to distinguish between the important and unimportant details of problems as well as the reasons that transferring skills between contexts are relevant to success in the discipline, students are primed to learn and to practice more effectively.

And, practice is what experts do, Willingham reminds his readers. Whether it is 10 years or 10,000 hours (according to Malcolm Gladwell), the time spent practicing a discipline is essential to mastery of that discipline. Our expectations of what students can learn in an academic term need to be realistic: we don’t have 10 years to offer in four and half months. We have 15 weeks to make a dent in what we hope will be a lifetime of learning. Can we then give ourselves and our students a bit more patience and perhaps more modeling of our own acquisition of knowledge?

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Practice Makes for Mental Presence: Lehman’s New Faculty Seminars

Tuesday mornings are great morning at Lehman for new faculty: the chance to get together over coffee, cookies, and shared experiences has been further enlivened by our discussions of cognitive science approaches to teaching and learning. Although our group changes each week based on committee and research demands, each week we engage each other in energetic debates and laughter and come away refreshed and inspired.

This past week we circled back to review the first four of Dan Willingham’s principles. We made individual choices of the two principles that spoke most strongly to us and explained our selections and questions. Anne Marie Marshall, Assistant Professor in the Childhood Graduate Program, described her efforts to teach math educators to stimulate rather than stifle elementary school students’ interest in learning and applying mathematics as a corollary of the first principle that “People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.” Mariana Schmalstig, Faculty Development Assistant, spoke about the second principle (“factual knowledge must precede skill”) and her interest in the differences between procedural, factual, and conceptual knowledge.

Our conversation slid nicely from working effectively with abstract concepts and practical application into considering Willingham’s fifth principle: “It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended practice.” We split into two teams for a forced debate over this principle (Are there mental tasks that require little practice for proficiency? How does extended practice affect working memory?).  Some tasks, we agreed, that translate into simple physical acts that can be automated, ask for much less practice than others that require complex coordination of concepts and actions.

Willingham argues that extended practice of mental tasks not only increases proficiency but also assists in the transfer of deep knowledge (covered in chapter 4’s discussion of learning abstract concepts), the enhancement of working memory (from chapters 1 and 2 about the nature and capacity of working memory), and in long-term retention. He cites longitudinal studies of people who have studied algebra: most participants lost most of their knowledge after several years had passed; however, those participants who had studied mathematics for several courses beyond algebra retained more of their algebraic knowledge because they had practiced their skills for a greater length of time.

Effective extended practice is not merely rote repetition, we discovered. What makes mental task practice work is a combination of automation (Willingham says “automization”), pacing, and integration with higher and lower level skills. When we automate our mental tasks, we make more room in working memory for problem-solving and new information. Pacing out our practice helps us to retain more long-term (students who cram for tests may have short-term success, but students who study day by day show more consistent progress). And of course, keeping skills relevant and fresh by including review as part of solving new and difficult problems reinforces the importance of learning the tasks as foundational knowledge.

Our discussion led us to an hour of sharing teaching challenges from two new faculty. Jennifer Poggiali, Assistant Professor of Library Science, described the research methods workshops she leads for multiple classes each term. She asked the group for feedback on how to keep the students’ interest and how to balance demonstration with practice. Once again, taking ten minutes to ask clarifying and probing questions helped us to understand her challenges and to offer feedback that ranged from preparatory exercises to small group activities within the workshop.

Glen Johnson, our new biostatistician and Associate Professor of Health Sciences, described his current challenge of teaching courses that include students at different levels of preparation and life experience. Our questions led us to suggest incorporating extra resources on Blackboard, conferencing early in the term with students, and setting up study groups during the first week of class. For both Poggiali and Johnson, our advice centered on “teach the way you want to teach, and let your instincts guide you towards what you need to change.”

Willingham’s book has clearly sparked deep thinking and connections for our group: we are looking forward to a mid-term review this next week and to more lively discussions!

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The Stickiness of Thought: Lehman’s New Faculty Seminars

“Why Is It So Hard for Students to Understand Abstract Ideas?”: this was both a chapter title and discussion question in our new faculty seminar this past week. A related question might be how much we distinguish the abstract from the concrete in our teaching and assessment.

Willingham’s principle states that “We understand new things in the context of things we already know, and most of what we know is concrete.” This seems simple enough: Willingham argues that knowledge is sticky, and without stickiness, memory and thinking aren’t measurably effective. However, how do we know that our knowledge is mostly concrete? Are we walking repositories of things rather than ideas?

In our seminar, we approached this principle through revisiting our activities related to the previous chapters and principles. We began by sketching a logic model on the whiteboard and filling in our goals, resources, activities, and assessments for a specific class each of us is teaching this term. As we constructed our models, examples of the principles of creating effective cognitive conditions, establishing factual bases of knowledge, and paying attention to getting and keeping attention (keeping in mind that “memory is the residue of thought”) appeared.

Long-term goals included the students experiencing “awe at what they had learned” over the course of the semester and the desire to continue to improve their skills. Short-term goals had been nearly achieved of having students familiar with course expectations and turning work in complete and on time. We expanded resource sections as we discussed the tools and experiences ready to hand/mind both in and out of the classroom. Some great teaching strategies emerged in this conversation as our biostatistics expert described planning field trips for undergraduate students next fall and our Spanish languages and literature specialist explained her approach to mid-term student evaluations that help her better understand her students’ perceptions of the class and what they are learning.

Each of these activities brings together concrete experience and abstract thought for the students as well as for the faculty member. We spent some time discussing the faculty members’ goals for themselves at early, intermediate, and long-term phases of teaching a course; this inversion of focus offered a chance for self-reflection and immediate peer feedback (and validation).

Because several faculty members are balancing time commitments that take them away from regular seminar attendance, we spend time each week reviewing prior activities (and thus moving into Willingham’s fifth principle regarding the importance of practice). This week we read and talked about the weekly blogs in connection with the earlier principles and then moved into a summary of Willingham’s thoughts on learning abstract ideas. This also helps us to apply the principles when we discuss teaching challenges.

Abstract thought, we agreed, does come more easily when we have applications and context for connection. The “shallow knowledge” Willingham describes is what I refer to as “surface and basement knowledge”: facts and networks of tangible information that frame the “deep knowledge” that is generalizable and applicable through transfer to a variety of situations that may seem dissimilar when first encountered. We teach abstract concepts in order to promote the transfer of knowledge (both content and skills) from one problem/context to another: knowing that we need to be more transparent about the transfer we expect to take place is an important part of teaching the depth and texture as well as the shape and color, so to speak, of our disciplines. Sticky thoughts and practices need help if they are to become adhesive.

Next week, we’ll be thinking about the importance of repetitive practice in learning and retaining new material. A lively debate and a few memory tests are on the agenda!

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Multiplying Factors into Functionality: Lehman’s Second Year Faculty Workshops

This week’s second year faculty seminar focused on “Multiplying Factors into Functionality: Diversity, Multiculturalism, and Teaching at Lehman.” We met twice during the week to accommodate different teaching schedules with the benefit of two distinct yet overlapping conversations about what it means to teach from and to diverse and multicultural identities.

The Lehman Teaching and Learning Commons library <http://www.librarything.com/catalog/Lehman.Commons> now hosts a number of books on diversity, multiculturalism, and higher education. We took these as our starting point (we brought the books and leafed through while talking) and lifted out a few provocative models for discussion. Daryl G. Smith’s identity model and the Howard-Hamilton and Hinton Behavioral Model of Cultural Competence stimulated questions of managing multiple identities and awarenesses while also managing multiple levels of critical thinking development between students and ourselves.

Here is a not-so-brief list of key points from each workshop:

  • There are many campus resources for faculty who work with students with diversity needs such as disabilities, and faculty can and should reach out for guidance early and often. Expertise is available: making good use of campus resources leaves us more time and energy for teaching.
  • Balancing sensitivity to students with high needs and standards for academic/classroom expectations can be an ongoing struggle. Again, reaching out for assistance and advice is recommended: there are offices and programs across CUNY who can provide support and perspective. It’s also a good idea to talk with colleagues, who may have insights to share.
  • In observing students’ “cultural competence,” it’s clear that some students have strong senses of their own identities and are at the same time resistant to awareness of/making space for others: thinking of the ways in which this resistance might also manifest in coursework may suggest strategies for bringing together expectations for increased content and skill learning as well as for increased “awareness”, “understanding”, and “appreciation” (these are keywords from the Howard-Hamilton and Hinton model).
  • We suggested adding free or focused writing exercises to defuse tension during arguments that seem unproductive for the class and for focusing attention/releasing energy before discussions.
  • Both Jennifer Johnson-Onyedum and Orlando Alonso shared recent success stories: each faculty member held mini-conferences with their students after the first four weeks of class. These conferences are increasing in-class participation and cooperation and helping students and faculty raise their awareness, understanding, and appreciation of each other.
  • We generally agreed that faculty identities can support teaching despite the range of differences among faculty: life experience, education, and demographic locations can have positive effects on students’ own identities and learning (allowing for points of difference and commonality).
  • It was also clear that faculty with culturally different educational experiences can face challenges in communicating expectations to students in public education in the U.S. and yet can use their experiences to enrich learning and discussions.
  • Finally, Doug Adams’ timeless advice, “Don’t Panic!” reminded us that cultural competence and appropriate engagement with diversity in and out of the classroom is ongoing as a learning experience and will therefore be filled with mistakes, gaffes, and embarrassment: we can certainly learn to apologize, find and maintain humility, and challenge ourselves to keep learning.

Handouts and a book list are posted in the Files section of the Lehman Faculty Professional Development and the Lehman Teaching & Learning Commons groups on the CUNY Academic Commons.

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Knowledge before Application, Attention before Retention: Lehman’s New Faculty Seminars

The fifth week of the spring term is chance to rediscover our footing after two Mondays of no classes and regular course schedules disrupted to provide students sufficient class time. It’s a time when we realize our uneasiness about certain classroom behaviors and homework/test responses may be patterns rather than exceptions. And yet, it’s too late to redesign the course and too early to be sure that we are or aren’t getting it right.

We brought this sense of imbalance, hope, and anxiety to this week’s new faculty seminar. It was a great time to begin sharing our teaching challenges and to examine Dan Willingham’s second and third principles: “factual knowledge must precede skill” and “memory is the residue of thought.” In other words, we need to know and be comfortable with basic facts and contexts before we can solve problems that arise from that base knowledge, AND we tend to remember those things that grab and keep our attention, willingly or unwillingly.

This week we did some on-the-spot peer teaching and learning. Faculty members split into two teams and spent 20 minutes reviewing one of our two assigned chapters. Each team then took 20 minutes to help the other team learn the key concepts and applications in their chapter. Cross-partnering community education with early and childhood education disciplinarians and languages and literature with bio-statistics specialists created stimulating conversations in both the planning and the presentations!

Anne-Marie Marshall and Emma Tsui asked us to consider the Albert Einstein statement that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” Our statistician argued in favor of this statement, emphasizing the need for experimentation that lies at the heart of science; our resident philosopher asked why one should be more privileged than the other and pointed out that knowledge is not as stable as the quote might seem to suggest.

We looked more closely at Willingham’s discussion of background knowledge and its importance for reading comprehension, reasoning, and increased memory. Glen Johnson suggested that the importance of knowing relevant vocabulary before reading within a discipline lies in the understanding that “labels open up channels of thought about information,” and he offered the example of identifying the label “sugar maple” as the name for a tree that can be tapped for syrup and has a remarkable longevity.

Following our background knowledge discussion, Beatriz Lado and Glen Johnson helped us to reflect on the selectiveness of our memories. What determines what we remember? Willingham explains that memory tends to be based on strong reactions or responses (interest and attention), repetition (music, words, and graphics, for example, in our immediate environments that persist), and meaning (we connect an idea or experience with something that matters to us). “Memory is the residue of thought” might be interpreted as “memory is what remains of what occupied our attention.”

After this quick and fascinating introduction to chapters 2 and 3 of the Willingham text, we were ready to begin sharing our teaching challenges. Each week we are planning to share a current challenge with our peers. We post a summary of the challenges and discussion on our Google Site so that we can continue providing feedback and updates for the group.

Our first challenge involved how to address student questions that came from varying levels of preparation and that had a tendency to take over class time. We spent 10 minutes asking the faculty member clarifying questions to refine our understanding of her specific concerns. The questions helped the faculty member realize which classroom issues she wanted to address in the class (time management, appropriateness of student questions, and interactions between discipline-savvy students with students possessing more professional and life experience) and which issues she felt would be better managed during office hours with specific students to provide referrals and mentoring as needed.

Next week, we explore a new teaching challenge and a discussion of the importance of context for learning. With faculty members trying to balance seminar attendance, committee meetings, and class schedules, we are managing to form a small and energetic community of teachers learning why we “don’t like school” and how we can learn to love it.

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Memory Takes Work: Lehman’s New Faculty Seminars

Discoveries in our first three weeks of the new faculty seminar:

1. Faculty members are no more likely to do the assigned reading than are students.

2. Faculty members don’t take seminar notes unless they’re asked and reminded. 

3. Faculty members have difficulty recalling the content and activities of the previous week’s seminar if they haven’t taken notes or done the reading. 

Conclusion: Learning requires more than physical presence, and working memory becomes long-term memory if and only if practice, reinforcement, and repetition (yes, built-in redundancies) are involved. 

Given the above, how are we managing to learn about cognitive science based pedagogies, and why are faculty members returning and participating in the seminar? Following Clark Aldrich’s advice, and implementing Dan Willingham’s principles, we are varying our approaches within the seminar and giving faculty the opportunity to test these approaches on themselves.

Our strategies this past week included in-seminar reading (enough to pique interest and gain some of the key ideas of the chapter), on-the-spot partnered outlines of the reading, and board work to demonstrate our learning to each other (peer teaching works with faculty!).

Then we added a game to test Willingham’s arguments and followed up with the challenge of 10 minute readings followed by 5 minute presentations. We practiced, repeated, clarified, questioned, and then tested our recall of the material by comparing the activities with the chapter’s advice for teachers.

According to Willingham, thinking is extra work: humans problem-solve either instinctively (the familiar that needs little effort) or consciously (the unfamiliar that needs more effort). Willingham seems to equate thinking with problem-solving and suggests that humans are naturally curious; we like to solve problems, and we like to solve solvable problems that match the reward of solving to the efforts made towards solution.

How do we solve problems? Through taking in new facts and processes and integrating those with already known facts and processes to familiarize the unfamiliar. Working memory is work: memory at work is memory in formation through engagement and processing of new information. Long-term memory is more static and consists of what has been learned, practiced, and trusted to be true or stable in reference to a set of known situations. 

We tested our working and long-term memories with a few rounds of the SET game, a card game that teaches set theory by asking players to identify sets based on shape, number, color, and pattern. The number of attributes that players must keep in working memory to play the game slightly exceeds the number of attributes that are easy for most people to retain. These attributes require long-term memory of the basic information for identifying shapes, colors, numbers, patterns, and card-playing norms. 

Our discussion of working and long-term memory led us to a jigsaw-inspired round of presentations that faculty members offered for the strategies provided in the chapter. Anne Marie Marshall reminded us that Vygotsky’s Zone of Development is similar to Willingham’s social and constructivist advice. David Claman gave examples of recent long-term activities in his classes that seemed to challenge the guidelines to vary the pace of a class in order to support working memory. 

Throughout our time together, faculty members inhabited two roles, those of student and teacher. Emphasizing the critical thinking skills and experiences of the faculty as experts and appealing to the energy raised by curiosity, problem-solving, and competition that a part of student learning created a dynamic session that “walked the walk.” 

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