Improve Your Philosophy Teaching With This One Weird Trick

What if I told you there was an easy, scientifically-proven, five-minute method for improving your teaching? Just five-minutes, and your teaching ratings go up. No, I’m not talking about giving your students candy when you have them fill out the course evaluation forms. I’m talking about an actual improvement in learning outcomes, based on real science. How much would you pay to learn it? $1,000? $5,000?

Not that much?

That’s what I thought. And it’s why I’ve decided to share this one weird trick with you for free. I’m not even going to make you watch a long conspiratorial video, or listen to a tedious presentation about time-share vacation homes. Here it is:

Take five minutes in each lecture to conduct a recap of key previously-covered material in which

  1. the students have to provide the content by answering questions,
  2. the material is presented in a varied way each time, and
  3. the purpose of the recap is explained to the students.

So says Dan Lowe (University of Colorado, Boulder), in his “Remembrance of Philosophy Classes Past: Why Cognitive Science Suggests that a Brief Recap Is the Best Way to Start Each Class Day,” recently published in Teaching Philosophy (alternative link).

The recap strategy is based on recent research in cognitive science. He writes:

Folk wisdom emphasizes the idea that mastery of content or skills involves “focused, repetitive practice of one thing at a time until we’ve got it nailed.” This strategy is what cognitive scientists call massed practice. Folk wisdom recommends massed practice as the key to learning in nearly every area of study: think of teachers who suggest repeated re-reading of texts as a study technique, clusters of the same sort of problem in mathematics textbooks, and the practice-practice-practice approach of much training in sports.

However, cognitive science shows that massed practice is among the least effective techniques for long-term learning. What, instead of massed practice, does cognitive science recommend?… an authoritative synthesis of recent findings shows that practice is far more effective when it is (1) spaced out over time, (2) interleaved with other learning, and (3) retrieval-based rather than re-exposure-based.

Lowe explains these ideas in the article, with several interesting tidbits throughout (e.g., “practicing something once you’ve gotten a little rusty is far more effective in the long term than practicing while it is still fresh”). Worth checking out.

(via Kate Norlock)


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