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Research & Resources

Empowering University Students to Think Deeply, Discuss Engagingly, and Write Definitively

Kenneth Newman, Ed.D., Professor of Educational Leadership, Jackson

January 1, 2007 - A typical college classroom is often pictured with the professor talking for several hours while students frantically try to write down everything that is said. Students spend time later learning this written information. This type of classroom has traditionally produced surface learning and has done little to promote learning that lasts. Can university classrooms become engaging and facilitate student learning? Do university classrooms have to be professor driven? What does a learner-centered classroom look like at the university level? Strategies for shifting students from surface learning to a deeper, more lasting learning have been identified that can be used in a university classroom.

These strategies that promote learning that lasts include strategies that support the process of thinking deeply about discipline-specific content. Thinking deeply is fostered in a classroom with discussion strategies that result in engaged dialogue. In 1956 Benjamin Bloom identified a taxonomy that described how learning occurs at different levels. His taxonomy of comprehension has been widely accepted and is easily applicable to the university classroom.

The first level of Bloom’s Taxonomy emphasizes factual information. This factual information is important in any discipline and cannot be dismissed. However, for students to be able to take this pool of knowledge and understand the intricate connections between the different components, they must also be able to make important applications. With the ability to apply this new knowledge students can also think more deeply about this newly acquired information through the processes of analysis and synthesis. As students are learning new concepts using this structure, they will be able to evaluate new information as either truth/wisdom for them or as bias and/or hyperbole.

In addition to supporting rich discussion in the classroom another process for ensuring that students are thinking deeply about the professor’s discipline is the process of writing. Traditionally, the process of writing has been used as a means of reporting what the university student has researched or memorized for a test. However, using writing as a means of learning has been identified as a powerful way of learning across different disciplines (Walvoord, 1986).

Effective strategies for shifting students from surface learning to deeper, more lasting learning using the process of writing have been used successfully in the university classroom. Specifically, the R.A.F.T. strategy (Santa & Havens, 1995) gives students an opportunity to recall, clarify, and question what they have learned as well as pursue questions they still may have. Other writing strategies that have proven effective include Reading Journals, Reflective Journals, Learning Logs, The Minute Paper, and A Ticket to Leave.

Additional writing strategies include original ones developed by the presenters. For example, “But the Important Thing Is …” compels students to think beyond the factual stage of learning. This strategy ensures that students are always considering the essential questions associated with different disciplines.

Taking time to think about different teaching styles and their impact on student learning in the university classroom can lead to a more dynamic and engaged environment for students. Reflecting on those strategies that support different styles of learning as well as different disciplines can strengthen the commitment to teach in a manner that facilitates learning rather than delays it, even in a university classroom.


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What is ISETL? International Society for Exploring Teaching and Learning

The purposes of the International Society for Exploring Teaching and learning are to encourage the study of instruction and principles of learning in order to implement practical, effective methods of teaching and learning, promote the application, development and evaluation of such methods, and foster the scholarship of teaching and learning among practicing post-secondary educators. Society members are drawn from the arts, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, nursing, business, education, and other disciplines and share a commitment to improving the quality of their teaching and the quality of their students’ learning. ISETL is organized as a nonprofit corporation in the state of Colorado.

The International Society for Exploring Teaching and Learning is an academically diverse collegium of faculty that focuses on exploring and sharing the nuances of teaching. In addition, the membership of ISETL believes that it is important to enjoy one’s vocation and the pursuit of excellent within that vocation; therefore, all ISETL functions are a well-balance combination of scholarship, friendship, and camaraderie. The ISETL held its 36 th Annual Conference October 19-21, 2006 in Palm Springs, California.

Dr. Newman and Dr. Ann Singleton presented at the ISETL 36th Annual Conference, held on October 19-21, 2006 in Palm Springs, California.

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