Today’s Psyc 208 class was, by far, the most successful review session I’ve ever held. For the past two years I’ve tried to hold review sessions in this course. Each year, most people get up and leave. I have to admit that one way I’ve interpreted this behavioural feedback is students’ lack of willingness to participate and engage. This year, inspired by an Observer article by Gurung & Bond (2011), I decided to give the review session one more shot. And it was fantastic!
Here’s what I did differently: I forced myself to re-evaluate what I was asking the students to do, in terms of real usefulness, specificity of directions, and pacing to maintain engagement. Instead of something like “choose to make a concept map or elaborate on a learning objective” for an indeterminate amount of time, I planned a series of four specific “learning opportunities” which I timed and moved students through quickly. I made sure they were able to be completed by people who hadn’t studied yet as well as those who had, and I emailed everyone yesterday to ask them to bring their texts and notes if possible.
Now for a brief overview of the “learning opportunities.” Students (N=105; 77 present today) are already divided into teams in this course, which at this point in the term made natural groupings. #1 “Mapping the Territory” involved picking one broad topic/unit from a list I’d prepared and working with 2-4 others to develop a map of definitions, related concepts and studies, ways to apply the concepts, and so on. #2 “Pass your questions” invited everyone to write a question – or even just a key term – at the top of a blank page, and then pass it to the left. The next 2-3 minutes involved writing down whatever they could recall/find to address their neighbour’s question. We did this “passing” three times before returning the sheet back to its original owner. #3 “Application Challenge!” divided the teams into 2 subteams. Pick a topic/concept/theory to challenge the other subteam. Switch papers, and write a thorough scenario that accurately applies the topic/concept/theory. Then switch back and evaluate how well the other team did at generating an application. #4 “Study Plan” involved setting out the specifics of their studying between now and the test on Thursday, including what/when/where/how/with whom.
During this 80 minute period, students got about 15 minutes for each of the four learning opportunities, although the earlier ones spilled over that and the last one was reduced to about 6 minutes (which was all it really needed). I milled about, answering specific questions about the content as they arose, handing out paper, timekeeping and generally being impressed by the strong efforts my students were putting forth.
What I think worked really well about this process was that it moved everyone along, keeping the energy up. Students knew there were four learning opportunities coming, and I stated up front that they were going to be different, so if one wasn’t working for them I asked them to play along and hope the next one spoke to them. All but two people stayed the whole period (a new record!), and the vast majority of spirited conversations I overheard were spot on task.
I asked for feedback at the end. Although I haven’t formally entered it yet, I have quickly read it all. On a 1-5 scale (1 being “not useful for helping me learn” and 5 being “very useful for helping me learn”), the vast majority of responses were 4s and 5s, with only a few 3s and nothing below that. People reported enjoying the activities, feeling more motivated to study now, being able to better tell what they know and what they don’t (yay for metacognition!), and feeling like they covered a lot of ground (although not much in depth). Some spontaneously reported that they’d use some of these techniques when studying, and all activities were nominated by some students as their favourite. The one consistent recommendation for next year that came through was adding more of a warning. Some students reported wishing they’d prepared more ahead of time so they could get more out of this session.
Thanks to all my students who participated today! You have inspired me to keep on taking risks to build increasingly meaningful learning opportunities!