INTRODUCTION: In keeping with the On Course Principles that two of the qualities of successful students are personal responsibility and interdependence, I began to consider how I could help my students learn from each other instead of “enabling” them by being their source for all information. I teach a humanities course entitled Critical Thinking, and one of the major premises of critical thinking is that critical thinking is not memorization of facts; rather, it is creating knowledge structures in the brain that produce the ‘big picture’ instead of a pile of facts with no structure or connections. So how could I help my students to prepare for a test in another way besides providing a study guide or a teacher review? I decided to adapt a strategy I had previously used for an inclusion activity and use it to help students learn by teaching others.
- To develop students’ personal responsibility and interdependence
- To have students learn the value of active and collaborative learning
- Handout for each student entitled “Find someone who can…” (sample appended below)
- Students need their text and/or notes and a pen/pencil
1. Provide the handout and tell students, “This activity is a way for you to work together to learn the material for an upcoming test. Use your book or notes if necessary to clarify or assure that answers are correct.”
2. Have students form pairs. Student A asks Student B a possible test question from the handout. If Student B answers correctly, Student A has Student B sign his/her name by that question. If Student B cannot answer, s/he must look up the information and then answer the question without the aid of notes or books. Or Student B can ask another student and then go back and answer Student A. Meanwhile Student A moves on to ask and answer questions with other partners. Only one signature per student is allowed on any one sheet. I played, too.
3. When a student has all questions on his/her sheet signed, s/he sits down.
4. When all students are sitting down, ask them to reflect on these questions and explain their answers:
- Did you learn better when you worked together or when you studied alone?
- Did you find that reciting and hearing the information helped you to learn the information better?
- Did you seek information from book, notes, and each other when you had a question?
- Did you take control of learning the necessary information so that you could teach it to others when asked?
- Did you create knowledge structures in the brain so that you can make good connections, think critically AND make a good grade on the test?
5. Lastly, lead the class through the possible test questions from the handout and make sure they have the correct answers.
6. In closing, point out that the handout they have created makes a helpful study guide if they write the answers on the right side and fold the paper down the middle. They can then self-test, asking the question out loud and then turning over the paper to see if their response is correct.
My students were extremely active in seeking answers. They sought others who could help them acquire information, they looked up information in their text, and they actively listened as another student told them the answer. Some wrote answers down and were actually practicing the answers as they walked around looking for other students with whom to work. Many put the information into their own words, using explanations to clarify, and/or providing metaphors, analogies, and associations for remembering.
I heard comments like, “Oh, now I see. That just didn’t make sense when I read it in the book.” Or “Okay, now I am ready to tell you the difference between those two terms.” Or “Another student put it this way….” Or “I had never thought of it that way. I’m gonna remember that.” I don’t think anyone felt intimidated because if one student didn’t know the answer, s/he just said “Let me go look that up and get back with you.”
One example of a test question was “Explain the difference between crystalline and fluid intelligence.” I heard one student tell another that water was fluid so it moved and changed just like fluid intelligence where you think creatively and construct nonformulaic solutions to problems. He went on to say that crystals are hard and crystalline intelligence is the tendency to think by process, never changing, and to memorize facts which are just that, hard, cold facts that don’t change or grow or require much thinking. WOW!
In the later discussion of the activity, many said they had learned so much during the activity that they didn’t even feel as if they needed to study to be able to pass the test. (I reminded them that I had not provided the exact questions from the test or all of the questions from the test but just examples of possible questions and possible information that needed to be studied.)
My most rewarding moment was when I approached my ‘uninspired’ student and asked him a question. He didn’t know the answer so I moved on to another student. In a few minutes, he returned to me and said “Mrs. G, I know that answer now. Let me tell you and sign your paper.” And guess what, he did know the answer. And he did when he took the Knowledge Check (test), too!
Perhaps most revealing about the success of this activity were the students’ scores on the test. In a word, they were phenomenal. Taking advantage of eight points of extra credit, many students scored over 100%. They were able to take what they had rehearsed together and answer even short answer critical thinking questions that were not on the study guide. They also were able to use analogies and examples that enhanced their answers and clearly showed understanding. I was amazed and very pleased, as were they. They asked, “Can we do this next time?” And I responded, “Yes, but next time you will have to develop your own questions.” As a side note: I had two students who missed the review and both did poorly on the knowledge check. This suggests two things: When it comes to test taking, always attend the review session and the review session was quite beneficial.
For the students, potential life lessons were numerous. They saw first-hand the importance and usefulness of teaching each other and working together. They felt the power of studying aloud with another student, actively listening, clarifying, asking probing questions. They developed personal responsibility for their own learning, became self-motivated, felt empowered as both learners and teachers, and developed a deep belief in their own ability to think critically and remember important information.
As for me, I learned that students enjoy controlling their learning process, enjoy interacting and teaching each other. I observed that they felt a certain responsibility, not only for their own learning, but for the learning of their classmates. They provided added information and analogies and literally became teachers while they were learning.
As a variation, I have had the students create their own questions, with some prompting from me that the questions involve critical analysis and thought. The students were able to develop questions that were central to the key points, but also challenged their ability to think with more depth and breath.
HANDOUT-Find somebody who can….
__________ Define strategic thinking.
__________ Explain the difference between vertical and lateral thinking.
__________ Explain the difference between a fully and partially specified problem.
__________ List at least three characteristics of a strategic thinker.
__________ Describe the difference between fluid and crystalline intelligence.
__________ Explain the difference between fact and knowledge.
__________ Tell you about his/her individual knowledge style and what that means.
__________ Explain the difference between an algorithm and heuristics.
__________ Define a metaphor.
–Jan Graham, Faculty, Reading, Critical Thinking, and College Student Success, Mayland Community College, NC