The Fight Against Forgetting Part 2: Perfect Practice (Back2Basics)
“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” – Vince Lombardi
We all want our students to learn and grow and we, as instructors, need to make sure we are doing the best we can to improve our students’ memories to fight against forgetting.
Thus, last Faculty Friday we started to highlight some “Back to Basics” instructional strategies – borne out by the research – that you, as faculty, might find useful to improve the efficacy of instruction. Our source is Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning, a 2007 practice guide from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).
Click here to read last week’s overview , summary of recommendation one, and AP’s suggestions for practice.
Below is Recommendation 2 directly from the guide.
Recommendation 2: Interleave Worked Example Solutions and Problem-Solving Exercises
“Have students alternate between reading already worked solutions and trying to solve problems on their own.
Evidence Level: Moderate
When teaching mathematical or science problem solving, we recommend that instructors interleave worked example solutions and problem-solving exercises—literally alternating between worked examples demonstrating one possible solution path and problems that the student is asked to solve for himself or herself—because research has shown that this interleaving markedly enhances student learning (p. 9).”
You may already use many problem-solving activities in your online courses for skill development and learning, but it is important for us to remember to put on our coaching hats while we are teaching. Problem-solving skills, be it solving math and science problems or creating persuasive writing assignments, get stronger the more we practice, but this assumes we are practicing skills the correct way. As the research suggests, we learn best by perfect practice, or, learning to see how the experts do it, understanding their decision-making, and modeling our responses after them.
In the college environment, you might invest in designing worked examples around the most important or hard-to-understand processes or procedures. Show all the steps in the worked example, and, for each, explain how and why you made a certain choice. If you think like an expert, making your decision-making explicit will help your students (or novices) think more an expert. This support guides your students to perfect practice – perfect not because it will be error-free, but because it will more efficiently help them acquire the cognitive strategies they will need to solve problems independently. You can alternate worked examples and problems, and as your students develop greater expertise, increase the number of problems they solve on their own, more able to deploy “expert” thinking to new situations.
Next week, we will discuss the third recommendation — Combine Graphics with Verbal Descriptions – and see what the research suggests is best practice. Join us on August 28.
Note: The Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning guide was intended primarily for educators in grades 3-12, but the authors believe their findings are generally extensible to higher education.