Assurance Process John S. Peters, Ph.D.,
College of Charleston, Department of Biology
relatively few students come to class having read (or
put much effort into) an assigned reading? It is common to think
that the reason for this is because students are just lazy or
unengaged. But perhaps our teaching methods are sending a
unintended message to students about the importance of coming prepared
to class. Ask yourself...what message do we send to students when
we ask them to read something in preparation for a class, and then
proceed to lecture about that which they were asked to read? I
suspect that for the student, the message is clear..."Why should I
read, if you are going to tell me what I need to know?" Moreover,
our work in fostering PBL and collaborative learning in the classroom
found that students on predominately lecture-based and content-driven
courses tend to discover reading the textbook as a useful tool to help
learning only after they realize that they failed to learn from the
lecture in class. For many students, learning however tended to
be memorizing information for a test, which they recognized would
quickly be forgotten (Peters and Fifield, in review).
Another common conception held by
faculty is that using class time to do interactive and collaborative
learning will simply not allow you to "cover" all of the essential
course concepts. This view is stated succinctly in the quote
below from a college science instructor....
simply the one which permits the greatest
amount of information to be disseminated in the limited time.
to say that classroom activities other than lecture aren’t useful, they
However, they always result in a reduction in information
above are connected by one fundamental and
traditional view of teaching that is common in college science - covering a concept is lecturing about it.
holds that as long as the instructor
gives “good” lectures, tells a compelling “story”,
covers and clearly organizes the material), and students are paying
and self-motivated, meaningful learning should happen. Under this
motivation, engagement, and independent and self-directed learning are
preconditions of learning, rather than that which must be fostered
throughout learning. So when students fail to learn and appear
unmotivated and unengaged, it is the result of a conscious choice made
by the student. Moreover, lecture is simply the best way to help
students learn given the time constraints of college courses.
How can we incorporate active and
collaborative learning activites in the classroom, and still help
students deeply learn the essential concepts of the course?
first in reconceptualizing our roles as
college science teachers. This reconceptualization asks that we
begin to think of ourselves as facilitators of learning rather than as
disseminators of knowledge. Under this view, motivation,
engagement, the social contexts of learning and knowledge
construction (observation, questioning, exploring prior conceptions,
and elaborating on knowledge, refining conceptions, collaborating) are
inextricably bound to learning. Rather
than being prerequisite skills that students must bring to the
learning can happen, they are the very substance of learning.
role of the teacher is to design a learning environment that fosters
and relationships in the classroom. This is best done by
employing pedagogies which promote
self-directed, independent and collaborative discovery, and elaboration
evaluation of knowledge.
encourage students to come prepared, having read the
appropriate material for an active learning class.
provide meaningful and formative learning feedback to both
the student and the instructor as to what conceptions students
developed from the reading/research.
encourage students to actively discuss and make meaning of
to inform the instructor about what inadequate conceptions
students developed from the reading
tailor or target the class strategies (perhaps a lecture) to
that which the students clearly failed to learn.
In my own experience, this
form of "targeted" teaching, centered around the conceptions that
students are making during out-of-class reading frees up ample time to
use active/inquiry-based (i.e. PBL) in the classroom.
How does the
Readiness Assurance Process work in a PBL class?
RAPs (or RATs) are 4-5 question
multiple choice quizzes over fundamental concepts from the reading and
their application to the PBL problem. They typically are
not "memorization" question, but rather examine students' ability to
understand, synthesize, apply or evaluate knowledge/concepts from the
reading. Good RAT questions will encourage a dialog
among students which asks them to examine their understanding and
justify their question choice using concepts explored in the
reading. Here is how RATS are given in my class:
RATs are given at the start of
Each person take the RAT
individually. They circle their answers on the actual quiz.
Another option is to give the individually-taken RAT as a "clicker"
quiz. This works well in large classes, and minimizes grading
time. Students have about 5 minutes to complete the RAT.
When everyone on a given
team has completed the
RAT, the team leader for the day returns everyone’s quiz to the
instructor and to picks up a blank
RAT quiz and the team's scratch off answer sheet.
Scratch off answer sheets are available through http://www.epsteineducation.com
. Students then have 3-5 minutes to re-take the RAT in their
Students are directed to
discuss their individual choice within their teammates, and explain
reasoning. Encourage students to try and persuade and argue for
their position. DISCOURAGE students from simply choosing the
majority vote on
Teams are awarded 2 points if
get the question correct on the first scratch, 1 point on the second
Challenges – If a team gets a
question wrong, but they legitimately
feel that their choice is correct, they may submit a challenge to that
question. Challenges must be written on
the back of the quiz and they must explain/justify why their choice was
an equally good or better response then the one indicated as correct on
the answer sheet.
This process of allowing teams a second chance to respond to a
question, and to challenge a question encourages teams to discuss
concepts (even after missing a question), and work towards forming a
more accurate understanding. Challenges are always
discussed with the whole class at the end of the RAT.
Teams return the scratch
off answer sheet to the instructor at the end of the quiz. The
instructor then can quickly look over the answer sheets and get a clear
sense of what concepts students missed from the reading, what they were
thinking (from initial responses on missed questions and challenges),
and can then direct the methods used in the rest of the class towards
those concepts that students had difficulties understanding.