Cumberland Times-News

August 24, 2013

Textbooks also vital source for learning

Bob Doyle, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— One of the key ways to learn is by reading a text or manual.

But when one starts to teach a class (whether it be middle school, high school or intro college classes), most students assume that the teacher will tell them orally all the essential ideas, facts, methods, etc. needed to score well on the tests and quizzes.

This is not what teachers hope for, but it is the reality for most classes. There may be a few well motivated students who will spend adequate time working through the test study guides and sample tests.

I had a Cumberland student in my summer physics classes, who would show me her answers to the supplemental work that I put on the Web for my class.

So how can teachers get most students in their classes to make a significant effort to learn from the text in addition to studying class notes? I have concluded there is no simple way. But there is a way, requiring a considerable effort on the part of a teacher.

Here is my approach. Take each test and divide it in half. The first half will be done by two students (a partnered test). The second half will be done by the individual student.

To entice (not force) students to work through the text, I put out an elaborate set of study questions for each chapter on the Web. Then I tell the students at the start of the class that they can answer these study questions on loose leaf paper and put these materials in a folder that they can use in their partnered test. (No other aids permitted.)

To ensure that the student’s work is their own, I require that the folder material be hand printed or written neatly in cursive handwriting, no typed work allowed.

At the start of the individual test, I collect the folders from those students who have worked through my study questions for the chapters covered on the test. The materials in the folders will be graded on a scale of up to 20 points, which will be added to a student’s points.

In my classes, I give from three to four class tests. So a hard working student who does folders with all the study question answers for each test may gain from 60 to 80 points (out of a total of 1,000 points). This is clear reward (and incentive) for students who learn from the text book chapters.

The students who don’t want to turn in a folder, relying on course notes only, may realize that some of their classmates have an edge in gathering points. They may start doing a folder for the second or subsequent tests. Incidentally, I don’t allow the use of folders on any cumulative final exam.

In this approach, I spend about three times as much time grading test related material; first the partnered tests, second the folder material and lastly the individual test.

I don’t use machine graded tests. I hand grade my tests so I can print my corrections. The students receive back their tests to keep. The serious students will also spend more time on the course.

I compose the study questions for each chapter. These questions cover the main concepts of each chapter and include some thought questions, where understanding and analysis is required.

When I write the test items, I refer to the study questions and compose items that are somewhat related. In this way, a student who really understood the text chapters would be able to answer the test items more easily.

I invite any readers, whether student, teachers or learners to comment or critique my approach. There are likely other approaches that encourage most students to carefully read and learn from a textbook.

Or course, the text must be carefully selected so it is understandable to students with adequate reading skills. My email is rdoyle@frostburg.edu .

SKY EVENTS AHEAD: The moon is best seen in the a.m. hours (tonight it rises about 10:30 p.m.) and can be easily seen in the early daylight hours.

On Aug. 21, the moon will appear half full in the southern dawn sky. With the absence of the moon from the early evening hours, this week will be an ideal time to spot the Milky Way from a dark sky area.

Drive away from streetlights and brightly illuminated stores. Once in a dark area, let your eyes become dark adapted so the rods in your retina become more sensitive and your pupils dilate or expand to let in the most light.

This can take more than a few minutes. I go out to a local cemetery and just sit in my car seat listening to the radio for a while.

The Milky Way runs across the sky from the northeastern horizon through nearly the top of the sky and then down to the southern horizon. This glow is caused by the combined light of innumerable distant stars and gas clouds.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.