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em Planejamento Acadêmico
As teachers, we want our students to understand and master the knowledge in our subject and be able to apply it appropriately. We do not wish to see students regurgitating without understanding. This section deals with helping students learn more efficiently and achieve deeper understanding.
The ways in which students learn and the level of understanding eventually attained is affected by factors associated with the learning context. More specifically, these factors include the course design, teaching methods and assessment methods. The following is a list of characteristics of a learning context which would encourage deep learning and help students to achieve a good level of understanding.
Appropriate course design, teaching methods and assessment can foster deep learning and understanding.
Some useful guidelines
Use cognitive terminologies to let students know what you expect Some students may not know what to do in order to achieve sound understanding, and it is helpful to state this clearly to guide students in their learning tasks. For example:
- identify the characteristics of...
- compare and note the difference...
- relate X to Y...
- distinguish the evidence and the argument..., etc.
Avoid overloading the students
Teaching students more is not necessarily equivalent to students learning more. Students need time to grasp the deeper implications and perspectives of subject matter. Overloading in terms of course materials or formal class contact will force students to take the short cut of 'memorising'.
Spend more time on the basic principles and concepts
It is more important to make sure that students achieve a good understanding of the basic principles and concepts than to 'cover' everything in the syllabus. This means you will have to go more slowly through these more important aspects, allowing students time to think. It is likely you will have to sacrifice some other parts of the course materials. Check whether all of the material is really necessary to be 'taught' in class. You will find that a lot of factual materials could be read by the students themselves, or could even be left out completely.
Stress the meaning of the subject matter
'Why' is the magic word for encouraging understanding, whereas 'What' is more likely to lead to overloading and memorising. Ask yourself the 'Why' questions when you are preparing for your teaching. This will help you organise your materials around understanding of meaning rather than just ensuring coverage. Ask students a lot of 'Why' questions during your teaching to stimulate them to think about the meaning.
Stress the relevance of the subject matter
In your teaching, highlight the importance of the materials to your students, to their future profession, or to the later parts of the course. This will help to stimulate an intrinsic interest by the students. If you cannot convince yourself of the relevance of a topic, remove it from the syllabus!
Help students to build a holistic view of the subject matter
Fragmentation is a big hindrance to understanding, and unfortunately is a frequent pitfall of curricula structured on a 'topics' approach. If possible, try to organise course materials on a thematic approach. If this is not possible, be sure to relate new knowledge to previous knowledge, relate knowledge from different courses, and relate theoretical ideas to real life examples. Ensure that students build up a structural framework for the individual pieces of information to hang together.
Involve students in learning activities
Didactic, one-way transmission may be seen as the most efficient way to cover the curriculum. However, listening and copying definitely are not the most effective ways to achieve understanding. Students have to be actively involved in thinking and doing during the teaching process. Give students questions to think about and work out throughout your teaching.
Provide opportunities for interaction and collaborative learning
Through activities such as arguing, explaining their own ideas, and evaluating others' opinions, students manipulate ideas and crystallize understanding in a much more sophisticated manner than when they listen and passively receive. Try to build in more opportunities for student group work and discussions in tutorials. You can even organise small group discussion in lectures just tell students to turn around and form groups with those sitting next to them.
Give learning tasks and assessments which foster active and long-term engagement
Exercises or assessment questions which ask for recall (e.g. definitions, reproduction of lengthy proofs) or application of trivial procedural knowledge (e.g. substitution of figures into formulae) are not much help in promoting understanding. On the contrary, they will suggest to students that memorising is the sure way to pass in the subject. In order to promote deep learning and understanding, open-ended problems, project type learning tasks and assessment are preferred to terminal examination. Qualitative problems which require discussion of concepts are more useful than quantitative problems which can be solved by 'plugging' figures into formulae. Learning tasks which involve group interaction for a long period are superior to small, individual-based exercises.
See also the section on ''Feedback''.
Cultivate a positive, intrinsic motivational climate
We have to be careful in choosing methods to motivate our students. Quizzes and tests may work to make students study, but anxiety about tests and exams encourage surface memorisation: students simply memorise materials to 'survive' the tests. On the other hand, high level understanding is found to be associated with positive, intrinsic motivation. Students are likely to be intrinsically motivated when they see the relevance of the materials and when they are actively involved. In fact, the methods suggested in the previous points all help to develop an intrinsic motivational climate. Last but not least, the lecturer's personal enthusiasm about the subject has a great impact on the motivational climate.
See also the section on ''Motivating Learners''.
Gibbs, G. (1992), Improving the quality of student learning, Bristol, Technical and Educational Services Ltd.
Newble, D. & Cannon, R. (1989), A handbook for teachers in universities & colleges: a guide to improving teaching methods, London, Kogan Page, Chapter 8.