Questions for a new term

Steve Hunsacker, Brigham Young University - Idaho

In a recent post to his blog, Grant Wiggins poses practical questions that help orient a course around the learning that matters most and to align course activities with those learning intentions. Great exercise at any time but especially helpful for anyone contemplating a new semester.

Having learned ______________[the key content], what should students come away able to do with it?

By the end of the course, what should students be better able to see and do on their own?

How should learners be affected by this course? If I am successful, how will learners have grown or changed?

If those are the skills, what is their purpose? What complex abilities – the core performances – should they enable?

Regardless if details are forgotten, in the end the students should leave seeing…able to…

Having read these books, students should be better able to…

What questions should students realize are important, and know how to address more effectively and autonomously by the end of the course?

Think about outcomes when making a syllabus

James Lang points out that the usual focus on coverage when preparing a syllabus considers the teacher ("the coverer") and the course materials ("the covered") but neglects the students. Lang recommends that when coming up with a syllabus, you should be "thinking first and foremost about what knowledge or skills students should learn in your course, and then thinking about the best ways for them to learn that knowledge or those skills." This may seem obvious, or too general, but it should guide nearly every decision you make as you put together your syllabus, and your course.  -DG

Source: James M. Lang. On Course: A Week-By-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2008. 3-4.

Use Bloom's taxonomy to set assignment objectives

David Royse points his readers to a potentially useful set of guidelines for thinking about what you want to accomplish with your assignments. He quotes from Benjamin Bloom, whose "widely heralded set of educational objectives [...] may provide you with a useful starting place to begin thinking about the assignments you require." 

"Bloom's Cognitive Taxonomy

(Arranged from concrete to abstract and simple to complex levels)

Knowledge  (remembering factual materials): Students must remember, memorize, recognize, describe, and recall. Sample verbs that would be used: define, describe, list, name, cite, recall, state, identify.

Comprehension  (grasping the meaning of materials): Students must interpret, describe, and explain knowledge. Sample verbs that would be used: discuss, explain, interpret, extrapolate, arrange, sort, classify.

Application  (problem solving):   Students must apply facts, rules, and principles to produce some result. Sample verbs that would be used: apply, illustrate, sketch, solve, demonstrate, use.

Analysis  (an understanding of the structure and components of knowledge): Students must be able to break down knowledge and show relationships among the parts. Sample verbs that would be used: analyze, appraise, categorize, contrast, criticize, distinguish, examine, differentiate, compare.

Synthesis  (creating a unique, original product; combining ideas to form a new whole): Students must bring together parts and components of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for new situations. Sample verbs that would be used: compose, create, construct, formulate, propose, plan, design, organize, prescribe.

Evaluation  (making value decisions about issues; resolving controversies): Students must make judgments about the value of materials for given purposes. Sample verbs that would be used: appraise, argue, assess, attack, compare, evaluate, predict, support, defend, recommend."  -DG

Source: David Royse. Teaching Tips for College and University Instructors: A Practical Guide. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2001. 42-43. Benjamin Bloom. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Vol. 1: Cognitive Domain. New York: McKay, 1956.