Dr. Maryellen Weimer, a Penn State emeritus Professor of Teaching and
Learning, has a dossier on the scholarship of teaching and learning.
She opened our session by sharing her experiences with a nightmare of a
class, showing that even master teachers can have those experiences.
She remembers having a sense of wanting to teach differently - not
quite as driven by content, but not sure what she wanted to do.
Starting with the use of different techniques, it just grew from there.
It was a process of reflection and analysis.
The nineteen faculty in attendance had participated in a
book discussion on Weimer's book, Learner-Centered
, prior to her visit, and easily made connections to the five areas
1. The Role of the Teacher:
The term "paradigm
shift" seems overused, and Maryellen prefers to use it as a significant
reorientation. To illustrate, she shared a metaphor of her "beater"
that has a shift on the column and requires a full range of motion to
gears. When she shifts that truck into gear, something significant
unlike the smooth, almost unnoticeable change in an automatic. Changing
her role as a teacher was like shifting gears in that farm truck,
thinking about what students are doing was tough for her to do. Do you
care how much and how well your students learn? Try
some new techniques and see how it improves student learning.
It's hard for us to let students play ball with the content
in the classroom. Why is that? She
agrees that they don't play ball very well at first - it's messy. We
need to provide scaffolding. Provide them with one example and allow
students to provide the additional examples. She suggested something
similar to speed dating to familiarize students with the syllabus. Each
student could ask one personal question and one syllabus question.
2. The Balance of Power:
Taking away student
control impacts their motivation. There are ethically responsible ways
to give students some control, and the intellectual maturity of
students has to be a consideration. Let them make choices within
constraints: assignments with due dates, must get 50% of points on an
assignment or they get zero points. She suggested incremental changes.
Try to create conditions conducive to learning. She found that her
methods really helped the "B" and "C" students, but she still had
students fail. How do we instill the love of learning in our students
and have them see learning as an ongoing part of their career?
3. The Function of Content:
For this section,
she was not talking about teaching content, but rather using content.
How much content is enough? There are two variables: how fast
information has exploded, and how technology has changed access to
information. Students need to be able to evaluate information. Students
can learn from and with each other. There is a lot of research on this.
As we become experts, it becomes more difficult to remember being a
beginning learner. She suggested using instructional
strategies that marry covering and using content. For instance, during
the last five minutes of class involve students in summarizing. Simply
providing students with a summary results in the notes of the professor
becoming the notes of the students and don't pass through the minds of
either. Students notes are full of answers but they don't know what
questions they answer. Have them frame questions.
4. The Responsibility for Learning:
example shared here was on group exams. She creates the groups with
mixed abilities. All take the quiz individually and hand it in. Then
the group takes the quiz together. If a student scores 50% or lower,
that student is out of the group grading and bonus point possibility.
However, they still participate in the group exam since she doesn't
know at that point who has scored below 50%. When she hands back the
group exam, she circles group questions answered correctly by at least
one group member but answered incorrectly by the group. They have a
debriefing. She calculates the average of individual quiz scores for
all five students in the group (exception is any student who scored
below 50%), and compares those scores to the group score. The
difference is the bonus. She allows students to have a crib sheet for
the exam, but they must hand it in with the exam.
Have students reckon with decisions they've made about their
learning, realizing that some are not very good decisions. For example,
students who don't do the reading wait to see what happens to them. If
their professor tells them what was in the reading, they don't need to
read. So how do we get them to read? A quiz doesn't teach them the
value of reading. It's about discovery. To get them to bring their book
to class, this is what she does: "Turn to page 24 in your book, look at
the second paragraph. See, I have this sentence highlighted. Do you
have that sentence highlighted?" She uses the book in class, shows its
She had students from last semester visit her class during the
third week of the semester. She left class and let students ask
5. The Processes and Purposes of Evaluation:
Let students set the participation policy and grade their own
participation. They each set a goal and provide a self-evaluation.
Their participation partner watches their participation and provides a
review. Provide feedback and have students respond to your feedback to
Have students get more involved in self-evaluation and peer review.
A final metaphor she shared was in creating a climate for
learning in the classroom, a need to know. You create a climate by
building relationships: student-to-student, and faculty-to-student. On
the board she makes two columns, one for the best class I ever took,
and one for the worst class I ever took. Under each column she provides
two more columns, one for what the professor did and one for what
students did. A class discussion helps to fill out the columns, and
then they can discuss which class they want this class to be and what
that means as far as the students' responsibilities and the professor's
She provided a list of resources on learner-centered teaching
that have been published since her book. This has been provided in the
ANGEL group used for the online book discussion, along with all of the
articles available digitally.