Learner-Centered Teaching: Postsecondary Strategies That Promote "Thinking Like A Professional"

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Ume University Library]On: 13 October 2013, At: 02:23Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Theory Into PracticePublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/htip20

    Learner-Centered Teaching: Postsecondary StrategiesThat Promote "Thinking Like A Professional"J. Thompson , B. Licklider & S. JungstPublished online: 24 Jun 2010.

    To cite this article: J. Thompson , B. Licklider & S. Jungst (2003) Learner-Centered Teaching: Postsecondary Strategies ThatPromote "Thinking Like A Professional", Theory Into Practice, 42:2, 133-141, DOI: 10.1207/s15430421tip4202_7

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/s15430421tip4202_7

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    Thinking Like a ProfessionalThompson, Licklider, and Jungst

    The Learner-Centered Psychological Principles(LCPs) provide a holistic framework that integratessocial constructivist and cognitive theories, as wellas motivational and individual differences theo-ries. We have used these to better align our ownclassroom practice with the rapidly expandingknowledge about how learning occurs. In an ac-tive and collaborative learning environment, wehave used specific instructional techniques, identi-fying similarities and differences strategies, to en-hance students thinking and learning skills.Original research on the novice-expert continuumsupports the domains of the LCPs and underscoresthe importance of strategies to engage students inidentifying similarities and differences to enhancestudents abilities to think like a professional.

    A CRITICAL PURPOSE OF postsecondary educa- tion is to prepare students for their futureprofessional lives. Meeting this purpose requiressupporting students in developing deep understand-ings of their disciplines and in honing their criticalthinking abilities. Helping students think like a

    professional in the field is at the heart of learner-and learning-centered education at the college level.

    Learner- and Learning-Centered PracticesAs indicated by McCombs (this issue), sup-

    porting changes in educational practice and educa-tional systems so they operate more congruently withthe growing body of knowledge about human learn-ing was one impetus behind development of theLearner-Centered Psychological Principles (LCPs)(APA Work Group of the Board of EducationalAffairs, 1997). A similar desire to make teachingpractice at the college level consistent with learn-ing theory has led to intentional changes in ourown pedagogical approaches at the classroom lev-el. Although our approach has been formed aroundan independent understanding of social construc-tivist theory and cognitive theory, the LCPs pro-vide an overarching framework that integrates theseas well as elements of motivational and individualdifferences theories (Lambert & McCombs, 1998).

    In the work we do with college students,learner- and learning-centered principles merge inan active and collaborative learning environment.Learner-centered educational environments havebeen described as those in which the focus on indi-vidual learners is combined with a pedagogical ap-proach that incorporates the best available knowledgeabout how learning occurs (Lambert & McCombs,1998). Specifically, attention is given to creating a

    J. ThompsonB. LickliderS. Jungst

    Learner-Centered Teaching:Postsecondary Strategies That PromoteThinking Like A Professional

    J. Thompson is assistant professor of natural resourceecology and management, B. Licklider is associate pro-fessor of education, and S. Jungst is professor of natu-ral resource ecology and management, all at Iowa StateUniversity.

    THEORY INTO PRACTICE, Volume 42, Number 2, Spring 2003Copyright 2003 College of Education, The Ohio State University

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    THEORY INTO PRACTICE / Spring 2003Learner-Centered Principles: A Framework for Teaching

    supportive context that addresses an array of indi-vidual students prior knowledge, skills, attitudes,beliefs, and needs (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking,2000; McCombs, 1997). Thus, the culture of thelearner- and learning-centered classroom is coop-erative, collaborative, and supportive, and the in-structor and students learn together (Barr & Tagg,1995; Huba & Freed, 2000; McCombs, this issue).

    We have adopted the collaborative and ac-tive learning approach of Johnson and Johnson(1989) as a vehicle to create the social context forlearner-centered education. The process of discov-ering what students are thinking, providing oppor-tunities for them to examine and correct possiblemisconceptions, and providing situations that in-vite students to expand their thinking and buildnew knowledge is enhanced by students activeparticipation in guided and authentic collaborativeexercises (e.g., Johnson & Johnson, 1989; Stage,Mullen, Kinzie, & Simmons, 1998; Thompson,Jungst, Colletti, Licklider, & Benna, in press). Inaddition to enhancing student learning, these ap-proaches have also been shown to increase reten-tion (Gardiner, 1994; Slavin, 1992; Svinicki, 1992).

    This article includes a brief summary of thespecific literature that supports instructional ap-proaches we have used in the college classroom.We then describe strategies we have found to beeffective, and link them to what, in practice, areoverlapping domains of the LCPs.

    Thinking Like a Professional: WhatDoes Novice-Expert Research Tell Us?

    To meet the postsecondary education goal ofdeveloping students professional-level expertise,teaching should be done in a manner consistentwith findings on expert performance in domainsthat are relevant to a particular discipline (Niemi,1997). Although there is no direct substitute forthe kinds of life experiences that make an expertan expert, Glaser (1992) has suggested that find-ings from novice-expert research can be used tostructure learning experiences that move studentsfarther and faster toward thinking like an expert inthe discipline.

    It is generally recognized that experts in somedomains use frameworks for thinking so problemsolving appears to occur without conscious effort.

    Key research identifying differences between nov-ices and experts has been summarized by Glaser(1992) and Bransford et al. (2000). Very briefly,experts proficiency is highly specific, and allowsthem to (a) discern meaningful patterns in informa-tion they encounter (e.g., the classic chess masterstudy by deGroot, 1965); (b) effectively organizeknowledge around major principles and concepts(e.g., Chi, Feltovich, & Glaser, 1981); (c) respondto context and access appropriate knowledge toaddress it (e.g., Glaser, 1992); (d) perform fluentor effortless retrieval of relevant knowledge (e.g.,Spiro, Coulson, Feltovich, & Anderson, 1994); (e)self-regulate in terms of attention allocation andfeedback recognition (e.g., Glaser, 1992; Wineburg,1998); and (f) remain flexible in their applicationof knowledge (also referred to as adaptive exper-tise, Hatano & Inagaki, 1986). It is important tonote, however, that expertise in some domains (forexample, interpreting history) is not always char-acterized by smooth and efficient performanceby experts (Wineburg, 1998). In any domain, alearner-centered approach to developing expertiserequires purposeful and specific instruction thatbuilds student capacity in these arenas.

    Thinking About Thinking ina Learner-Centered Context

    All of the aforementioned attributes of ex-pertise are important, and teaching to enhance in-dividual student performance in that regard willhelp all students begin to think like professionals.Some depend heavily on broad and deep contentknowledge and major principles that can be usedto organize that knowledge (e.g., items a-c aboveand the cognitive factors identified in the LCPs);others depend on self-awareness and context aware-ness (items d-f above, and the metacognitive fac-tors identified in the LCPs). We believe thatself-regulation (including metacognitionknowl-edge of what one does and does not know), as wellas attention to real-time feedback while on task, isa frequently overlooked expert skill that can andshould be intentionally developed through work witheach student. In fact, the research of Wineburg(1998) suggests that arriving at an expert solu-tion, even for an expert, can depend heavily onself-questioning and self-monitoring during a given

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    Thinking Like a ProfessionalThompson, Licklider, and Jungst

    task. This ties in particularly well with proposi-tions that it is less the doing than the thinking,reflecting on that doing, that counts for learning(Leamnson, 2000). Such reflection can be inten-tionally structured into learner-centered experiences.

    Effective Learner-Centered PracticesThat Contribute to Expertise

    Effective learner-centered teaching strategies,then, should contribute to the breadth and depth ofcontent knowledge, assist students in learning howto organize knowledge around major concepts andprinciples, enhance retention and retrieval, and con-tribute to student development of metacognitiveabilities, among other things. One group of strate-gies that has many of these characteristics is iden-tifying similarities and differences.

    Instructional strategies for identifyingsimilarities and differences

    In their meta-analysis of research studies oninstructional strategies, Marzano, Pickering, andPollack (2001) identify nine general strategies thathave a high probability of enhancing individualstudent performance. Of those nine, the instruc-tional strategies aimed at identifying similaritiesand differences had the largest effect sizes and per-centile gains in student performance after expo-sure to the instruction. Although Marzano andcolleagues were working with data generated inthe K-12 setting, and making recommendations forthe use of strategies specifically for K-12 educa-tors, we have found applications in postsecondarysettings.

    We believe the effectiveness of these strate-gies relates directly to the innate tendencies of hu-mans to search for meaning and make sense ofexperiences, and the natural inclination of ourbrains to seek recognizable patterns, including themotivational/affective and cognitive/metacognitivedomains in the LCPs (see also Caine & Caine,1997; Markman & Gentner, 1993). Students canbe encouraged to further develop these innate ten-dencies, and to become more aware of when andhow they are doing so. In this regard, identifyingsimilarities and differences strategies lend them-selves particularly well to developing studentsabilities to think like professionals. In addition,

    use of these strategies in a supportive and collabo-rative context addresses the developmental/socialand individual differences domains of the LCPs.

    In terms of practical classroom application,Marzano et al. (2001) indicate that identifying sim-ilarities and differences strategies can include avariety of approaches, including comparing/con-trasting, classifying/categorizing, as well as creat-ing similes and analogies, and that they can beused effectively with either instructor-generated orstudent-generated structures. The following arethree specific examples of identifying similaritiesand differences strategies we have used to accom-plish learner-centered objectives in our own post-secondary classrooms.

    Venn diagrams. While there are numerousways to structure compare/contrast exercises, onethat is relatively simple and can be structured in avariety of ways is the use of Venn diagrams. AVenn diagram, in its simplest form, consists of twooverlapping circles. Each circle represents a topicor idea to be compared. The overlap between thetwo circles represents things that are common toboth, while the nonoverlapping areas of the circlesrepresent those things that are true only to the topicin that circlethat is, the differences between thetwo topics. The instructor supplies the two thingsthat are to be compared, and students are then askedto put as much information as they can into appro-priate locations in the overlapping circles.

    When students are first introduced to Venndiagrams used in this way, it is helpful to explainwhy the strategy is being used, and to give themsome practice in the form of a simple diagram us-ing familiar items to be compared. In one course,before using a three-circle Venn diagram in a spe-cific course-related comparison, the whole classspent five minutes adding information to a two-circle diagram comparing cars with bicycles (Fig-ure 1). Some obvious things were mentioned first,such as steering wheels for cars, handlebars forbicycles, and wheels for both. Then one studentindicated that pedals should be placed in the bicy-cle circle, but another student quickly said pedalsshould go in the overlap area, because cars havepedals too (albeit gas pedals and brake pedals).With that seemingly trivial discovery, student in-teraction and interest moved to a new level as they

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    THEORY INTO PRACTICE / Spring 2003Learner-Centered Principles: A Framework for Teaching

    Have a gas tankHave a steering wheelHave a windshieldHave four wheels

    Cars

    Have wheelsAre modes of transportationHave pedalsHave seats

    Have handlebarsHave two wheels

    Bicycles

    Figure 1. Example of a two-circle Venn diagram identifying similarities and differences between carsand bicycles.

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