I mentioned in an earlier post that one of the more controversial -- and to me, appealing -- aspects of POGIL instruction is that the instructor is not seen as a source of knowledge but rather as a facilitator of learning. In non-eduspeak, this means that the instructor is there to observe and to guide, rather than to tell students what to do or think. I also mentioned, and one commenter pointed out, that students HATE this (at least at first). Typically, students -- even upper-level students in the major who have been around the block -- just want to get the darn problem done, and when people like me insist on students asking the right questions rather than just forking over the answers, things can get heated.
…when Pat would ask me a question such as, "Can you tell me how to do problem 7?", I would say: Let's start by asking the right questions. What are you being asked to do in this problem? What information is given to you in the problem statement? And what do you know from the course, your reading, or your work on other exercises that will help get you to the goal? I made it a point to NEVER give Pat explicit help on content unless it was a last resort -- Pat absolutely HAD to cut the apron-strings from me an learn how to approach, analyze, and solve a problem alone, or else Pat's chances for success in a future career or even making it through college didn't look good.
Pat sent me an email just after midterms that said something like: I now understand why I am not doing well in your class. My learning style is such that you have to show me exactly what to do, or else I can't do it. But you always answer my questions with more questions, which isn't showing me exactly what to do. So from now on, please show me exactly what to do first, and then I should be able to do it. My response was something like: Pat, we've been doing this every day in class -- I work a few problems at the board all the way through during lecture, and then I give you exercises that are based on the stuff you've seen. So you are seeing me show you what to do, and yet you're still having difficulty solving problems on your own. So perhaps your assessment wasn't quite right, and we should be working on your problem-solving skills in office hours.
(via email): I know [Pat] tried to explain to you that when [Pat] asks questions [Pat] needs answers not another question. We had [Pat] tested at [a local university] in January through the suggestion of [an academic counselor at my college]. During this testing we found out [Pat] has a learning disability. [Pat] does better with visual explanations then being asked another question. [Pat] needs to see how to physically work a problem so he can comprehend it. [Pat] is a slow reader which also frustrates [Pat]. If it is a word problem [Pat] has problems figuring out what are the essential parts of the question to find the answer.
POGIL is a student-centered method of instruction that is based on recent developments in cognitive learning theory and results from classroom research that suggest [sic] most students experience improved learning when they are actively engaged, working together, and given the opportunity to construct their own understanding. POGIL emphasizes that learning is an interactive process of thinking carefully, discussing ideas, refining understanding, practicing skills, reflecting on progress, and assessing performance. In a POGIL classroom or laboratory, students work on specially designed guided-inquiry materials in small self-managed groups. The instructor serves as facilitator of learning rather than as a source of information. The objective is to develop skills as well as mastery of discipline-specific content simultaneously. (Emphasis added)
Pat says clearly that your Socratic style doesn't work for [him]. Why do you then believe that it does work? You (rightly) want [him] to learn problem solving, but just because your method of teaching ... works for others doesn't mean it works for [him]. Maybe [he] needs repetition, repetition, repetition of the underlying content before [he's] ready for process. Other students may grasp the process after going through the underlying solutions three times, or six times, but maybe [he] needs thirty times. You model the problem solving that you want [him] to do-- Where have you seen a problem like this? What rule did we use?-- but in a sense that's no better than modeling the actual rule for Problem 13. You want [him] to intuit that [he] is supposed to be asking [himself] those questions. But what if, as seems to be the case, [he] isn't intuiting that? Then [he's] not learning anything.
Robert's interaction with his LD student reminds me so much of my own ignorant interactions with mine, ten years ago when I was a college mathematics professor. Reading what he wrote makes me practically ache with guilt. Let's try to evaluate Pat The Student fairly. Did he genuinely try to learn the stuff? Was he putting in the time, and failing anyway? Was he able to learn when the material was approached in the way that he and his mother suggested? Did Robert fail to even give their suggestions a try? I had a few LD students like this. Some passed my course in the end, with the help of tutors (not mine, for the most part, I'm sad to say); some couldn't, even with the help of tutors. I wish I knew then what I know now. And I wish Robert knew now what I know now.-- CarolynJohnston - 30 Jun 2005
|Title:||a calculus professor's email exchange with a parent|