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Students can feel constrained by ways of communicating and learning that seem opaque and fixed because they are permeated with norms never made explicit, knowledge they do not share, or the language of others.

Janette Ryan and Rosemary Viete
Respectful interactions: learning with international students in the English-speaking academy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Noel Entwistle - Teaching for Understanding at University.
Deep Approaches and Distinctive Ways of Thinking

Publication Details

This book has had a profound impact on my recent reflections about my teaching approaches. Entwistle's focus is higher education, and there is much here to interest educators from diverse disciplines. Beginning from an understanding that the twenty-first century is ushering in unprecedented change in terms of global interconnectivity, Entwistle writes, "Increasingly, knowledge acquired at University can be no more than a springboard for coping with change and complexity in everyday life and the workplace." p1.

What really appealed to me about the book is an argument emphasising the need to identify and work with your subject's "inner logic" as well as the particular pedagogy to support it. "Effective university teaching thus depends on establishing a relationship between the specific subject content and the ways in which students are helped to engage with the ideas, so as to develop their own understanding" p3.

Short "bridges" connect chapters, linking the various discussions neatly. There are sections on 'How Students Learn', exploring educational psychology, learning styles, motivation and personality; 'The Nature of Academic Understanding', examining the conceptual basis of various disciplines (engineering, biological sciences, history, media); two chapters on 'How Academics Teach', and 'Research'; and also planning and designing curriculum and assessment to support student deep learning and understanding.

Student voices are included throughout - the author having sought out students' responses and evaluations of various pedagogical approaches. These sections are illuminating, reminding the educator-readers that there are end users whose opinions of our work matter. What educators think students need to know is only part of the new higher education landscape. Expository practices - the lecturer holding court with students as passive receivers - are out of style. Inspiring educators to create 'powerful learning environments' is the ambition of Entwistle's book. How to do this?

  • Provide authentic, open problems with learning materials in a variety of formats designed to make connections with students' previous knowledge and interests.
  • Use teaching methods which arouse interest, activate prior knowledge, clarify meanings and model appropriate thinking strategies and reflective processes.
  • Specify learning strategies in detail to provide scaffolding, with the guidance then gradually removed to encourage subsequent self-regulation of studying.
  • Encourage students to monitor their own strategies and discuss these with other students, to provide a classroom culture that encourages reflection on process. (p 105)

Well worth investigating.

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