Pedagogy Corner: How speedbumps can accelerate student learning

As a textbook author, have you ever asked your students how they read your book? An inquiry into how your students read their textbooks may reveal much information that can help authors design textbooks with students in mind.

I recall when I was a college student―yes, a very long time ago―how I read a textbook chapter for a college course: I set aside at least 3 hours of undistracted time, read the entire chapter word-for-word, took copious notes, spent time examining and understanding all of the figures, and then systematically answered every single end-of-chapter question. Only after this procedure did I feel like I had a good understanding of the material.

Textbook pedagogy helps students review and retain subject matter

My field, mathematics, is a discipline in which the complexity of the subject increases with each course and each course requires a certain amount of recall from prior courses. While some students do quite well in transitioning to the next mathematical challenge, there are many who don’t bridge easily to the new content. Furthermore, students are prone to forget material learned earlier in the current course that they now need.

As a professor of mathematics, having taught for over 35 years, I am well acquainted with the reluctance of students to review material when their recall of it is imperfect. When I faced up to this issue a while back in revising my four-book Precalculus series, now in the 11th edition, I decided to confront the problem head-on.

Textbook pedagogy: Improving chapter summaries encourages collaborative learning

In my field, human anatomy and physiology (A&P), like many others, it is customary to end each textbook chapter with a concept review and self-testing exercises. For the first five editions of my Anatomy & Physiology—The Unity of Form and Function, I titled my end-of-chapter feature “Chapter Review” and its first section, “Review of Key Concepts.” I followed the traditional practice of summarizing the chapter in short declarative sentences like these:

  • Microvilli are short surface extensions of the plasma membrane that increase a cell’s surface area. They are especially well developed on absorptive cells, as in the kidney and small intestine. On some cells, they play a sensory role.
  • Parathyroid hormone is secreted by the parathyroid glands in response to hypocalcemia. It raises blood Ca2+ levels by indirectly stimulating osteoclasts, inhibiting osteoblasts, promoting calcitriol synthesis, and promoting Ca2+ conservation by the kidneys.

10 Classic and contemporary textbook features you may not be thinking about…but should

During his 2019 TAA Textbook & Academic Authoring Conference presentation, “Textbook Features You May Not Be Thinking About… But Should!”, veteran textbook author Kevin Patton shared details about both classic – not “old” – and contemporary textbook features for consideration when designing a learning experience for your readers.

Starting with an exploration of the textbook as part of a learning experience for the student, Patton advised looking at the pain points, how they can be addressed, and what already works in the classroom. From there, it’s a matter of finding the right design elements to deliver the content in a meaningful way for the students using your book. Below are ten features for consideration.

Can I help you in any way? Learning objectives

“Hello, thank you for visiting. Can I help you in any way?” If you’ve browsed our TAA website, you’ve likely seen those words in the chat box that appears on the screen. We’re often asked by visitors if we’re “real” (as opposed to an automated bot). Then those who realize that we are, and that we are there to help, ask questions that you may have as well.

In this series of “Can I help you in any way?” posts, we’ll highlight some of the questions people have asked through the TAA Live Chat feature of our site and the responses we have for those questions.

In this post, we’re focused on a question about the importance of learning objectives when writing a textbook.

The stuff our books are made of – Part 1

There is terminological chaos in the education culture. Yes, this is about the words we use as authors. More specifically, it is about the language of instruction, not about cellulose and silicone.

As Aristotle put it,

“For as long as it is not clear in how many senses a term is used, it is possible that the answerer and the questioner are not directing their minds upon the same thing,… [and, therefore] It often happens that a difficulty is found in discussing or arguing a given position because the definition has not been correctly rendered.”

The stuff our books are made of is extremely important because classroom teachers rely instructionally on textbooks for engaging subject matter.

Pedagogy of the book and chapter questions

Does the organization of the textbook relate to pedagogical approaches used to teach with it? I considered this question in relation to chapter organization in a previous post. In this post I will explore another part of the typical textbook chapter: questions.

Flip to the end of a textbook chapter, and you will usually find a list of questions, exercises, or other suggested assignments. Sometimes you will find additional learning activity ideas and resources on the companion website. Do they serve a purpose, or do readers flip past to get to the next assigned reading?

Pedagogy of book and chapter organization

Does the organization of the textbook relate to pedagogical approaches used to teach with it? What pedagogical perspectives are represented by the organizational style we choose for a book and its chapters? These questions percolated through my work on a recently completed book manuscript. When thinking about the organization of the book, I reflected on ways people read books today and how they use them to learn.

The audience for this book about the design of collaborative learning will include instructors or instructional designers across disciplines, as well as students in education courses. In other words, some might be reading it for their own professional purposes, while others might be reading it as assigned for a course. How might they use the book, and what can I do as a writer to facilitate meaningful learning?