1st Edition

Overcoming Student Learning Bottlenecks Decode the Critical Thinking of Your Discipline

By Joan Middendorf, Leah Shopkow Copyright 2018
    276 Pages
    by Routledge

    276 Pages
    by Routledge

    Decoding the Disciplines is a widely-used and proven methodology that prompts teachers to identify the bottlenecks – the places where students get stuck – that impede learners’ paths to expert thinking in a discipline. The process is based on recognizing the gap between novice learning and expert thinking, and uncovering tacit knowledge that may not be made manifest in teaching.Through “decoding”, implicit expert knowledge can be turned into explicit mental tasks, and made available to students. This book presents a seven-step process for uncovering bottlenecks and determining the most effective way to enable students to surmount them.The authors explain how to apply the seven steps of Decoding the Disciplines – how to identify bottlenecks, unpack the critical thinking of experts, teach students how to do this kind of thinking, and how to evaluate the degree to which students have learned to do it. They provide in-depth descriptions of each step and, at the end of each chapter, at least one exercise the reader can do on his or her own. Because the decoding process works well with groups, they also provide exercises for leading groups through the process, making available to informal groups as well as groups led by professional developers, the tools to transform their understanding of teaching and learning by getting the student view that they refer to as “the bottleneck perspective”. Because it focuses on the mental moves that underlie the cognitive competencies we want students to develop, spelling out what critical thinking consists of for any field, the methodology helps teachers to get beyond focus on content delivery and transmission and provides criteria to select from the bewildering array of teaching tools the methods most appropriate to what they are teaching.This is a book for faculty who want their students to develop disciplinary forms of reasoning, and are moreover interested in a methodology with the potential to transform and reinvigorate their teaching. It is particularly suitable for use in communities of practice, and should be indispensable for any one engaged in cross-disciplinary teaching, as it enables co-teachers to surface each other’s tacit knowledge and disciplinary assumptions.

    Acknowledgments 1. Step 1—Identifying Bottlenecks to Learning 2. Step 2—Decoding Mental Actions 3. Step 3—Modeling 4. Step 4—Practicing Critical Thinking in a Discipline 5. Step 5—Motivation and Accountability 6. Step 6—Decoding Assessment 7. Step 7—Sharing 8. Decoding at the Intersection of Other Theories Appendices Additional Resources References Index of Disciplinary Examples Index


    Joan Middendorf is Lead Instructional Consultant in the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning and Adjunct Professor in Educational Leadership at Indiana University. Joan Middendorf’s specialty lies in leading faculty to help make disciplinary ways of thinking available to students in such groups as a Media School, Latino Studies Program and NSF-funded STEM groups at universities around the world. With David Pace she developed and published the “Decoding the Disciplines” model. As co-director of the History Learning Project (HLP), she has focused on emotional bottlenecks to learning. Along with Professors Diaz, Pace, and Shopkow the HLP won the 2008 Menges Research Award from the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education and the 2009 McGraw-Hill – Magna Publications (Weimer) Scholarly Work on Teaching and Learning Award. Among her many publications, she was first author on the 2015 “What’s feeling got to do with it? Decoding emotional bottlenecks in the history classroom,” which appeared in Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 14. Leah Shopkow is Associate Professor in the Department of History at Indiana University. Leah Shopkow examines medieval historiography in her disciplinary work, which provided a natural segue into history pedagogy. A founding co-director and the PI of the History Learning Project (HLP), her recent publications include “The History Learning Project ‘Decodes’ a Discipline: The Union of Epistemology and Teaching” in The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning In and Across the Disciplines (2013) as and “From Bottlenecks to Epistemology in History: Changing the Conversation about the Teaching of History in Colleges and Universities” in Changing the Conversation about Higher Education (2103) as first author. With Arlene Díaz she has written “A Tale of Two Thresholds,” in Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (2017) and has had an article entitled “How Ma

    "Learning can be hard, and one of the beauties of the decoding the disciplines process described in this new volume is its respect for the real difficulties students face as they encounter unfamiliar ideas and mental models. With those difficulties--or bottlenecks--as a starting point, Middendorf and Shopkow lay out an elegant step-by-step structure for improving learning, rethinking classroom practice, and creating a more teaching-positive campus culture."

    Pat Hutchings, Senior Scholar

    National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment and Bay View Alliance

    “Middendorf and Shopkow provide an accessible and long-needed volume that speaks to both faculty and professional developers. Drawing on their expansive experiences and research, they articulate a wide range of contexts for applying the decoding methodology to strengthen faculty’s epistemological underpinnings, transform teaching and learning, and inform strategies for curricular development. This valuable resource is accessible across disciplinary, institutional, and international contexts.”

    Kathy Takayama, Director, Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research

    Northeastern University

    “Over a decade of investigation by the authors and their colleagues has been synthesized to produce this step-by-step guide to decoding the disciplines, a technique that has a relentless focus on improved student learning. We, as teachers, are given detailed signposts and ‘how-to’ pathways so that we can help students to navigate bottlenecks to learning. In doing so we unlock our own learning and deepen our own understanding of our disciplines. This book is a valuable resource for those trying ‘decoding’ for the first time, as well as for those who have begun and want to develop their practice further. The authors rightly situate decoding in the context of other pedagogical ideas and concepts, noting the differences and commonalities, and allowing the reader to develop a broad understanding of how students learn. The examples and templates are particularly useful.”

    Bettie Higgs, Senior Fellow, Teaching and Learning

    University College Cork, Ireland

    “As a practical resource to support post-secondary teaching, Overcoming Student Learning Bottlenecks sets the bar high. For one, the book exemplifies the central tenets of SoTL scholarship. It revolves around a compelling theoretical framework for teaching and learning, relies upon rigorous research methods, focuses squarely on student learning, and aims to make the often private practice of teaching public. For another, the book packages these elements with concrete strategies for engaging in the decoding process drawn from the authors’ experiences in the classroom and in running professional development workshops. In this regard, Middendorf and Shopkow lead the way in possibly setting a new standard for the field as a how-to reference. The authors go beyond just sharing examples of ambitious, scholarly teaching to provide research-based tools for supporting faculty to take up such teaching, and they go beyond simply sharing examples of their classroom practice to provide instructional activities for scaffolding the sharing process and collaborative work for other faculty.

    Overcoming Student Learning Bottlenecks, moreover, provides curriculum and instruction resources in easy-to-use formats. The flexibility and accessibility of the framework allows for faculty to engage in different stages of decoding based upon their particular interests and needs. Further, the activities featured in the book are general enough to be applied to various subject areas and adapted for specific classroom contexts. Finally, the book’s primary instructional practices–modeling, guided practice, and formative assessment–are of a manageable grain size. The authors are not suggesting that faculty embark on a complete overhaul of their teaching. Rather, these are practices meant to supplement more traditional forms of post-secondary instruction (i.e., lecturing). The decoding process is not an all-or-nothing proposition, which should increase its appeal to faculty just starting, or hesitant, to engage in this work.

    [This book] provides an important theoretical synthesis and practical handbook for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.”

    Teachers College Record


    "The best feature of this volume is its wealth of examples and appendices. The book is designed to show-and-tell how to plan and scale faculty workshops from independent work to large-scale sessions. At the end of each chapter are exercises and reflections that can be used as templates. In addition to the documentation to support workshop development, the book also offers specific examples from many disciplines, including a complete template from the sciences (biology) and the humanities (musicology). To help make these examples easier to find, the text includes an index organized by discipline to allow readers to pinpoint applications unique to their field. As a further supplement, the authors maintain a robust website with more resources and examples at decodingthedisciplines.org."

    Canadian Journal of SOTL