An Introduction to How People Learn

Every year my teaching center hosts an orientation for new teaching assistants. Back in the day, we had a plenary session or two at this event, but we’ve learned that putting the math and English TAs in the same room really isn’t that helpful. Instead, we run the entire orientation in small sessions, each of which includes TAs from a handful of similar departments. This means that we employ 14 graduate students each August to facilitate all those sessions, and we spend a couple of weeks in early August preparing those folks to design and facilitate the sessions.

We’ve also learned that brand new TAs aren’t particularly fond of hearing much about theories of teaching and learning. Some roll their eyes at any use of jargon, even terms like “think-pair-share.” So we focus the orientation sessions on the nuts-and-bolts of TA work in the disciplines. However, that doesn’t mean that our TA Orientation staff can’t benefit from learning a bit of cognitive science. They find it gives them new ways of thinking about their own teaching, the teaching that the TAs in their sessions will do, and how they can facilitate a learning experience for those TAs.

Today was the first day of this year’s TA Orientation staff training, and it featured a four-hour workshop on How People Learn, the 2000 book edited by Bransford, Brown, and Cocking that summarizes decades of cognitive science research. Today’s workshop focused on understanding the HPL framework and related theories and frameworks from the literature on teaching and learning, particularly as it applies to teaching in the disciplines. Tomorrow, we’ll spend some time applying these ideas to the design of TA Orientation sessions.

Since I put together an epic Prezi for today’s workshop, I thought I’d share it here. Some of it won’t make sense without knowing how we talked about these ideas or the activities I included in the workshop, but the Prezi itself will give you a sense of how we approached these concepts. I’d like to do a stand-alone version of this sometime, one with enough text so that it’s useful without the live interaction part of the workshop. That will have to be a project for another day, however.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *