Conducting Classroom Research

I always enjoy experimenting in my classroom. My students understand they are guinea pigs in my education laboratory and they look forward to hearing the results. Earlier this year we looked at the value of note-taking. Specifically, does the act of taking notes on a lecture increase student content knowledge as measured by a standardized test? I thought there would be an increase, but I didn’t know how measurable it would be.

I randomly spilt the class into four groups. Each group listened to a 15-minute audio lecture about Early Christianity and then they each took the same multiple-choice test. There were limits placed on each group. Group A was not allowed to take notes of any kind, they were only allowed to listen to the lecture. Group B was allowed to take notes, but they were not allowed to use the notes on the test. Group C was allowed to take notes and use their notes on the test. Group D was allowed to take notes, use them on the test, and they were also given a transcript of the lecture.

group-of-primary-children-watching-experiment-sml

With this population of students (N=184), the average score on the test was 71%, which was 10.7 questions correct out of 15 questions. Group A, not surprisingly had the lowest scores, with an average of 4.5 correct questions. Group B had an average of 9.8 correct questions. The results for Group C were surprising in that the students who were allowed to use their notes only scored an average of 10.5 questions correct. Finally, Group D scored an average of 12.1 questions correct. All groups had the same amount of time to complete the test.

This experiment allowed me to show my students that taking notes during an audio lecture results in an additional five correct questions on the test. It was interesting to note that there was not a large difference in scores when comparing the students who were not allowed to use their notes on the test to the students who were allowed to use their notes. It appears that the act of taking notes is enough to activate the brain in remembering content and referring to those notes may not have as significant advantages as previously assumed.

This semester, I am conducting an experiment that examines the effects of increasing the amount of student-led classroom discussion. Students receive content instruction via online lectures that they view for homework. This frees up class time for Socratic circles. The goal of these discussions is for students to arrive at a greater understanding of the material, not to assess who has viewed or understood the lectures.

class_in_circle_small_wide_pic

Unfortuantely, my 9th grade classes are very large.  An average of 39.6 students in my five classes result in a (N=198) sample. I arrange the class into two large circles, an inner circle and an outer circle. Each circle is given eight concepts to copy off the board. These are the primary points in the lectures. Students are allowed to use the notes they have taken at home and encouraged to add information during the discussion.

A student is chosen to “host” the discussion. They pose open-ended questions to the inner circle for 15 minutes and the outer circle for 15 minutes. At the conclusion of both sessions, students need to free write for ten minutes about what they learned from the discussion. During the conversations, I am charting the flow and noting how many contributions each student makes. I code positive comments with a plus (+) and negative or low value comments with a minus (-). After three days of observations, I categorized students into two groups “High Talkers” and “Low Talkers”. The research questions for this experiment are: (a) Do class discussions increase student content knowledge? (b) What are the effects of class discussions on (high talkers) students who actively participate in the discussions? (c) What are the effects of class discussions on (low talkers) students who minimally participate in the discussions?

I have a series of multiple-choice, short answer, and essay tests that I will be delivering to my students. I look forward to sharing the results.