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Research-based 'Big Ideas' for Teaching

In 2009 I participated in a course offered by the psychology department entitled "Educational Goals, Instruction, and Assessment" which was essentially focused on research-based pedagogy. The 'Big Ideas' project specifically required linking readings from the research literature to the course goals. For each reading, I considered what big ideas were introduced/avdocated with respect to: learners, goals, assessment, instruction, and research. My EGIA Big Ideas document, reproduced below, was especially helpful when I taught prototyping and user-centered research experience labs.

I've collected my 'Big Ideas' project here for future reference and sharing!
Bonus: the references section works as a pretty decent overview of the research literature on aligning goals, instructions, and assessments in teaching contexts.


Learner Model

  1. Intelligence is expandable and students and parents alike may need to be taught this fact. How People Learn, 1.
  2. AGE. Children at varying ages will have varying capacities for metacognition and automatization (in collaboration: identifying goals/progress and emotional control processes). Berger (2000).
    1. Students' abilities to perform selective attention, automatization, increased process speed and capacity, emotional regulation, metacognitive strategies, storage and retrieval strategies, concrete operational thought, identity/reversibility/reciprocity logic principles, classification, vocabulary development, grammar mastery, code switching, etc. Berger (2000).
  3. INTELLIGENCES. Consider varying types of intelligence and how they may influence a student's understanding of the lesson.
    1. Naturalist, musical, logical-mathematical, existential, interpersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, linguistic, intra-personal, and spatial. Gardner, "The Nine Types of Intelligence".
    2. Intrapersonal, interpersonal, stress management, adaptability, and general mood. BarOn EQ-I.
    3. Teachers are models of how to express emotions. Meece (2002).
  4. CULTURE. Students' cultural background may influence their comfort level in working collaboratively versus individually. How People Learn, 1.
  5. FAILURE. A floundering student may be trying, but failing due to neurodevelopmetal dysfunction, not necessarily laziness, a lack of motivation, or low intelligence. Levine (2002).
    1. The 8 neurodevelopmental systems to consider are: attention control, memory, language, spatial ordering, sequential ordering, motor, higher thinking and social thinking. Levine(2002).
    2. The neurodevelopmental systems may deteriorate with underutilization. Everyone can improve their neurodevelopmental profile at all ages. Levine (2002).
    3. A student's culture may determine which neurodevelopmental systems get stronger, and which do not. Friends also play a role in neurodevelopmental development. Levine (2002).
    1. Students have the basic psychological needs of competence, autonomy, and relatedness in order to foster intrinsic motivation. Ryan & Deci (2000).
    2. With a learning oriented focus, students are more likely to seek out better forms of help. Meece (2002).
    3. Intrinsic, learning-oriented focused students tend to use active learning strategies, whereas students with extrinsic goals ted to use memorization or rehearsing. Meece (2002).
  7. Consider the expertise reversal principle in which scaffolding can be helpful early on in knowledge development, but harmful later on s expertise develops.

Goal Analysis

  1. The first day of class should not focus on requirements and grades, but instead on learning goals. Bain (2004).
    1. It's important to align instructional goals, curricular activities, and assessments. If courses emphasize the collection of facts rather than forming connections, students may not progress on knowledge integration tests. Clark & Linn (2003).
    2. Consider horizontal (seated with other class topics), and vertical (seated with past/future) alignment.
  3. COLLABORATION. Students can learn to be good collaborators through the use of worked examples or a script. Rummel & Spada (2005).
  4. Before constructing goals, consider: detailed task analysis, developmental level, knowledge base, and available time. Carver (2001).
  5. Facts (declarative knowledge) are necessary for understanding, but these facts must be connected (procedural knowledge) in order to be useful. How People Learn, 1.

Instructional Design

  1. Knowledge is constructed by the student, not poured from the teacher into the student. Bain (2004).
  2. PRIOR KNOWLEDGE. Incorporate prior knowledge into future knowledge. Carver (2001).
    1. Make thinking explicit. Describe concepts related to the task explicitly. Carver (2001).
    2. Instruction should have explicit focus on the target and be consistent with cognitive principles. Carver (2001).
    1. Metacognitive approaches to teaching help students "to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them." The metacognitive skills need to be integrated across the curriculum. How People Learn, 1.
    2. "Assist students in identifying what material they know well and what needs further study by teaching children how to judge what they have learned." IES Practice Guide: Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning.
  5. MULTIMODALITY. Instruction design should include multimodality, to accommodate for different learner dispositions (i.e. strengths/weakness in learning: visual/aural/etc.). Klahr & Carver (1988).
    1. Consider differences in intrinsic, germane, and extraneous PROCESSING when deciding between the use of animations versus static media. Mayer et al. (2005).
    2. It may be possible to combine the best of the static and dynamic media theories in order to improve on both. (i.e. using animations in a way that the users can control the pace and order of the animations, use of arrows to draw attention to particular concepts, etc.). Mayer et al. (2005).
    3. "Combine graphics with verbal descriptions. Combine graphical presentations that illustrate key processes and procedures with verbal descriptions." IES Practice Guide: Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning.
    1. Self-explaining (more so than paraphrasing) is necessary for generating one's own understanding. Hausman & VanLehn (2007).
    2. Self-explaining leads to fewer errors, requesting less help, and better far transfer than paraphrasing. Hausman & VanLehn (2007).
    3. "Ask deep explanatory questions. Use instructional prompts that encourage students to pose and answer 'deep-level' questions on course material. These questions enable students to respond with explanations and supports deep understanding of taught material." IES Practice Guide: Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning.
    1. "Space learning over time. Arrange to review key elements of course content after a delay of several weeks to several months after initial presentation." IES Practice Guide: Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning.
    2. The more time you can spend on a topic, the better the students' understanding of that topic. Less is more. Clark & Linn (2003).
    3. Provide practice opportunities. Carver (2001).
    1. "Connect and integrate abstract and concrete representations of concepts." IES Practice Guide: Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning.
    2. Knowledge integration involves a dynamic process of linking, connecting, distinguishing, organizing, and structuring ideas. Clark & Linn (2003).
  10. "Use quizzing with the active retrieval of information at all phases of the learning process to exploit the ability of retrieval directly to facilitate long-lasting memory." IES Practice Guide: Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning.
    1. "Use pre-questions to introduce a new topic."
    2. "Use quizzes to re-expose students to key content."
    1. "Provide learning activities that are personally challenging, meaningful, and call for students' active participation in the learning process." Meece (2002).
    2. Class discussions and group work are important for establishing a community of learners. Bain (2004).
    3. A community-center approach involves the development of norms for the classroom and school as well as connections to the outside community. These norms and connections have a strong influence on instruction and student learning. How People Learn, 1.
    4. Choice is an important motivating factor in a class. Bain (2004), Meece (2002).
    5. Collaboration is motivating (inspires a sense of "relatedness". Meece (2002).
    6. Promote positive feelings of competency and efficiency by: providing feedback to tell students they are improving their skills, use learning activities that progressively build upon each other, helping students set realistic short-term goals, support students' independent learning effort, and when they perform poorly, provide specific and informative feedback. Meece (2002).
    1. Students should be presented with "just manageable difficulties." How People Learn, 1.
    2. "Interleave worked example solutions with problem-solving excercises. Have students alternate between reading already worked solutions and trying to solve problems on their own." IES Practice Guide: Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning.
    3. Use progressive formalization of the knowledge. Clark & Linn (2003).
    1. Let students see the usefulness of knowledge (i.e. in the field). Clark & Linn (2003).
    1. "A learning process can be facilitated by decomposing it into successive subprocesses (or segments) of manageable size, each of which aims to construct a part of the desired knowledge structure. The learning of each segment can then be addresses separately." Reif (2008).
    2. "Judicious sequencing of learning segments can prepare a student explicitly for later learning (thus reducing the students' coping difficulties in the future)" or implicitly (by letting the student initially deal with simpler tasks building a foundation for more difficult tasks. Reif (2008).
    1. Effective learning requires active engagement by students. It is best that they be doing something. Reif (2008).
    2. Increase effective encoding(retention/retrieval of knowledge) through deliberate practice and making connections. Reif (2008).


  1. The purpose of an assessment determines priorities. It is necessary to recognize that one type of assessment does not fit all priorities and contexts. Knowing What Students Know, 2. Consider the three kinds of assessment:
    1. Summative assessment:. Ex: end-of-units tests and letter grades assigned when a course is finished, large scale assessments, and assessments to evaluate programs. How People Learn, 2.
    2. Formative assessment, ongoing assessments designed to make students' thinking visible to both teachers and students. Formative assessments can help both teachers and student monitor progress. How People Learn, 1.
    3. Dynamic assessment, in which everybody completes the same tasks, but the assessment is how much help is given. Klahr & Carver (1988).
    1. The more purposes an assessment attempts to fulfill, the more each purpose will be compromised. Knowing What Students Know, 2.
    2. Construct a cognitive assessment that covers the full target. Carver (2001).
    3. Consider if your assessment is looking for near, far, or zero transfer.
    4. Assessment should provide timely and informative feedback. Knowing What Students Know, 3.
    5. Assessment should include suggestions for improvement. Knowing What Students Know, 6. From Carver (2006):
    6. Assessments should distinguish between experts and novices. Knowing What Students Know, 3.
    7. Assessment should gauge a student's metacognitive abilities. Knowing What Students Know, 3.
    8. Assessment should be learner-focused and based upon empirical studies of learners in the domain. Knowing What Students Know, 5.
  3. FAIRNESS should be incorporated into assessments by considering students' past instruction histories. Knowing What Students Know, 5.
    1. Be careful not to include performance demands in assessment questions (i.e. questions should require only the desired knowledge to respond, not extraneous knowledge. Ex: Unrelated vocabulary, unrelated political knowledge, etc.)
    2. It's possible to construct multiple-choice questions that require knowledge integration and application as opposed to memorization. However, most multiple choice questions (i.e. standardized exams), do not. Clark & Linn (2003).
  5. ALIGNMENT. Educational assessment does not exist in isolation. It must align with curriculum and instruction in order to support learning. Knowing What Students Know, 2.
    1. The "assessment triangle" requires a careful alignment of cognitive models, observation techniques, and interpretation methods. "It requires (1) an explicit model of both deep understanding and the process of acquiring it, (2) tasks carefully design to assess the targeted knowledge together with reliable scoring methods based on the original model, and (3) a valid process for drawing inferences from performance, typically involving triangulation across diverse tasks." Carver (2006).
    2. A model of how students represent knowledge and develop competence. Knowing What Students Know, 2.
    3. Situations that allow one to observe students' performance. Knowing What Students Know, 2.
    4. An interpretation method for drawing inferences from the performance evidence. Knowing What Students Know, 2.
    5. Assessments must be design from the outset, to ensure alignment with the learning goals and instruction, as well as to ensure that the desired information is possible. Knowing What Students Know, 5.
  6. Use equal explicitness in what is good and bad in assessment. Meece (2002).
  7. Children's perceptions of themselves is their reality and it translates to their performances. Meece (2002).
  8. See 'Table 13.1 Key Considerations for Assessment in the Learning Sciences' below.

Educational Contexts

  1. The arrangement of desks can impact the way students interact. (i.e., desks arranged in lines versus a circle). Bielaczyc (2006).


    1. Initial situation (who are the students, prior knowledge, performance abilities, other characteristics). Reif (2008).
    2. Goals (operational specification, their utility, adequacy of performance specifications, performance conditions, why are the goals sensible). Reif (2008).
    3. Learning conditions (constraints and available resources, interaction between conditions and goals). Reif (2008).
    4. Analyzing the learning problem (relevant knowledge about domain, theoretical analysis, model of student prior knowledge, needed knowledge modifications). Reif (2008).
    5. Analysis of desired knowledge (relevant knowledge, task analyses, observation methods, knowledge analysis). Reif (2008).
    6. Analysis of targeted performance (limited utility of observing proficient performers. Model of targeted performance). Reif (2008).
    7. Comparative analyses of preexisting and targeted knowledge (assessment of differences, utility of good models of targeted performance). Reif (2008).
    1. Systematic Data collection is necessary for improving one's teaching. Minstrell (2001).
    2. Consider exit-interviews to better dig into your students' thinking. Minstrell (2001).
    3. Consider tradeoffs before using technology to do data collection. Bielaczyc (2006).
    1. "Elicit students' ideas prior to instruction in order to build and awareness of the initial understanding." Minstrell (2001).
    2. "Benchmark instruction to initiate change in understanding and reasoning." Minstrell (2001).


  • Berger, K.S. (2000). The Developing Person: Through Childhood and Adolescence (5th Edition). New York, NY: Worth. (Chapter 12: The School Years - Cognitive Development and Chapter 15: Adolescence - Cognitive Development)
  • Gardner, H. (2007). The nine types of intelligence. Overview of the multiple intelligences theory.
  • Bar-On, R. (2006). BarOn Emotional Quotient-Inventory (BarOn EQ-i). United States: High Performing Systems, Inc.
  • Meece, J.L. (2002). Child & adolescent development for educators (2nd Edition). New York, NY: McGraw Hill. (Chapter 7: Self-Concept, Identity, and Motivation)
  • Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L. & Cocking, R.R. (2000.) How people learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
  • Levine, M. (2002). A mind at a time. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. (Chapter 1: Introduction & Chapter 2: The Ways of Learning)
  • Ryan & Deci (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.
  • Bain, K. (2004.) What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Clark, D. & Linn, M.C. (2003). Designing for knowledge integration: The Impact of instructional time. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 12 (4), 451-492.
  • Rummel, N., & Spada, H. (2005). Learning to collaborate: An instructional approach to promoting collaborative problem-solving in computer-mediated settings. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 14(2), 201-241.
  • Carver, S.M. (2001). Cognition and instruction: Enriching the laboratory school experience of children, teachers, parents, and undergraduates. In S.M. Carver & D. Klahr (Eds.) Cognition and instruction: Twenty-Five years of progress (pp. 385-426). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  • IES Practice Guide: Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning.
  • Klahr, D. and Carver, S.M. (1988). Cognitive objectives in a LOGO debugging curriculum: Instruction, learning, and transfer. Cognitive Psychology, 20, 362-404.
  • Mayer, R.E., Hegarty, M., Mayer, S. & Campbell, J. (2005). When static media promote active learning: Annotated illustrations versus narrated animations in multimedia instruction. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 11 (4), 256-265.
  • Hausmann, R. G., & Vanlehn, K. (2007). Explaining self-explaining: A contrast between content and generation. Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence and Applications, 158, 417.
  • Reif, F. (2008). Applying cognitive science to education: thinking and learning in scientific and other complex domains. MIT press.
  • National Research Council (2001). Knowing what students know: The science and design of educational assessment. National Academy Press: Washington: DC.
  • Bielaczyc, K. (2006). Designing social infrastructure: Critical issues in creating learning environments with technology. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15 (3), 301-330.
  • Minstrell, J. (2001). The Role of the Teacher in Making Sense of Classroom Experiences and Effecting Better Learning. In Carver, S.M. and Klahr, D. (Eds.) Cognition and instruction: Twenty-Five years of progress (pp. 121-149). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Key Considerations for Assessment in the Learning Sciences

From Carver, S.M. (2006). Assessing for deep understanding. In The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. RK Sawyer, ed. Cambridge University Press

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