There’s this great Native American proverb that I think perfectly illustrates the challenge of a teacher:
“Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand.”
So often, as teachers, we tell our students what we want them to know. Many times we show them by providing an example or a demonstration in class. But, as the proverb says, this is not enough. I am a huge proponent of getting students involved in the learning process. It’s why students in my classes are always doing something in class (and by doing, I don’t mean sitting and listening). Rather, they are required, through the activities I design, to get involved in learning.
Previously, I wrote about how our new Express Track program is, in part, employing Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT). Now, I want to go into a bit more detail about it.
One of the great things about JiTT is that it does involve the students in their own learning, which increases class attendance and motivation, which more often than not, leads to less attrition and better grades. And who doesn’t want that?
It should be noted that JiTT isn’t just for programs like ours. Evidence overwhelmingly suggests JiTT positively impacts student learning—in all kinds of classes: sciences, maths, social sciences, humanities, literature. Nor is JiTT a new thing—it’s been around and in use for 15 years.
Despite such evidence, many instructors will balk at employing this pedagogical strategy. One of the biggest challenges to getting faculty to embrace a new teaching technique is convincing them that they won’t actually be changing their course material…or they’re teaching style.
Remember: JiTT employs a web-based learning management system (such as Blackboard) coupled with active, participatory learning in the classroom. Basically, a teacher using JiTT will require students to complete a web-based activity outside of class (but near to the time of the next class meeting).
For example, in my ENG 101 class, which meets MWF at 9:05 AM, I assign students a web-based activity due before midnight Tuesday. I ask students to respond on Blackboard to the following:
“Think of a time when someone tried to convince you to think, do, or believe something you originally didn’t want to (keep it classy, kids!). What about their attempt to persuade you worked or didn’t work? Why did their technique work? Or why not? Based on your own experiences (like this one) and in your own words, what are the ingredients to an effective argument?”
On Wednesday, I already planned to do a collaborative activity followed by a class discussion on the ingredients of a successful argument. The difference now with JiTT in this case is simple: Wednesday morning before class, I can check their responses to gauge their understanding of the fundamentals of argumentation. Then, I make adjustments to my pre-planned lesson for Wednesday accordingly. I might select responses to share with the class as a whole—both correct and incorrect responses (keeping in mind that it’s important to help students understand that the “wrong” answers are just as important as the “right” answers in the learning process). I might incorporate some of their responses into the pre-planned activity, or I might adjust the activity such that it focuses more specifically on certain aspects of argumentation rather than more broadly drawing attention to all the major components of effective argumentation. In short, I read the student submissions “just-in-time” to adjust the classroom lesson to suit the students’ needs. I’m not changing the lesson—I’m just tweaking it. There are all kinds of possibilities! And every time I do it, it may be a little different—because it’s based on a particular group of students. The key is the very specific connection between the out-of-class and in-class learning experiences—one informs the other and vice-versa.
From an instructor’s viewpoint, a huge benefit of this strategy is its flexibility—it’s used is so many different ways in different disciplines. The way I use it in my Composition class is not the same way we’ll be using it in the Express Track program (that’s far more individualized). There is no one-size-fits-all. In fact, it’s best to mold JiTT to your particular teaching style. I already do lots of active learning in my classrooms, but an instructor who relies primarily on lecture need not implement such activities into his/her classroom. He should not shy away from JiTT because the strategy works equally well in lecture-based classes—with the primary difference being the lecture will likely become much more interactive! Students are more likely to get involved than to be texting under their desks.
Bottom line: JiTT is great, flexible pedagogical tool that allows you to teach to the students in your class and get them involved to create deeper, more meaningful learning experiences.