Train your Chemistry students to be good peer reviewers

We often hear scholars arguing that critical thinking cannot be taught if we view it as a disposition, a person’s inherent ability to think critically. Although this argument seems commonsensically sound and plausible, it tends to bracket another argument that seems to imply that teachers need not bother engaging their students into critical thinking activities as it is not teachable.
Development of critical thinking skills is often encouraged though inquiry and problem solving, debates, jigsaw activities and follow up discussions (i.e. socratic circles) but also as a reflective metacognitive practice. All these instructional practices involve much more than just your natural disposition and acculturate students into critical pedagogy practices and perhaps criticality. Given appropriate scaffolding in specific academic disciplines, young researchers are guided as to what criteria they can examine and how they could best communicate their insights so that their critical peer reviews are not only successful but effective in terms of objectivity and receptivity.
Having said that, although it is known that content knowledge and language skills can play an immense role into improving the outcomes of such practices, a good critical review is not limited to good grammar, vocabulary, syntax or style (i.e. cautious language) but it examines the degree of bias and ethical issues involved, the way the literature is synthesised and how arguments are built based on the current developments cited in it, validity and reliability of methods or conditions, data representation, clarity and well-established (or unfounded) conclusions.
In this context, the American Chemistry Society has developed a course that scaffolds young researchers so as to navigate tricky ethical situations, identify core criteria for evaluating manuscripts, and write a “first-rate” review.
You can find the ACS link here

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Narrow reading activities and EAP related tips

 

Ben Nazer (2019, Barcelona) has shared  his online EAP activities designed to address narrow reading, organisational and writing issues students often grapple with. He also provides a wide variety of useful sources that EAP teachers can use and adapt to their context. He also provides useful insights regarding paraphrasing and citing, summarising and synthesising information, writing counter-arguments (to refute another argument) and seminar skills.

Read his post here. It provides a great overview of important EAP-retated issues and food for thought.

 

Why we should stop asking our students to write JUST A SUMMARY of a scientific article

When I ask some colleagues of mine how they expect their students to engage with their reading of the literature in their discipline, they often shrug their shoulders apologetically saying “By writing …just a summary?”

Don’t take me wrong; writing a concise summary is indeed a very important and very useful skill. But in this day and age, identifying the key ideas in a primary research or review article is not enough anymore. According to recent research and education experts around the world, critical thinking skills are one of the 21st century learner competencies (Fig. 1) we should be aiming at. When it comes to published scholarly research, students familiarise themselves not just with the content but the thinking processes involved in compiling and organising the information presented in an article.

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Twenty-first century students should not just interpret and understand the key concepts discussed but they should analyse the information given, look for gaps, inconsistencies, bias, generalisations, alternative perspectives before they make informed decisions.

As reflective practitioners, students should be considering a. the validity and credibility of a paper, b. its argumentation and depth of analysis, c. the strength of the evidence used, d. its clarity, its tentativeness, its accuracy,  e. its originality, data collection, population sample (or sampling methods), its reproducibility, f. its significance and contribution to recent research, its applicability and g. its limitations and bias. Are the conclusions reached limited, qualified or preliminary?

As such, asking students to write a critical review of the article they read offers so much more and it complies with fundamental premises of student-centred learning! In fact, by increasing responsibility on the part of the student, we put emphasis on deep learning and understanding and we increase their sense of autonomy (Lea et al, 2003).

You might be thinking that it is far-fetched to expect non-experts to critically evaluate the work of an expert but this is exactly the point that we need to address. If we want our students to acquire the skills and knowledge required prior to publishing their work, we need to provide adequate practice opportunities and allow ample opportunities for them to engage with the discourse (text) they read.

In this link you can find some pointers as to what students should be looking at before they make an informed decision while in this link you can find, among other things, the linguistic features students should be incorporating in their writing when writing the summative and evaluative part of a critical review.

Kindly notice that you need to use rubrics or assessment criteria if you want your students to succeed in such a task. Have a look at some rubrics for critical reviews to start with here.

If you want to see why we need to use rubrics you can have a look here. If you make customised rubrics for primary research papers in your field, please share with us. There are so many colleagues out there looking forward to seeing how you make the most of this.

Socrative: another great tool for handling student misconceptions

Today I read an article on Responsive Teaching by Beverley Allan, Assistant professor on the science foundation course at the University of Nottingham, UK (2017). I garnered insights as to how I can use Socrative in my class in order to address student misconceptions and how this practice determined his re-designing of his Chemistry course.

Another interesting resource is provided by Beth Holland (2015) who suggests 3 ways of using Socrative beyond assessment.

By and large, Socrative can be an excellent tool and it offers more than meets the eye:

  1. It is a formative assessment tool. This means if you decide to use a quiz in order to identify student misconceptions, grey areas or weaknesses, it allows for immediate feedback, explanations or useful links so that students can address potential issues.
  2. It is a formative assessment tool that can be used for monitoring instructional practices on the fly as it  allows the teacher to visualise and thus determine what is already known and what needs to be addressed in more detail (if the majority of students made the same mistake).
  3. It is a tool for quizzes that can enhance student engagement coupled with think-pair-share activities, group discussion with quick answers, anonymous writing for shy students,  reflection and  self-assessment, peer-assessment or metacognitive strategies for self-regulated learning.
  4. Besides analysing student responses in real time, Socrative is an excellent tool accommodating for a debate based on a question posed during a lesson and allow for class discussions. If teachers use it in real time as a back channel it should allow for second feedback and greater student engagement.
  5. In a science lab, a Space Race could be used to present lab procedures and capture data across lab groups.With the space race projected, lab groups and teachers have a virtual progress board. Upon completion, the spreadsheet report could then be shared with the students so that they can analyze not only their observations and data collection but also that of the entire class.

Here are some useful resources on Pinterest about Socrative

And here you can read an interesting article about its impact on learner engagement.

Pyramid Discussions

Here is a lesson plan on Pyramid Discussions that works for me. It is not related to English for Science but I will soon try to come up with something more discipline specific. Please feel free to write comments about any adaptations or different topics you may have used.
Pyramid Discussion Topic: Factors contributing to Happiness (1 hour 20 minutes)
 
Step 1: Each student is given one statement to defend, explaining three reasons it’s a more valid statement than that of their peers (Pair-work, 15 min.) Teachers (Ts) may need to define unknown terms. Alternatively, students (Ss) can be allowed to use their mobile phones to find definitions or examples.
 
Best friends can really determine self-validation and thus how happy we can be in life.
 
Mother and child relationship plays the most important role in an emerging adults’ happiness
 
A healthy fulfilling romantic relationship is a prerequisite for happiness.
 
Acquisition of wealth and material possessions are vital for happiness.
 
Networking and having the right contacts can definitely contribute to happiness more than anything else.
 
Academic success is a determining factor of one’s happiness.
 
There is a strong correlation between professional success and happiness.
 
Pleasure and satisfaction are causal links to happiness.
 
Money is the only means to happiness.
 
Morality is the only means to happiness.
 
Minimalism is the only means to happiness.
 
Social isolation is the only means to happiness.
 
Step 2: Ts ask Ss to move to a new desk with a different statement. This time Ss need to defend a new statement with a new partner. (10 min.)
 
Step 3: Ts give feedback praising Ss whose discussion skills are more effective than others. (10 min.)
 
Step 4: Ts divide Ss in groups of four or five to discuss factors contributing to happiness, presenting different points of view, expressing agreement or disagreement and justifying their opinion.
(10 min.)
 
Step 5: Ts divide Ss in two bigger groups (8 or more) but this time they have to rank all these statements as parameters to happiness from the most important to the least important. (10 min.)
 
Step 6: Teacher feedback. 
 
Attached are the google slides I used the first time I did this.
 
 
Hope this makes sense. If it doesn’t, I will be happy to provide clarifications.