Reading In Action

Author: Keith Webster

Chapter 2: Predicting

Big Idea: Activities where students make predictions about upcoming content improve their ability to remember and comprehend.

Hmm, Chapter 2: Predicting, in James Lang’s Small Teaching is going to explain how the desire to be right in my guess about an upcoming topic reinforces that content. (Reader thinks to self, turns page…)

The second chapter within the Lang’s section on the acquisition of knowledge takes what might seem like a throw-away moment in a lesson and shows the powerful tool it can become.

The authors explore several studies establishing the effectiveness of prediction or prediction-like activities. Following along on this journey is illustrative of the first argument for prediction activities. Each case awakens long dormant linkages in the minds of we readers, having studied memory theory so long ago.

The current research establishes results for both recall and comprehension. The connected nature of knowledge, as we tuck it away and then drag it out to meet a new nugget, is behind the effect that prediction can have on learning. Making predictions lets us have a mental play-date with a fact before seeing how it interacts with the new kids.

In addition to this support for accepted cognitive process, it’s also argued that prediction activities offer a window into the assessment model of a topic. Not just in a way that offers hints for drill and practice, but that reveals the scope and depth of material selected as important by experts.

Another benefit is the revelation of gaps in the student’s own knowledge. Prediction activities can dispel misplaced confidence in the student’s abilities.

Models for prediction activities

  • Pretesting: provide quick, low/no stakes tests about the material to come. Let the format mirror the eventual assessment.
  • Clicker predictions: (or don’t use clickers – there are many free apps that do it just as well). At key junctions in a lesson, present questions requiring students to use conceptual knowledge.
  • Prediction-exposure-feedback: absent technical support, ask students for responses about material to come, based on their prior or potentially related knowledge. Progress through the lesson and take opportunities to elicit feedback about their original predictions, why were they accurate or off the mark?
  • Closing predictions: end a lesson with a call for predictions about material to be learned in the assigned readings. Take up the predictions at the beginning of each class.

Principles for prediction activities

  • Stay conceptual: let students apply their knowledge about how the world works to your question. Learning can come from the exercise, regardless of the accuracy.
  • Provide fast feedback: don’t let the wrong answer bake for too long. Ideally, provide feedback within the lesson, or at least by the beginning of the next session.
  • Induce reflection: every prediction is an opportunity to explore the assumptions and prior knowledge that supported it. The why of a right or wrong answer can have more use than the answer itself.

Some questions

  1. How might prediction activities be experienced by students without a working model/metaphor for a discipline (a philosophy student starting a chemistry class)?
  2. How might we deal with student perceptions of failure (or fears of exposure) in a lesson where prediction activities are used?
  3. If a student arrives at the correct prediction, but based on a completely erroneous paradigm, how might an educator resolve this?

The Fourth Meeting of the BCcampus Book Club

Hi there,

The fourth meeting of BCcampus Book Club will be on Friday October 12th at 10:00 am (Pacific).

Hop into the Blue Jeans room ahead of time to be sure you’re ready to participate. You may want to have time to check your audio. More info on using Blue Jeans can be found at their ‘Joining a meeting from your computer‘ page.

Below are a few questions we invite  you to consider on our reading of Chapter Four on “Mastery”.

  • Are these stages of learner achievement and the teaching modes that support their attainment, factors in your context? Where does the model fit and does it fall short in some aspect?
  • If you have one, describe your own experience with a ‘blind spot’ as an instructor. How did you overcome it?

For more info, check out the Weekly Book Club Meetings page.

Hoping to see you on Friday.

Keith Webster, Chapter Four Facilitator

Chapter Four: Mastery



There are two major points made in Chapter Four of How Learning Works (HWL).  Mastery is an important final stage of learning that requires specific teaching practices to ensure student achievement, and mastery as an instructor can leave us blind to the challenges students face on their own road to this goal.

HWL offers a four-stage model for progression towards mastery:

  1. unconscious incompetence
  2. conscious incompetence
  3. conscious competence
  4. unconscious competence

and three teaching modes for their attainment:

  1. component skills
  2. integration
  3. application

Application will be familiar to many instructors as the ‘transfer’ learning that we hope to see when students are able to apply concepts or skills learned in one context (typically, the classroom or lab) to a new context (hopefully, the real world).

This topic lends itself to both traditional academic disciplines and to trades and skill-based learning. Examples can be developed from both spheres, but perhaps there are differences in how this plays out in each context.

The implication for mastery in instructors is that having achieved the ‘unconscious competence’ stage, instructors have blind spots where they don’t realize that internalized steps or an intuitive ability to apply knowledge is perceived by learners as a black box, or not perceived at all. Options to alleviate this perceptual mismatch are offered in the “Strategies to Expose and Reinforce Component Skills” section of the chapter.

So What?

This chapter makes a strong case that supporting the path towards mastery is the key to deeper learning. An argument could be made that the ‘application’ stage is where professional fields like accounting, or general skills like critical thinking, make our graduates successful in their lives after graduation.

Now What?

As you think about this chapter, consider how it relates to your own teaching practice or the learning you have supported.

  1. Are these stages of learner achievement and the teaching modes that support their attainment, factors in your context? Where does the model fit and does it fall short in some aspect?
  2. If you have one, describe your own experience with a ‘blind spot’ as an instructor. How did you overcome it?

To encourage participation, those who share a comment/post this week will have their name entered into the Chapter Four draw for a $25 CAD gift certificate for Chapters Indigo. Read the contest guidelines here. Good luck!

The Book Club chat on Chapter Four will take place on Friday, Oct 12th at 10 AM PST. Check out the schedule and how to connect with the group. We also invite you to say hello in the Comments section of our Intro post.