BCcampus Online Book Club

Reading In Action

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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?

Chapter 1: Retrieving

Big Idea:  Small frequent low stakes testing improves retrieval and learning


Part 1 of Small Teaching focuses on how learners acquire knowledge – how they retrieve understand, and predict information that is foundational to higher order critical thinking skills. As educators, we often focus on the application and synthesis of information without giving attention to how we support learners in building foundational knowledge.

This first chapter takes a closer look at the retrieval process and the importance of actively practicing retrieval through testing or quizzing to improve learning. This is known as the retrieval effect or testing effect.  Answering questions about the learning content results in better retrieval than just re-studying the material. This retrieval practice is where learning happens.

CCO photo by Burak K from pexels.com

Think about learning to drive. Reading about driving isn’t sufficient to master driving; much of the learning happens when you practice driving.

The same principle applies to learners. For example, students spend much of their studying time by reading but little time testing their knowledge. This quizzing can be a powerful tool to enhance learning. Lang suggests that if we want to support students’ ability to retrieve information and optimize learning then we have to help students practice retrieval.  Three key principles guide retrieval practice.


  1. Frequency Matters
    1. Regular quizzing results in greater improvement than sporadic testing
  2. Align Practice and Assessment
    1. Learners need to practice what they are going to retrieve
  3. Retrieval process requires thinking to be effective
    1. More complex questions helps improve retrieval

Retrieval is easy; Encoding is difficult

Much of the chapter concerns getting information out (retrieval) as opposed to getting information in (encoding).  I diverge slightly from the book’s emphasis on retrieval as a barrier to learning.  Retrieval is easy if information has been encoded in the first place.  

CCO photo by Rachel Hall

I often use the following example with my students based on the work of Richardson (1993). Without looking, draw the opposite side of this Canadian nickel.

Many people can recall that a nickel has an image of a beaver and the words 5 Cents. But what else? Does it have other images or dates? Take a look and see how well you did.  Interestingly, very few people can successfully draw a nickel from memory. Why is that? People encode what they pay attention to and what is important to them. In this case, the fact that a nickel  is worth 5 cents is what is important.  Even though most people have seen the image hundreds if not thousands of times, the image isn’t what is relevant to them and therefore isn’t encoded. You cannot retrieve information that was never there in the first place. This is called encoding failure (see Kellogg, 2016).

The same example applies to learning. Students who do poorly at retrieving information have often never encoded the information. For example, they have read their texts and notes and generalized information but not encoded the types of specific details that are required in higher education. The retrieval practice process suggested by Lang is what helps students to encode the information.  However, students don’t necessary know how to learn which is where the strategies in Small Teaching come into play. The strategies are short and focus on the first and last few minutes of class. Several are adapted from Angelo and Cross’ Classroom Assessment Techniques (1993). These strategies focus on assessment as learning versus assessment of learning. Five to ten minutes of class time can make a significant difference to student learning.

Quick Small Teaching Ideas:

  • Give frequent low stakes quizzes
  • Open classes by asking learners to remind you what was last covered
  • Close classes by asking learners to write down the most important concept or one question they still have
  • Close class with a short quiz or problem
  • Use your syllabus to redirect learners to past content and ask them to recall important points from that topic

Links you may be interested in:

https://www.retrievalpractice.org Retrieval Practice has teaching strategies, evidence-based tips and practice guides.
https://www.learningscientists.org The Learning Scientists is a website by cognitive psychologist with the aim to make learning more accessible to students and educators. Has some downloadable resources.
https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/retrieval-practice/Retrieval practice: The most powerful learning strategy you’re not using


What strategies are you using? Share your ideas in the online Chapter discussions in Mattermost or join us for the  live web conference meetup for Chapter One on Friday, September 13th at 11:00am.
See How to Participate.



Angelo, T.A. and Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Technologies (Second Edition). Classroom Assessment Techniques 2nd edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Kellogg, R. T. (2016). Fundamentals of cognitive psychology, 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Richardson, J. (1993). The curious case of coins: Remembering the appearance of familiar objects. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 6, 360-366.


Introduction: Small Teaching

What does the title of the book ‘Small Teaching’ make you wonder about? 

Small Teaching is “an approach that seeks to spark positive change in higher education through small but powerful modifications to our course design and teaching strategies”

The book Small Teaching describes little changes to learning environments that result in big shifts in learning.  Author James Lang examines strategies derived from research on learning and higher education, that are applicable to the educational environments, and that he himself has observed or experienced.  These activities take one of three forms:

  •   Brief 5-10 learning activity
  •   One time intervention
  •   Small modifications in the course design or communication

Each chapter introduces a concept from learning science with examples of how it can be applied  in a variety of disciplines, and then guides instructors in creating their own small teaching strategies.

Come and join us in our discussions of this book over the next few weeks! Learn and share what small teaching would look like to you.  #BookClubBC @BCcBookclub

Welcome Back! Join our 2019 Fall Book Club!

Hello everyone! Welcome back to the beginning of a new year. We are pleased to be able to offer the The BCcampus Online Book Club again and to work with our BC post-secondary community volunteers to support this teaching and learning professional development opportunity.

The book we’ve selected is Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning by James M. Lang. A copy of Small Teaching should be easily available from most post-secondary teaching and learning centres or libraries, or you may purchase a copy. Whether you’ve read the book already, or are reading along for the first time…everyone is welcome! Join us and learn together over the next 10 weeks (September 9 – November 15).  Share strategies on what “small teaching” you have tried in your current work, or plan to use in future with students. Ideas may be shared on social media and tagged #BookClubBC. Our twitter account is @BCcBookclub

Using the same organizing format for the Book Club as last year, our activities will centre around this blog site with the introduction of two new tools to support more community interaction in the form of facilitated online Chapter chats (Mattermost) and weekly webinar (Big Blue Button).

As noted in the posted schedule, each week will have the following activities:

  • Featured blog posts published on  https://bccampusonlinebookclub.opened.ca/ If you wish to participate by reading the weekly posts, we recommend you subscribe to the site so you don’t miss a post. This year we are lucky to have 9 amazing facilitators—one per Chapter of Small Teaching and  the addition of one very special guest at one of our meetups!
  • Facilitated online Chapter “chats” or online discussions will be another way for you to participate. See How to Participate.
  • Facilitated live web conference meetups hosted by a facilitator. See How to Participate.

We have shared some technology tips for you on what to do to prep for participation.

Designed for maximum flexibility, the Book Club will allow you to participate as much, as little as you wish. It will be up to you. Registration is not required and the Book Club is free of charge. Our guiding principles for this learning opportunity remains the same as last year, and that is that it be openeasy to participate in, informal and fun!

Looking forward to another great year.   Hope you will join us in our fall Book Club!

All the Best,

2019 BCcampus Book Club Facilitators




Our Online Book Club is back this Fall with “Small Teaching”

We are pleased to announce the next offering of the BCcampus Online Book Club. This free, open, and online professional learning event starts this Fall on September 9th and finishes on November 15th, 2019.  The book selected is “Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning” by James M. Lang.

Following up on lessons learned from the initial offering of the Book Club last year, there will additional support for interaction between participants through two open source tools (Mattermost chat and Big Blue Button web conferencing) offered by the OpenETC.

If you are a new participant, take a look at what we did last year in the Book Club in our reading of “How Learning Works”. If your interest is piqued, we encourage you get ahead with a summer reading of  “Small Teaching”  which should be readily available from your local campus library.  There are nine wonderful and highly knowledgeable facilitators from our post-secondary community that will lead our discussion on each Chapter topic: Peter Arthur, Gina Bennett, Asif Devji, Isabeau Iqbal, Laura MacKay, Sylvia Riessner, Keith Webster and Lucas Wright.

All are welcome who are interested in teaching and learning, sharing ideas and exploring our Book Club as an informal and fun way for us to learn together and meet new people in our community.

If you have any questions, send a note to ltet@bccampus.ca or Leva.lee@bccampus.ca

Subscribe to our blog site and follow us @BCcBookClub  #BookclubBC


BCcampus Online Book Club first offering: It’s a wrap!

Hello Everyone,

Well our journey together on this first offering of the BCcampus Online Book Club has now ended with a great discussion today on the last chapter of  “How Learning Works”  facilitated by Peter Arthur.

On behalf of the facilitators Lucas Wright, Giulia Forsythe, Keith Webster, Janine Hirtz, Laura Mackay, and Peter Arthur, thank you to all the fabulous Book Club participants who made thoughtful and insightful contributions to the blog and our Friday web chats.

We are asking now for feedback to the Book Club which we will use for future planning and improvements. It’s a short survey so send us your ideas going forward and especially suggestions for the next book and journey of learning together.

Also, if you have something to share on your participation in the Book Club, we invite you to post it in the Comments below.  Until next time!

The BCcampus Book Club Facilitators – Fall 2018

beach blue car combi

Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com


Last meeting of the BCcampus Book Club

Hello Everyone,

Just a reminder that tomorrow, Friday Nov 9th, is the seventh and last meeting of the BCcampus Book Club on “How Learning Works”. The meeting will take place at 10 am DST.

Please connect a few minutes earlier to check your technical setup (especially your audio connection) by checking out this page with information about Blue Jeans web conferencing and the link to our dedicated room.

Looking forward to talking to you all.

Peter Arthur, Chapter Seven Facilitator


Chapter Seven: How Do Students Become Self-Directed Learners?

This post is contributed by Peter Arthur, Chapter Seven Facilitator.


Key Principle:  “To become self-directed learners, students must learn to assess the demands of the task, evaluate their own knowledge and skills, plan their approach, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies as needed.”

Further, upon completing the learning task, students should reflect on their learning process, examine instructor feedback and adjust their learning strategy for next time.

Figure 7.1. Cycle of Self-Directed Learning


Note: One of the book’s authors (Marsha Lovett) explains principle 7 at the University of Texas at Austin: https://vimeo.com/185485728


So What?

Metacognition enhances a student’s ability to be a self-directed learner and is associated with academic success.  However, according to chapter 7, students do not fully leverage their metacognitive skills.  Consequently, it is important to support students with developing and applying their metacognitive abilities.


Now What?

Strategies that support student’s ability to develop and apply the following metacognitive skills:

  • Access the demands of the task
    1. Be explicit with communicating your learning targets/competencies/outcomes related to what you expect and don’t want in a learning task. Further, it is important to check the student’s understanding of the task’s expectations.
    2. Provide students with the criteria they will be assessed on i.e. rubric.
  • Evaluate ones own strengths and stretches (weaknesses)
    1. Provide practice with timely feedback.
    2. Provide opportunities for self-assessment. For example students may use practice exams to assist with learning the material, however just as importantly learn about their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Plan an approach
    1. Either provide students with a detailed plan that includes milestones/deadlines or have them create their own learning plan.
  • Applying strategies and monitoring performance
    1. Require students to reflect on and annotate their own work.
  • Reflecting on and adjusting one’s approach
    1. Require students to reflect on their performances i.e. assignments/projects and exams. In the case of exams, exam wrappers ask students how they performed, what strategies they used to prepare, based on exam results what worked and didn’t work, and most importantly, what they should do next time to learn the material for the exam.
  • Beliefs about intelligence and learning (Growth Mindset)
    1. Directly teach that students are able to grow their intelligence and the more effort put in, the more you will get out.
    2. Support students with setting reasonable expectations with their learning.
  • Develop their metacognition
    1. Model your thinking. For example, using the think aloud protocol, demonstrate how an expert would solve the problem by speaking your thoughts each step of the way

In summary, metacognition does not necessarily develop on its own. Metacognitive skills enhance the student’s ability to be a self-directed learner and succeed in higher education environments that are placing more responsibility for their learning on the student. This chapter provides many practical ideas. Please share your thoughts and comments!

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

The Book Club chat on Chapter Seven will take place on Friday, Nov. 9th at 10 AM DST. Check out the schedule and how to connect with the group.


Hello Everyone,

I hope you’ve been enjoying the readings as much as I have. Even for those who are reading HLW for a second time there are always new take-aways.  Our sixth meeting of the BCcampus Book Club will take place Friday November 2nd at 10am PST.

Please connect a few minutes earlier to check your technical setup (especially your audio connection) by checking out this page with information about Blue Jeans web conferencing and the link to our dedicated room.

Here are a few questions to help us get started in our Chapter Six discussion.

  • The focus in this chapter is on young adults (17-24). How might this principle apply to older learners? What might be different?
  • What explicitly inclusive approaches do you use to foster a more positive classroom climate?
  • In what ways do you take student development into account in your teaching? 

Hope to chat with you on Friday!

Laura MacKay, Chapter Six Facilitator

Chapter Six: Why do Students Development and Course Climate Matter for Student Learning?

This post is contributed by Laura MacKay, Chapter Six Facilitator. 


Principle: Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.

This chapter of How Learning Works addresses how learning is influenced by the interactive effects of holistic student development and classroom climate. Students vary from one another and from class to class. This is what makes teaching exciting and always changing.  But this also has pitfalls unless educators proactively work towards creating a supportive classroom climate that intentionally acknowledges and addresses differences. The educational environment is often focused on student intellectual development but students are also rapidly growing and changing socially and emotionally. While educators have less impact on student development according to the authors, they can shape the climate of the classroom in ways that address holistic development and enhance learning.

A number of theories are presented that describe changes in how students perceive and understand the world around them and the ways in which this impacts the class environment. Strong emphasis is placed on students’ development of identity and how this can lead to the formation of ingroups and outgroups and the development of prejudice, discrimination, and stereotypes. The classroom can be a place where students feel invisible, or marginalized, or discriminated against, or supported, or inclusive. How educators structure the class climate will impact learning.

According to DeSurra and Church (1994) classroom climate is best understood on a continuum:

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 9.06.30 AMClassroom climate is determined by:

  • Faculty-student and student-student interactions
  • Tone
  • Stereotyping
  • Content


A negative class climate hinders learning whereas a positive environment strengthens learning. Educators have a great deal of control over classroom climate. HLW suggest several strategies that encourage student development and create a productive classroom environment.

  • Make uncertainty safe
  • Resist a single right answer
  • Incorporate evidence into performance and grading criteria
  • Examine your assumptions about students
  • Be mindful of low-ability cues
  • Do not ask individuals to speak for an entire group
  • Reduce anonymity
  • Model inclusive language, behaviour, and attitudes
  • Use multiple and diverse examples
  • Establish and reinforce ground rules for interaction
  • Make sure course content does not marginalize students
  • Use the syllabus and first day of class to establish the course climate
  • Set up process to get feedback on the climate
  • Anticipate and prepare for potentially sensitive issues
  • Address tensions early
  • Turn discord and tension into a learning opportunity
  • Facilitate active listening


Instead of looking to the above strategies as a checklist, it may be helpful to consider your learning environment as more of an ecosystem with interacting components between yourself, your students, and the course content.  As one component changes, the learning environment changes.

To reflect on this chapter and prepare for the upcoming book club meeting you may wish to comment on the following:

  • The focus in this chapter is on young adults (17-24). How might this principle apply to older learners? What might be different?
  • What explicitly inclusive approaches do you use to foster a more positive classroom climate?
  • Do you see the principle of learning in this chapter applying to online class climate? How might it be similar or different?
  • Much of the discussion around the stages of development, in particular in relation to social identity, has a negative connotation. In what ways might social identity be construed as positive?

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

The Book Club chat on Chapter Six will take place on Friday, Nov. 2nd at 10 AM PST. Check out the schedule and how to connect with the group.


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