Thinking about Teaching and Learning: Developing Habits of Learning with First Year College and University Students

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Thinking About Teaching and Learning: Developing Habits of Learning with First Year College and University Students by Robert Leamnson, PhD, Sterling, VA: Stylus Press, 1999; 256 pages, $22.50

As anyone who teaches first-year college students can attest, there are challenges and victories alike in the classroom. Robert Leamnson, a professor of biology and director of multidisciplinary studies at the University of Massachusetts, has written a thoughtful, compassionate, and practical primer for the purpose of improving the classroom experience for faculty and students. A teacher for many years, his fondness for students echoes clearly from passages such the following: "It's easy to like the young because they are young. They have no faults, except the very ones which they are asking you to eradicate: ignorance, shallowness, and inexperience" (p. 1).

While this book is essentially a study of pedagogy, it is not in the least dry or intimidating. It flows wonderfully and is written with humor and compassion. The first six of the book's eight chapters are devoted to the classroom and teaching techniques; the final two are reflections on writing, technology, and the nature of teaching. Two sample assignments are included, and a wide-ranging annotated bibliography offers information on classic works on pedagogy.

Leamnson's descriptions of the new college student, his beliefs about teaching, and his definition of learning reminded this reviewer of Jim Zull's The Art of Changing the Brain. Both authors take a biological approach to learning. They describe learning as brain change as opposed to brain use, as a process that "stabilizes, through repeated use, certain appropriate and desirable synapses in the brain" (p. 5). In Chapter 2, which describes in detail and depth the area of brain biology, Leamnson asserts that while education is a social activity, learning itself is solely found within the individual: "If learning is indeed a matter of brain development--synapses stabilized through use--it becomes equally clear that it cannot be effected by anyone but the learner" (p. 18).

In Chapter 3, the author makes his case for language. He states that it is through language alone--spoken, written, or signed--that we can detect thought. He stresses that one of the most important roles of the teacher is to support and assist students in learning how to express ideas and explains that for the typical new college student, the art of articulation does not come naturally. …