The Decoding the Disciplines Paradigm: Seven Steps to Increased Student Learning

The Decoding the Disciplines Paradigm: Seven Steps to Increased Student Learning

The Decoding the Disciplines Paradigm: Seven Steps to Increased Student Learning

The Decoding the Disciplines Paradigm: Seven Steps to Increased Student Learning


Teaching and learning in a college setting has never been more challenging. How can instructors reach out to their students and fully engage them in the conversation? Applicable to multiple disciplines, the Decoding the Disciplines Paradigm offers a radically new model for helping students respond to the challenges of college and provides a framework for understanding why students find academic life so arduous. Teachers can help their pupils overcome obstacles by identifying bottlenecks to learning and systematically exploring the steps needed to overcome these obstacles. Often, experts find it difficult to define the mental operations necessary to master their discipline because they have become so automatic that they are invisible. However, once these mental operations have been made explicit, the teacher can model them for students, create opportunities for practice and feedback, manage additional emotional obstacles, assess results, and share what has been learned with others.


Somewhere in the world at this very moment there is a college class that is not working: an earnest instructor is deeply committed to sharing what makes his or her discipline so compelling, and the class is filled with students who would desperately like to succeed, but the instructor’s words are not connecting. the students have no idea what they are actually supposed to do to master the material at hand—or, worse, they are confidently following strategies that are completely inappropriate for the discipline.

For all concerned it is a downward spiral. Once again the students are reminded that it does not much matter what they do; when they put effort into their courses, the results are quite meager. As a result they withdraw, placing their energies elsewhere, in parts of their lives that seem to offer a greater chance of a return. the instructor’s response is similar. Once again an investment of time and personal resources in the course has yielded few returns. Aside from a couple of “ringers” who share the teacher’s enthusiasm and were already able to function in the discipline before the course began, the class remains an inert mass, seemingly impervious to learning. Each day the instructor feels a little less willing to invest in the course, a little more resentment toward those who “refuse” to learn, and increasingly inclined to transfer more attention to those areas of academic life that offer better chances for success.

This sad story has, of course, been playing out since formal education began. It has led to innumerable microtragedies as students have had their hopes for the future dashed and faculty have seen a major part of their professional identity mired in failure and resentment. But the system has continued to function because society’s need for education has been limited. So long as instructors conveyed a stream of knowledge to the small number of future professionals, the system survived. in fact, the failure to educate had a perverse function, since one of the primary roles of college professors was to restrict the awarding of degrees to that relatively small group who had the exceptional abilities, elite preparation, or social connections that marked them as particularly eligible for positions in law, medicine, and other professions.

We are now viewing the death throes of a world in which learning was a luxury item to be enjoyed by the very few. the conception of the instructor as a . . .

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