Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Application of the K-W-L Teaching and Learning Method to an Introductory Physics Course

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Application of the K-W-L Teaching and Learning Method to an Introductory Physics Course

Article excerpt


So you have heard about inquiry-based teaching methods and they sounded like too much work, too messy, or too difficult, right? Then consider the K-W-L method. It is simple. It can be used in a science class, lecture, or lab setting. It works well with elementary and middle school students (Carr and Ogle 1987; Ogle 1986). It worked well with our college students in physics. It helps engage students in their own learning.

This useful method of teaching gets its acronym from the steps through which the teacher leads the class. The "K" stands for "find out what students Know" about a topic. The "W" stands for "find out what students Want" to know. The "L," used after students complete their activities, stands for "find out what students have Learned." This simple strategy helps the teacher progress through a topic in a way that makes sense from both the teacher's and the learner's standpoint. We have used the K-W-L method in introductory college physics classes for nonphysics majors, with the results discussed later in this article.

The K-W-L method supports current knowledge about learning and teaching. The K step accesses prior knowledge. Making connections with prior knowledge and concepts helps the brain get ready to link new information with the old. For the teacher, knowing what the class understands helps change the course of instruction; more time can then be spent teaching information that is not well understood. Also, in discussing the prior knowledge of students, the teacher becomes aware of misconceptions that need to be challenged and corrected. The W step helps actively engage students in the topic and gives them ownership of the ideas (Hake 1988). Teaching students to ask themselves what information they want to know is a process step in critical thinking that can have rewards beyond the current classroom. The L step helps students assimilate information that works with their current understanding. Discussing what has been learned helps students accommodate the new information that requires reconstruction of knowledge. Students conceptualize what has been learned and make links with established memory. Traditionally taught labs have students walking out saying, "What did we just do?" Our students, however, could tell you not only what they did, but also why and what they learned.

One of the authors became acquainted with the K-W-L method of teaching when she was participating as a physics graduate student in a "reading in the content area" class. With this very simple stratagem, the teacher had students engaged and talking about a subject that they were interested in but knew very little about. The teacher had students brainstorm ideas on the subject, arranged the ideas into three categories, and then had students choose which category they wanted to know more about. That choice put them in groups. Those groups decided what they really wanted to know more about, researched these topics, and presented their findings to the whole class.

This method intrigued the authors, for it was simple, useful, and versatile. Ogle (1986; Carr and Ogle 1987) created the K-W-L method and found that using the method improved reading comprehension among her kindergarten-age students. Ogle also found that teaching her students to ask, "What do I want to know?" strengthens their desire to learn and increases their willingness to search for the answer. Glazer (1999) tested it with elementary school-age students in reading and found that students were encouraged to learn. She also found that teaching students to organize information using the three steps of K-W-L helped elementary school students to organize their thinking and to realize what information they still needed to find. Jared and Jared (1997) used K-W-L with her technology students in middle school. She found an increase in student engagement with the class and an increase in student motivation to seek further knowledge. …

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