Svinicki's sixth chapter addresses what I suspect is a fairly common phenomenon in philosophy classrooms: "the illusion of comprehension," i.e., when students believe they have mastered some skill, body of knowledge, etc., only to witness themselves failing to demonstrate their mastery in subsequent learning tasks. It's the "I understood when you explained it in class" phenomenon. Svinicki traces this illusion to various factors:
- Students confuse superficial familiarity with deep knowledge. I suppose an example of this might be the student who can recite the definition of argumentative validity but cannot recognize it in arguments.
- Students study in ways that reinforce this illusion. Introductory students who study by memorizing material from flashcards are likely to be surprised come test time when they are asked to analyze evidence, extend their knowledge to new problems, defend claims, and the like.
- Students listen to expert depictions of knowledge and assume that their comprehension is like that of the experts.
I won't say much about Svinicki's particular suggestions for encouraging accurate self-monitoring. But I was struck by this passage:
Students must learn better way to monitor their own understanding while they're learning, and we must structure our class time so that these false senses of understanding will not survive. The first step in combating students' illusion of knowing is to confront them on a regular basis with evidence of their knowing or lack of it. (120)
This relates to our earlier discussion about students' "falling without getting hurt." How can we get students to confront the gaps in their knowledge in positive ways, ways that aren't discouraging or humiliating? For one, I've become a big fan of ungraded quizzes, allowing students to get a bead on the state of their own knowledge without it counting against the bottom line grade.
But does anyone out there have other ideas as to how to confront students with evidence of their not knowing in ways that help students and motivate them?