Theme 2: Use Good Problems

7 7: Cycle of Expertise — Make them practice

The CYCLE OF EXPERTISE principle begins with a simple challenge and the introduction of the skill needed to solve that challenge. Then learners practice the skill until they understand the underlying systems of the challenge and skills, and master it.  The cycle is then repeated with a new challenge that mastered skills fail to overcome — prompting the need to learn new skills. “Expertise is formed in any area by repeated cycles of learners practicing skills until they are nearly automatic, then having those skills fail in ways that cause the learners to have to think again and learn anew.”

CYCLE OF EXPERTISE strategies in teaching

  • Challenge learners to bring their interests and skills to the table to solve difficult field-related problems that interest them. Let them fail repeatedly in low-stakes, but not no-stakes environments, and offer relevant tools to solve the challenge. Let them play with the tools, and learn the skills needed to manipulate them successfully.
  • Let learners fail in their attempts to use skills inappropriately to solve more difficult challenges — this is how they will learn the limits and systems underlying each tool and skill.
  • Encourage students to master skills in a variety of situations by providing practice with as many different varieties of challenges that each skill can solve.
  • Encourage and credit peer-to-peer challenges at each level.
  • Create assignments that focus on key concepts and individual skills. Design larger projects that require cumulative skill use, and synthesis.
  • Assign reflections on challenges and strategies: why do different skills work for different challenges, and why they fail for other challenges.
  • Add a few strategies that might work in your course, and see others’ ideas here.

CYCLE OF EXPERTISE strategies in Canvas

  • Include a variety of “tests of knowledge” or formative assessments.
  • Provide skill practice time every day with low-stakes quizzes that present challenges in a variety of ways.
  • Point to systems in Outcomes and Rubrics to explicitly direct and keep students on track.
  • Revisit use of skills cumulatively in quizzes and tests. Include some questions/concepts from early in course in later quizzes and tests.
  • Have students learn skill techniques and tricks from each other in discussion reflections.
  • Have students work together on challenges to learn skills collaboratively.
  • Encourage explorative thinking and failure through discussions graded only on participation (and guide them to answers).
  • Add a few strategies that might work in your course, and see others’ ideas here.

Knowledge Check


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