Neeraja Sadagopan

Speech, Language and Hearing Science

I. Course context: SLHS 3116 (Speech Science) is a large (113 students) upper level undergraduate course that is a core course for our major. The course covers anatomy and physiology of the speech mechanism.

II. What did you do?
A. Target of improvement/evidence: My goal for this class is for students to experience a shift of focus from primarily memorization to conceptual understanding of speech anatomy, physiology and science.

B. Changes made:
Bottleneck Target: Focus on concept rather than being bogged down by
facts and memorization. While my initial goal was to focus on several concepts in the course, it quickly became apparent after the start of the semester that one primary focus would be more beneficial. My specific goal, therefore, was for students to deduce muscle function based on the name of the muscle, and an understanding of the basic principles of muscle function. I think that future semesters can include several concepts as target, if the course were reworked so that “first exposure” (R. Bass, personal communication, May 12, 2011) occurs prior to class


1. Expectation assessment (classroom assessment): In Spring 2010, a few students had mentioned that they had not expected the course to be an anatomy and physiology course, because the course’s name, ‘Speech Science’ had implied something else to them. Therefore, this year, I decided to administer a questionnaire to assess student expectations for the course. This questionnaire was administered on the first day of class and included demographic questions, questions related to course expectations, and a few questions about learning styles. A tag cloud of student responses to the open ended question was generated to share with the class while discussing student expectations and how they fit with course agenda.
2. One minute papers (classroom assessment): One minute papers, which were content-specific questions were administered at the end of each topic (not necessarily class), approximately once every two weeks. These questions took a variety of forms, requiring application, clarification or description of the course content or reading material.
3. Team ‘think aloud’ (pedagogy and classroom assessment): When I first came across this technique during the FTEP Assessment Institute, I was very excited because I believed that this strategy could be particularly relevant to my course content, but I didn’t want to audio or video record the think aloud process. So, I had envisioned a modified version – perhaps showing the class a couple of examples, and then having them complete a write “aloud” (a written account of the process of working through a question), or a small group/pair work-it-out aloud. The challenge was the size of the course, and I wasn’t sure how I would manage the strategy in a large class.
       A month or so into the semester, the opportunity to implement this strategy arose somewhat naturally, through my observation that students would benefit from discussion on certain one-minute questions. So, for the rest of the semester, I worked these into about 4 of the many one minute assessments. During these assessments, I provided the name of a muscle that we had not yet covered in class, and asked students to deduce muscle function. In order to do this, a student would have had to use the muscle’s name to figure out start and end points, determine muscle course, identify relative stability/mobility of contact structures, and then determine muscle action. In this modified version of think alouds, students: a) wrote down their anonymous response to a one-minute question independently, b) were instructed to, then, spend two minutes working through the question with their neighbor(s), in teams of two or three, and c)finally, wrote down (on the same sheet of paper) , their “post-think-aloud” answer. This strategy enabled me to compare their answers before and after the think aloud process.
4. Modeling, repetition, reiteration, and practice (pedagogy):
I spent a significant amount of time each class in the early part of the semester demonstrating my ‘process’ for deducing muscle function, attempting to make my steps and the process transparent. Plenty of opportunity was provided for practice within the classroom, through informal questions and discussion, and through formal assessment (one minute assessments).

III. What happened?

1. Expectation assessment (classroom assessment): The tag-cloud based on student responses to the open-ended question re: course content expectations suggested that this time around, the students’ impression of what the course was about matched the course content. The tag cloud below was shared with the class during week one, to describe course content and discuss objectives. Evidence: tag cloud (shown b

2. One minute papers (classroom assessment): The one minute papers were very revealing. I went through the answers (all anonymous) for each question after it was administered, and shared examples of really good answers with the class. I used student responses to slow down and clarify material as needed. Students found the one-minute questions very helpful, both as a self-assessment tool, and as practice for the exams. Evidence - Mid-semester feedback questionnaire: Many students mentioned how much they appreciated the one-minute questions, and several asked if we could do them more often.
3. Team ‘think aloud’ (pedagogy and classroom assessment): What struck me most about this exercise was how much more some students gained from the team think aloud activity incorporated into the one minute assessments. In many cases, the post- ‘team think aloud’ activity resulted in better (more accurate, more complete) answers from students, and in some cases, the improvement was striking. Evidence: One minute assessments with two answers, an initial independent attempt, and a second, revised answer after working through the question aloud in a team (2-3 students).
Below is an example of one student’s response to the first of these questions that we completed in class.

Pre- think aloud: “Judging from the name, I would guess that it originates at the sternum and insets into the thyroid cartilage. Perhaps its function is raising the sternum (kind of like the sternocleidomastoid).”
Post think aloud: “The sternothyroid muscle likely starts at the sternum and inserts into the front of the thyroid. When it contracts it brings the sternum and the thyroid closer together. In this case, since the sternum is less mobile than the thyroid, the thyroid gets lowered, stretching the vocal folds and lengthening them (?)”

The second answer is not only more complete, but through discussion with a peer, this student has also posed a question relating to a potential indirect result of this muscle’s contract, reflecting integration of information.

4. Modeling, repetition, reiteration, and practice (pedagogy): Students picked up on the fact that I was repeating and reiterating the primary concepts consistently. Evidence - Mid-semester evaluation: While I had not explicitly mentioned to them that this was an intentional pedagogical strategy, I seemed to have been doing it obviously enough for students to take notice, as evidenced by several students’ comments. Some examples are given below. In the ‘Continue’ column of the mid-semester feedback evaluation (see appendix), students said,
• “repetition of concepts/redundancy”
• “I like the way you repeat some of the material, because it is almost always hard for me to understand the first time around”
• “reinforce important info. The more I hear it, the more I understand the material”
• “referring back to past info and relating it to current info”
IV. What did you learn? What's next?
A. What worked? I learned that:
1. Each class is different, and it is important to assess pre-conceived notions and document expectations for each class at the start of the semester. For me, it was important that everyone was on the same page right from the beginning.
2. The classroom assessment techniques became an important and integral part of the course. They were beneficial to the students in that they provided an additional opportunity for practice, and they helped me pace the class appropriately, and ensure that at least most of the students were grasping core concepts. In particular, I am thrilled by the potential of the team think aloud activity, and hope to use it again more often, and more effectively in future courses.
3. I also found that students, in general, appreciated the periodic evaluation of teaching and learning. Inspite of the course continuing to remain challenging (perhaps even more so that before due to emphasis on concept and application), students felt it was fair and important. The positive attitude to change is very encouraging.
B. What’s next? I hope to include these activities, especially the one minute assessments and think alouds, to a greater extent in coming semesters. I also plan on using Bloom’s taxonomy (M.A. Shea, personal communication, March 4, 2011) on learning as a guide to the assessment of each step involved in learning.
C. Sharing with colleagues? I have already had informal discussions with colleagues, but hope to collect more data on the think alouds for a more formal presentation in the future.

Appendix: One of the most insightful questions on the mid-semester evaluation form is included below. I found the answers very helpful, and in many instances, they confirmed that the new strategies were helpful to students.
Stop/Start/Continue Exercise (Strobino, 1997)
• Under the START column, please record instructional practices, policies, or behaviors you would like me, as a professor, to start using, or use more of.
• Under the STOP column, please list any teaching practices, policies, or behaviors that you would like me, as a professor to stop using, or use less of.
• Under the CONTINUE column, please list those elements which you would like to see continued in this course.


*Offer as much space as desired

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