Monday, December 26, 2011

Study Groups

In last weeks NYT, a major piece on Mitt Romney told about his days at HBS, and the intense study methods he used to become one of the best, if not the brightest: study groups

Instead, Mr. Romney threw his energy into being the best. Nearly all business school students formed study groups to help them digest the constant flow of cases, but Mr. Romney recruited a murderers’ row of some of the most distinguished students in the class. “He and I said, hey, let’s handpick some superstars,” said Howard Serkin, a classmate.
Every day for an hour, the all-male group — there were relatively few women in the program back then — sat at a semicircular table outside the classroom and briefed one another on the reading material. It was an exercise in mutual protection, since any of them could be called on in class and their performance would affect their grades. Mr. Romney served as a kind of team captain, the other members said, pushing and motivating the others.
“He wanted to make straight A’s,” Mr. Serkin said. “He wanted our study group to be No. 1.” Sometimes Mr. Romney arrived early to run his numbers a few extra times. And if his partners were not prepared, “he was not afraid of saying: ‘You’re letting us down. We want to be the best,’ ” Mr. Serkin added.
The students were experiencing the most unusual, distinguishing aspect of a Harvard Business School education: in every class, even accounting, there were no textbooks, no theories of management, just the school’s vaunted set of cases — one-page summaries of real-life corporate situations.
The case study method “doesn’t start with the theory or even principles,” said Kim B. Clark, a friend of Mr. Romney’s who later became dean of the school. “It starts with ‘All right, what is going on? What does the data tell us?’ ”
The cases did not even lay out questions. Students had to analyze the material, sometimes just a paragraph long, figure out the company’s problems and pose solutions. “The case study method is like trying to train doctors by just showing them [sick] patients, rather than by showing them textbooks to depict what a healthy patient should look like,” said Mr. Brownstein, the former classmate.

From College Board site:

The Power of Study Groups

Working Together Helps Everyone

You may have noticed that when you’re explaining something you've learned to a friend, you begin to understand it better yourself. This happens because, when you explain an idea, you need to think more deeply about it.
The same principle makes study groups useful. Studying with others in a small group is helpful because you:
  • Think out loud.
  • Share ideas.
  • Learn from one another.
In an effective study group, you and other students hash out lesson materials together — explaining concepts, arguing about them, figuring out why one person's answer differs from another's — and in the process, you most likely learn more than you would have studying by yourself.

The Benefits of Study Groups

Group study offers other advantages in addition to gaining a deeper understanding of class material. These include the opportunity to:
Reinforce note-taking. If your AP® Biology notes are unclear, you can ask a member of your study group to help you fill the gaps.
Share talents. Each person brings different strengths, such as organizational skills, the ability to stick to a task or a capacity for memorization.
Cover more ground. Group members may be able to solve a calculus problem together that none would have solved alone.
Benefit from a support system. Members often have common goals, such as good grades. Each person’s work affects the other members, which results in making members supportive of one another. 
Socialize. It's more fun to study with others; the give-and-take makes it more interesting. And because it's more fun, you spend more time studying!

Guidelines for Getting a Group Together

Here are some guidelines for creating and running a study group:
How many? Create a group of four to six people. In a larger group, it's easy for someone to get left out and smaller groups can too easily get off track.
Who? Pick classmates who seem to share your interest in doing well academically. Look for people who stay alert in class, take notes, ask questions and respond to the teacher's questions. Include someone who understands the material better than you and can explain the concepts and someone who doesn’t understand it as well, to whom you can explain the material.
Where? Hold study group sessions in a place that is free of distractions and that has room to spread out books and notes.
How long? Meet for no more than two to three hours at a time. Having a time limit helps the group focus. If you know you only have an hour, you're more likely to stay on task.
When? Try to meet regularly, on the same day and time each week. Treating the study session as you would other activities helps you to keep to a schedule and ensures that everyone attends.

Getting the Most Out of a Session

Here are some tips to help your group get the most out of each study session:
  • Decide what you’re going to do in advance.
  • Prepare for the session, so you can make the most of your time together.
  • Take turns teaching, to reinforce your own knowledge.
  • Stick to the session topic.
By supplementing your individual study with a study group, you can reinforce what you've learned, deepen your understanding of complex concepts, and maybe even make a few new friends. Whoever said learning can't be fun?

From U Minn Handbook (

Often college is seen as a competitive place, so we tend to overlook the power of cooperation. The power of groups is widely accepted in the business world and can easily be used in your job as a student in the form of a study group.
Here are a few pointers for setting up a study group:
  1. Select people who seem to share your desire to reach your academic goals.
  2. Look for people who stay alert in class, who take notes, who ask questions, who respond to the professor's questions. (This may represent two or three different people, but that's good because you may also have different learning styles represented in your group).
  3. Limit your group to four to six people (large groups get unwieldy and small groups can too easily get off track)
  4. Schedule a meeting to "test the waters" and see how you get along together. Once the group seems to be doing well, try to schedule regular meetings.

How about some "principles" to follow in your group?
  1. Question each other on the material assigned (Be sure to have all the readings and assignments done!)
  2. Take turns "teaching" each other the material. Arthur Chickering, a student development researcher, says that often a student's "most important teacher is another student." If you have to teach a concept, you really have to know that concept, so you are not only helping the other group members, but also you are reinforcing your own knowledge.
  3. Try to predict test questions. Write them down and begin to to develop your own "test bank."
  4. Make sure someone takes the role of the session leader to keep the session productive.
  5. Compare notes. Maybe you need yours "filled in" or maybe you can help someone else "fill in" theirs.
  6. Take a few minutes at the end of the session to evaluate what you've done. (Did everyone put in their full effort? Did we concentrate on to much on one topic? How can we improve our efforts?)
  7. Plan the next meeting. Give the group assignments if appropriate.

Deliberate Practice

It is clear, after months of study in a training effectiveness project I have been pursuing, that lecture is undeserving in its continued prevalence in higher ed and secondary education.

We have a solid evidence, based on emergent systems 1 and 2 thinking, that lecture has to go.

....In this study, Wieman trained a postdoc, Louis Deslauriers, and a graduate student, Ellen Schelew, in an educational approach, called “deliberate practice,” that asks students to think like scientists and puzzle out problems during class. For 1 week, Deslauriers and Schelew took over one section of an introductory physics course for engineering majors, which met three times for 1 hour. A tenured physics professor continued to teach another large section using the standard lecture format.

The results were dramatic: After the intervention, the students in the deliberate practice section did more than twice as well on a 12-question multiple-choice test of the material as did those in the control section. They were also more engaged—attendance rose by 20% in the experimental section, according to one measure of interest—and a post-study survey found that nearly all said they would have liked the entire 15-week course to have been taught in the more interactive manner.

DP is not lecture. What it is also not is playing games or teacher entertaining the class.

At the heart of it is what Kahneman tells us about all System 2 thinking: it is effortful. It is also social and features very short feedback loops.


From Freakonomics Blog:

Thanks to recent, hugely popular books about the development of expertise, the term deliberate practice is coming into common usage as the kind of practice that produces expertise.

Deliberate practice requires careful reflection on what worked and what didn’t work. (and this is key, I think: immediate feedback) A budding concert pianist may practice a particularly troublesome passage listening for places where his fingers do not flow smoothly. A chess student may spend hours analyzing one move of a world-championship chess match trying to see what the grandmasters saw. This kind of practice demands time for reflection and intense concentration, so intense that it is difficult to sustain for longer than 3 hours per day.

As I have learned more about deliberate practice, I often think about its lessons for the educational system. And they are not happy ones.

In the grade-school years, deliberate practice is already hard to find. My strongest memory from fifth-grade mathematics is pages and pages of tedious three-digit-by-three-digit multiplication problems. Day after day! It is, alas, the kind of rote practice that I have done for chess: simply playing lots of games.

In a classic paper, “The Role of Deliberate Practice in Chess Expertise,” Neil Charnessand colleagues studied the effect on chess rating of different types of chess practice, including total hours of serious study (i.e., deliberate practice) and total hours of tournament play (their Table 3). The effect of deliberate practice far outweighed the effect of tournament play. Related: Gutenberg method

What does the Gutenberg Method involve? Simply this. You assign the students portions of the textbook to study before they come to class. When they come into the classroom, they are already acquainted with the material. You don't waste your time, and theirs, outlining the course. You don't waste time telling them that butyric acid smells like rancid butter, and that valeric acid smells like old socks, and other difficult intellectual concepts. The textbook has taken all that drudgery off your hands. You don't waste your time doing what Frank Lambert calls "presenting a boardful of elegantly organized material with beautiful answers to questions that the students have not asked."

The students have read the material, they have thought about it, and they have questions to ask about it. You answer these questions, or, better still, try to get them to answer their own questions, or get other students to give the answers. You ask questions. You have a discussion. If they're slow to come alive, you take up points that you know give students trouble. You lead them through difficult problems. The entire class hour becomes like those few golden moments at the end of an old-fashioned lecture when a few students manage to rise above the system and gather around your desk.