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Paired Courses 
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I.  Definition of Training Piece

  1. Purpose for Instructor
    We all want our students to take the knowledge and skills they learn in our class and use it in other areas of school and their lives. In fact, we assume that this is what is happening. But is it? Learning theorists say, "not necessarily... in fact, probably not!" Paired courses are one way of coming closer to the goal of helping students make connections between one subject and another, between themselves and the material they are studying, and between themselves and others. Paired courses also give students practice applying the new skills they are learning in another subject area as they learn them. Research also shows that students learn more and at deeper levels when they are involved in an interdisciplinary pairing; Vincent Tinto and others have evidence of better retention of students in learning communities, especially those designed for developmental-level students. By the end of this module, you will be able to identify different formats of paired courses and will have explored the possibilities of pairing one of your courses with another course.
  2. Material Covered
    This content module will introduce you to the basics of integrating two or more courses into a learning community. Possible formats for pairing or linking classes are presented in Section II, and suggested activities to help students apply the strategies they learn in the study skills class to their content class are provided in Section IV. Most of the examples used are drawn from a reading and study skills course paired or linked with content courses (Biology, Environmental Science, or Interpersonal Communications). This module also contains recent research on learning and students' transfer (or lack of) of skills and information from one subject area to another.

II.  Foundation

  1. Definition of Paired courses
    Leaders of the National Learning Communities Project (FIPSE) have provided some common understanding of the terms "learning communities," "paired courses," and "linked courses" in a publication entitled Learning Community Models (Washington Center for Improving Undergraduate Education, 1999.)

    "Paired courses are two courses for which students must co-register." Generally, there are two formats for paired courses, the first being "linked classes" in which "faculty work to coordinate syllabi and assignments, but may teach their classes separately. Often a writing or speech course is linked to a lecture-centered course, or a mathematics course is linked to a science course."

    A second type of paired course is a "team-taught course pair" in which "two or more courses are fully team-taught as an integrated program" with "faculty participating as learners as well as teachers."

  2. Summary of Relevant Research
    Building community in higher education:
    John Dewey, arguably the most important of American educational theorists, expressed over 100 years ago his belief in "My Pedagogic Creed," that "much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life." One of the most significant curriculum reforms that educators since have made to make Dewey's perception a reality has been the creation of "learning communities." As the authors (Gabelnick et. al.) of Learning Communities: Creating Connections Among Students, Faculty, and Disciplines (1991) observe, "Learning community structures set up avenues for intellectual and pedagogical exploration, public learning, and developing responsibility for the wider community."

    Parker Palmer, named one of the thirty "most influential senior leaders" in higher education by The Leadership Project in 1998, spoke about the difficulties of establishing connectedness between faculty and students in the academy in his keynote address delivered at the Washington Center National Learning Communities Conference in May, 1999.

    "We know that knowing, teaching, and learning are communal acts. We also have several generations of solid research on the fact that pedagogies and curricula of connectedness help people get smarter faster about complex fields of information than do competition and dumping data into people's heads." (from "Learning Communities: Reweaving the Culture of Disconnection," delivered at the Washington Center National Learning Communities Conference, May, 1999 and reported in the Washington Center News, Spring 2000. For a copy of the keynote address, write to the Washington Center for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education, The Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA 98505).

    Research about the transfer of knowledge and skills:
    There is great deal of research about the assumptions and myths that we hold about the extent to which people transfer learning. Sue E. Berryman and Thomas R. Bailey, authors of The Double Helix of Education and the Economy (1992), outline Five Incorrect Assumptions About Learning. Their number one incorrect assumption is that "People predictably transfer learning to new situations." Instead, "extensive research, spanning decades, shows that individuals do not predictably transfer in any of three situations where transfer should occur. They do not predictably transfer school knowledge to everyday practice. They do not predictably transfer sound everyday practice to school endeavors... they do not predictably transfer their learning across school subjects." Berryman and Bailey's fifth Incorrect Assumption is that "to insure their transfer to new situations, skills and knowledge should be acquired independently of their contexts of use." The reality is that "context is critical for understanding and thus for learning... part of good teaching is to present information in a context that generates meaning for students." Pairing skill courses such as writing, reading, study skills, and speech courses with content courses provides students with an authentic context for learning the skills.

III.  Benefits

A.  Instructor

The benefits of paired courses for the instructor and the student are manifold. Faculty have the opportunity to develop professionally in terms of an expanded repertoire of
  • teaching approaches
  • revised course content
  • new scholarly interests
Faculty also benefit from mentoring each other and from engaging with students of beginning and different levels than they might otherwise know.

B.  Student

Student benefits include
  • improved retention, achievement
  • student involvement, which leads to motivation
  • intellectual development
  • authentic learning opportunities
Source: Learning Community Models, 1999

Vincent Tinto's research of the retention of students in learning communities reveals that learning communities for developmental education students are particularly effective in that students are 26% more successful if they are involved in integrated courses (two classes paired or linked).

IV.  Implementation

A.  Exploration Exercises for Instructor

Exploration 1: To explore that possibilities of pairing or linking a class begin by identifying one or two courses that you teach that you would like to connect with another course. Next, brainstorm other courses with which you could pair or link your course. If you teach a skills course (such as reading, writing, or study skills), you can probably match with any discipline. If you teach content specific courses (such as Sociology, Biology, or a professional/technical program), think about other content areas that have many connections to your own OR a course that focuses on skills that students need but typically have not developed before taking your course. Below are suggestions for deciding on a pairing from your brainstorm:
  • Choose a high demand course that will have a natural enrollment. Students are often reluctant to try something "new" or "different." By offering them a pairing of two courses that they are likely to need for the degree or certificate anyway, they are more interested in enrolling. Another advantage of selecting a course with natural high enrollment is that students may opt for the pairing solely because it is the only way they can get a required course. At many colleges all Biology 101 sections fill every quarter because Biology is one of a limited number of options that fulfills a general lab science requirement. Many times students enroll in the section of biology that is paired with study skills because it is the only section open when they register. Later, they find that they have benefited from taking study skills, not only in their biology class but also in future classes.
  • Choose a course with an instructor with a commitment to improving student learning and working in a learning community. Pairing or linking your course with someone else's involves more planning and preparation than teaching a stand-alone course. Ask for a commitment from your colleague to meet outside of class time at least one hour per week to debrief, plan, and make adjustments as necessary to your quarter or semester plan.
  • If you are teaching a developmental- level pairing, involve a counselor in your learning community. Many schools add a 1-2 credit career planning course or another course that counselors often teach in order to involve the counselor initially. Sometimes a counselor is assigned to a developmental level learning community 1-2 hours per week as a part of his/her contact time.

Finally, after brainstorming possible courses and instructors to work with, list support staff you may need to talk to about arranging to pair a course—your immediate supervisor and/or administrator, the registrar, personnel who schedule rooms, etc.

Exploration 2:
Initiate a discussion with your department or division about the benefits and possibilities of pairing classes within the division and across the college. Use the information in the reference section (as well as the material in Section B—Summary of Relevant Research) of this module to support a proposal to pursue paired courses.

B.  Student Exercises

The activities for students to do will depend upon the content and/or skills of the two courses being paired or linked. Below are examples of assignments used in a study skills course that is paired with a college level course in which textbook reading and vocabulary development are very important skills.

Textbook Reading: Introduce the students to the concept that textbook reading involves three phases: before, during and after reading. (The activity below is a "before reading" activity). Ask the students to preview a chapter by completing the following steps:

  • Read the chapter title, the bold headings and subheadings and pictures and graphs throughout the chapter.
  • Read the introduction and the summary of the chapter (if there is one).
  • Look at bold face words and any lists of special vocabulary listed at the end of the chapter.
  • If there are questions at the end of the chapter, read them.
  • On one piece of paper, create a map of the chapter title, and all of the major headings and sub-headings. Students should be encouraged to use different colors of ink (for example, black for the title, red for major headings, green for subheadings) so that the one-page overview clearly shows all of the topics and their relationship to the rest of the chapter.

This type of "think map" helps students familiarize themselves with the topics in a chapter before they try to read it. As student Tobi Jefferson said, "The think map, in my opinion, is a very wonderful thing. When I start to read, it is not something that grabs my attention right away; I can't stay focused. The think map is a way for me to browse through the material and find the most important elements of that particular chapter. As I'm writing the information down something very simple might catch my eye and it prompts me to read further. If for some reason nothing catches my eye, and I don't get to the reading part right away, I still have a broad idea of what that chapter entails, which in my opinion, is much better than not having the slightest clue." In a paired class, students have the opportunity to practice this previewing skill on the textbook for their content class.

Content Vocabulary: In addition to general vocabulary development (see Skill Connection section below), most students find that each discipline has a new vocabulary for them to learn as well as specialized vocabulary (seemingly common words with special meanings in a particular content area). Many times learning this new vocabulary is the crux of mastering the course. One way that a study skills/reading instructor can help students learn the vocabulary of a content course paired with the study skills course is by having students make concept cards for 10-20 terms each week (vocabulary word on the front of a 3 x 5" notecard; glossary or dictionary definition of the term, and a sketch, diagram, or example of the word on the back side). Students can be allowed to select the terms that they don't know, and the assignment is evaluated according to the quality and quantity of cards completed per week. Quizzes on the words are optional but not necessary because the majority of the learning takes place as the students make the cards. To evaluate individualized sets of cards, assign students in pairs and have them quiz each other. This opportunity to develop their vocabulary in the context of a content course is especially beneficial for developmental students

C.  Skill Connections

  1. Vocabulary development: Most students could improve their reading comprehension of college textbooks by enhancing their general vocabulary. This involves not only expanding their vocabulary by learning the meanings of more words, but also learning to use the context and word parts to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words. For techniques for helping students improve their general vocabulary, view the Vocabulary Module.
  2. Thinking styles: To determine the most effective study strategies for themselves, students need to identify
  • the demands of the course (which they can more easily do in a paired course with a study skills teacher working along side the content teacher)
  • the thinking/teaching styles of their instructors, and
  • their thinking/learning styles preferences.

For more information about helping students identify and understand their own and their instructors' thinking styles, go to the Thinking Styles module.

V.  Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How are paired courses different from "regular" courses?
A. Usually, teachers teach separate courses to separate sets of students and students experience their separate courses in unrelated fragments. By intentionally pairing courses into programs, both teachers and students experience a more coherent and enriched teaching and learning environment (Source: Learning Community Models, 1999).

Q. What is the enrollment in paired courses?
A. Team-taught models usually enroll students at a ratio of 20-25 students per faculty member. So, a team-taught program with two teachers enrolls 40-50 students. This program would be comparable to 4 conventional classes, 2 classes per teacher. (Source: Learning Community Models, 1999).

Q. What are some examples of paired courses?
A. Introduction to Public Speaking and American History; Beginning Calculus and College Physics; College Study Skills and Introductory Biology; Technical Writing and Introduction to Environmental Science; Developmental Reading and Developmental Writing; Women and Fiction and Philosophy: Ethics.

Q. Are Paired Courses Effective?
A: Yes; research has shown better student achievement and retention, (more) student involvement, motivation and intellectual development. Faculty outcomes include faculty development in terms of expanded repertoire of teaching approaches, revised course content, and new scholarly interests. (Source: Learning Community Models, 1999).

VI.  Helpful Resources

Learn more about Paired Courses:
Learning Community Models, Jean MacGregor et. al, 1999.

Learn more about the natural learning process and incorrect assumptions about learning: "The Natural Process of Learning and Critical Thinking." Gamut, Seattle Community College District Faculty Development, Seattle, Washington, 1989.

The Double Helix of Education and the Economy by Sue E. Berryman and Thomas R. Bailey, Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1992.

Learn more about teaching textbook reading skills and content vocabulary developoment: Read and Respond, 3rd edition, by Janet R Swinton and W.J. Agopsowicz, Roxbury Publishing Co., 1995.

Workshop Information to attend a workshop on this topic or bring one to your campus, visit this site or call Faculty Training at (800) 856-5727.

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