I wrote the following article for The Axis, the student published newspaper at UWS.
"The notes go on to say… Are you with me? Now, I don't want to insult anybody."
I sometimes wonder if I'm the only student that occasionally thinks back on those phrases with a nostalgic longing. As strange as they seemed during those first weeks of Spinal Anatomy, it didn't take long for me to associate those key phrases with Jim Carollo's melodic methodology, calm demeanor, and sincere concern for each student. Certainly, Jim Carollo is not the easiest teacher at UWS. I'm still reeling from the slap in the face that was a hard-earned B in Neuroanatomy. Yet, in all my years of being a student, I have not found a professor who was able to motivate me to focus harder, study more, and prepare more diligently for a class than Jim.
I'm no educational expert. In fact, my official transcript shows I'm lacking a lot of skills in that arena. But, I have spent the past 6 years working in an educational support position, and have been privileged to be a fly on the wall during some intense and informative presentations by educational experts. I've also spent time researching the learning process to improve my study habits and get up to par with others in my class. Over those years, I've picked up on some particular things that master teachers do – habits or techniques they employ while teaching – and I see all of them in Jim Carollo, even if he isn't aware of them. I'd like to highlight just a few of them.
The most effective teachers provide instruction that is systematic, direct, engaging, and success oriented. Anita Archer, Ph.D., at University of Oregon School of Education, teaches this technique as a set of specific patterns, phrases, and actions to educators around the country. Learners can acquire information in two ways. First, they can discover new things on their own, such as how a two year old learns how chocolate cake does not taste the same as the brown stuff in the backyard. Second, learners can be instructed by another person who has previously acquired the information. Dr. Archer explains, "Explicit instruction is helpful … when discovery may be inaccurate, inadequate, incomplete, or inefficient."
Explicit instruction relies heavily on repetition. Not necessarily rote, monotonous repetition, but the type that offers multiple exposures to a piece of information using a variety of modalities. You've no doubt heard of The Seven Learning Styles (visual, auditory, verbal, kinesthetic, etc.). While there is no research to support the idea that a particular student learns best in one discrete way, plenty of studies show that information is retained better when multiple modes of learning are utilized. Hearing a description, writing a definition, and then drawing a diagram serve to strengthen neuronal connections and consolidate a memory.
As much as I love the newest gadget, listening to podcasts, and having my eyes glued to my smart-phone throughout the day, I have to admit that I appreciate an old-school approach to teaching. Marian Diamond is a Ph.D. neuroscientist and professor of general anatomy at U.C. Berkeley. She still uses the chalkboard to teach her undergraduate pre-med students. At the beginning of each semester she takes a moment to explain why she does not use PowerPoint. "I've studied learning mechanisms long enough to know that it takes time to take in the primary information and associate it. If I just flash [things on the screen] you don't get it. If you write, you use your kinesthetic sense. It slows me down, it slows you down. I also repeat all the time. The first time through you have an ionic exchange. The second time through you have protein synthesis. So, we're using things that have been shown for learning rather than just keeping up with the technology."
As you can see, Jim Carollo makes use of all of these teaching skills and more. He clearly and explicitly outlines the information to be covered in each lecture. He does not hesitate to repeat a word or definition multiple times. He ensures that the majority of the class is on task with a variety of rhetorical questions before advancing to the next 35mm slide or filling in the notes on the overhead projector. Like an experienced conductor at The Schnitzer Concert Hall, Carollo orchestrates each lecture and provides ample opportunity for all students to have a positive educational experience in basic sciences.