Looking at Students and Issues That May Reveal the System as a Whole—and Possible Remedies

Perhaps many of these issues in the two charts below are “covariations—to use Dörner’s term—variables that are interrelated and reveal the system.


This webpage provides:

§         Looking at Sources on Students and Issues

§         Looking at Examples of Students’ Work (Their Evidence) and Their “Magical Hypotheses” in Their Own Words


Looking at Sources on Students and Issues

Use the table below to find the kind of information you want:


If You Would Like This Information…

Then Use This Link to See the Source of the Quotation Used and Additional Information

Frequently identified problems faced by our students with their values

§         Ethics—64% of them “cheated on a test in the past year” but have a “high self-image when it comes to ethics”

§         Entitlement—their “attributing … failure to someone else” and misunderstanding “what education is.”
Caution: Part of their misunderstanding of education may be tied to both grading of their own work and their evaluation of teachers—with one source referring to faculty evaluation by students as a “faculty/student nonaggression pact.” Students need to understand that both grading and faculty evaluation can be useful feedback, and feedback is about helping each other be stronger at our work.

§         Self-esteem—their “self-confidence”—the “one area” where they “score highly … relative to their international peers”
Caution:: Thinking critically (and not with “automaticity”) happens only when “we don’t already think we know what to believe or what to do”

Frequently identified problems faced by our students with their preparation for college and careers

§         New media with new challenges to learning—their being unable to “handle the deep, probing, complex thinking that is the key to true mastery”
Caution: Because it has been so easy to copy the new media, students can create what looks like a written product—without reading, without thinking, and without writing.

§         Limited skills in reading and writing – with some sources indicating a decline over time
Caution: Sources indicate that reading is why we are “the only species that actively teaches itself” and reading changes learning and has “Matthew effects”. The “Matthew effects” (“the notion that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”) make those who read become stronger at many aspects of learning.

§         Skills in testing but not learning—“ultra-efficient in test preparation” and their seeking “a magic formula to get high scores”
Caution: Typical of their skills, these students can make a perfect score on a plagiarism tutorial and then plagiarize on their first written work.

§         Unprepared for learning—includes 5 tips from “Applying the Science of Learning,” with the “single most important variable” for ”long-term retention and transfer is practice in retrieval”
The Reading Apprenticeship provides resources for helping unprepared readers.

New approaches that seem to help students

Perhaps the “flipped classroom” seems to be working because it deals directly or indirectly with each of the issues above and because it provides time for students to get the practice they need—and to find out the specific piece of information that they did not know. It may also be part of the solution for the issues in the table below.

For an introduction to the “flipped classroom,” see “The Flipped Classroom” at http://educationnext.org/the-flipped-classroom/.

Looking at Examples of Students’ Work (Their Evidence) and Their “Magical Hypotheses” in Their Own Words

Dietrich Dörner covers that, without feedback that is “telling” and “frequent,” people develop “magical hypothesis” about how thing work based on “local experience.” The changes of the last ten or more years seem to have made it where many students seem to have lacked “telling” and “frequent” feedback. Given the consequences of the wave after wave of students who experienced these changes, it may be that faculty and many students will face problems for a long time:

§         Faculty do not know students’ “local experience” and how students have been rewarded with grades previously—and grades are powerful feedback.

§         Students may not know that their experience is only local—and not necessarily in their own interests.


Use the table below to find the kind of student examples you want:


If You Would Like to See Examples of…

Then Use This Link

Why do these “magical hypotheses” matter?

We need a culture of evidence for our students not just because of the traditions of learning, but also so that students can succeed in the workplace and in making personal and financial decisions. We need a culture of evidence for our students because sources show (and perhaps your own experience shows) that reading changes the brain and has “Matthew effects.”


Justice Sandra Day O’Connor expresses the urgency for the nation:

§         “We face difficult challenges at home and abroad…. Meanwhile divisive rhetoric and a culture of sound bites threaten to drown out rational dialogue and debate.

§         “And at least half of the states [an indirect consequence of No Child Left Behind] no longer make the teaching of civics and government a requirement for high school graduation. This leaves a huge gap, and we can’t forget that the primary purpose of public schools in America has always been to help produce citizens who have the knowledge and the skills and the values to sustain our republic as a nation, our democratic form of government.”[bold added]  (The link culture of evidence for our students includes these quotations and how to locate them.)

A “magical hypothesis about how to “study”

Typical student explanation of how they think they ought to work:

§         “How will you know I read it if it’s not in the exact words?”


Example: What she thought she was to do

Related Issue: When they write answers, they believe they must use the exact words.

A “magical hypothesis about how to “study” – how widespread

These are anecdotal signs of how widespread this “magical hypothesis” is:

§         The example above is from a student just out of high school in Fall 2011

§         The example below on writing using a similar method is from a student who probably was first in public high school a decade prior to that.

“Magical hypotheses” about what evidence is

Students misunderstand the basics that evidence should be “verifiable, usable,” not just opinion and skillfully written words. Typical student explanations of their understanding of evidence:

§         When he used data about ranchers in the Gilded Age in a question about farmers, “Farmer, rancher—what’s the difference?”

§         “What I felt when I read over it”

§         “What I got out of it”

§         “I thought it [the events of history] flowed better with what I said.” – Not typical words, but the assumptions behind it are.


Example: side by side with the source they said they used, 3 common examples of what students believe is evidence (proof). The 3 examples show students who cited pages of the source and apparently expected high points for:

§         Detailed description of things that do not exist

§         Statements about one subject but the source is about another subject

§         Statements that are not only inaccurate but also the opposite of the cited page

“Magical hypotheses” about what evidence is – how widespread?

§         From 2008 on, a minimum of 50% of students submitted work that was factually inaccurate—either not reading or not writing carefully. To see the meaning of the phrase factually inaccurate, look at the 3 common student examples.

§         By self-report on two surveys (Spring 2011, Fall 2011), a minimum of 63% did not know they should be factual accurate until they received feedback

“Magical hypotheses” about how to “write” and what writing is supposed to be

Typical student explanations of this understanding:

§         I thought I had to have the “magic words.”

§         I just “grab some words and muck them up.”


Example: HOW she thought ALL GOOD students were supposed to work

Related Issues: This misunderstanding shows up with returning students and adult students. Some blogs in 2010 identified this misunderstanding with international students: it is a misunderstanding for students in the United States as well.

Example: WHAT he was certain ALL GOOD students were supposed to create - You can read his understanding in detail in the email dialogue.

Example: Scenarios and language of a student who has chosen plagiarism as a way to work

Related Issue: The explanations/justifications are very typical.

“Magical hypotheses” about how to “write” and what writing is supposed to be – how widespread?

§         In 4 samples in 2009, 50% of each of 4 classes plagiarized or “half-copy” plagiarized – You can also see all of the essay answers for one class with the pages from the sources. Usually those who copied passively also had factual errors.

§         By self-report on two surveys (Spring 2011, Fall 2011), 52% in Spring and 61% in Fall (with new students arriving) did not understand either the common sense purpose of citation and/or quotation marks until they received feedback.


For information or problems with this link, please email using the email address below.

WCJC Department:

History – Dr. Bibus

Contact Information:

281.239.1577 or bibusc@wcjc.edu

Last Updated:

2012 -06/04

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