The Didactic Advantage of Using the Thiel Method of Embalming

10 Apr
decker

A message from Adam Decker, human anatomy educator in the School of Biological Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA.

As a licensed embalmer since 1992, I have always been fascinated by the preservation of human tissues.  Preservation methods are especially important in the gross anatomy lab where students directly interact with tissues and potentially harmful chemicals. Because of the inherent risks associated with such close exposure and interaction, shouldn’t we explore techniques that might be able to reduce the risks associated with these harmful, potentially carcinogenic compounds?

In 1992, Austrian native Dr. Walter Thiel introduced a soft-fixed embalming procedure that he spent years perfecting by testing it on 1,000 cadavers. As the story goes, he noticed that meats that were cured with brine solution at a local butcher shop had a much more life-like appearance and texture as compared to the grayer and firmer cadavers that were embalmed using traditional formaldehyde. The formula he finally adopted enabled in-situ tissue to have a more pliable and life-like appearance, while it kept the carcinogenic effects to a minimum.

Benefits of Thiel’s technique include:

  • The ability to position limbs and joints within their anatomical limits
  • Reduced exposure to harmful chemicals
  • The presence of antimicrobial and antifungal properties
  • The usage of tissues in vast clinical simulated procedures (i.e. lumbar puncture and laparoscopic procedures)
  • Use of ultrasonography in clinical training and teaching anatomy
  • Odor reduction in the gross anatomy lab
  • A more realistic experience for surgeons when cutting through the skin of a Thiel embalmed body (it is much like cutting through living tissue)

The drawbacks are:

  • Salt solutions can possibly burn and discolor tissues, particularly in regions like the zygoma where some cadavers have little subcutaneous tissue over the malar bone.
  • The Thiel method has histologically changed some cellular arrangement in connective tissues like tendons. Studies involving tensile stress and strain on these tissues may result in inaccurate data.
  • Chemicals utilized are more expensive than traditional formalin fixed bodies.
  • Although longevity is evident in the Thiel fixed body, degradation of tissue may occur sooner than in formalin fixed bodies.

The solution itself is in essence a salt mixture that is arterially injected, just as in the typically prepared formalin cadavers.  This mixture is composed of the following compounds:

  • Ammonium nitrate
  • Potassium nitrate
  • Boric acid
  • Morpholine (fungicidal properties)
  • Sodium sulphite
  • Ethyl alcohol
  • Formalin
  • Ethylene glycol (surfactant)
  • 4-Chloro-3-methylphenol (disinfectant)

In my research, I identified several U.S. institutions that use the Thiel method for preparation, but the majority of U.S. programs are still using standard formalin fixed tissues. The Thiel method, however, is more commonly used in European countries.

Setting the Tone of the Class

3 Apr
warwick2

A message from Nichole Warwick, Clatsop Community College Biology instructor and member of the HAPS Communications Committee.

The start of the new term is always exciting, and on the quarter system, we typically begin spring term in late March. The first week of classes is a great time to set the tone of the class and to get student buy in to the way we teach, though it’s never too late to engage our students. In the past ten years of teaching at a small community college, I have slowly progressed away from the traditional lecture to classroom experiences that I hope will engage and clarify. You might call me a partial “flip” as I try to add new active learning strategies to the classroom, many ideas farmed shamelessly from the annual National HAPS conference. Because it is early in the term, I want to make an impression on the students that A&P is different; unlike any class you have taken before.

As engaging as I think my class is, I still fight for attention from my students as their electronics, devices, and lives draw their minds to other things. While the students wait for my class to start, they are often on their phones, and a few review their notes, but rarely is there engagement and most are not getting into the “A&P State of Mind.”  I was reading an article in document our state educational board OEA sends out and found an interesting tidbit about getting your student’s head in the game and it stimulated me to come up with something to catch their attention every day. Something that puzzles or challenges them and starts them thinking on our subject.

A sword in the belt...who knew it would help us learn about anatomy?

A sword in the belt…who knew it would help us learn about anatomy?

So I showed up with a sword in my belt (it was foam, not a real weapon). I didn’t say a word and went about my business. Eventually someone asked.  Many had wondered. As it was the first week, I have been trying to get them into the habit of asking questions, and it took a few times of asking “Does anyone have a question,” before a student took the bait. “Great question, I’ll show you in a minute.” I used the sword to demonstrate cuts along the planes of the body. Then the students were on their feet and imitating the cuts as I called them out.  We added speed, a little laughter, and had an effective lesson.

This has become my challenge: Can I get my students to wonder how today’s prop, picture, or activity relates to the material?  Some days are easy. Just today I showed up with envelopes holding index cards with some of the important terms for the day on them. We played a modified game of Taboo. One student put the card up to their forehead. The other students then had to describe the word without saying what it started with, or  too much nonsensical rhyming. It was challenging to all students in the group. They had to remember something about the word. My students got into groups as they came into class and played this while other students were arriving.  They were using their before class time to interact, review, laugh and they were thinking about the material for the day. Mission accomplished!

img_4441

Ewwww…definitely engaging!

I have also shown up to class with a cube of jello with noodles in it on a dissection tray- I posted a picture of this to our LMS the night before just to pique their curiosity. One time I brought in a snazzy little raccoon (our school mascot and a soft object) that was passed around the room. The initial student had to answer a review question. When that student finished their answer, the new student with the raccoon had to answer the next question. “What are the 4 types of tissues?” “What is matrix?”

Next week I’ll have three legos I sneak away from my children: three legos will be sitting at the front of the room (or maybe on each table)- one short and flat, one nice and square, and one tall and skinny. I bet at least a few immediately start wondering how this is related to A&P. Do you know?

After the Annual – Utah Mountain Biking!

27 Mar

Bonneville Shore Trail

A message from HAPS Western Regional Director, Jon Jackson (left). Kerry Hull and Murray Jensen photobomb-ing.

A message from HAPS Western Regional Director, Jon Jackson (left). Photobomb by Kerry Hull and Murray Jensen.

Utah Mountain Biking is a bucket list option for interested HAPSters!

Although mountain biking is generally thought to have originated in the Marin County hills north of San Francisco, there is arguably no finer place to ride than Utah. If you have the time and inclination to hit the mountain trails and ride, there are lots of options awaiting you near the HAPS Conference this Spring.  Murray Jensen, Kerry Hull and I went out a day before the mid-year meeting to explore some biking options (and spend some time in Mark Nielsen’s lab). Here’s what we found.

Jon enforces a rest break...because rest breaks are cool.

Jon enforces a rest break…because rest breaks are cool.

Within a 10-15 minute walk up the hill from the Salt Palace (site of the HAPS Conference) you’ll find a number of shops that rent out mountain bikes.  For around $40, you will be able to rent a $2500 mountain bike for the afternoon!  Full suspensions, 29-inch wheels, and even more options can be had.  If you’re thinking or riding up in the foothills surrounding the city, you’ll have about a 20-minute uphill ride to hit the mountain trailheads that run along what was once the shore of glacial Lake Bonneville. The elevation gain from the hotel to the Bonneville Shelf is about 600-800 feet. The landscape is nothing short of spectacular, even on days with a smog layer.

Local Badger

The entire Great Basin opens up as you switch back up the foothills; it’s quiet enough that you can even surprise some locals along the way.  The uphill climbing ranges from mild to clutch-your-chest strenuous. [I suffered in particular because I was serving as the “untrained control subject,” trying to keep up with Kerry and Murray.] The altitude provided wondrous panoramic views and a kick-your-butt workout, but most importantly, it meant some SWEET downhill action.  On our segment of the Bonneville Shore Trail, the single-track path was 90-95% packed solid, and offered up a mostly smooth ride. But for those who have left their common sense behind, and seek a greater challenge, there are several advanced/expert routes down the hill that will rattle bones, loosen ligaments, and likely raise your health insurance deductibles more than Paul Ryan could.

5 Moose

Local Moose

But no fears, there are many moderate trails that can bring you back to town. Our ride lasted just under three hours, and left us euphoric, thirsty, and with a trace of sunburn (even in October).

 

6 Mid MountainIf the moderate to high euphoria levels of the HAPS meeting aren’t going to be enough — the next level up of mountain biking literally brings you up out of the Wasatch Valley to the mountains surrounding Park City, one of the nation’s premier mountain biking destinations. Lots of shops cater to people giving this level of biking a try, and so you’ll have no trouble finding a “29er” with full suspension. The uphill is even more strenuous, although some riding parks have ski-lifts 7 Elevationto take you up the mountainside. [I’m all for that, as it follows the law of conservation of energy.] This world famous Mid-Mountain Trail is definitely not for novices, but if you’re a reasonably solid mountain biker, this place is as good as it gets. Weather permitting, the miles of traversing trails running over these wooded ski hills will provide a relatively moderate-level (elevation-wise) riding experience. But the downhill can get tricky: you’re a mile and a half above sea-level, and “down” is long, long way away.

Olympic-level bikers who train in Park City power down the hills pedaling, and at high speed. Fortunately for those of us who don’t want to over-use our sympathetic nervous systems, we’re able to find more moderate slopes on which to descend.  Either way, though, it will be full-on fatigue at the finish. It was great that our intrepid riders had a “sag-wagon” to come and fetch them.

Tom Lehman joins post-ride

Tom Lehman joins post-ride

You too will probably may want to arrange for a ride, as you could be too tired and sore to drive back to SLC.  All in all, the beauty of the terrain and the challenge of the hills is a something for every mountain biker’s bucket list.  We’ll have some of the info from the bike places we used for our gear at this year’s annual conference.  We hope to see you there!

 

 


Author Jon Jackson is the HAPS Western Regional Director.

A full list of recommended post-conference activities is available on the HAPS website

The 2017 Lab Instructor Survey Report is Now Available!

20 Mar

David Brashinger has engineered the 2014 and 2017 HAPS lab instructor survey reports.

Hot off the digital press…the results of the 2017 HAPS laboratory instructor survey are now available to HAPS members in a Special Edition of HAPS Educator. My thanks to all of you who participated in either the 2014 or the 2017 surveys. This year, we received over 560 submissions from 470 institutions over a two-month period. That’s more than four times the number of participants and more than five times the number of institutions than we had in 2014, and in half the time! Special thanks to the ADInstruments team for their suggested survey improvements and sponsoring the Amazon gift card drawing for our survey participants.

The report, Instructional Goals and Practices in the Introductory Undergraduate Pre-Health Professions Anatomy and Physiology Laboratory, contains all the 2016 survey data alongside the quantitative results from the 2014 report. The report is hefty with 21 data tables; however, it was important to share all the data we collected in a peer-reviewed and published format rather than just summarizing a few key findings. The report includes data on the participant population, institutional and program practices, and the instructional goals and practices in the A&P laboratory. I expect you’ll find the data in this report very helpful if you are needing to benchmark your current laboratory practices against the national trends. I also see the report as a foundation for our discussions on what our laboratory practices should be in the future.

I look forward to discussing the survey results and our next steps with y’all in Salt Lake City. I’ll be at the poster session during the update seminar portion of the annual meeting and I’m leading a workshop later in the conference. If you won’t be at the annual conference, please feel free to reach out to me by email with your questions and ideas.

In closing, I also wanted to take a moment and thank all the HAPS committee members, board members, and administrative staff who worked on the lab survey project over the last three years. This project started with a question I asked Ron Gerrits in 2013. I was still very new to HAPS and it was my first annual conference. Looking back reminds me how welcoming we are as an organization and how much we accomplish as volunteers in HAPS. If you’re not already on a HAPS committee, review the committee list on the HAPS website and consider joining one of these fantastic teams. The committees meet in person at the annual conference, but you can still get involved even if you’re not headed to Salt Lake City this year. Just reach out to the corresponding committee chair using their contact information on the HAPS website.

Survey conducted in partnership with ADInstruments

Please Vote in the Elections for Board Positions!

13 Mar

President-Elect Ron Gerrits

Serving as an officer in any organization requires a commitment of time and effort. Because HAPS members generally lead busy lives, it can be a challenge finding candidates who are confident they can devote enough time to managing the current affairs of HAPS while also strategically planning for its future. In spite of these challenges, there was a strong response to the nomination process this year and the Nominating Committee is excited to finalize a slate of candidates that nearly fills the allotted slots allowed for balloting. In fact, we had more nominations this year than ever for multiple positions, such that we were not able to put all of those interested on the ballot. This increase in interest in leadership positions speaks well of the engagement level of the society and we are hopeful that it will continue into the future.

Besides identifying qualified candidates, an organization also benefits when there is a high level of participation by the general membership in the election process. I am requesting that all of us review the descriptions of the open positions, read the candidate statements and complete the ballots when received.

The positions that are up for election starting in July 2017 include the following:

President-Elect:
Election to this office involves a three-year commitment, one year each as President-Elect, President, and Past-President.  The year as President-Elect provides a year to become accustomed to serving on the Board of Directors before transitioning into the role of President.  The President, in consultation with the Board, provides direction and guidance by establishing and managing the policies and affairs of the Society.  Following the President’s term, they become Past-President to provide leadership continuity.  

Secretary:
The Secretary is responsible for maintaining the official records of the Society. This includes recording minutes of Board and general membership meetings, and maintaining bylaws and other corporate documents. The Secretary’s term of office is for two (2) years.

Regional Directors (Central & Southern Regions)
Although each Regional Director serves as a representative of one of the four HAPS regions to ensure diverse geographical representation on the Board of Directors, they are elected by the entire membership.  They act as a liaison between the region’s constituency and the Board and promote increased involvement of the region’s membership in the activities of the Society, including regional conferences.  Each Regional Director’s term of office is for two (2) years. The current incumbents each qualify to serve again.

The candidate information and biographies can be found here, which summarize the activities of these members both within and outside of HAPS.


HAPS members will receive ballots on March 13



HAPS members will receive ballots today, so please watch out for them in your email.  The voting will continue through March 31. Because we have three candidates for each Regional Director, as well as for Secretary, we are utilizing instant runoff voting this year (a form of preferential voting in Robert’s Rules of Order). Instant runoff voting is a form of rank order voting that is commonly used in universities and municipalities when there are more than two candidates for a position. It provides a mechanism for obtaining a majority vote without having to hold additional rounds of balloting, which might otherwise be required. You will be asked to rank candidates in order of preference (1-3). We understand that this can be challenging, especially if you consider all candidates strong, but it is necessary in order to hold the elections in an efficient manner.

Election results will be announced in April, as well as at the annual conference in Salt Lake City.

Thanks to everyone in advance for taking the time to participate in the election process. And a special thanks to those that have agreed to serve in office if elected. It is a commitment that benefits all in the society.


Ron Gerrits is the HAPS President-Elect & 2016-2017 Nominating Committee Chair.  He is a Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the Milwaukee School of Engineering.  Vote now

Join Us at the HAPS 2017 Spring Regional

6 Mar

Get your taxes done early!  We are planning a full day of update speakers, workshops, and poster presentations for Saturday, April 15 in Tyler Texas.  Our morning update speaker will be Dr. Michael Beckstead, Associate Professor in the Department of Cellular and Integrative Physiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Dr. Beckstead will be speaking about dopamine neurons and Parkinson’s Disease.  In the afternoon, Dr. Lane Brunner, Dean of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Texas at Tyler, will talk about how team-based learning has been implemented in the Doctor of Pharmacy program.

As always, workshops will be given by HAPS members.  Do you have a unique approach to teaching a lab or a new angle to get complicated ideas across?  Have you found a solution to a common challenge or a new tool (or a new way to use an old tool) that helps your students?  If you need to practice your presentation for the national conference in Salt Lake City, or you won’t be able to attend the SLC conference, we’re here for you!  Submit your workshop proposal by March 24.

Posters will be set up adjacent to the workshop rooms. If you have an idea that suits a poster more than a workshop – even if it’s a poster you’ve already presented in another venue – we’ll have a place for you to share what you’ve done.  A simple idea, or an exploratory look at some new teaching tip, tool, or resource can easily be translated into a poster.  Poster submissions have the same deadline as workshop submissions, March 24.

We’ll be meeting in the newly-renovated A&P labs, so you can get some ideas from our faculty about how technology can be implemented in the lab. The use of overhead cameras to show specimens, iPads in the classroom, and structured group activities can be explored.

At the end of the day, we’ll have the opportunity to tour our new nursing and health science facility, including the simulation lab for nursing students (see image below). The first floor has an area that is set up basically as a hospital, so students get real-world training in LVN, surgical technology, and other fields. There is also a working dental clinic.

If you’re planning to come in Friday afternoon or stay over Saturday night, look for a link to the accommodations on the registration page. If you’re bringing family with you, they can explore our Center for Earth and Space Science Education (CESSE, http://sciencecenter.tjc.edu/) and the Tyler Museum of Art (http://www.tylermuseum.org/), both adjacent to the building where our conference will be held.  If there is enough interest, we can plan a social event for either Friday or Saturday evening. I look forward to seeing you all!

Betsy Ott, Conference Coordinator
aap_5257

Learning – Always in Style

27 Feb
Take Rational Course Design with Margaret Weck!

A message from HAPS President Emeritus, Margaret Weck!

Have you ever noticed how variable the depth of learning is amongst students in your classroom – even when you have students with very similar backgrounds and levels of preparation?  Perhaps you’ve looked for patterns or specific characteristics that might help explain this variability.  After all, if you can find consistent and predictable behavioral patterns, you might discover the key to motivating and assisting those who are struggling with coursework.  One useful tool for doing just that is to identify each student’s preferred “learning style,” a method that groups students based on their preferred means of learning.  Interestingly, this very topic was the focus of a HAPS –L discussion forum this past summer.   Following is a brief summary of the main points of that discussion supplemented with a little additional information.

A 2004 book by Coffield, et al. (1) identified 71 different learning style models, most of which are variations of two particular general themes. One of these themes is psychologically-oriented and looks at how individuals make sense of their personal experiences.  Examples include David Kolb’s Learning Styles Inventory (LSI) and Zubin Austin’s Health Professionals Inventory of Learning Styles (H-PILS).  The second major theme focuses more on neurological sensory information processing.  Examples include the right-brain vs. left-brain dominance tests and Neil Fleming’s Visual, Aural, Read/Write, Kinesthetic (VARK) inventory, a tool that indicates a person’s preferences for sensory modalities that most smoothly facilitate the mastering of new information.  

Will I be able to definitively resolve the central issues of learning styles in this post?  Of course not.  As we all know, it is notoriously difficult to “prove” anything, even without the additional handicap of measuring psychological processes through self-report.  In my opinion, it’s not worth the necessary paper or electrons to engage in a heated debate over this, especially since the take-home message is pretty much the same regardless of the outcome.  

Even those who strongly advocate the use of learning styles are aware of the limitations of each specific model and the instruments used to categorize individual learners.  Furthermore, the results of every inventory are full of questions of validity, reliability, and stability.  In other words, what does it really mean for someone to be an “assimilator,” or a “kinesthetic learner,” or “right brained?”  Are people with one tendency actually incapable of learning in any other way? Are these tendencies fixed, or can one improve or broaden native capabilities or preferences with enough effort and exposure to new types of learning?  The questions are endless, and addressing them is beyond the scope of this article; however, Edutopia (2015) has an overview of the various opinions and positions held by education leaders on learning styles: http://www.edutopia.org/article/learning-styles-real-and-useful-todd-finley.  

Since 2008 (2) rigorous educational research has not shown that specific instruction targeted toward a student’s learning style produces any statistically significant improvement in measured learning as compared to a non-preferred learning style.  Yet the debate over the usefulness/uselessness of learning styles persists.  

As far as course design is concerned, “universal” instructional design already encourages the use of multiple delivery modes to both present and assess student understanding of the most important ideas in our content.  Using multiple forms of representing and expressing key information automatically helps students find at least one point of entry into the content. So if preferred learning styles are real facilitators of learning, universal design already addresses them to a large degree.  Additionally, multiple presentation and assessment modalities provide reinforcement and a variety of possible retrieval cues which should help everyone – regardless of learning style.

One big positive offered by learning styles is that they are a non-threatening way to engage students in conversations about their learning.  Many students do not routinely participate in systematic self-reflection, but we can encourage them to talk about how they learn and what it means to demonstrate their own understanding of a subject by using easy-to-understand terminology found in the learning styles inventory.  As long as we don’t affix permanent labels to our students, which in effect “excuses” them from mastering the material, learning styles can provide students with insight into their own learning and offer a source of concrete strategies for engaging with course material.

  1. Coffield, F., Moseley, d., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004) Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 Learning: A systematic and critical review. London: Learning and Skills Research Centre.
  2. Pashler, H., McDanierl, M., Rohrer,  D. & Bjork, R. (2008) Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9(3):105-119.

Do Our A&P Students Know How to Read? Part 3

20 Feb
valerie-lee

A message from Valerie Lee, an assistant professor at Southern Adventist University who just started her 6th year of teaching and loves HAPS!

In Parts 1 and 2 of this blog series, we identified that Anatomy & Physiology students are having difficulty with reading comprehension.  More specifically, their struggles are not limited to understanding specific content; rather, they are struggling with general vocabulary comprehension.
(To view Part 1 &/or Part 2 of this series,  Click the Link(s):
“Do Our A&P Students Know How to Read
 -PART 1             -PART 2

For her Southern Scholars senior research project, Molly Theus, first year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student at the University of Georgia in Athens,  attempted to seek insight into this problem by asking four questions:

  1. Does a positive correlation exist between cumulative GPA and vocabulary comprehension?
  2. Does a positive correlation exist between time spent reading for pleasure and vocabulary comprehension?
  3. Does a positive correlation exist between being read to as a child and vocabulary comprehension?
  4. Is there a link between a student’s major and vocabulary comprehension?

Molly chose six classes as candidates for investigation: General Biology II, Principles of Biology, Anatomy and Physiology II, Cell and Molecular Biology, Studies in Daniel, and Pathophysiology (Table 1). These classes were chosen to include one lower (n=42) and one upper division (n=31) biology-major class, one lower (n=43) and one upper division (n=32) nursing class, and one lower (n=27) and one upper division (n=20) general education class (total n=195). To assess personal reading habits and history, a questionnaire was distributed to all students in the six selected classes. To assess vocabulary comprehension, a twenty-question multiple choice vocabulary quiz was also distributed. In order to assure anonymity, informed consent and student information forms were assigned a unique three number code corresponding to each questionnaire.

Participants were given a two-week period of time in which to complete the questionnaires. Once the packets were collected, each informed consent document containing student names was separated from the rest of the forms so that quiz scores were kept anonymous. The names were needed to compile average GPAs and class-standing information for each participant. GPA and class-standing was then matched to quiz scores using the unique numerical codes. We made use of an ANCOVA linear model to analyze our data. The number of questions missed on the vocabulary assessment was the dependent variable and the independent variables are listed in Table 2. University GPA was rank-transformed to meet parametric assumptions. Analysis was performed using R version 3.3.0.

The preliminary result yielded three key results:

KEY RESULT 1: Students’ reading for pleasure had no statistical significance for predicting higher scores on the vocabulary quiz (Table 2). This was contrary to what we had hypothesized based on the literature.  

KEY RESULT 2: In our model, the amount of time parents spent reading to their child was a statistically significant predictor of scores on the vocabulary comprehension quiz. This relationship was consistent even when controlling for university GPA (F(3, 183) = 4.80, p = 0.003; Figure 1).

KEY RESULT 3: A higher cumulative university GPA was also a significant predictor for improved quiz scores (F(1, 183) = 20.39, p = <0.001; Figure 2).

Molly and I were surprised that reading for pleasure was not a statistically significant indicator of vocabulary comprehension. Molly suggests several possible interpretations:

    • Students choose reading materiel at or below their reading level.
    • If a student’s reading level is low, that might inhibit acquisition of non-content specific collegiate vocabulary.
    • Self reporting is not a precise tool.

What can we do with this information?

  • Early intervention seems to be key to the issue of vocabulary comprehension
  • Collegiate students identified as struggling with non-content specific vocabulary comprehension need interventions as well. Possible interventions include encouraging them to read challenging books outside of class and providing mentor support.
  • This is an interdisciplinary issue that needs to be addressed in every department.

The preliminary results are very interesting and both Molly and I are interested in collecting more data in the future by expanding the background questions asked and surveying both private and public institutions. If you are interested in helping us, contact me at vlee@southern.edu.

Do Our A&P Students Know How to Read? PART 2

14 Feb
molly-theus2

A message from Molly Theus, first year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student at the University of Georgia in Athens.

  • This message from Molly Theus, first year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student at the University of Georgia in Athens is Part 2 of a 3 Part Series; “Do Our A&P Students Know How to Read

(To review Part 1 visit the link:   -PART 1 ).

Vocabulary comprehension is a crucial component of any student’s education. Research has been done about how to best teach content-specific vocabulary (Stinnett, 2012), and having competent instructors is certainly a key component. To teach non-content-specific vocabulary, teachers at the elementary level need to have “specialized linguistic knowledge” (Phelps & Schilling, 2004) to effectively teach reading. Reading comprehension is assessed primarily with standardized testing assessing Common Core standards (Fisher & Frey, 2014). These Common Core standards emphasize that “teaching to the test” will no longer work and that there is hope that reading improvement could be on the way (Hirsh, 2010). Content-specific subject tests, such as science and math tests, are also useful in assessing reading and vocabulary comprehension.

There is growing concern in the education community about an apparent lack of vocabulary mastery. A strong emphasis was placed on reading under the 2001 “No Child Left Behind Law” (Hirsh, 2010), which aimed to improve test scores across all subject areas. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that the nation’s average reading scores in 2009 for grades 4 and 8 are not statistically different from those in either 2007 or 2001. While there has been no marked improvement in reading scores, math scores “have seen an upward trend after the instatement of the law in 2001” (Hirsh, 2010). A study conducted in 1983 showed that students had difficulty comprehending assigned tests, seemingly due to issues with vocabulary comprehension, not content complexity (Moore, Readence & Rickelman). Content-specific comprehension could also be linked to reading strategies, as passive readers appear to have more difficulty comprehending science texts than active readers (Croner, 2003).

Vocabulary comprehension is not only important for success on individual scholastic tasks such as exams, but also for a student’s overall outlook for success. In an article written for the publication Principal, E.D. Hirsch Jr. states that “Verbal scores are highly correlated with a student’s life chances and contributions to society” (2010). It is crucial that students who appear to be struggling with vocabulary comprehension are identified and given supplemental assistance, as “Vocabulary growth rate differences accumulated over time such that the effect on vocabulary size was large” (Duff, Tomblin & Catts, 2015). This means that the gap between high-achieving students and underperforming students continues to widen over time.

Several instructional methods have been shown to be particularly effective in improving vocabulary comprehension in lower grades. One such technique is scaffolding. Scaffolding, or using complex texts written at a level higher than a student’s current grade level, can “build confidence and competency [in] decoding unfamiliar words” (Fisher & Fray, 2014). Encouraging teachers to read aloud to students can help students understand “text structure, word solving and comprehension strategies so that skills are built and habits are formed” (Regan & Berkeley, 2012). Teachers should also emphasize that their students “read widely from texts they want to read, building their background knowledge and vocabulary while developing morally, emotionally, and intellectually” (Ivey & Johnston, 2013). Furthermore, according to Patrick Croner who compared active to passive reading comprehension in science texts, active readers demonstrate more metacognition and utilize pre-reading and during-reading strategies to improve comprehension. Passive readers, on the other hand, tend to be much less engaged in the text. Consequently, Croner recommends using varied reading strategies to turn passive readers into active readers to improve their textual comprehension (2003).

Outside of the classroom, reading for pleasure is an indicator for vocabulary success. Students who read on their own are more likely to encounter low-frequency words and improve their vocabulary than their minimally-reading counterparts (Duff, Tomblin & Catts, 2015). It has also been demonstrated that reading aloud with preschoolers, and asking the children questions while being read stories, improves vocabulary acquisition (Senechal, 1997).

To give students the tools they need to be successful in college and beyond, steps need to be taken throughout development, beginning with preschool-age students at home and continuing throughout elementary and high school.  The inability to understand basic vocabulary is an issue best solved before students reach the collegiate level. However, new developments and novel approaches of teaching content and reading comprehension to college students using adaptive computer software (Ray & Belden, 2007) could be promising for struggling students.

Come back next week to hear about a research project conducted within the microcosm of Southern Adventist University students last semester to further investigate the extent of this problem. 

Literature Cited

Croner, P. E. (2003). Strategies for teaching science content reading. The Science Education Review 2(4), 104-19

Duff, D., Tomblin, J. B., & Catts, H. (2015). The influence of reading on vocabulary growth: A case for a Matthew effect. Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research 58, 853-64.

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2014) Scaffolded reading instruction of content-area texts. Read Teach The Reading Teacher 67(5), 347-51.

Hirsch, E. D. (2010). Teaching content is teaching reading. Principal. (November/December) 10-14.

Ivey, G., & Johnston, P. (2013). Engagement with young adult literature: Processes and outcomes. Reading Research Quarterly, 48(3), 1-21.

Moore, D. W., Readence, J. E., & Rickelman, R. J. (1983). An historical exploration of content area reading instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 18(4), 419-38.

Phelps, G., & Schilling, S. (2004). Developing measures of content knowledge for teaching reading. The Elementary School Journal, 105(1), 31-48.

Ray, R. D., & Belden, N. (2007). Teaching college level content and reading comprehension skills simultaneously via an artificially intelligent adaptive computerized instructional system. The Psychological Record 57, 201-18.

Regan, K., & Berkeley, S. (2012). Effective reading and writing instruction: A focus on modeling. Intervention in School & Clinic, 47(5), 276-282.

Senechal, M. (1997). The differential effect of storybook reading on preschoolers’ acquisition of expressive and receptive vocabulary. Journal of Child Language 24(1), 123-38.

Stinnett, M. (2012). Content area reading pedagogy and domain knowledge. Illinois Reading Council Journal, 40(3), 70-5.

Do Our A&P Students Know How to Read? PART 1

5 Feb
valerie-lee

A message from Valerie Lee, an assistant professor at Southern Adventist University who just started her 6th year of teaching and loves HAPS!

Years ago, I took a graduate level educational class called “Teaching Reading in the Content Area.”  This class was geared toward elementary and secondary schools; I never dreamed the information presented would be relevant to me later as a professor in a college classroom.

I teach a second semester combined Anatomy and Physiology course nearly every term. My students are primarily freshmen planning to pursue programs in Nursing or other Allied Health Fields.  Early in the semester, I tell them this class is like learning a new language.  So, I try to emphasize word roots while pointing out the meanings of Latin prefixes and suffixes.

Even though studious students focus their efforts on memorizing anatomy-specific vocabulary, they surprisingly have difficulty on exams with the meanings of English words that I assume all students know. After seeing a discussion about this issue on the HAPS listserv in December 2015, I realized I wasn’t alone.

Over the course of a few days, A&P professors all over the country added basic vocabulary words their students struggled with to a list I compiled.

Table 1 includes some of the non-content-specific words with which A&P students routinely have trouble.

terms_not_understood

 

Table 2 includes many content-specific words that A&P students often confuse.  

terms_easily_confused

Quizzing students on the meanings of these words, on the first day of class, might be an effective tool for encouraging students to assess their current level of preparation and readiness for the course.  

Thinking back to my educational class, I realize this is not a new problem. So, what does the literature have to say about the problem and what steps are suggested to provide solutions to the problem?  Molly Theus, one of my former students and now a first year veterinarian student at UGA, prepared a literature review on the subject. To read Molly’s review, stay tuned for next week’s blog.