Overcoming Student Learning Bottlenecks
Decode the Critical Thinking of Your Discipline

Foreword by Dan Bernstein
Paper: 978 1 62036 665 3 / $35.00
Published: December 2017  

Cloth: 978 1 62036 664 6 / $95.00
Published: January 2018  

Lib E-Book: 978 1 62036 666 0 / $95.00  
About Library E-Book

Published: December 2017  

E-Book: 978 1 62036 667 7 / $27.99
Published: December 2017  

Publisher: Stylus Publishing
276 pp., 6" x 9"
70 figures & 34 exercises
Decoding the Disciplines is a widely-used and proven methodology that prompts teachers to identify the bottlenecks – the places where students get stuck – that impede learners’ paths to expert thinking in a discipline. The process is based on recognizing the gap between novice learning and expert thinking, and uncovering tacit knowledge that may not be made manifest in teaching.

Through “decoding”, implicit expert knowledge can be turned into explicit mental tasks, and made available to students. This book presents a seven-step process for uncovering bottlenecks and determining the most effective way to enable students to surmount them.

The authors explain how to apply the seven steps of Decoding the Disciplines – how to identify bottlenecks, unpack the critical thinking of experts, teach students how to do this kind of thinking, and how to evaluate the degree to which students have learned to do it. They provide in-depth descriptions of each step and, at the end of each chapter, at least one exercise the reader can do on his or her own. Because the decoding process works well with groups, they also provide exercises for leading groups through the process, making available to informal groups as well as groups led by professional developers, the tools to transform their understanding of teaching and learning by getting the student view that they refer to as “the bottleneck perspective”.

Because it focuses on the mental moves that underlie the cognitive competencies we want students to develop, spelling out what critical thinking consists of for any field, the methodology helps teachers to get beyond focus on content delivery and transmission and provides criteria to select from the bewildering array of teaching tools the methods most appropriate to what they are teaching.

This is a book for faculty who want their students to develop disciplinary forms of reasoning, and are moreover interested in a methodology with the potential to transform and reinvigorate their teaching. It is particularly suitable for use in communities of practice, and should be indispensable for any one engaged in cross-disciplinary teaching, as it enables co-teachers to surface each other’s tacit knowledge and disciplinary assumptions.

Table of Contents:

1) Step 1—Identifying Bottlenecks to Learning
2) Step 2—Decoding Mental Actions
3) Step 3—Modeling
4) Step 4—Practicing Critical Thinking in a Discipline
5) Step 5—Motivation and Accountability
6) Step 6—Decoding Assessment
7) Step 7—Sharing
8) Decoding at the Intersection of Other Theories

Additional Resources
Index of Disciplinary Examples

Reviews & Endorsements:
“Middendorf and Shopkow provide an accessible and long-needed volume that speaks to both faculty and professional developers. Drawing on their expansive experiences and research, they articulate a wide range of contexts for applying the decoding methodology to strengthen faculty’s epistemological underpinnings, transform teaching and learning, and inform strategies for curricular development. This valuable resource is accessible across disciplinary, institutional, and international contexts.”
- Kathy Takayama, Director, Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research , Northeastern University
“Over a decade of investigation by the authors and their colleagues has been synthesized to produce this step-by-step guide to decoding the disciplines, a technique that has a relentless focus on improved student learning. We, as teachers, are given detailed signposts and ‘how-to’ pathways so that we can help students to navigate bottlenecks to learning. In doing so we unlock our own learning and deepen our own understanding of our disciplines. This book is a valuable resource for those trying ‘decoding’ for the first time, as well as for those who have begun and want to develop their practice further. The authors rightly situate decoding in the context of other pedagogical ideas and concepts, noting the differences and commonalities, and allowing the reader to develop a broad understanding of how students learn. The examples and templates are particularly useful.”
- Bettie Higgs, Senior Fellow, Teaching and Learning , University College Cork, Ireland