More on Spelling, Case, & Grammar
TAPP Radio Ep. 56 TRANSCRIPT
The A&P Professor podcast (TAPP radio) episodes are made for listening, not reading. This transcript is provided for your convenience, but hey, it’s just not possible to capture the emphasis and dramatic delivery of the audio version. Or the cool theme music. Or laughs and snorts. And because it’s generated by a combo of machine and human transcription, it may not be exactly right. So I strongly recommend listening by clicking the audio player provided.
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Episode 56 Transcript
More on Spelling, Case, & Grammar
Kevin Patton: The education guru, John Dewey once wrote, “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks, learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.”
Aileen: Welcome to The A&P Professor. A few minutes to focus on teaching human anatomy and physiology with a veteran educator and teaching mentor, your host, Kevin Patton.
Kevin Patton: In this episode, I’ll talk about glycoRNA, barrier macrophages, I’ll discuss safely labeling anatomy models for lab practicals and continue the conversation about how to grade misspellings. Ribonucleic acid, RNA, is amazing. I am just so fascinated with RNA. And all of us are introduced to that very early on in our study of biology, right?
Kevin Patton: Sometime in middle school or high school or I don’t know, I think these days, or even bring it up in kindergarten, I don’t know. But RNA we know is very involved in getting the genetic code, transcribing and then translating the genetic code and DNA so that ourselves can use that information to build structures and perform functions and produce a living cell and therefore, living organism. So yeah, okay. That’s the basic story.
Kevin Patton: But as team goes by, we ourselves as students make the discovery that RNA has a lot of other roles to play in the cell. And that parallels the timeline in history of science that, yeah, okay, we knew a lot about its role and the basic mechanisms of transcription and translation early on, but then, we started expanding and this is a process that is not yet over.
Kevin Patton: And that’s the reason I bring it up in this episode is that there are some new data that are showing us that there may be as yet unopened doorway into a whole new realm of what kinds of jobs RNA might be doing in the cell. And I do say maybe, and I’ll circle back around to that in just a second. But I also want to, before I tell the rest of the story, tell you that one of the things that we’ve discovered about RNA is that their functions can be modified by the addition of certain chemical groups.
Kevin Patton: For example, methyl groups or acetyl groups have been known, have been demonstrated to attach to RNA molecules and affect the function of those RNA molecules. Now, along the same lines, we see chemical groups attaching to other kinds of molecules in the cell and affecting the function of those molecules. For example, glycans which are small sugars, they are often seen attaching to lipids, to proteins in a process called glycosylation.
Kevin Patton: And we know a lot about that process, probably not all there is to it, I’m sure, not all there is to know about it, but we know a lot about it and we know that glycosylation affects the structure and therefore, the function of all kinds of lipid and protein molecules. And in doing so, that’s going to in turn, affect the structure and function of larger structures within the cell that those molecules are a part of or interact with.
Kevin Patton: So okay, we see that chemical groups attach to things and affect function, that’s something we already knew. RNA has other jobs besides transcription, translation, that we already knew. But what is new apparently is that some of these small RNAs called Y RNAs. They may be involved in DNA replication. Their story is yet to be filled in completely, but it looks like they’re probably involved in DNA replication and somehow regulating that process.
Kevin Patton: The discover that is new is that some glycans are attaching to nitrogen atoms within the Y RNA. So that’s called N-linked glycosylation. Those are N-linked glycans that are attached to the Y RNA, specifically to the guanosine base that is in RNA. In this new research report that I’m referring to, the authors refer to that altered form of RNA as glycoRNA, like all run together. So it’s not mRNA, it’s not tRNA, it’s not rRNA, it’s glycoRNA. So small case glyco and upper case RNA.
Kevin Patton: So that’s what they discovered. What we don’t know is why. We know that it’s intentionally … or we think we know, it’s being intentionally added to Y RNA to form glycoRNA by certain enzymes. Why is the cell going to the trouble of doing that? What function is now enhanced or inhibited by this N-glycosylation? Well, we don’t know.
Kevin Patton: This whole thing may not pan out because it may be that what they thought they were looking at isn’t really what they were seeing. It could be that. But it could mean if it does pan out, that there’s this whole other world of RNA regulation of cells that we never knew about and we can now start exploring. So I just wanted to throw it out there is one of those fascinating things about science that we might be able to throw into our A&P course and say, “Hey look, RNA, we are not anywhere close to seeing the end of that story.”
Kevin Patton: There’s a million … Well okay, that’s an exaggeration, but there are lots and lots of other kinds of RNA besides what I’m telling you about in our course. This is just the beginning of the story and you may learn more about RNA in later courses and who knows, this may be the basis of a whole set of therapies someday if we can figure out what in the world it’s doing.
Sponsored by HAPS
Kevin Patton: Marketing support for this podcast is provided by HAPS, the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, promoting excellence in the teaching of human anatomy and physiology for over 30 years. Registration for the annual conference in Ottawa next May is already open. So I’ve already grabbed that early bird rate. Go visit HAPS at theAPprofessor.org/haps. That’s H-A-P-S.
Kevin Patton: In a previous segment, I talked about ribonucleic acid, RNA, and I said how amazing I think it is. And I’m going to say that now about something completely different, and that is a set of cells in the human body called macrophages. They’re amazing. And you and I talk about macrophages a lot in A&P, right, when we were teaching A&P? They come up a lot.
Kevin Patton: Macrophages are little scavenger cells … Okay, they’re not little. They’re big. That’s where the name macro comes from, right? On a cellular level, they’re pretty big cells and they do phagocytosis and that gives us the other part of their name, phage, which ultimately can be translated as eating or ingesting or gobbling up, and that’s the technical terminology I like to use. Macrophages are … they’re gobbling up cells.
Kevin Patton: And they gobble up damaged cells and cell parts and other debris and particles that we don’t want flooding around in our body. So they have a very valuable and important role in the human body, right? Helping keep things clean and helping protect us from infected cells and other kinds of potentially damaging particles.
Kevin Patton: There’s something about macrophages that I don’t really dive in too much in my A&P course, but you might, and that is where they come from. Macrophages actually have two distinct sources of development. One cell lineage arises from monocytes. And of course, monocytes are immune that are derived from the bone marrow, the myeloid tissue.
Kevin Patton: But there’s this other set of macrophages that is developing in a different way that’s independent from monocytes. And these macrophages, they come from cells that have spread out into the tissues during embryotic development. So those macrophages that end up in different tissues, they’re sometimes just called tissue macrophages, or they might be called tissue resident macrophages, or a lot of times, they’re just named for whatever tissue they’re in or whatever job they’re doing in that tissue.
Kevin Patton: And that’s an important aspect of this, and that is they have different jobs to do in different tissues. So they’re going to express different genes depending on which subset of macrophages they are, which tissue they’re in and what job they’re doing. So it may be something beyond this scavenging of damaged cells and so on, or it may be a different way of doing it or a specific set of things that they’re gobbling up.
Kevin Patton: So that’s important to know about macrophages. There are different subsets of them. Now, when we’re looking at these tissue macrophages, we see that some of them have a role in producing an inflammatory response. But there are other subsets of macrophages that have an anti-inflammatory role. We can’t say that macrophages in general, promote inflammation, and we can’t say that in general, they inhibit inflammation. What we can say is yeah, they’re capable of either job and it just depends on which macrophage you’re talking about.
Kevin Patton: Now, something else I want to mention before I even tell you why I’m talking about macrophages is I want to remind you of the disease, rheumatoid arthritis, like we need reminding of that. That’s something that is throughout the … our human population, we’re reminded of it frequently because a lot of people suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and we’re doing a lot of work to try and relieve that suffering and produce effective treatments and someday, maybe even a cure for rheumatoid arthritis.
Kevin Patton: And it’s an immune disorder that is associated with inflammation of joints. It involves also because of that inflammation and various processes going on there, with the destruction of cartilage and the destruction of bone in our joints that are affected by the rheumatoid arthritis. It turns out that macrophages have a key role in initiating rheumatoid arthritis.
Kevin Patton: Now in some recent research. So there it is. And what you’ve been waiting for, like why is he talking about this now? We know all that. Well, there’s some recent research that was looking at a specific subset of macrophages. Specifically, those that expressed a gene called CX3CR1. And I’ll never remember that. I have that written down on a little piece of paper here. CX3CR1. Yeah. Okay.
Kevin Patton: But that’s a particular gene and it’s one that we’re looking at. And they found that these macrophages that express that gene, they are found in the form of a layer of cells. Now, that’s weird, isn’t it? You always think of macrophages as being these somewhat independent scavengers. They’re like cats that are roaming around independently of each other and gobbling up mice, right?
Kevin Patton: But these CX3CR1, I hope I don’t lose this paper. I always drop it on the floor. CX3CR1 expressing macrophages, they’re found as a layer of cells. And that layer of cells forms a barrier, sort of like this very thin protective membrane inside a healthy synovial joint. So where they’re found in the synovial membrane is beneath that layer of synovial fluid that is being produced by the synovial membrane.
Kevin Patton: So the first thing you’ll hit then is this barrier made up of all these macrophages linking themselves together into sort of a membrane. And then beyond that, you’re going to find some connective tissue with fibroblasts in there. And an interesting thing about these CX3CR1 macrophages is I’m just going to call them what the researchers ended up calling them, and that is barrier macrophages. That’s a lot easier than CX3CR1 … Okay. Now, it’s easy for me to say, but I’ve said it a bunch of times. But I’m still going to call them barrier macrophages.
Kevin Patton: So the barrier macrophages, it turns out when they looked at them very closely in terms of what genes were they expressing besides the CX3CR1, is that they were expressing genes for proteins that are associated with producing tight junctions in epithelial cells that are connecting together to form a membrane. We all know about tight junctions, right, and what they do, and they form a seal between the adjacent epithelial cells.
Kevin Patton: So why would macrophages be making the proteins needed for tight junctions? Well, maybe it’s so that they can form this layer, this barrier that is on the surface of the synovial membrane adhering to the connective tissue and facing into the synovial fluid. So that’s weird and interesting. And when they looked at this barrier layer, this layer of barrier macrophages, they found that it was really … Well, the term they used is dynamic. It was not just sitting there. It was reacting to things.
Kevin Patton: So in a set of experiments, they induced arthritis in their experimental animals and when that happened, when they induced arthritis, that barrier layer started remodeling itself. It loosened the interactions between them and those fibroblasts on the inside. So they started peeling away a little bit. Something that happened there is that they started ingesting, gobbling up and removing some of the inflammatory immune cells, specifically, the neutrophils that they come in and they accumulate in an inflamed area and then they die.
Kevin Patton: And that happens in arthritis when there’s inflammation. They get in there and these macrophages gobble them up. And then they had some animals that … they used mice. Their lab mice, they induced arthritis in a group of these mice. They did that while also messing with that layer of barrier macrophages. So they caused the arthritis and they messed up the barrier.
Kevin Patton: And what happened was that those animals got much more severe arthritis than the ones where they didn’t mess with the barrier. So when they didn’t mess with the barrier, the barrier peeled back and started gobbling up the neutrophils. But the ones where they messed with that barrier, those barrier macrophages, then the mice got worse arthritis than otherwise. So whatever was going on there with those barrier macrophages got messed up and the animals suffered worse from the arthritis.
Kevin Patton: What they’re thinking now is, “What’s going on there? This is a new discovery. We never saw that before. That’s really interesting.” And maybe, here is a pathway to finding some better treatments for rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory conditions. Let’s find out what exactly is going on there. Let’s see what is going on during this dynamic process of reducing the effects of inflammation in arthritis.
Kevin Patton: There is a little bit something different that I never knew about synovial membrane. None of us ever knew it before. And I’m not saying we need to go into that much detail when we’re talking about synovial membranes, or mentioning arthritis in our course, but it’s another one of those things that we can just drop in there and say, “This is still an active are of research. We don’t know everything there is to know about how these membranes of the body are built and how they function and how they interact with other kinds of tissues that may be discussed outside of our usual discussion of joints and membranes.”
Sponsored by AAA
Kevin Patton: A searchable transcript and a captioned audiogram of this episode are funded by AAA, the American Association for Anatomy. Check out their new logo at anatomy.org. And while you’re there, check out their membership benefits too.
Labeling Lab Models
Kevin Patton: Listener Kathryn Chipchase recently wrote in with this message. “I’m a biology graduate student hoping to graduate next year and become an A&P professor. I just found your podcast and love it. I’ve been learning so much. Since you said we can write in with questions, I thought I’d give it a whirl. How do you have students identify structures on a model for a practical?
Kevin Patton: I’m currently head TA for the anatomy labs and we have recently bought new models. We used to label our models with colored lab tape and then ask questions like, “Identify the muscle labeled E.” But there’s some concern that the residue from the tape will slowly damage and wear off the paint on the models.
Kevin Patton: Some of the models have numbers painted by the manufacturer on them and we’ve thought about just using them. But we’re concerned about the students memorizing that 19 is biceps and 23 is triceps and so on. How many precautions do you take and where is the line where it’s up to the students to take their learning seriously?”
Kevin Patton: Okay. Well actually, I think there’s a couple of things woven in there, at least a couple of things. One thing that really popped out to me is the beginning where she just found the podcast and loves it so yay, thank you very much for that encouragement because that’s why I do this, right, is to help people. And by helping A&P teachers, I’m helping bajilions of A&P students. And that’s part of why I live my life. Just part of it, but a big part of it. So thanks for that.
Kevin Patton: But the last part of the question I want to tackle first, and that is using numbers on the models and what that has to do with student learning. And let me just say this. I never ever, ever use the numbers on the model. In fact, I hate those numbers. It’s like using a human donor for teaching that has numbers already tattooed on each organ or other structure. That’s ridiculous, right? That doesn’t happen.
Kevin Patton: And you wouldn’t want it to happen because it takes away the discovery part of learning. And I’m really all about that discovery part of learning, falling down and picking yourself up and falling down and picking yourself up. And you might think, “Well wait a minute, those numbers are useful because then, it can verify for the student whether they’ve identified it correctly or not.”
Kevin Patton: And yeah, I get that and I guess there’s some use in that, but I don’t think you need it because after all, they have label diagrams and label charts already available to them, right, right there in the lab. And these days, they have the entire internet available right there on their mobile device. So really, do they need those numbers? I don’t think so.
Kevin Patton: It forces them to look around and get help and try to puzzle it out, and I think that’s where the learning occurs, not just memorizing things that are already labeled for you. But even so, setting that aside for a moment, I think you’re right, students will try to just learn the numbers when they can when what they really need to be doing is learning the structure and really ignoring those numbers.
Kevin Patton: Even if I don’t ask students to identify structures by number, they can still see those numbers so they’re going to learn those numbers and they’re going to use them to give them hints for the test. So even if I label it in a different part, they’re going to scan up and down that structure to see if there’s a number somewhere and if they can remember what that number represents. Then they’ll do it that way rather than scanning it for important anatomical landmarks and position to see what it is.
Kevin Patton: And that’s what I want them doing. That’s what I want to train them to do is not to first, look for a number because when they get me as their patient, that ain’t going to work. I want them to know their landmarks. I don’t want them to know the numbers. So what I do in a lab test is I cover up the numbers so they can’t use them.
Kevin Patton: But that’s an extra step. That’s why I hate numbers, right, because not only do I think they mess up the learning, but then, they mess up the testing. And even worse, they take up my time in setting it up or they take somebody’s time up if I’m getting help in setting it up. This reminds me of a time when I overheard a group of students going over their lab manuals and trying to remember things based on the position of labels in the diagram in their lab manual.
Kevin Patton: So they were saying something like, “Well, if the label is at 10:00, it’s the liver. And if the label is at 7:00, it must be the cecum.” And I just thought, “What are they thinking? Number one, why would you spend your time and effort memorizing something that is not going to help you in any other situation? And number two, I never use pictures from the lab manual on the test.”
Kevin Patton: So they should have known that by that point that I wasn’t going to do that. And I don’t know, maybe they thought that this was like some kind of universal labeling that all diagrams and all situations having to do with human anatomy have labels in the same place. I don’t know. But that’s just not the way you want to learn. And using little shortcuts like that does have that danger. Some of them can be very useful for learning, I agree, but sometimes, it can be dangerous if used by people that are novices and learning especially learning anatomy.
Kevin Patton: So anyway, that’s just an incident that popped into my head right then. Sorry about that. Let’s get back to the question here. The question that I want to get to next is the tape question. That’s a really good question. And actually, the more I looked into this, the more interesting that question has became for me. The first source I went to to get good advice, not just me shooting from the hip, “Well, this what I would use,” but what I would use isn’t necessarily well-thought out.
Kevin Patton: So I went to the first source I thought of, and that is the anatomical model company Denoyer-Geppert. Now, I’ve gotten to know some of the folks from Denoyer-Geppert at some of the HAPS conferences. And my friends Dan Lemons and late, great Joe Griswold, they did a lot of work for Denoyer-Geppert so I had a lot of chats with folks through my interactions with Dan and Joe.
Kevin Patton: I got ahold of Denoyer-Geppert’s President, Mary Andros. And what she told me is that, “You can use that blue tape that painters use. And then after you’re done, wipe it down with a baby wipe or a damp cloth.” So that’s her advice. But she did caution that other manufacturers don’t take the time and expense to seal the paint and bind it to the plastic and apply a final clear coat. Now Denoyer-Geppert does that but not every model manufacturer does that.
Kevin Patton: So you have to be careful with that tape because the tape could take the paint off of those models. And I think another issue would be that after repeated use, if you don’t clean up the adhesive, then the adhesive is going to build up over time. That’s going to be hard to get off. And thinking about that Blue Painter’s tape, I got to thinking, well there’s all kinds of newer masking tapes that painters use these days so maybe I’ll consult with a tape expert to see if there’s maybe even a better choice than the Blue Painter’s tape.
Kevin Patton: So I got ahold of somebody at 3M. 3M makes Scotch brand tapes and they make all kinds of tapes, including that Blue Painter’s tape that Mary was talking about. So I talked to someone named Beth in their customer service department. And wow. If my A&P students could learn their anatomy like Beth knows her tapes, I’d die a happy man.
Kevin Patton: So here’s what I learned from Beth. The first rule of tape club is don’t talk about tape club. No, no, no. Okay, that’s not right. The first rule of tape club is to test any tape in an inconspicuous spot under the same conditions you’d be using it. That is the amount of time you’ll leave it on, the temperature, the humidity and so on, just like consumer reports does when they’re testing paints. So yeah, that makes a lot of sense, right? Of course, test it and see where it works. We’re scientists, right? So there’s an experiment we can do.
Kevin Patton: Actually, that’s one that I think somebody could do a serious study on that and write it up and put it into HAPS Educator. I’m asking someone out there to do that. Katherine, maybe this would be … Okay, you’re pretty busy being a TA and going to graduate school and so on but maybe when you get out, that could be the first thing you do, or maybe you could get your TAs to collaborate on something like that. I think that would be a great study to do.
Kevin Patton: So that’s Beth’s main recommendation, is just test different things and see what works best. But another thing I learned in talking to Beth is that some tape and sticker adhesives are considered to be aggressive adhesives. Now, I never thought of an adhesive being aggressive. Lions and tigers, they can be aggressive, but tape? So some are aggressive, some aren’t.
Kevin Patton: She didn’t mention. Beth didn’t mention what they call the opposite of an aggressive adhesive. Maybe they’re called docile adhesives. I don’t know. But it turns out that the Blue Painter’s tape uses a fairly aggressive adhesive made out of synthetic rubber. It’s meant to stay on for only a short period of time. And then you can’t really … Once it comes off, hopefully it just comes off clean. But if it doesn’t, you can’t really get it clean using alcohol or citrus cleaners which is apparently some sort of standard way of removing tape adhesive.
Kevin Patton: So synthetic rubber adhesives, no, we can’t do it with that. You’re going to have to get a more powerful organic solvent to get that off if it sticks. But hopefully, it’s not going to peel the tape (paint) away. But of course, you want to test it first and see whether it’s going to [inaudible 00:28:53] away or not. Something Beth recommended trying testing is a purple tape called Delicate Surface Painter’s tape. That’s has a different kind of adhesive. I guess it’s more docile. I don’t know. It’s an acrylic adhesive that’s less aggressive.
Kevin Patton: And the residue, it can be removed by alcohol or citrus cleaner so there you go, you don’t need to get out the … all the precautions and stuff you would need for using an organic kind of solvent to remove any residue. And because it’s for delicate surfaces, then it’s even less likely to pull the paint away. But test it and see.
Kevin Patton: There’s some other things that Beth brought up. Man, she just … Once you get her going, man, she can talk tape I’ll tell you. She had lots of different things that she suggested trying. And I think these are all worth trying. And maybe there’s some other things too, but these are the ones that she really focused on. One is Scotch brand Magic Tape. You know the clear tape you use on your desktop on your desk? When I say desktop, you’re probably thinking, okay, on my computer? I don’t do that. No, on your actual physical desk.
Kevin Patton: It’s that kind of cloudy kind of tape that has a matte finish that you can write on. So that’s one of the reasons why she was suggesting is, you can write on it. So yeah, that’s good. And it’s the one she was talking about, their product is sold in black and green packaging. So she suggests trying that one. Another thing she suggested was Post-it Notes. And as soon as she said that, I’m glad I didn’t but in and said, “Oh, I don’t want do that,” because Post-it Notes, you stick those on a model and then somebody opens the door and a breeze comes in and they’ll go flying, flittering to the floor and there goes your lab practical.
Kevin Patton: So she was quick to point out before I could even break in and say anything, “No, not the original Post-it Notes, those are not meant for vertical surfaces, those are meant for sticking on a piece of paper, a little extra note on a piece of paper. She instead was suggesting that we try one or the other or both of some other variations of Post-it Notes. One is called the Super Sticky version. Another one is called Extreme Notes.
Kevin Patton: Now, Extreme Notes are more water-resistant, so she was thinking, if you’re in a situation where there’s a lot of humidity or where things get splashed or wet or something like that, then maybe the Extreme Notes would be a good choice. But if not, then try the Super Sticky version. But again, this is all about trying it in a little inconspicuous spot and see if it works.
Kevin Patton: Now, all of these can be cleaned up with alcohol or citrus cleaner, or she points out that you could use the sticky side of another piece of tape or Post-it Note or whatever you have and dab it up, or just roll it with your finger and pluck it off the surface, like roll it into a little ball and it comes off pretty easily. But always remember the first rule of tape club. Test it first.
Kevin Patton: Now, there are links to these products in the show notes if you want to look into any or all of those. And by the way, I don’t receive any considerations from 3M or Denoyer-Geppert. So now, it’s your turn. Please call the podcast hotline at 1-833-LION-DEN. That’s one 1-833-546-6336, or write us at podcast@theAPprofessor.org with your tips on how you label things for your lab practicals.
Sponsored by HAPI Online Graduate Program
Kevin Patton: The free distribution of this podcast is sponsored by the Master of Science in Human Anatomy and Physiology Instruction, the HAPI degree. When is the last time you had a thorough review of all the core concepts of both anatomy and physiology? Check out this online graduate program at nycc.edu/hapi. That’s H-A-P-I, or click the link in the show notes or episode page. There’s always a new cohort forming so best get on this soon.
More on Spelling
Kevin Patton: In the previous episode, Episode 55, I explained that my attitude and my teaching practice regarding misspelling has changed over the years. And when I say changed, I mean, from one end of a spectrum all the way to the other. For the first decade or so of my itching career, I have fluctuated between ignoring spelling mistakes well as long as they were in the ballpark and deducting a negligible penalty for misspellings.
Kevin Patton: I did that because I thought it’s hard enough learning that massive content and the puzzling complexity of anatomy and physiology concepts without what I thought was an added burden of spelling. And well, I thought I’d be perceived as too tough or frankly, as a total jerk if I demanded perfect spelling. And that’s because I equated being a good teacher with being a teacher who is not demanding to the point of discomfort.
Kevin Patton: Supporting this laissez-faire attitude about misspelling was the fact that most of my peers had similar approaches. So I thought, if it’s common practice, it must be best practice which itself is weird, but I thought in those terms because the phrase best practice wasn’t even a thing back then.
Kevin Patton: So it’s not surprising that when in Episode 55, I explained my take no prisoners approach to misspelling that is not accepting any misspelled answers. Even if it’s close to being correct, it came as a surprise to some listeners a not entirely welcome surprise. I know, you are thinking this guy is really off the rails. And that may be true, except for the fact that I don’t think I was never on the rails to begin with.
Kevin Patton: So yeah, of course it’s surprising. Anytime I hear of a different approach to teaching than what I’m comfortable with, I’m going to be taken aback and I’m going to be resistant. I may even dismiss it entirely, at least the first time I hear it. And I admit it, this is my usual mindset of pushing back against teaching practices unfamiliar to me is my go-to strategy.
Kevin Patton: But that’s okay. I know now, now that I’ve been teaching for these many decades that the looser approach to misspelling didn’t work as well for me as being a hardened enforcer of correct spelling has worked for me. And you know what, I never have believed that either. I’m not bringing this up to change the minds of doubters.
Kevin Patton: Well okay, maybe there is a little bit of that behind why I’m bringing it up again. It worked so well for me. I really do want folks who never thought it might work to know yeah, it really can work. But mainly, my goal is to make sure that I was as clear as I can be about what I was saying because I think a couple of things got missed in my initial discussion. Things that may help clarify my current practice regarding the correcting of misspellings in The A&P course.
Kevin Patton: The first thing I want to clarify is my thinking has really changed over the years about how comfortable I think my students ought to be in my course. If you’re a regular listener, you know that I’m a big, big, big proponent of being an empathetic and compassionate teacher. Something that takes commitment and a lot of effort to pull off and the continual practice and sharpening of skills in compassion and empathy.
Kevin Patton: I always thought that not being too hard on my students on spelling or not being too hard on anything really was the empathetic and compassionate thing to do. But the more I studied compassion and how to be compassionate, the more I realized that I hadn’t really understood very well at first. What I learned is that compassion in teaching requires that I do my best to help students to reach their best potential.
Kevin Patton: Applying that to actual practice, I learned that I wasn’t really doing much to help my students reach higher if I never expected them to perform at a high level to begin with. If I don’t expect perfect spelling, how will they ever be able to reach a high proficiency in spelling? It’s not just spelling, but that happens to be what I’m talking about at the moment.
Kevin Patton: I started thinking about the courses in which I feel like I learned a lot and the teachers who I thought really made me better in some significant way. I thought about my chemistry professor, Leo Malone, who never gave me partial credit on a solution that ended up, well, wrong. And my composition professor, Ron Giedinghagen who marked up every line of nearly every paper I wrote all the way up until midterms.
Kevin Patton: These were tough teachers who made me uncomfortable by expecting me to get it right. As it became more and more clear to me as a teacher that I was becoming more effective and my students were learning more and learning better and remembering what they learn for a longer term as I expected more of my students, as I demanded more of my students.
Kevin Patton: As this realization eventually dawned on me, I started to become aware of a growing literature on the concept often called desirable difficulty. Robert Bjork is credit with pointing this term for effort for learning back in the mid-1990s. And there’s a lot of empirical evidence that deep learning requires the frustration of overcoming obstacles that students hate and which often causes students to hate their teachers.
Kevin Patton: That is until the skills are eventually mastered and the concept is understood. A mastery that comes with repeated trials, corrections and retrials. Of course, this fits right in with the overwhelming evidence that vigorous and ongoing retrieval practice is an effective and essential characteristic of solid learning. If you’ve ever talked with me about teaching for more than minutes, you know I’m a zealot about retrieval practice.
Kevin Patton: You never want to get behind me in a long lunch line at a conference because, yeah, that’s where the conversation is going to go. I plan to discuss the idea of desirable difficulty and learning more fully in future episodes, but I bring it up now to help clarify my position on expecting perfect spelling in my A&P course. If my students struggle to get their spelling perfect, that’s okay. And my high expectations can actually help them.
Kevin Patton: But there’s another piece of this that I need to make clear. And I’ve explained in some of the early episodes of this podcast and in various seminars that I presented the way I do retrieval practice in my courses is mainly by the way of online tests. Online tests in which students get multiple attempts of each test. Now each test is different, but covering the same concepts with a different mix of questions.
Kevin Patton: In each attempt, each individual test item is scored as either correct or not correct. As I stated in Episode 55, if a fill-in or a short answer item is misspelled, then it’s not accepted as correct. This also includes correct capitalization and grammar. For example, if an item calls for a singular answer, only the singular answer, only the singular form of a term is accepted as correct. The thing is this. Because I allow multiple attempts, I’m inviting, even encouraging some failures.
Kevin Patton: As I’ve quoted and paraphrased my tai chi teacher before, you can’t learn something until you do it wrong first. If I get it wrong, then suffer the natural consequences of that by not being accepted and by also, receiving correction, then I’ll more likely understand what I did wrong and put effort into avoiding that kind of error as I go forward.
Kevin Patton: I may even take some extra time and effort in my personal practice to make sure I understand it correctly. But if a mistake I make is ignored or barely noticed, then how can I know that I missed the mark? Even if understand that I made an error, what motivation is there for me to work at learning how to do it correctly? So yeah, if I give just a few summative tests and a course as I did for many years, then being nitpicky about spelling, case and grammar may not be the best teaching strategy.
Kevin Patton: But then again, my students will leave without the high level of professional communication proficiency that they otherwise have. But nowadays especially, I have access to learning management systems that allow me to give many automatically scored retrieval practice opportunities so that students really can get it wrong, get it corrected, get it wrong, get it corrected again over and over. Well, maybe over and over and over. But eventually, they get it right.
Kevin Patton: Then after all that desirable difficulty, not to mention all that hard knocks scoring of spelling, they’re ready for the midterm or final exam having mastered the content the accurate communication of that content. So if you’re not with me on this spelling thing, do keep in mind that my course is possibly different than your course in terms of how many times a student is required to answer questions and how many do-overs they get to a substantial summative exam with no do-overs.
Kevin Patton: Something else I think comes into play. Something I want to always consider when I’m implementing any strategy in my course is whether any extra cognitive load is worth it. Back in Episode 41, I explained the cognitive load refers to the amount of working memory resources that you’re using at the moment. The more working memory you have to use, the higher the cognitive load. The higher the cognitive load, the more likely you’ll reach your limit of what you can handle in your thinking and learning at that moment.
Kevin Patton: So I perfect spelling putting unnecessary pressure on the cognitive load of my students? Maybe. I don’t think so though, because I’ve been doing what I’m doing for a long time and my students cope with it fairly easily. Okay, the wailing and gnashing of teeth about spelling errors the first two weeks does happen. But only at a very low level which I frankly didn’t expect when I first started with this. I was fully prepared to put my lion-taming defensive moves into effect, but I didn’t need to.
Kevin Patton: And I was even more surprised at the consistent pattern that after the first couple of weeks, when students start getting dinged for misspellings, it pretty much just disappears, all that complaining. Actually, that little bit of complaining just disappears. So the thing that I was most afraid of simply didn’t happen. And after dozens of classes with this process in place, I have never had to defend against huge biting fangs or giant slashing claws or even a menacing growl.
Kevin Patton: But to me in my course, the cognitive load in your course or other issues specific to your course may indeed make this unworkable. I throw out these ideas here to let you know what has worked for me. It might spark some other idea or it might just give you your laugh for the day.
Kevin Patton: And one last point, I’ve heard colleagues say that they’re not good spellers or that they’ve been known to make a typo or spelling error in class or in some other professional situation. And that somehow, our own imperfection makes the expectation that students spell correctly untenable, perhaps even hypocritical.
Kevin Patton: Yeah, been there, done that. I feel that way too sometimes. Of course, I make errors in class in my professional writing and everywhere else I roam all the time. Some days, I think I make fewer errors than I used to in olden times. Other days, I wonder how I can make so many errors in a single day. But you know what, I expect to be, I want to be corrected even if by students or that snarky colleague who seems to take an unusual amount of delight in correcting me.
Kevin Patton: And even though I don’t get a deduction of grade points when I make such errors, I do suffer other natural consequences of having made the error. The professional embarrassment, the extra effort to correct the error, the guilt of eating all that ice cream after having made that error, all kinds of consequences that make missing points on test items seem trivial.
Kevin Patton: One last thing. Up, I know I said that last thing was my final point, but well, this just popped into my head, is I think about a comment I made a moment ago. Hey, if each one of us does things the very same way and has exactly the same perspective on teaching anatomy and physiology, what a dull world this would be. Although it feels great to have folks find my experience to be informative, I also get some satisfaction in having my suggestions be a stimulus to go in a completely different direction maybe.
Kevin Patton: Admittedly, that latter case doesn’t feel as good as if you’d agree with me 100%, but still, I do this podcast to be helpful. And if being helpful to you is to show you a way of doing things that does not fit into your approach, so you can avoid it, well then so be it. I’ll count it as a win.
Share the Fun!
Kevin Patton: You know how some media that we consume, like a lot of independent podcasts and public radio and television and all kinds of different media have those annoying membership drives, to know where Ira Glass, the Host of This American Life calls people who listen but never become members and humiliates them during a fund drive, well guess what, I’m not going to do that.
Kevin Patton: This podcast doesn’t have a donor membership program. Instead, let’s have a share the fun drive, okay? That’s where you as a listener who gets something out of this podcast, even if it’s just amusement at my eccentricities, share something you learned with one or more colleagues.
Kevin Patton: Hey, don’t forget that I always, always, always put links in the show notes and at the episode page at theAPprofessor.org. In case you want to further explore any of the ideas mentioned in this podcast or if you want to visit our sponsors. And you’re always encouraged to call in with your questions, comments and ideas at the podcast hotline.
Kevin Patton: That’s 1-833-LION-DEN, or 1-833-546-6336, or send a recording or written message to podcast@theAPprofessor.org. I’ll see you down the road.
Aileen: The A&P Professor is hosted by Dr. Kevin Patton, an award-winning professor and textbook author in human anatomy and physiology.
Kevin Patton: When using this podcast, avoid prolonged or repeated contact with skin.
This podcast is sponsored by the
Human Anatomy & Physiology Society
This podcast is sponsored by the
Master of Science in
Human Anatomy & Physiology Instruction
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