Will It Be On the Test?

According to William Perry students move through four main stages in their academic careers.  The stages, based on this reference, are A. Dualism/Received Knowledge – Answers are either right or wrong and the Authorities know which. B. Multiplicity/Subjective Knowledge – Answers conflict. One is as good as another and everybody has a right to their opinion. C. Relativism/Procedural Knowledge – Some answers are better than others and the student’s job is to evaluate the reasoning behind the solutions. D. Commitment/Constructed Knowledge – Answers have evolved.  The discipline (the chosen major) has reasoning patterns and viewpoints that the student has adopted and made his/her own.

With this perspective, the answer to the question, “Will it be on the test?” depends on the Perry stage that a student is in.  If Stage A. Dualism/Received Knowledge, a simple yes or no as may be the case is sufficient.  If Stage B. Multiplicity/Subjective Knowledge, something along the lines, “There will be a question on this concept which will require a reasoned answer,” could work. If Stage C. Relativism/Procedural Knowledge, try “There will be a question on this concept and the reasoning patterns of this course must be applied for full credit.”  If Stage D. Commitment/Constructed Knowledge, this  answer would be appropriate, “This is an important concept in our discipline.  Understanding it and the history and reasoning behind it is essential knowledge for one committed to this major.”

Our answers to student questions and the levels and phrasing of our assignments need to recognize the stageboth psychological and academic, that our students are in.  We also need to recognize that we are instrumental in moving our students to higher, more complex stages of development.


About jrh794

I am a sixty-five year old math instructor at Southern Oregon University. I taught at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed California for twenty-six years. Prior to that I worked as a computer programmer, carpenter and in various other jobs. I graduated from Rice University in 1967 and have a MS in Operations Research from Stanford. In the past I have hand-built a stone house and taken long solo bicycle tours. Now I ride my mountain bike and play golf for recreation.
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One Response to Will It Be On the Test?

  1. Nick says:

    Thanks, Jim –

    Unfortunately, I haven’t given this the though that it deserves. When this question comes up in class, my default response is either for Stage A or Stage C.

    I like to use this question to open a (brief) discussion about what students see as the “point” of the most recent topics, how they connect, and how they are to be recalled (memorized? rebuilt on-the-fly? special case of a basic fact?). I would always like these discussions to have more time than they are allowed, but alas…the model seems to be that philosophy is not called out by name, but built through practice. And doesn’t this creep in every time we ask students to “verify” their work by “trying out a number”.

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