Listening to Students

Listening to the Student Experience in Chemistry

Tom Drummond and Kalyn Shea Owens
North Seattle College, Seattle, Washington, USA

This is a link to a story of how documentation can be applied in higher education. Documentation enables all of us to listen more deeply to the student experience, hear their voices again in slow time, and reconsider teaching and learning. We wish to illustrate how documentation provides the opportunity for teachers to revisit their teaching and students to revisit the choices they make in the moments they struggle in order for everyone involved to better understand how both instructors and students grow towards more competent and more intentional ways of being.

We videotaped a small group of first year general chemistry students as they worked together to attempt to understand the single challenge of representing with red and blue colored pencils the charge distribution in one molecule. We wanted to apply what we had encountered inMaking Learning Visible, a book published by Project Zero at Harvard and Reggio Children in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Our query: does documentation inform educators and participants to enhance both the opportunities and the participation?

We watched the recording and transcribed the dialog, selecting one still frame from the video to represent that moment. The result we called a “capture” — one small slice of their struggle to represent charge distribution. The capture enabled us to listen more closely, to see learning unfold, and to reflect upon evidence of the process of learning in a tangible and concrete way. The capture allowed us to talk about learning together and share the meaning each of us sees. We have shown these slides to hundreds of faculty and have discovered many different viewpoints, way beyond our own. We think collaborative discussions about this kind of documentation enables the professional development of educators in all disciplines.

This documentation, and the subsequent discussions among students and teachers, has transformed our pedagogy and transformed our conceptions of what we do as leaders and participants in education. Hey, science teachers, come on in.

Download the document here Listening to Students PDF

The PDF is a 14 page article, including the capture of 60 photos and dialogue. We have found it quite fascinating — 3.7MB .pdf file.


We created another capture for a colleague at a nearby college. Mike Nevins of Everett College wanted us to document a learning group in pre-college intermediate algebra. That’s next.

Next Algebra Learning Group