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2019

As instructors, almost all of us are public speakers. We pay a lot of attention to our content, but how much do we pay attention to how we are presenting our content?

 

Um, if we, um, had as many ums in our written work as we sometimes, um, have in our speech, our writing would, um, be difficult to read. The occasional um is not a problem. In fact, the occasional um works as an attention-getting signal telling us something important is coming. Having ums sprinkled throughout can improve memory for your content (Fraundorf & Watson, 2011). Having too many ums, though, is like highlighting every word in written text. If everything is signaled as important, then nothing is. Frequent ums can be distracting. You don’t want your listeners to start focusing on your ums and stop focusing on your message.

 

Reduce the ums through behavioral change

 

Record your next lecture, or maybe just the first 10 minutes of it. An audio recording using your phone will work. On playback, listen for your ums. How many are there? If there are just a few in that 10-minute recording, you probably don’t need to do anything differently.

 

If you’re hearing dozens, you may decide it's time to work on um-reduction.

 

When are your ums most likely to occur? At the beginning of sentences? As you switch from one topic to another? When responding to student questions? Now that you know when you are most likely to utter an um, you’ll be more likely, during your next lecture, to recognize that an um may be coming on. Your goal at this point is to pause—stop cold. Pausing will interrupt the automatic um. Savor the silence; skip the um. Then speak.

 

If you struggle with the silence, increasing the number of hand gestures you use also may help you decrease your ums (Christenfeld, Schachter, & Bilous, 1991). Don’t get too carried away though. Rapid, random, hand flapping would probably be just as distracting.

 

References

 

Christenfeld, N., Schachter, S., & Bilous, F. (1991). Filled pauses and gestures: It’s not coincidence. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 20(1), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01076916

 

Fraundorf, S. H., & Watson, D. G. (2011). The disfluent discourse: Effects of filled pauses on recall. Journal of Memory and Language, 65(2), 161–175. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2011.03.004

Do you teach Intro Psych? If so, I am personally inviting you to join me at the Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology Reading in Tampa next year (June 10-16, 2020; apply here). Choosing to attend the Reading was – hands down – the best move I ever made in my professional career. And I don’t say that lightly.

 

For doing the AP Reading, you are paid $1,639 (as of 2019), provided a free flight (or reimbursed miles if you’re close enough to drive), free room (with a roommate), and free meals (at the Convention Center).

 

I don’t remember when or where I first heard about the AP Reading. It was probably from Jane Halonen at NITOP. I do know that my first year was 2006. The Reading was in Daytona Beach that year. Since then, we’ve read in Louisville and Kansas City. For the last three years, the AP Psych Reading has been in Tampa.

 

What is the AP Psychology Reading?

 

A few hundred thousand high school students enroll in Advanced Placement Psychology courses each year. In May, many of those students take the AP Psych exam with the goal of scoring high enough to earn college credit at one of 1,999 colleges or universities students end up attending (see the full list here). In addition to 100 multiple-choice questions worth 2/3 of the exam grade, students also answer two essay questions – “free response questions” (FRQs) in AP parlance – worth 1/3 of the exam grade. (Read more about the exam.) Somebody has to read and score those free responses.

 

In 2019, about 600 college and high school psychology instructors met for a week to score a little more than 300,000 exams. If you’ve been reading carefully, you caught that that is about 600,000 essays.

 

No one does the Reading because they like grading

 

If there is someone who does the Reading because they like grading, I have yet to meet them. Unlike your own grading, however, at the Reading, you are given the rubric. Most questions have seven points, and for each one, you apply the rubric making a yes/no decision. If what the student has written reaches the bar for point one, score it. If not, don’t. Move on to the second point. At the end of the student’s essay, tally the number of yesses and bubble that number on a scoresheet. Move on to the next essay. Repeat for seven days.

 

Once you know the rubric – have become one with the rubric – the experience is very Zen-like. At the Reading, between 8am and 5pm – minus morning break, lunch, and afternoon break – nothing else matters. Some who do the reading talk about flow and about enjoying a break from the more complicated daily decisions they commonly need to make. At the Reading, everything is reduced to one simple decision: point/no point.

 

Why do college faculty do the Reading?

 

I asked several college faculty why they first decided to do the Reading. There were two primary reasons. First, someone they respected told them to do it – and, frankly, that’s the motivation I’m going for in this blog post. Second, most of them cited the extra money – also a legitimate motivator. Some faculty put the money into a dedicated hobby fund, others put it into a dedicated travel expense fund, and still others put it into their general household expense fund.

When I asked college faculty why they continue to do the Reading, almost everyone immediately said they come back because of the people.

 

The people

 

At the end of the workday–where every day is casual Friday–it’s time to hang out with old friends and make new ones. It’s very different than being at a conference. At conferences, everyone’s pulled in so many different directions with myriad obligations. At the Reading, we are all done at 5pm. The next four to six hours are spent just hanging out with friends.

 

I can’t imagine being where I am in my career without the people I have gotten to know at the Reading. I am a better teacher because of them. This is the largest gathering of the absolute best psychology instructors in the country, both high school and college/university.

 

I first met Charles Brewer (Furman University) at the Reading – the highest award in the teaching of psychology is named in his honor: Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award.

 

Since 2000, 14 out of 21 presidents for the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) have participated in the AP Reading. I’m not sure it would have ever occurred to me to run for STP president without the encouragement of a lengthy list of mentors – most of whom I met through the Reading.

 

I have been invited to speak at colleges/universities and at local/regional/national conferences by people I’ve met at the Reading.

 

Rubrics

 

Getting 300,000 students to interpret an essay question the same way so their written responses can all be scored reliably is no easy task. Any, yet, those who write the questions pull this off time and time again. The challenge in creating the rubric is in identifying what a reader must see in a student’s response to be certain that the student knew the concept, and then to write the rubric in such a way that every reader will score every student response the same way.

 

Since I started attending the Reading in 2006, my essay question writing and my rubric writing has gotten immeasurably better. It’s these improved skills that allowed me to move from a standard lecture-based teaching model to interteaching where my students learn through writing.

 

Join me next year!

 

The Nebraska Tourism Commission recently announced their new slogan: “Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” That’s true for the Reading, too! It’s not for everyone, but you won’t know it’s not for you unless you try it.

 

If it’s for you, who you will meet and what you will learn will take you places and provide you with opportunities you could never imagine.

 

Have questions?

 

If you’re thinking about applying to join next year’s AP Psychology Reading but you have questions, you are welcome to email me at sfrantz@highline.edu. I am not an official representative of either ETS or the College Board, but I would be happy to give you this reader’s perspective.

You surely know why you chose your town, your partner, and your vocation—all for good reasons, no doubt.

 

But might other unknown reasons—operating below the level of your conscious awareness–also have nudged your choices? Such is the implication of some clever studies of implicit egotisman automatic tendency to like things we associate with ourselves. For example, we like better a politician or stranger whose face has been morphed with some features of our own (see here and here).

 

I see you yawning: “You needed research to know that we love ourselves and things that resemble us?” The surprise—astonishment, really—comes with the subtle ways in which this phenomenon has been documented. Consider:

  • The name–letter effect. People of varied nationalities, languages, and ages prefer the letters that appear in their own name. People also tend to marry someone whose first or last name resembles our own.
  • The birthdate–number effect. People likewise prefer the numbers that appear in their birthdate. For example, people tend to be attracted to people whose laboratory participant number resembles their birth date.
  • The name–residence effect. Philadelphia, having many more people than Jacksonville, has also had (no surprise) 2.2 times more men named Jack . . . but also 10.4 times more named Philip. Ditto Virginia Beach, which has a disproportionate number of women named Virginia, and St. Louis which, compared to the national average, has 49 percent more men named Louis. Likewise, folks named Park, Hill, Beach, Rock, or Lake are disproportionately likely to live in cities (for example, Park City) that include their names.

 

If that last finding—offered by implicit egotism researchers Brett Pelham, Matthew Mirenberg, and John Jones—doesn’t surprise you, consider an even weirder phenomenon they uncovered: People seem to gravitate to careers identified with their names. In the United States, Dennis, Jerry, and Walter have been equally popular names. But dentists have twice as often been named Dennis as Jerry or Walter, and 2.5 times more often named Denise than the equally popular Beverly or Tammy. Among geoscientists (geologists, geophysicists, and geochemists) people named George and Geoffrey are similarly overrepresented.

 

The phenomenon extends to surname–occupation matching. In 1940 U.S. Census data, people named Baker, Barber, Butcher, and Butler were all 40 percent more likely than expected to work in occupations with their names.

 

Ah, but do Pelham and colleagues have cause-and-effect reversed? For example, aren’t towns often named after people whose descendants stick around? And are people in Virginia more likely to name girls with the state name? Are Georgians more likely to christen their babies Georgia or George? Wasn’t the long-ago village baker—thus so-named—likely to have descendants carrying on the ancestral work?

 

Likely so, grants Pelham. But could that, he asks, explain why states have an excess of people sharing a last-name similarity? California, for example, has an excess of people whose names begin with Cali (as in Califano). Moreover, he reports, people are more likely to move to states and cities with name resemblances—Virginia to Virginia, for example.

 

If the Pelham team is right to think that implicit egotism, though modest, is nonetheless a real unconscious influence on our preferences, might that explain why, with long-ago job offers from three states, I felt drawn to Michigan? And why it was Suzie who sold seashells by the seashore?

 

(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, including a 2016 essay on much of this implicit egotism research, visit TalkPsych.com.)

After covering experiments and correlations in Intro Psych or as a research methods booster in the Stress & Health chapter, ask your students if they have heard that you should walk 10,000 steps a day. Do they know where that recommendation comes from? Did anyone guess that it seems to come from a 1964 Japanese marketing campaign for a pedometer (“Do you really need to take 10,000 steps a day to keep fit?,” 2015)?

 

Recent correlational research with almost 17,000 women aged 62-101 (average age 72) found that those who took about 4,400 steps per day were 41% less likely to die during the study (mean study length: 4.3 years) than those who took 2,700 per day. The more steps walked per day, the lower the mortality. Benefits maxed out at 7,500 steps; walking more than that did not reduce mortality rates. Annually, researchers asked participants for “sociodemographic characteristics, health habits, and personal and family medical history,” as well as at the start of the study, “a 131-item food frequency questionnaire.” All things being equal, those who walked more (up to 7,500 steps per day), lived longer (Lee et al., 2019). When you have this many participants who are in that age range, you can use mortality as your primary dependent measure.

 

Experimental research using other dependent measures such as blood pressure (Moreau et al., 2001) and cholesterol (Dasgupta et al., 2017; Sugiura et al., 2002) have found benefits to increasing number of steps walked per day.

 

With students working in small groups, ask students to design an experiment to test the effects of walking on a dependent measure of their choosing. How many levels of the independent variable would they use? How would they ensure the number of steps walked by their participants? What dependent measures would they choose? How long would they run the study? What population would they choose as participants?

 

Visit the groups answering any questions they may have. After the groups have finished their discussion, ask each group to report their independent variable and dependent variables. Complete this activity by explaining to students the importance of understanding the theory behind the research (on what dependent measures can we expect a benefit of exercise?), the importance of reading research articles on what has already been done (what have others found and how may that inform our study?), and the importance of doing research in many different ways (such as using different operational definitions).

 

 

References

 

Dasgupta, K., Rosenberg, E., Joseph, L., Cooke, A. B., Trudeau, L., Bacon, S., … Smarter Trial Group. (2017). Physician step prescription and monitoring to improve ARTERial health (SMARTER): A randomized controlled trial in patients with type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism, 19(5), 685–704. https://doi.org/10.1111/dom.12874

 

Do you really need to take 10,000 steps a day to keep fit? (2015, June 17). BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33154510

 

Lee, I.-M., Shiroma, E. J., Kamada, M., Bassett, D. R., Matthews, C. E., & Buring, J. E. (2019). Association of step volume and intensity with all-cause mortality in older women. JAMA Internal Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.0899

 

Moreau, K. L., Degamo, R., Langley, J., McMahon, C., Howley, E. T., Bassett Jr, D. R., & Thompson, D. L. (2001). Increasing daily walking lowers blood pressure in postmenopausal women. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(11), 1825–1831.

 

Sugiura, H., Suguira, H., Kajima, K., Mirbod, S. M., Iwata, H., & Matsuoka, T. (2002). Effects of long-term moderate exercise and increase in number of daily steps on serum lipids in women: Randomised controlled trial. BMC Women’s Health, 2(1).