Submitted by Santiago Toledo / St. Edward's University on Mon, 06/27/2016 - 16:43
My Notes

This assignment is intended to help students develop basic literature reading comprehension skills as well as connect the course content to relevant primary literature. Additionally the activity is coupled to short presentations that develop communication skills.

The literature activity can be done one or more times during the semester. It is best suited for a point in the semester when at least three separate major ideas in inorganic chemistry have been introduced in order to allow students to make more relevant connections. Students can work either individually or in groups of two depending on class size.

This activity is evaluated with a rubric designed to be scaffolded using Marzano’s Taxonomy of Learning.1 This Taxonomy differentiates between higher-order and lower-order thinking simlar to Bloom's Taxonomy. In contrast to Bloom's taxonomy, Marzano divides cognitive tasks between four levels: retrieval, comprehension, analysis and knowledge utilization. The first two levels correspond to lower order thinking and the last two correspond to higher order. By using the rubric, both students and faculty can determine the cognitive level of task that students are engaging in during the activity. Additionally the rubric is designed around a SPECS (specifications grading) grade model.2 The SPECS model of grading supports giving students credit for demonstrating proficiency of the learning objective with different levels of sophistication rather than awarding lower grades to students for lower quality work than what was expected initially. Since each point on the rubric addresses an objective, students at all grade levels show some proficiency with the objective.

An article that I have used in the past as an introductory article for this activity is the Kovacs paper on periodic trends (IC, 2007, 46, 9267, DOI:10.1021/ic701433p).  This article lends itself to connecting the concepts of periodic trends, basics of coordination chemistry, redox chemistry and electronic absorption spectroscopy. There are a variety of other activities in the VIPEr site for ideas of great papers that might be used alternatively:



  1. Marzano, R. J.; Kendall, J. S. The New Taxonomy of EducationalObjectives; Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, CA, 2007.
  2. Nilson, L. Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time; Stylus: Sterling, VA, 2014.
Learning Goals

After completing this assignment students will be able to…

Comprehension (lower-order thinking)

  • Explain in their own words, in writing and orally, the key findings of experiments described in a primary literature article.
  • Summarize in a clear and concise way the findings of the article via a short oral presentation using visual aids.

Analysis (higher-order thinking)

  • Identify key logical connections between the article and concepts discussed in class.
  • Explain how inorganic chemistry theories explain key experimental results.
Implementation Notes
  • This is a difficult activity to do with students who have not had some level of training with engaging with the primary literature. It is intended for students who have some prior knowledge of how to read a paper.
  • Students tend to make shallow connections on the analysis parts of the assignment. It is important to give them feedback on the first iteration of this assignment in terms of what it means to make a logical connection with a proficient explanation. As stated in the description of the assignment I give feedback to my students using the rubric on the first iteration and do not assign a grade on the grade book. The second iteration of the assignment is given a real grade.
  • The purpose of oral presentation is to get students to think about ways to concisely and effectively communicate the most important aspects of their paper. Most students struggle with this the first time they do it, but with peer feedback and feedback from the rubric, students improve. This is difficult for a long paper but it is important to note that this is not a comprehensive summary but just a summary of key points. This is by no means a way to fully develop students' communication skills but it is another opportunity to practice.
  • Some students struggle with the distribution of the workload for group assignments.
  • In the past, when I get to do the assignment three times in a semester, I let students choose the third article as long as it makes relevant connections to the course content. This would be towards the end of the semester.
  • I have not used the SPECS based rubric. I don’t know how students will react to this. I have used SPECS grading in other courses with mixed reviews.
  • The students should be coached on the rubric to set expectations and so they understand what the language means. This lets them feel comfortable with the feedback.
  • Students typically spend 3 hrs outside of class preparing for each lit review. In class they do their short presentation, which is followed by questions. This takes a full class period and it might not be appropriate for some courses. Doing only the written portion of the assigment could be a good way to quickly engage with the literature and conect it to course content.
Time Required
One or two class 10 minutes per student.
Evaluation Methods

I developed a rubric to evaluate student performance on this assignment. It can executed as a mixture of formative feedback, peer evaluation, or faculty feedback.


Evaluation Results

The article suggested here can be a good one, but it  suffers from being too long and it has a "shock" factor for students. I am eager to hear from other colleagues who may have found other articles that can connect multiple aspects of our courses to the primary literature.

I have not used the proposed SPECS rubric in the past.

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