Glossary: think-aloud

Any of a number of related strategies for uncovering someone's thought processes as the undertake a task. Originally conceived for product usability testing, but appropriated and adapted for use in educational settings, a think-aloud typically involves a student describing and explaining each step they take in solving a complex problem. Often, these sessions are recorded, via audio, video, and/or screen capture, when computer technology is involved. A useful assessment tool, which has the added benefit of encouraging a student to reflect on their own thinking processes, and to consider how those habits might be improved upon. Think-alouds can be conducted on a student working alone, or they can capture the processes unfolding within group work.

Think-alouds prompt students to verbalize their thoughts as they solve a problem, work through a case study, or interpret a text. The focus in the think-aloud is to gain access to student processes when working on an important topic of the course, central to the discipline, not necessarily on whether or not they successfully complete the task. Following the path of the student as he or she works through a problem yields insight into: the types of questions he or she asks, his or her train of thought, an ability to make connections to other course concepts, difficulties or challenges he or she encounters, and his or her use of prior knowledge.

For example, Jim Sandefur (Mathematics) used think-alouds to identify where students experience mental blocks and what type of support they need in and out of class. He adjusted class time and lectures to emphasize the problem-solving process and to focus on particular challenges. The think-alouds helped Sandefur refine his course each successive semester with new strategies including: structured group work, weekly presentations, and student teaching opportunities.

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