Chapter 1: The sandwich design of teaching and learning

The long way from knowledge to a competent doing

Prepared by:
Ana Ivaniš, Dario Sambunjak, Maida Rakanović Todić, Martina Kadmon, Veronika Strittmatter-Haubold


The sandwich principle is a general architecture of a learning-session that involves the students actively. Significant is that there are always sequences of collective and individual learning. So the students are not only passive recipients of information, they have also the possibility to discuss in pairs or small groups about what they’ve heard and afterwards to confront their point of view with these of other colleagues. It is based on the assumption that the student’s attention can not be kept longer than 20 minutes although a regular university class (lecture) takes 45 or 90 minutes. Also characteristic for the sandwich principle is the change of phases that depends on the length of a lecture.

Sandwich consists of phases of collective learning (introduction, lectures and ending), phases of individual learning (motivation, processing, memorization and transfer of knowledge and skills. To change the phases in a good and helpful way is also very important. These bridges are like junctions (A, B, C, D) with a special function which are described in a different way in the following document. Each phase has its own characteristics and the combination of them is the teacher’s job.

  1. In the beginning phase (motivation and orientation) it’s very important
    1. to explain and to clarify the structure of content (subject, objective, agenda, schedule of activity, advance organizer)
    2. to involve students actively in some way, so that they can conquer the speaking barrier (personal reflection, conversation in pairs/small groups, network or flashlight method)
    3. to detect the level of the participants pre knowledge (posing questions, giving test, making a quiz)
  2. In the middle phases,
    1. In the processing phase the teacher can give tasks to the students and can introduce new methods for individual learning opportunities (effective are collaborative learning techniques again in small groups: teamwork, problem-solving methods, method or structured controversy, brainstorming techniques, mind maps, graphics etc.)
    2. and in the memorization phase there is time to compare the results of the students network (guided reciprocal peer questioning method, forced debate, diversify the composite of the groups)
  3. The finishing phase (transfer of knowledge) is as important as the beginning phase. In this phase it’s important

    1. to have a chance to ask the remaining questions (collecting questions and answering in small groups/pairs, group interviews, network, structure laying technique)
    2. to profound knowledge (using graphs, mind maps, presentation of advance organizer, post organizer, case study, problem-solving tasks, practical exercises)
    3. to have a look at the sustainability of the learning processes
    4. to make a reflection on the whole process and the outcome of learning (feedback, flashlight, pair interviews about the course, oral or written reflection)

Moreover it is very important to change the particular phases. These bridges are like junctions with special functions, which are described in a more detailed way in the following document.


1. Why sandwich principle?

Less teaching more learning

The sandwich principle gives the learning process an architectural structure. This principle makes an effort for learning in collective and individual ways. Acquiring knowledge is not simply recording of given information. Our brain does not work as cassette recorder. Instead, it reduces information in meaningful units, and tries to fit these units to existing context or to form new categories where the information could fit.

Organizing information in meaningful categories facilitates learning processes. The effect of organizing learning material has different results for fast learners and for slow learners. Fast learners usually have the ability to organize new information by themselves and to connect it with old, already known context. But organization of new information could help slow learners to facilitate their learning processes and to implement new content more successfully.

Studies on attention span showed that adult learner can not keep focused to a lecture for more than 20 minutes at the beginning of the class. After the attention break, students have another increase in attention but it lasts shorter than in the previous phase. Each next attention span become shorter and usually falls to only few minutes at the end of the lecture. As regular university classes last for around 45 to 90 minutes, the attention and possibility to adopt information disappear several times during the lecture. Irrespective of students’ motivation or content of lecture, attention can not be kept longer than 20 minutes. Possibility to accept new information decreases with length of given lecture, so the solution is not presentation of as large amount of information as possible in short period of time. Possible solution would be to provide the most important information during the attention span and to present it in various ways to enable different learning profiles to get up and implement these information one´s own cognitive structure. This could be done only if learning goals are clearly determined.

We can not avoid attention breaks, but we can at least use them to ensure that students did acquire most important knowledge. A way to do that is to give the students a chance to reproduce the new information by themselves. We could divide our lecture in two or more parts depending on the objective and length of the lecture. After each part we should involve students to actively process the given information, with the aim to connect new information with previous knowledge. This could be done in various ways. Giving examples is one of possible mechanisms to connect old and new knowledge. It allows students to practice thinking in new terms. It is even better when the students have to give examples themselves. Another way to increase the memorization of a new content is to involve students’ emotions. This could be accomplished by promoting active discussion or even by use a joke which could accentuate the most important concept in that day’s class.

This type of teaching where lecture is divided in two or more parts by periodic activities or active discussion is called sandwich principle. It is used to increase efficacy of acquiring knowledge during lectures. It could be useful in all learning processes and disciplines, not only in lectures, but also in other forms of teaching, like seminars. Observations showed that in a well-planned sandwich lecture, students are more attentive and need less pauses during the class. They retain more information, because the interchange of passive and active phases of learning reduces forgetting. Sandwich architecture helps to establish a positive learning atmosphere, because it allows more relaxed teaching, participation of all students, and better integration of all learners (e.g. slower learners).

2. General principles

From the lecture to the learning subject

Sandwich method in teaching is designed to conciliate the way of presenting information with different needs of learners in the target group, and to improve the efficacy of the teachers’ work. The essence of sandwich principle is the interchange of phases of collective and individual learning, with four specific junctions between these phases (Picture 1).

Special importance in the sandwich structure is given to the beginning and finishing phase of the learning process, in order to secure the motivation and future application of knowledge. The beginning and finishing phase incorporate junction A and junction D (Picture 1). In between, successive lectures (collective learning) and phases of interactive (individual) learning are interpolated.

In the phase of collective learning, teacher presents a new subject matter in the form of lecture, presentation or demonstration. The form and speed of teaching is same for all, and students are mostly passive recipients of information. During the individual, mostly interactive phases of learning, there is a space for processing, memorizing and transferring the information presented during the collective phases of learning. Students can visualize, structure and discuss in pairs or small groups what they have heard, and confront their point of view with those of other colleagues. Student’s interpretation of the subject matter is questioned and put under scrutiny, which can be very productive in the learning process. Different views and opinions have to be dealt with through cooperative effort of learners.

There are six basic functions of learning: motivation, input of information, processing of information, memorizing/saving reflecting, transfer/applicability of knowledge, and controlling and directing learners’ activities. To make the best result from the invested time, there should be enough different approaches and space to satisfy different student’s needs for realization of all six functions.

All phases in sandwich principle have its own characteristics and functions. Combination of appropriate teaching methods during different phases leads to adequate fulfilling of all teaching functions. Teaching methods can be chosen according to the teaching functions they are directed to. For instance, lecture is primary directed to input of information and less towards controlling and directing of students activities, or motivating. Other methods, like guided discussions, enable processing information, memorization and transfer, with less impact on controlling and directing of students activities, or motivation.

Sandwich design can be adjusted according to teacher’s preferences, the situation of the learning group and specific characteristics of material that needs to be presented. When introducing sandwich principle in his/her classes, teacher should carefully observe time limits planned for each phase and follow the fixed sequence of phases in the lecture. After practicing enough and gaining experience, teacher can systematically loosen the strict rules of time management and succession of phases, so that the teaching becomes more self-organized.

3. Approved methods

3.1 Beginning Phase

Beginning phase with junction A is very important. At the beginning of the class, especially if it is the first one in the semester, student’s emotions are in between expectations of something new and uncertainty associated with a new situation. So the teachers are recommended to introduce certain components during the beginning phase. At the beginning of the course, it is essential to articulate what kind of challenge the participants are facing. The content that will be dealt with and time frames for events should be introduced. With this approach participants can formulate clear expectations and express their needs. The motivation and learning success will be better. Also, interests of participants are different and their level of pre knowledge and their expectations should be considered. This can have impact on teacher’s decision which topics to deal with more and which less intensively.

Clarification of the structure of content that will be covered can be done by explaining the objectives and creating an agenda or schedule of activity. This can also be done by making an advance organizer that stresses out logical connections between parts of the body of information that will be presented during the course. Advance organizer does not just list topics that will be covered, but it is formed in such a way to stress the logical connection between possible pre knowledge of students and topics that will be dealt with. Duration of the advance organizer should not be longer than 3 minutes for each lesson or 15 minutes for all courses. The learning should be more successful with this logical way of introducing topics to students.

At the beginning, participants are usually reserved in their behavior. They identify their positions in the group by careful observations, without giving much information about themselves. This phenomenon is called speaking barrier. This blockade is present until there is a chance for participants to get involved in some way. It is recommended to give participants early chance to speak, already during the first few minutes. This is important for creating the positive working environment. The chance to speak can be made for speaking in pairs or small groups, so the participants can get to know each other. This approach makes the atmosphere more comfortable for the participants, so their involvement in discussion can be expected. Methods that engage all participants in conversation like network or flashlight method can also be used.

At the beginning of the class it can be useful to find out the level of participants’ pre knowledge. This can be assessed by formal methods like posing questions and giving test, or informal methods, e.g. making a quiz. Method of true statements can be useful when introducing a new topic which students think they know a great deal, but their assumption about it needs to be examined. For instance, small groups can decide on three things they know to be true about some particular issue.

3.2 Middle Phases

After the lecture, in processing phase, on which the junction B is directed, the teacher can give tasks to the students. Tasks should be demanding and directed to different levels of knowledge and capability. Once a new concept is introduced, students need an opportunity to practice with the concepts they had to learn. Students can generate their own example of the concept, visualize the content, summarize it, write an exam questions for it, or explain it to someone else. This approach works with brain's natural processes.

Also, during the middle phase it is recommended to introduce different teaching methods adjusted for different learning types. Teaching methods which encourage student’s activity and involvement are preferable to more passive methods. Having a handful of activities you can use will keep the students guessing and wondering what you will do next.

Particularly effective are collaborative learning techniques that produce a social learning experience instead of solitary one. For instance students can be asked to explain a new knowledge to one another, work on a task in small groups or pairs and so on. Problem solving methods can also be very useful. This work can be done in small groups or pairs. For pair works pose a question that requires analysis, evaluation or synthesis. Each student thinks on this question and than turns to his college to compare ideas. The pairs can than share their ideas with some larger group. Also, teacher can ask for paired discussions on specific questions directed on reactions on presented information, summarizations, making relations etc.

Students or groups can be assigned to take different positions on an issue to discuss research and share their findings with a class. Alone or in small groups students can re-read the text and find illustrative quotations to support a specific position. Also, the teacher can ask students to state a concrete moment that stands out to them. After listing them on a board follow up can be made by having students find themes, patterns, missing points, etc. Discussion can move to analysis with a common collection of facts.

Sample exam question can be given to the students for practice. Several students at random can report their answers to the class. This approach generates more confidence for students than when they have to work alone on examination material. Also few prepared questions can be given to small groups of students for a discussion; each group records its discussion and reports to the whole class. Afterwards class can synthesize the group's answers.

Send a problem technique is based on dividing students in teams, each member of the team writes a review question on a card and other members of the team try to answer. The cards can be passed to other teams for their answers afterwards. Also students, alone or in groups, can develop cases based on the theory of the current topic and several cases can be discussed in front of the class.

Brainstorming techniques help students to see what they know by recording of their ideas on the board. The round table can be organized with students taking turns write on a single pad of paper and say aloud their idea as they write. Each of students should try to add to what has already been said.

Examples are a primary means to make a connection between old knowledge and new knowledge. So after processing of information in junction B, in junction C there is a time for comparing results of students work, questions and answers. One third of the time allowed for the activity can be spent for debriefing afterwards. This helps memorization act and understanding what is important and what is not. Most of the substantive facts and concepts will now be explored, discussed and confirmed. To start a discussion and recapitulate the covered material role play can be very satisfactory method. The roles can be delegated to individuals or some roles can be allowed to be played by groups of students to reduce student’s fear. Definition of roles and their goals must be clear and concrete.

Very useful are techniques of students generating questions that will be answered afterwards. Instead of asking if there are any questions, each student can write down few questions they have about presented material. This approach gives all students a chance to work out what they really do not understand and helps them feel authorized to ask them. Alone, in pairs or small groups, students can generate exam questions about presented material that can be discussed, or generate press-conference style questions to ask the teacher or a panel of students assigned to prepare on the topic.

Appropriate for junction C can be a Guided Reciprocal Peer Questioning method. Students write down questions about presented material based on the generic question stem. Small groups of students can than discuss possible answers to the written questions. The stems can look like this:

  • What is the main idea of...?
  • What is a difference between...?
  • What are strengths and weaknesses...?

After presenting controversial topics, the reaction sheet with written questions to be answered can be passed around and followed up with discussion. The questions can be written by a teacher, each student or small groups of students. The forced debate can be arranged too. Students can sit on one side of a classroom depending of their agreement with one of two propositions. After having sits they can be forced to argue for the position with which they disagree. This activity gets students to consider viewpoints in opposition to their opinion.

Mixing the students during a course is recommended, in order to give them the chance to know each other better. In groups that exist through long time, students mainly communicate with same persons while one number of participants is constantly marginalized. It is good for the course success if each student has the opportunity to work with every other participant on at least one occasion. Interests of participants should be addressed during the course, making the interviews between the partners about their own interests or organizing flashlight sessions.

3.3 Finishing phase

The method that is used at the end of class, in the junction D, is as important as the method used in the beginning phase. Ending of the learning phase is the place where the participant is taking new experience and knowledge with him. During the work different aspects of the topics were discussed, different opinions were present and some aspects are still unclear. So the last chance should be given to ask the remaining questions. Students work was more or less intense depending of their pre knowledge and motivation, so different amounts of knowledge will be taken away by different participants. At the finishing phase there is a chance to fulfill eventual holes through discussing more difficult elements and asking/answering the questions.

Methods which can be useful are collecting questions and answering them in small groups or pairs, organizing of group interviews, network, structure laying technique etc. In order to profound knowledge and the level of understanding we can use graphs, mind-mapping, presenting of advance organizer again, case study, problem solving tasks, practical exercises etc. Also, it is useful to make a standard of performance through presentations, demonstrations, tests or exams. New knowledge should not lose on it's relevance after the termination of course, so there is a need for examining the possibilities of its application. To make future transfer of knowledge in practice easier work in working groups can continue, with planning the work for future, giving suggestions and advices to collages and forming reminders for future learning. Finally, it is good to make a reflection on the whole process and outcome of learning through feedback, flashlight, pair interviews about the course, asking for oral or written reflection.

At the end of a class students can write for a minute or two about what they think is the most important point of the lesson or about the questions that they still have about the material. This minute papers can give the teacher feedback about the student’s comprehension and a useful starting point for the next class. Also, students can write a brief evaluation of their learning, for instance after a finished project to notice again the problems they faced, found solutions, strengths of their work etc..

Every person incorporates new information in a different way according to individual learning style, pre knowledge and experience. During the class differences among the students should be addressed and enough space for processing and memorizing should be left for the most of participants. If this is not enabled, the learning success can be less satisfactory in spite of presenting very large amount of information.

4. Application in the medical teaching and curriculum

The sandwich principle is an effective way to improve the quality of teaching in medicine. Since traditional lecturing still makes an important part of teaching in many schools of medicine, introducing sandwich principle in classes could refresh and enliven notoriously boring “ex-cathedra” discourses. It is a very low cost and easy method, which does not require any additional equipment. It depends solely on the good will of teacher, who should get acquainted with the basics of sandwich principle and creatively implement it in his/her teaching.

There were some attempts to implement sandwich principle in the structure of higher education programs, especially in technical sciences. After attending standard academic year, a period of placement within industry followed. In comparison with classic education, this type of education increased working abilities and did not have impact on students’ academic performance. Similar approach could be applied in medical curriculum, for example by introducing summer practices in hospitals or other health institutions between each school year or semester.

5. One example of a sandwich architecture lecture of the Sarajevo Medical Faculty

Introductory lecture in pharmacology and toxicology was formulated as a learning session based on sandwich principle. Topics and a general overview of the subject´s content were presenteted during the begining phase

After that, the students were given the chance for an early discussion in order to motivate them to active participation. Their task was to express their opinion about the essential pharmacological knowledge and skills for general practicioner. This was the first individual learning phase. Following the paired disscusions few answers were collected and presented on the blackboard for brief disscusion. The Collective learning phase consisted of the 20 minutes long lecture. The next junction to an individual learning phase was done in two ways: The first task was to read three different types of texts that were presenting information about the same drug (pharmacopea, scientific article and text book), and the second task was to discuss in pairs the differences of text types. After individual work (reading and discussion) the quiz was done, when students had to express their opinion regarding the best type of text for presenting facts about the therapy, characterisation of the drug substance and useful information for drug prescribing. Again, a collective learning phase (lecture) took place. In the next junction B, the given task was to recall on information that are parts of drug declaration. After the student`s work was finished the correct result was given to them in a function of feedback infomation. Following junction C the finishing phase was entered.
The transfer of knowledge was promoted by a graphical overview after referring to the content of the lecture the reflection of the lesson and the feedback. The class was finished with an outlook on the next session.

Example of a sandwich architecture lecture of the Sarajevo Medical Faculty (sandwich SA example)

6. Conclusion

The new teaching is to arrange situations to enable learning

Teaching, as an activity, can be either effective or not when student’s learning is concerned. If the teaching act is student-directed, it should adequately influence learning process that is happening in the learner. For desired learning to take place, all teaching functions (effects) should be realized. Six basic functions of teaching should be considered:

  1. Student’s motivation. Motivation is essential for learning to take place. The learner has to be ready to receive the presented information.
  2. Adequate input of information. Input of information is essential in order to teach something. The incoming information must not overload short-term memory, because the informational flow has to allow making the relationships between old and new bodies of information and within the new one.
  3. Securing time and space for information processing. The implicitly given information has to be made explicit, so the construction of learner’s original body of information can take place.
  4. Storing and retrieving of information. Some information will be stored and made retrievable for later use. Memorization is achieved by rehearsing and by linking new information with already stored information.
  5. Securing applicability of knowledge. The reason for learning is the application of knowledge in solving problem in future practice. Transfer of knowledge to new problem engages generalization of general principles to a pertinent problem, and competence of comparisons between different situations. So the students should be given the chance, early in their study, to practice arts of generalization and comparison in solving problems.
  6. Monitoring of students activities. Finally, the learner’s activities need to be controlled and, if necessary, directed.

Combination of different teaching methods can produce quality in fulfilling all teaching functions. Basic teaching sequence is successively repeated and in designing the teaching process different student’s needs should be taken into consideration. The optimal amount of elaboration and need for decision making differs between students. Engaging of different teaching methods for achieving the same teaching objective is recommended. Teaching methods can be classified from low to high structured according to their levels of elaboration (amount of teaching acts) and the number of decisions to be made by the students. High structured settings are usually more favorable for students low in aptitude and with low prerequisite knowledge, while students high in aptitude learn more efficiently under low structure settings then under high structure settings. Keeping high structured situation, in which everything is determined by the teacher, can prolong student’s dependence on the teacher. Time consuming lectures can provide situation of big input without adequate output. Sandwich principle is designed in order to coordinate way of presentation of information with different student’s needs in target group of students. Consequently, the teaching efficacy will be better. Interchange of phases of collective and individual learning takes place, with especial concerns given to securing student’s attention in the beginning phase and fostering applicability of knowledge in the finishing phase of sandwich. Design of the sandwich can be made according to teacher’s own preferences and specific needs of the material that will be presented.

Every learner learns on his/her own unique way and strategy. The learning is taking place with an individual speed, depending on student’s attitude and level of prerequisite knowledge. In designing the teaching process, teacher should take into consideration differences among the students in the target group. Enough of space must be provided for processing and memorizing the presented information. Paradoxically, when this is not enabled learning success can be less satisfactory even with bigger input of information in the same time.

Picture 1: The structure of a “sandwich-architecture”.

7. References

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