Monday, March 28, 2011

Are your students working on their assignments?

Tips for Teaching from the Writing Consortium

Initiated by :
Sally L. Kuhlenschmidt, Ph.D.
Director, Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching (FaCET)
Western Kentucky University Bowling Green

When Doing Less for Students May Help Them Learn More

If your philosophy includes the notion that students should leave college more independent and self-reliant than when they entered or if you have ever used the words entitled and students today in the same sentence, read on.

1. Suggest steps that students can take to solve academic problems, alerting them to use resources and people and to consider schedules. Often these steps mirror what adults do in order to solve life problems (such as a broken home appliance):
  • review your notes or course text material (read appliance instructional manual)
  • check with a classmate (seek advice from your neighbor)
  • come to office hours (call Sear's appliance repair department)
  • ask the professor in class (schedule a home repair visit)
2. Craft student-made rubrics for student-constructed assignments/projects Student-constructed projects (e.g., essays, posters, art projects) have essential criteria and performance levels. Bring in a ready-made example project and ask students to determine the essentials (4-6 optimum) and what a beginning, satisfactory, and stellar fulfillment of each criterion would be. Type up as a rubric and distribute, thus providing students an understanding
of :
  • (1) the project's essential criteria,
  • (2) the levels of performance,
  • (3) a road map for doing their project, and
  • (4) the assessment tool for self, peer, and teacher evaluation of the final project.
If projects are too cumbersome for office-storing, conduct a class sharing session and capture a digital camera image of each project and student instead of collecting.

3. Guide students to monitor their own progress on assignments Set aside class time to discuss dividing assignments into segments, the steps toward completion of each segment, and a tentative timeline. At a couple critical times throughout the term, discuss (and collect?) have done and have yet to do lists with students.

4. Limit your corrections and lengthy identical feedback on student papers When you correct students' writing, do they truly learn the writing rules or merely copy your edits? If the latter, consider making a hash mark(s) in the margin of a line with error(s) and asking students to find and correct their own errors. Another rule of thumb is to mark only the first 10 mechanical errors in a paper, and then ask students to correct the remainder and resubmit. For general feedback to the entire class, consider putting only letter codes by errors on individual papers (e.g., RO for run-onsentence) and either (1) preparing a page of explanations (codes and the rules) and distributing or (2) giving oral explanations (with examples) as part of a total-class-feedback session.

Adapted from submission by:
Dr. Cynthia Desrochers
Institute for Teaching and Learning, Faculty Director
California State University

Recall and Relate

To prepare students to thoroughly understand new material, plan an activity that bridges their existing knowledge of the topic to the new information you're planning to introduce. In particular, recall and relate activities can help students focus on the new instructional material and process it more effectively.

Recall : One way to help students link old and new can be a simple review of previously learned facts, concepts, or procedures that are associated with the new material. Students may appreciate having their memories refreshed before they start processing the new material. It will also allow you to learn what students already know and understand before making your own instructional points.

Relate : Another way to prepare students for new information is to help them cognitively put the new knowledge into an existing framework. Pose a question or series of questions that stimulate thinking and focus on the instructional topic. Ask questions that have several possible answers (Example: Why does an employee quit? How can you tell how intelligent someone is?). Promote a discussion that probes student opinions, hypotheses, or conclusions. As the classroom discussion advances, point out similarities or differences between the new knowledge and old knowledge, so that the new knowledge is tied to the old.

Submitted by:
Faculty Development Center
Bellarmine University
Louisville, Kentucky
Email :

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mid-Semester: Expanding the Conversation

At this point in the semester, you know your students as a group and have tested them enough to know where they are in their thinking. 

It's time to push them further and deepen their learning experience.

In order to do so, you and your students need to know where they are in the course.  First, they need a midterm progress report.  If you are already posting grades online, excellent.  

If you have not been posting grades, then student perceptions of their grades may not match the reality.  Give them a progress report so that you are on the same page before you talk to them about the course (for more on this topic, read Will Millhiser, "Why Post Grades on Blackboard?").

At midterm, they should know where they stand in terms of their learning and grades, and all you need to do is put that into perspective, in terms of the whole class.  In general, is everyone completing homework, for the most part?  Are they reading?  Participating in class?  Address these basic issues, and if the class is struggling, ask them, what is getting in your way?  They may be setting up barriers to their own learning (such as getting too involved with social groups or working too much), and they need to hear from you that you expect them to change their behaviors.   Give them advice on how to prepare better for class and learn more from the course.

When you ask your students to review their performance, also let them review yours. Check with them about their experiences with the course (again, have them a response at the end of a course).  This midpoint 'formative assessment' lets you know how the class is going from their point of view.  It sends a clear message to the students that they are participants in their own learning; education is not something that is "done to them."  Issues will come up that you can not fix and those you can ignore (after all, you cannot change the class meeting time).  Address those issues that you can change or modify--disturbances in class or distracting situations.  If they need more handouts, more frequent study guides, or need you to slow down, they will tell you.
Review the course objectives and learning outcomes with your students (they haven't thought about the syllabus for months, at this point, so remind them of it).  Talk to them about the goals of the course and remind them that the course is more about learning information.  Ask them: what more do you want from class at this point and how will you take charge of your learning? 

Find out where they can meet more challenges in the course.  Ask them to delve into their thinking and logic.  Socratic questioning works very well at this point, especially if they are used to coming prepared to answer questions in class.   The website by the Critical Thinking Foundation is very useful and thorough.  However, for a quick glance at question structures, check out this page on "Socratic Questioning."

Once you start asking questions, who knows what could happen!  They  might even take charge and ask questions of their own.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Counting the days?

Are you hitting a mid-semester slump?  Don't just wait until spring break; help yourself and your students by doing something to shake them up now! 

Have you done a formative assessment with your students yet?  At the end of class, ask them to write (anonymously) for one minute on the pros and cons of class up to this point.  Collect and read these assessments and look for patterns.  Return to class with a short report back.  Tell them about the strengths of the course as they see it, and let them know what you can adjust to solve problems (and what is out of your control--such as changing their 8 a.m. class to noon!)

Re-energize your class with some fresh pedagogies.  Here's two ideas from blogger Rob Weir of Inside Higher Ed:
  • Change the usual routine: If you customarily lecture in a class, try having a discussion. (If you have a mammoth lecture class you’ll need to act more a talk show host walking into the studio audience, but you can still do this. Punctuate questions and discussion with quick lecture soundbites.) If you usually discuss, give a lecture. If it's appropriate and logistically possible, make a sign-up sheet, suspend classes for a week, and require students to stop by for a one-to-one tutorial or planning session.
  • Change the backdrop: Come to class armed with something that's not generally part of your repertoire. Play a piece of music and ask students to analyze it. Project a single slide, ask students to write down everything they observe on the image, and discuss their responses. Invite a guest to take over your class for a day. Set up an experiment and abruptly tell students that you’re reversing roles — they’ll conduct and explain it while you listen. Conduct a nature walk with your bio students, or discourse on Emerson while walking by campus nature spots. Let your imagination run wild. The worst that can happen is that you’ll try something that doesn’t work and you can share a good laugh about it the next class. (“Okay, so that wasn’t my most brilliant idea ever!”

On that last note, consider ways to be more playful with learning in a class or two.  Conduct a study review by playing a jeopardy game (bring a bag of candy for the winners) and have the students create the questions (if they are missing any items, you can add your own questions at that point). Put students in groups and have them create a 1 minute "ad" or skit for a concept that you want them to learn.  They can use their phones to take videos and then post on Blackboard. For a class of 35 or less, bring in large pieces of paper and markers and have them create concept maps. Make these activities non-graded so that students feel free to experiment.

Send in your ideas for changing things up!