Faculty Matter Teaching tip #17: The Last Five Minutes of Class

Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #17: The Last Five Minutes of Class

A significant literature on college student success points to the importance of helping students develop the skills and dispositions needed to monitor and guide their own learning. (See, for example, Major, Harris & Zakrajsek, 2016 Teaching for Learning: 101 Intentionally Designed Educational Activities to Put Students on the Path to Success.) While some recommendations entail relatively complex and protracted “interventions”, others are much easier to implement. For example, the last five minutes of class time represent a critical opportunity, often squandered, to help students assume more intentional control of their own learning, by reflecting on the material they have just covered, by identifying points that were unclear, by noting connections to topics or ideas covered earlier or elsewhere, and by positioning themselves for what will come next in the course. Today’s Faculty Matter Teaching Tip consists of suggestions of things you might do with the last five minutes of your classes.

Make sure that students have the chance to engage in some kind of reflection or synthesis, as this kind of active manipulation of course materials can enhance their active engagement with their learning – or in other words, it can help them take responsibility for their own academic success.

  • Some of us have very well-honed time management skills and can anticipate with great precision how much time each element of our “lesson plan” will require. To the degree that this is the case, we can plan and execute fairly elaborate “wrap-up exercises” for the day. 
  • Others of us have some difficulty predicting how far we will get in any given day, or we opt, quite intentionally, to depart from our plan as student interest and other considerations warrant. This may mean that we need to be rather nimble in deciding on a good “stopping point” for the day, and we may also need to plan to be flexible about how we will reach closure in a way that allows students to tie things together in a meaningful way.

Close with a recap of the day – Reserve a few minutes at the end of class (or as the final step on an on-line module) to summarize key points. But rather than you providing the summary, have students state what they think were the main ideas.

  • Have students “turn-and-talk” with seat-mates, to compare notes. (This can be adapted to for implementation in on-line courses by using LMS discussion features.)
  • As ideas are proffered, acknowledge them, expand on them, invite brief discussion of them as you see fit.  Be sure to correct inaccuracies as warranted.
  • Consider having them do this without consulting their notes or other materials.  Such “retrieval practice”, as it is termed in research in the learning sciences, will give them a chance to “practice remembering,” a strategy which has been shown to promote learning.
  • If you began the class by posing a “question of the day”, consider soliciting “answers’, in light of the day’s activities.

Close with a few minutes for students to reflect in writing on the day’s class, and to identify any points of confusion or lack of clarity.

  • Allocate one or two minutes for students to write about the day’s class (“one-minute paper”). You may want to provide a more specific prompt, to focus them on something you want to be sure they consider. You may want to leave this assignment fairly open-ended, to see what meaning they are making of the material you are covering (e.g., “Today I learned…”  or “The most surprising thing about today’s class was…”).
  • Allocate a few minutes for students to identify areas where they would like more information or clarification (“muddiest point” questions, such as “I am still confused about…” or “I would like more information about…”).  Gather these writings and begin the next class with a guided discussion to address common themes or critical misconceptions.

For additional suggestions, see  http://www.chronicle.com/article/Small-Changes-in-Teaching-The/235583 .

Please add your own strategies using the comment link below.

Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #16: The First Five Minutes

Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #16: The First Five Minutes

In his book Small Teaching:  Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning and in numerous articles and postings[1], James Lang, professor and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College, has summarized a great deal of current research about college student learning.  He also provides many excellent easy-to-implement ideas for nurturing student engagement.

One of his key themes is that the first five minutes of class time represent a critical opportunity, often squandered, to engage students, to help focus their attention, and to help them deepen their mastery of the course material at hand. Today’s Faculty Matter Teaching Tip consists of suggestions of things you might do with the first five minutes of your classes.

Open with a “question-of-the-day” or a “warm-up problem” – As students arrive and settle in to their seats, have them spend a few minutes on a question or a problem to solve. This can have many benefits (or “feed many birds with one piece of bread,” as former College of Education dean, Susan Meyers was wont to say):

  • It should help them make the transition from whatever they were doing or thinking about prior to your class to what you want them to focus on in your class.
  • It will provide a relatively low-stakes opportunity to assess their progress mastering the course material. You may opt to collect their work or not, and grade it or not, but there should be some mechanism by which they receive feedback on their answer, as appropriate to the type of question of problem.
  • If you have them collaborate with classmates, it also provides an opportunity for them to practice articulating their reasoning, defending their approaches and listening to and learning from each other.

You can segue into the rest of the day’s activities with a brief full-class discussion, and if appropriate, return to the question and the end of the class period to consider how students might approach it again, in light of the content of the day’s class.

Open with a summary of “where we left off” or “what we covered last time” – Spend the first few minutes of class recapping. But rather than you providing the summary, have students state what they think were the main ideas.

  • As ideas are proffered, acknowledge them, expand on them, invite discussion of them as you see fit.  Be sure to correct inaccuracies as warranted.
  • Consider having them do this without consulting their notes or other materials.  Such “retrieval practice”, as it is termed in research in the learning sciences, will give them a chance to “practice remembering,” a strategy which has been shown to promote learning.

[1] See, for example Small Changes in Teachinghttp://www.chronicle.com/article/Small-Changes-in-Teaching-The/234869/

Please add your own strategies using the comment link below.

Faculty Matter Tips #13-15

Welcome to Spring Semester, 2017! As Winter Break comes to a close, we assume you are busy planning your courses and getting ready to greet your students. We appreciate the positive feedback many of you provided on the “Faculty Matter” Teaching Tips series, and so we will do our best to keep them coming! Our goal is to provide proven concrete suggestions of relatively easy-to-implement activities that will help you engage your students and support their success. Feel free to adopt these as is, or to modify them to better suit your needs or context. These tips will be archived on the Provost’s Academic Spotlight blog under the category “Faculty Matter”. We invite you to use the comment tool on the blog posts to share your own suggestions and tips.

You may recognize this first set from last semester, with a few tweaks.

Faculty Matter Tip #13 – Reach out to your students BEFORE the first day of class.

  • Send your students a brief email introducing yourself, conveying your enthusiasm about the course and about meeting them. You can send your message through your class roster on MySJSU or through Canvas.
  • Consider giving them a very simple assignment – a question to think about, an artifact to bring to class, something related to the course content that will “prime the pump” for whatever topic(s) you want to discuss at the first class meeting.  Remember to follow up on what you asked them to do: have them share their answers/what they brought.  If the class is large, students can share in small groups, with a few volunteers reporting out to the entire class.

Faculty Matter Tips #14 – Read through the syllabus you have prepared.

Make sure that if you were a student in your class, you could answer the following questions in the affirmative. After reading this syllabus,

  • Would you be able to put together a clear picture of what the class was about?
  • Would you have a sense of what your instructor expected you to learn?
  • Would it be clear to you what, specifically, you were going to be asked to do or produce, and when?
  • Would you be able to figure out how your grade would be determined?
  • Would you be able to figure out where you could turn if you encountered any difficulties along the way?

Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #15 – Make Good Use of the First Day of Class.

You will likely need to devote time to various administrative tasks on the first day. You may also want to dive right in and begin covering course content. But don’t miss this important opportunity to begin to create community and to engage students.

  • Greet students as they walk in.  Arrive at your classroom early, stand at the door, and welcome students as they enter.
  • Have students interview each other, in pairs or small groups of 3-4. Sample questions: Name, major, where they are from, something that would surprise you about them, something they are looking forward to this year, something they are apprehensive about.
  • Devote a few minutes to “ice-breaker” activities. While some of the students may already know several of their classmates, others may feel quite alone and intimidated as they look around and see so many people who appear to already have friends in the class. If your ice-breaker activities help uncover student experiences or expertise that are relevant to the course, all the better.
  • Create a list of class rules and expectations.  Start by listing your “must haves” – expectations about cell phones and computers in class, tardiness, civility, how you want to be addressed, how students should approach you if they have concerns, etc.. Invite students to talk in pairs or small groups, and suggest other items for the list.  You may be surprised by how many students have strong feelings about the importance of maintaining a respectful learning environment!  Devote a few minutes to a whole group conversation.  This way, if problems arise later, you can refer students to the rules everyone agreed upon.
  • Help students plan how they will study for your class. Have them examine the assignments and due-dates. Help them anticipate how much time you expect them to need to devote to the class. More on this soon…we will devote an up-coming Teaching Tip to helping students to be more intentional and self-aware about their studies.
  • Identify students’ starting points.  Have students complete a no-points quiz, where they indicate their level of familiarity with a dozen or so foundational concepts for the class (such as “I’ve never heard of it”, “It sounds familiar, but I don’t quite remember what it is”, “I sort of know”, “I know it well and could explain it to someone else”). This will allow you to get a sense of where students have a firm grasp of material and where they will need refreshers.  To get a better sense of the range of their interests, consider adding two additional questions: What is one of the most interesting things you remember from a prior course you took in your major?  What is one of the most interesting things you remember from a prior course you took outside of your major?
  • Have students fill out a personal profile.  In addition to basic information (name, preferred way to be addressed, best way to contact, major/minor), you may want to ask them about other commitments this semester (academic load, work, family responsibilities, community responsibilities, etc..), learning styles or needs, and anything else they would like to share with you, to help you help them be successful. You may want to have students email this to you, so that they can attach a photograph of themselves.
  • Share something about yourself. Convey your enthusiasm for teaching and for the subject matter.  Consider telling students a bit about your professional background. Don’t feel compelled to share details about your personal life.

Faculty Matter Tip #12: Wrapping Up the Semester

With the exams and Winter Break looming, this is a time when faculty can feel particularly pressed for time. In the spirit of the “A stitch in time saves nine” adage, we offer this last Faculty Matter Teaching Tip for the semester.

Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #12:  Before you wrap up for the semester, leave a trail of breadcrumbs to help you reconstruct how you’d like to modify your courses before you teach them next.

Many of us tend to shove all of our teaching materials aside as soon as we are done submitting students’ grades. The essence of this final Faculty Matter Tip for the semester is that it might be productive to take some time to review the courses we have just wrapped up, and make some notes before moving on to other commitments and activities. Next time you teach the class, what might you want to add, what might you want to delete, what might you want to tweak a little bit, what might you want to change significantly, and what might you want to leave exactly as is because it went really, really well.

As you review your course materials, consider the following:

  • Were there topics that didn’t grab students’ attention as much as you had hoped or expected?
  • Were there concepts that students struggled with more that you had envisioned they might?
  • Were there activities or techniques that required more of your time than warranted, given the student gains you can attribute to them?
  • Did you come across resources that you didn’t have time to draw upon this semester?
  • Have you gotten ideas about things to try next time you teach the class?
  • Were there topics or activities or teaching techniques that really engaged your students or helped them master the material?

We encourage you to make some notes while these observations are still fresh in your mind.  Without this “trail of breadcrumbs” to jog your memory, as you sit down weeks or months from now to “refresh” the course, you may find it frustrating to try to reconstruct what changes you had thought might be fruitful. We also invite you to participate in any of the CFD sessions or workshops starting in January, or to sit down one-on-one with CFD staff, to flesh out your ideas about the changes you would like to make to your courses. In the meantime, please add your own strategies using the comment link below.

Faculty Matter Tip #11: Encouraging Students to Engage in Each Others’ Presentations

In many courses, considerable portions of class sessions during the final weeks of the semester are devoted to student presentations. These assignments – and the preparation that goes into them – provide valuable opportunities for students to delve into topics of particular interest, to develop important public speaking skills as they plan and execute a formal presentation, and to collaborate with fellow students when they need to work as a team. Most students become fairly enthusiastic about the material they get to explore so deeply. One of the challenges for faculty, however, is to ensure that students be as engaged in (and reap benefits from) their classmates’ presentations.

A common strategy is to simply hold students accountable for the information contained in the presentations on the final exam. Below, are a few additional suggestions that are designed to prompt students to more intentionally make connections between the content of the presentations and ideas that have been of interest to them throughout the course.

BEFORE the presentations

Have each student create and share a brief summary of their upcoming presentation (one paragraph in length or so). Have students then formulate one or two questions about several other students’ topics, based on the summaries. This can be done online (using the discussion features of Canvas) or in class (as a gallery walk where each student prints out their summary and the class then circulates, reads the summaries, and writes their questions on sticky notes which are placed adjacent to the summaries). If it is feasible, presenters can address some of these questions in their actual presentations.

If time permits, facilitate opportunities for students to work in groups of three to four to rehearse their presentations with each other. Once students serve as “audiences” for each other have them probe linkages among their topics, or between topics and issues raised in the course more generally.

THE DAY OF the presentations

Allow time after each presentation for brief question and answer session to clarify any points of confusion. Encourage students to note how what they have just heard aligns with something they have discovered, as a result of the research they did for their own presentation.

Allocate a few minutes near the end of class periods for small-group discussion of the day’s presentations. Have one student in each group record the essence of the conversation. Provide prompts, as you deem useful (what was interesting/surprising; link to their own topics or to course themes; etc…)

Have students create worksheets or quizzes for other students to complete during their presentation. Students can compare and discuss answers after the presentation.

AFTER the presentations

Have students post comments about several of their classmates’ presentations (using the discussion features of Canvas). Provide prompts as you deem useful (what was interesting/surprising; link to their own topics or to course themes; etc…)

If students will be submitting a paper based on their presentation, have them include a section where they explicitly address a connection between what they have studied in depth and one or more of their classmates’ presentations.

Please add your own strategies using the comment link below.