Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #25: Starting off on a good foot – building good habits and connections

Welcome to the new school year!  By now, your rosters are likely settled, and you and your students are well into the heart of your courses.  So now, before major assignments are due and before exams loom, is the perfect time to make sure that your students are establishing healthy routines that will enable them to function – and learn and perform – to their capabilities. This will also help ensure that they can maintain their stride as the pace and stress of the semester pick up.

  • Check in with your students about their study habits and time management strategies.  This can be especially helpful for students new to the campus.  Dedicate a few minutes of class time to general discussion of these topics.  Share your expectations and advice. Consider inviting a peer mentor (from Peer Connections) to give a brief presentation in your class.  Students will often take their suggestions to heart much more readily than yours, even if they are substantively identical.
  • Refer students to the calendar of workshops offered through Peer Connections, the Tutoring Hub, and Educational Counseling. Have them check out the Spartan Success Portal and complete one or two of the online academic success modules.
  • Check in with students about their physical and emotional well-being. Inform or remind them of the extensive resources available to them, free of charge, through Counseling and Psychological Services, including workshops and individual counseling sessions.
  • Build activities into your courses that help your students get to know at least a few of their classmates. One of the most common – and in many ways saddest – factors disclosed by students in crisis is that they feel they don’t know anyone to talk to at the university.  Whether the activities you design are formal group assignments or more casual discussions, they can help students feel a sense of connection and belongingness.
  • To the degree that you can, consider making yourself available to your students.  Circulate throughout the class as they engage in group activities, and take advantage of the opportunity to talk with them as you move around the room; encourage them to come to your office hours – individually, or in pairs if they feel more comfortable bringing along a classmate; consider inviting them to ask you to coffee through the Coffee with a Professor program; sign up to be a mentor (you may be matched with a student in your class, or from some other part of the campus – either way, you may help them feel like they have someone they can reach out to).
  • And finally, think about the laminated card in the seat-back pocket of the airplane seat in front of you:  If those oxygen masks appear, make sure to secure your own before helping others with theirs. As you encourage your students to establish these interpersonal connections and good habits, take a few moments to do the same for yourself.

You can read all previous tips on the Faculty Matter Tips page of the CFD website, and share your own thoughts and ideas on the Provost’s Academic Spotlight blog under the category “Faculty Matter.” Please add your own strategies using the comment link below.

Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #24: Before You Wrap Up for the Semester, Leave a Trail of Breadcrumbs

With exams nearly done and summer beckoning, this is a time when faculty can feel particularly pressed for time and ready to move on from the tasks of the academic year. In the spirit of the “A stitch in time saves nine” adage, we offer this last Faculty Matter Teaching Tip for the semester.

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 upcoming CFD or eCampus sessions or workshops, or to sit down one-on-one with CFD or eCampus staff, to flesh out your ideas about the changes you would like to make to your courses.

You can view the entire Faculty Matter Teaching Tip series on the Center for Faculty Development web-site. Please add your own strategies using the comment link below.

Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #23: Summer Send-off for Students

In earlier tips, we provided suggestions for messages you might send to students before the formal start of the semester.  This tip will serve as something of the “other bookend” – suggesting things you might do to sustain students’ engagement with the course beyond its official end. In this way, you may provide opportunities for students:

  • to deepen their knowledge or appreciation of themes and issues you touched on during the course
  • to remain excited about and engaged in their academic pursuits
  • to find connections between the material you covered during the course and their “summer world” beyond SJSU
  • to share their interest in these topics with the people they spend time with outside of school
  • to be(come) life-long-learners.

“Books for the beach.” Bring to your students’ attention to a selection of books, periodicals, blogs, podcasts and the like that they could take up over the summer, wherever they are and whatever they are doing (at the beach or otherwise).

  • You might begin with sources you used as you constructed your course, as these will give students the chance to delve deeper into issues you covered in class.
  • Alternatively, you might suggest materials that will provide food for thought and help prepare them for other courses in your department that they are likely to take next year.
  • Or you might suggest materials you have found worthwhile for any of a number of reasons not necessarily connected to your course or your department’s offerings.

You could certainly add layers to this, by creating online discussion boards or others ways to check in throughout the summer.  Or you could just keep it simple, and provide the list of items you recommend and let your students take it from there.

You can view the entire Faculty Matter Teaching Tip series on the Center for Faculty Development website. Please add your own strategies using the comment link below.


Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #22: Helping Students Assume Responsibility

Classes are almost over for the semester, and you have done your part: You’ve introduced material to your students and sought ways to help them understand and find meaning in it. You’ve created opportunities for them to explore and learn. You’ve supported and encouraged them and provided constructive feedback along the way.  With final exams and project due-dates around the corner, it is time for OUR STUDENTS to step up to the plate, to consolidate what they need to pull together, and demonstrate what they are taking away from your class.

Many of us struggle with what our roles should be during this final period of the semester. Should we be “on call” 24/7, available to answer students’ questions? Should we read last-minute drafts of their work before they turn them in for grading? Should we meet with them to fill in missing class notes? Should we provide individualized attention as they come to us in a panic because they missed too many classes?  Although we should take care to be in step with the policies and practices and of our own departments, for the most part, this is an individual decision.  Here, in the spirit of the idea of TEACHING students to fish rather than GIVING them a fish, are a few suggestions you might find helpful:

  • Make sure that instructions – including details about assignment expectations and due dates and procedures for turning things in – are clear, and posted somewhere students know to look for important course information.
  • Make sure students know the details about your availability for consultation:  where, when, what kind of assistance you are able to offer, turn-around times, and the like.
  • Remind students to prepare for the end-of-semester crunch, including confirming the dates and times of their exams, creating a sensible calendar and timeline for the next two weeks, stocking up on necessary supplies (paper, printer ink, etc..), and anticipating any special arrangements they need to make at work or at home.
  • Urge THEM to be as resourceful and self-sufficient as possible.  Some faculty have rules such as “3 then me – ask three people, or check three sources, and if you still can’t figure out the answer, I’ll be happy to help.”

Then step back, and let them take responsibility…

You can view the entire Faculty Matter Teaching Tip series on the Center for Faculty Development website. Please add your own strategies using the comment link below.


Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #21: Home-stretch reality check and re-grounding

The end of the semester is fast approaching – where have all of those weeks gone?  Now might be a very good time to RE-engage students who seem to have meandered off course or who could benefit from help reconnecting and refocusing. Skim the list below, and consider what might be useful for you and your students.

  • Reach out to students who seem to have disappeared from view. Check your records, see who has fallen behind in their assignments or who is simply not showing up for class. A quick email asking them to check in with you could mean the difference between them getting back on track and them failing the class. If possible, schedule extra office hours (in person or virtual) to have the chance to speak with them. Show you care. Urge them to try. Help them craft a plan to catch up, as much as is possible, given the structure and requirements of your course. Familiarize yourself with university and department policies about granting students incompletes, in case this becomes appropriate. Be careful to be consistent and equitable in any accommodations you extend to them.
  • Be prepared to help students figure out their standing in the course. You have likely spelled out how grades are determined in your syllabus. You may have set things up so that students can track their points and scores.  But I am always surprised by how many students still ask such things as “What grade am I getting so far?” or “How well do I have to do on the Final to get a C?” Students who become discouraged by how they think they are doing are particularly likely to avoid seeking you out and having to confront what they fear their status in the course to be.
  • Consider asking your students to write a letter to the next group of students who will take your class. Have them include a few sentences about how the course relates to their academic or personal interests, about how something they have done or learned in the course has been significant for them, or about the study strategies they’ve found most helpful. These letters may be useful and informative for future students, and interesting and rewarding for you to read. But the ones who may benefit the most from them may well be their authors: the process of thinking about these prompts can serve to re-engage and re-focus students who have become somewhat disconnected or unfocused.
  • Remind students of the importance of a good time management plan, most especially at this point in the school year. Encourage them to list the papers, projects, exams and other academic requirements they need to complete in the coming weeks, and to create a calendar where they can map out thoughtfully what they need to do when to get it all done. Have them incorporate their non-school obligations into the calendar. Have them share and discuss their calendars with one or more other students in the class. The more specific they can be about what they need to do and how they plan to do it, the more likely they will be able to focus intentionally and constructively.

Now might also be a good time to review the variety of supports available to you and your students through our Counseling and Psychological Services and our Student Health Center. Please add your own strategies using the comment link below.