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.

Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #20: Helping Students to Develop Effective Test Preparation Strategies

Most instructors use exams of some kind to determine how well students are mastering course content and achieving course objectives. Many lament what they perceive to be underdeveloped test preparation strategies and unrealistic expectations displayed by a large swath of their students. Below, we lay out a number of techniques and activities you might consider implementing before and after your tests, to help students become better self-directed learners.

  1. Before the test…

A great deal of research in the learning sciences indicates that students who engage in regular (weekly) mock-self-testing do better on the “real” tests than their peers who put in as many hours studying in ways that do not include a self-assessment component. The self-testing allows learners to monitor their mastery of the material and also allows them to learn how to call forth the material they have learned. This advantage is equally significant, whether students work alone or in pairs/with peers.

  • Consider encouraging your students to add this sort of regular practice activity into their study routine.
  • Consider creating quizzes or prompts that students can use to monitor their mastery of the material as they encounter it throughout the semester. Be sure that the kind of processing of the materials required to answer the questions or problems you provide matches what you expect students to be able to do on your actual tests.

In our own workshops focused on helping faculty assist their students as they develop an effective approach to studying and test prep, we refer to “the 3 M’s”:

  • Building students’ metacognitive awareness: Encouraging students to  examine closely what they know and what they have yet to master, how they know that they know it (or not) and how accurately they can assess whether their command of the material is going to be sufficient for the way they are going to have to show or use it.
    • Pausing regularly in class —  to make time to solve sample problems, to articulate and defend one’s opinions about course material, and to practice explaining course material in low-stakes contexts such as small-group discussions — can be quite helpful.
    • Allowing a few minutes at the end of class for students to review their notes, or leveraging the discussion feature of the course learning management system can also help students identify insights or points of confusion.
  • Helping student master the mechanics of studying: Encouraging them to develop and use study strategies that work for them, as they strive to understand, manipulate, memorize, organize and use the material.
    • As your expectations of what students should be capable of increase in complexity (from mastering terminology and remembering facts to being able to analyze, integrate and apply information in new and creative ways), it will become increasingly necessary for them to move beyond the rote memorization and simple recall strategies that may have served them well at earlier points in their education.
    • Demonstrating and then having them practice techniques for creating graphic organizers or other ways of actively representing material in ways that are personally meaningful for them can be time well spent.
    • Providing students with an accurate picture of the kinds of questions or problems they will need to be prepared to answer will help them recognize the kinds of study strategies they will need to develop and deploy to be sufficiently prepared.
  • Helping students develop or sustain the motivation to dig in: Creating a context where students will strive and persevere even (especially?) when they have struggled with the material. Here, consider
    • decisions faculty make as they set up their courses (e.g., opportunities for do-overs, absolute grading scales vs. grading on a curve, formats in which students might display their command of the material) as well as
    • dispositions and attitudes students bring “to the table” (e.g., confidence, grit, resilience, and a growth-vs.-fixed mindset.)
  1. After the test…

Research also demonstrates the value of taking time after the test has been returned to reflect honestly and in detail about

  • how one studied prior to the test,
  • where one did well or missed questions on the test,
  • what the answers to these questions suggest about how to adjust one’s approach to studying, and
  • and what kinds of resources and support, if any, might be useful, moving forward (e.g., attending faculty office hours, tutoring, study-buddies, assistance developing study or time-management skills, etc..).

Such “exam wrapper” tools abound. One particularly thorough version is available at the Duquesne University Center for Teaching Excellence (http://www.duq.edu/about/centers-and-institutes/center-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-and-learning/exam-wrappers). Consider requiring that students complete an exam-wrapper assignment.  Once they have completed it, have them refer to it periodically. And have them bring it with them to office hours, if and when you meet with them to discuss their work in your class.

We invite you to peruse the list of student success services and workshops available through SJSU’s Peer Connections (http://peerconnections.sjsu.edu/) programs. And please add your own strategies using the comment link below.

Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #19: Encouraging Active Participation

Encouraging active participation in between the First and Last Five Minutes of Class

A voluminous body of research supports the notion that students’ learning is enhanced when they participate actively in class.  Asking and answering questions, contributing to class discussions, working with classmates to solve problems, and other similar kinds of activities can result in better understanding and mastery of course material as well as enhanced enthusiasm about what they are learning. Building upon earlier tips, today’s Faculty Matter Teaching Tip consists of suggestions of things you might do with the time in between the first and last five minutes of your classes to create a climate where students are willing – even eager – to participate.

Two key constructs – Do you see evidence of them in your classes?

Several decades ago, David Karp and William Yoels coined the term civil attention, to refer to students who were, technically, abiding by classroom behavioral norms – appearing to follow the instructor’s presentation, taking notes, nodding or chuckling at appropriate moments, suggesting that they were “engaged”, when really, their attention was at least partially elsewhere. (Karp and Yoels, 1976).  From a distance, such behavior appears cooperative.  In actuality, while it is not outwardly disruptive, students who engage in it are robbing themselves of the opportunity to get much out of their presence in class, and they are doing little to enrich the experience of their classmates.

These same authors also introduced the notion of consolidation of responsibility, the observation that absent concerted efforts on the part of the instructor, a small handful of students is typically responsible for the vast majority of verbal contribution to the class. The rest of the students sit in silence – some are relieved not to have to talk, others are frustrated by the dominance of a few, and others do not care one way or the other.

Encouraging more wide-spread active participation in discussion

Make sure you’ve created a “safe” and inviting space in your classroom, where students feel comfortable speaking up.

  • Consider how your students likely perceive you. Would they say you are approachable?  Personable? Fair? Interested in them and their well-being? Although it is always wise to use self-disclosure judiciously, share your enthusiasm as well as your personal experience as it relates to the course content. Students who feel welcome are more likely to participate.
  • Consider how you have responded when students have offered answers that were incorrect or irrelevant.Have you invited them to explain or elaborate upon their though process? Have you conveyed that their answer, while non-ideal is some ways, may have moved the conversation (and the learning) forward? Have you responded similarly to students whose contributions were more obviously correct or pertinent?  Have you consistently enforced standards of civility and mutual respect among the students in the class.

Point to ponder:  Most “talkers” sit within a few feet of the instructor, where they can  “connect” more easily. 

  • Encourage more students to contribute by moving around the classroom (space and furniture permitting).
  • Make eye contact with students throughout the room, not just those who sit in the front few rows.

Another point to ponder: Many “quiet” students simply need time to compose their thoughts before they are comfortable speaking up. 

  • Buy time.  As you pose a question to the class, explicitly instruct students to write down a few notes or reflect before answering.
  • Refrain from always calling on students who are the first to raise their hands.
  • Encourage students who have not yet spoken up to join in the discussion (“Let’s hear from someone who hasn’t spoken up…” or Let’s hear from some in this part of the room…” and then remember to wait for someone to contribute.)
  • Be sure to acknowledge first-time or infrequent contributors. You may want to do this discretely, as you circulate about the room or after class.
  • For more ideas along these lines, consider additional resources discussing “wait time” and related constructs.

Ask questions that will likely lead to productive discussion.

  • Yes-no and factual questions do not typically lead to extended conversation.  Be prepared to ask follow-up questions. (“Why do you think that?” “Can you explain your reasoning?”)
  • Be careful that your conversational prompts are clear. The “talkers” in the class may be eager to respond to anything, even if they are not sure what you are talking about, but the “quiet” ones may be all the more reluctant to speak up of they are not sure what you are driving at. It may take a series of “scaffolding” questions to move through a multi-faceted or nuanced topic that you would like students to talk about.

Try a variety of structures for engineering class discussions.

  • Have students consider a topic in pairs or small groups before inviting whole-class discussion. Circulate as students talk in small groups.  Call on individuals or groups strategically (“Would you mind if I call on you when we come together as a whole class? That was a really interesting observation you made…”)
  • Assign students to categories – numbers, colors, types of flora & fauna, etc.. –  and solicit participation by group (“Let’s hear from someone who is a ‘Red’ now”). This can lessen the threshold for shy students.

In future posts, we will consider a variety of ways to engage students actively in class through group activities in class.  In the meantime, for additional suggestions pertaining to today’s topic, see, for example, advice on the Washington University in St. Louis Teaching Center website. Please add your own strategies using the comment link below.