In the CTT blog we have provided lots of articles on best practices for helping students be more successful, and I hope that readers will feel, as Bonni Stachowiak says in her introductions to the Teaching for Higher Ed podcast intro, that we are offering suggestions and opportunities to facilitate ways of being more effective at the art and science of teaching and learning. For us, the big question is what do we really want our students to learn from us?
In this podcast with the late Peter Kaufman who taught at SUNY New Paltz in the Department of Sociology, he reminds us to practice self-compassion, “recognizing that teaching is hard,” and if we are “not compassionate with ourselves,” we are not going to be able to extend compassion to our students. In his most recent book, titled “Teaching with Compassion” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), Kaufman and co-author Janine Schipper offer practical approaches to fostering a caring and empathetic pedagogy. So many great quotes from Kaufman, including “students don’t suck.” We hope you will find this conversation engaging and time well spent.
What are the 4 Connections and why do we recommend using them?
We believe that implementing these small but important strategies will empower educators to build relationships that promote both student success and their own success. While you may be using strategies similar to these, the goal is to move from intuitive practice to intentional practice. We also believe that the 4 Connections are an inclusive pedagogy, creating a supportive environment, and giving all students equal access to learning.
Connection 1: Interact with Students by Name
Learn your students’ names and begin using them on the first day of the class and throughout the quarter.
How to do this when you’re on campus:
Name plates – provide paper (grab some 8.5 x 11 paper from the recycling bin that’s only printed on one side) OR cut up old file folders. Students create their own name plates on the first day of class. When folded they stand up on their desks in the classroom. Collect at the end of class and have students pick them up at the beginning of each class.
Introductions – Create a discussion forum in Canvas and require students to introduce themselves and replay to other introductions (or make time to do this in class). Ask a colleague – How do you learn student names and how do you help students learn each other’s name?
How to do this when you’re online:
Canvas Profiles – ask students to create their profile in Canvas. Make sure that your own profile is up to date! If you are using Zoom for your courses or office hours, make sure students’ names are appearing on their individual “tiles” that you see (and let them know they can rename with their preferred name or nickname and their pronouns). Also ask students to use their image instead of an avatar so when we are back on campus you’ll recognize them!
Connection 2: Check-In and Support Students (all the time)
Pay attention to student behavior and track student progress. Empathize with students (“I’m really exhausted today, too, so let’s make the best of this class together today.”) When a student is struggling, intervene. Make sure you know what resources are available for students. You can find many of them on this Online Student Supportpage.
How to do this (either f2f or online):
Formative assessments are a great way to check-in to potentially modify teaching and learning activities, and will help to improve instruction by incorporating student feedback. Formative assessments typically involve qualitative feedback, but could include quantitative feedback (but that’s more like a summative assessment – a quiz or test). Formative assessments should be administered throughout the quarter as a way to modify when necessary. Formative assessments are for learning, and students can self-monitor their understanding and the learning process. As an example, at the end of a class ask students to summarize the main points of the lesson that day (Minute Paper).
Instructors can use the results of a formative assessment to check for understanding and adjust their teaching the following day to better support student learning. After reading the results of the Minute Paper, you can determine what portion of the class was able to correctly summarize the main points.
Connection 3: Schedule One-on-One meetings with Students
At the beginning of the quarter and throughout, schedule one-on-one meetings with students.
When you are on campus, you will find that many students don’t use your office hours (or even know what office hours are for!) and they may not use the extra time you are available both before and after class to answer questions. Most likely, the only time students remember having to go to a teacher’s office was when they were in trouble! So naturally there’s a negative connotation to office hours. Some students may be intimidated by the thought of going to a teacher’s office, thinking you will judge them for not being very smart if they have questions. These are real concerns that students have!
Developing a relationship with students takes time, so building in one-on-one meetings with students helps to break down some of the fears students may have. In these conversations you can also find out how a student is doing individually.
How does this work (f2f and online):
Set aside some time during each office hour for short visits by students (let’s say 15 minutes) to ease into the one-on-one conversations. Many faculty have found that a Zoom meeting that is not called “office hours” but rather “a check-in” means it’s more likely students will show up. Consider using check-in times as a way to see how students are doing not just in your class but in life.
Some ideas for meeting with students:
Q&A Form: for each meeting, provide students in advance with a list of questions you might ask during the meeting. Provide some space on this paper for them to jot down notes, and ask them to bring one question for you. Have them bring this form to their meeting with you.
Project Process: Build a meeting as part of a project. This could be a planning meeting to help students get started if they have never done a project before, or a status report midway through the quarter, or a review at the end of the quarter.
Scheduling Meetings: Have a sign-up sheet posted in your classroom, or create a Canvas page that is editable by you and the students. List the time slots that are available and have students add their name next to the time that works best for them.
Connection 4:Practice Paradox
Structure your course clearly. Communicate your high expectations frequently. And then, when life happens, be reasonably flexible when students come to you with concerns. There are a lot of ways to support students without compromising rigor. We love the Transparency Framework and Universal Design for Learning! Trust is the key element of relationships that promote success. Practicing Paradox allows educators to establish trust with students through clear, high expectations. The Transparency Framework provides a tested and effective way of designing assignments that increase student success without compromising rigor.
Another way of saying this is High Expectations/High Support.
Connection 1: Interacting with Students by Name
Cooper, K.M., Haney, B., Krieg, A., & Brownell, S.E. (2017). What’s in a name? The importance of students perceiving that an instructor knows their names in a high-enrollment biology classroom. CBE Life Sciences Education, 16(1). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5332051/
Pay attention to student behavior and track student progress. When a student is struggling, intervene. If you believe that the student is struggling with homelessness, depression, food insecurity, or many of the other issues that have come to light during the pandemic, consider filing a BIT report. This can be found on the College Intranet.
Formative assessment can be summarized this way:
A check-in used to potentially modify teaching and learning activities – Improve instruction and incorporate student feedback
Typically involves qualitative feedback
Administered throughout a unit or course
Assessment FOR learning – Students use the results to self-monitor their understanding and learning process. Instructors use the results to check for understanding and adjust teaching to better support student learning.
Example Minute Paper: After a class session or a reading assignment, students submit the main ideas that stood out to them and the questions they still have.
Read more to find out why Formative Assessments are well worth the extra effort to support students and their learning – everyone benefits!
During the first week of class, ask students, “What do you wish (more) instructors knew about you as a person or as a student?” This works better as a written submission, in person or via Canvas. Thank you to Tish Lopez from South Seattle College for sharing this idea.
Class Meeting Greeting
This idea is borrowed from our K-12 colleagues. Each day, especially for the first few class meetings, stand at the door (or be present in the Zoom room early) and greet each student as they come into the classroom. Use their name and share a greeting like, “Glad you are here today,” or “Thanks for your post to the discussion in Canvas.”
Your college has many resources available for students on campus. One of the best ways to support students, those who are excelling and those who are struggling, is to refer them to these wonderful resources. Even better, walk them to the services, introduce them by name, and help them connect with someone there.
Not sure what those resources are? Find the Student Handbook on the college website or connect with an adviser. Look for programs like TRiO, disability support, counseling, tutoring, and more. Worried about remembering all that is available? No worries! Demonstrating use of the Student Handbook to find information is a great way to model help-seeking behavior to students.
Extra Credit: Schedule brief one-on-one meetings with colleagues from other departments to learn about the support they provide to students.
EvCC Student Resources
The following links are additional resources or tools which do not require login to MyEvCC.
The following video was created by LWTech students and faculty member Jo Nelson. The topic is Validation in Teaching – you’ll appreciate that these are real students talking about their learning. Thanks to LWTech for sharing!
Loes, C., Saichaie, K., Padgett, R., & Pascarella, E. (2012). The effects of teacher behaviors on students’ inclination to inquire and lifelong learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6(2), 22. https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2012.060207
Lundberg, C., Kim, Y., Andrade, L., & Bahner, D. (2018). High expectations, strong support: Faculty behaviors predicting Latina/o community college student Learning. Journal of College Student Development, 59(1), 55–70. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2018.0004
Winkelmes, M.-A., Boye, A., & Tapp, S. (Eds.). (2019). Transparent design in higher education teaching and leadership: a guide to implementing the transparency framework institution-wide to improve learning and retention. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Quick Tip # 2 comes from The Chronicle of Higher Education(March 13, 2019). I was attracted to this brief article because of the statement by Rob Jenkins that “Too often, he says, simple business in higher ed is conducted unprofessionally.” Perhaps this is even more so in the remote environment. What will things look like when we return to campus full time? (Note that I didn’t say when things are “back to normal” because I don’t think there will be a normal again, at least as we sometimes envision it.)
Unprofessional habits strain relationships on campus. Here are four ways to break them.
Rob Jenkins, one of our advice contributors, has spent most of his adult life in higher ed. He has also dealt extensively with people in the corporate and nonprofit worlds, and his experience has led him to a worrisome conclusion: Academics don’t always look so good in comparison. Too often, he says, simple business in higher ed is conducted unprofessionally. Calls go unreturned. Emails are ignored. That kind of behavior is destructive, and it strains relationships. Here are four simple ways to avoid such bad habits:
I. Respond in kind. It’s hard, because you get lots of email. But if someone goes to the trouble of contacting you directly, try your best to reply.
II. Follow through. Doing what we’ve promised to do is key. Dropping the ball creates problems for others.
III. Be there. Sacrifice a little time to demonstrate your commitment to your institution — and your fellow human beings.
IV. Speak temperately. Be gracious, acknowledge your failings, and accept your share of responsibility when things don’t go well.
If you’re a true professional, you treat everyone else’s time as just as valuable as your own. And you do what you’ve committed to doing.
A few years ago, edutopia, an excellent resource for faculty teaching at all levels, shared an article by Taylor Meredith on student feedback loops. Meredith writes, “A feedback loop is a process of checking for and affirming understanding that is specific, non-evaluative, manageable, and focused on a learning target.”
This process aims to move learning forward through feedback. Ideally, this feedback loop would happen frequently, in all subject areas. Meredith offers these steps as a way to start the process:
1. Begin With an Aim
An aim is a learning target or essential question that is unpacked from the standards, a part of a learning progression that is clearly communicated to the students at the beginning of each lesson.
2. Feedback Exchange
Feedback should be specific, non-evaluative, manageable, and focused on the aim. If the aim for the day is that readers should structure reasons to develop a compelling argument in a research-based essay, all feedback exchanged should be focused on that aim.
3. Revision and Application
In order for feedback to be effective, students must be given time to revise and apply their new understandings or ideas. Susan Brookhart and Connie Moss, authors of Advancing Formative Assessment in Every Classroom: A Guide for Instructional Leaders, speak of the Golden Second Opportunity, that moment when feedback is grasped and applied. When a student takes the feedback, makes changes to his or her work, and as a result moves a step closer to meeting the desired learning of the day’s aim, then the loop has started. It is authentic, purposeful learning. The teacher begins the process, but the student owns it.
Closing the loop is time to reflect on the aim. Did students meet the desired learning of the day’s aim? Could they move to a different level of proficiency? Could they ask for more feedback? Are there any other areas to revise?
In student feedback loops, students are the ones who drive this process. The teacher supports the students by clearly defining a structure for feedback, modeling effective feedback, highlighting critical student feedback, and participating when necessary.
That’s Meredith’s approach to giving students feedback. Let’s look at the feedback process as a way to improve your teaching. Consider formative assessments such as the Minute Paper as a way to solicit comments from students about the class lesson or a just completed project. Spend several minutes at the end of class and have students do a quick write (anonymously) to determine if they had difficulties, felt the directions weren’t clear, or perhaps they were able to correctly summarize the topic. Using formative assessments to hear what students have to say about your class can help improve our dialogue with students, and help students develop a sense of belonging. If you collect student feedback, though, make sure you respond, and that your response comes quickly. Tell students what you learned (For example: I heard you say that the directions on the project weren’t clear, and I will make sure to check in with you about directions before the next project is assigned.)
An article from The Teaching Professor, author Scott Gabriel poses this question, and suggests that “the question of whether good teaching is caught or taught draws many of us in because we gravitate toward having a definitive answer—black or white, caught or taught.” Is there, in fact, a recipe or formula, as he wonders, that will help us all become the amazing instructors that we want to be, and that our students want and expect? What goes into a recipe, if there is one? What mathematical formula gives us the inputs of knowledge, skills, and abilities (or as Gabriel says, attitudes, behaviors, and practices), and an output of an amazing teacher?
As we know from the past year, when the pandemic forced us out of the physical classroom into the virtual one, nearly all of us had to learn new skills, and learn them fast. It was with the help of our professional development offerings that many of you began to learn about all the things we do in eLearning! Now, more than a year into the pandemic, we have been refining those offerings and even inventing some new ones. Our goal remains the same – to support you in the challenges we all fact in the classroom. We begin by asking, as author Gabriel does in this article, what works? Can we “assume that what any good teacher does can be integrated by another teacher, regardless of discipline?” Here are the points he makes in his article (please note, the article was originally published pre-pandemic, when no one ever expected our world to go topsy turvy).
First, prepare and train for a long journey. No one becomes a great teacher overnight, in a quarter, or even in one’s teaching career. We build confidence along the way, and with the help of professional development, both on our campus in at conferences or professional organizations, we “recalibrate” our teaching skills. Note: recalibrate suggests that sometimes we drift “off course” so that we periodically need to adjust our practices.
Second, bring a friend along for the journey. Look around at your department colleagues. Listen to them talk about their teaching. Is there someone who talks about their teaching practices and how they are working on building student engagement strategies in their classes? Listen in committee meetings for the colleagues who talk about successful students – as them if you can “sit in” one one of their classes or look at their Canvas course. Despite years of thinking that teaching is a solitary enterprise, we have learned that building relationships with other teachers who share and mentor us and offer advice on how to improve our practices works best. Remember, good pedagogy is good pedagogy. These trusted colleagues don’t have to be in our discipline.
Remember that there is no quick fix. Like any profession, we get better with practice. We can supplement that with professional development, by looking to others to help learn what best practices are, reading the literature which abounds with information in both your discipline and overall pedagogy, and listening to student feedback. Regular reflection on our practices will allow us the opportunity to think deeply about teaching and grow into the role of the master teacher.
After an extended hiatus during the second half of 2018, it’s time to dust off the ol’ CTT blog and start posting again: a new year, a new beginning, etcetera. But rather than exhort anyone who may still be reading the blog (you’re still out there, right?) to strap on your willpower and set yourself some tough resolutions for 2019, I’ll get things rolling this year with a gentler suggestion: deciding to try a teaching ‘first’ some time this year.
What’s a teaching ‘first,’ you ask? It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: adding to your teaching practices, just once, something that’s new to you. Unlike a resolution, which usually comes with weighty expectations of long-term persistence and forming new permanent habits, a teaching ‘first’ involves committing to nothing more than trying something new. Whatever it is, you don’t have to stick with it. Just try it, see how it goes, and then move on if you want.
Just one thing, one time. Once we’ve done it, we’ve met our goal. It’s a win.
Anyone could do this. You could say, “Hey, we’ve never ordered that kind of pizza before. Let’s try it.” Call in the order. Boom. You’re done. Success. You could say, “I’ve never done a triple feature at the movies before.” Get down to the multiplex, buy tickets for three back-to-back movies and settle in. Success. Or, if you’re a little more ambitious, you could say, “I’ve always wanted to watch the sunrise.” Check online to see what time the sun comes up, get out of bed 10 minutes before that, walk outside, and face east. Stand there for 10 minutes. Success.
As Orton makes clear, the real beauty of the ‘first’ is that it can be extremely simple. Sure, you can set yourself the goal of trying something big and ambitious. You might think, for example, “I really admire how my colleague Edna hosts virtual office hours in her classes. I’m going to do that every week in all of my online classes this quarter!” But you don’t have to set goals on so large a scale (and for practical reasons, you really may not want to). You could instead say, “When classes start next week, I’m going to try at least one new technique for learning my students’ names on the first day.” Maybe you want to try using a mid-quarter feedback survey for the first time to better understand how your students perceive their progress in the course. Or maybe you want to introduce a quick active learning technique into one of your lectures, just once, to see how it goes.
If you think you’re ready to set a teaching ‘first’ for yourself in 2019, here are a few tips to consider:
Pick a ‘first’ that you care about. It’s easy to pick something that is, well, easy. But to make it worth the effort, it’s usually best if it’s something you find meaningful, that holds genuine interest for you, and that you’ll be able to learn from.
Choose a ‘first’ that makes sense for your class or teaching context. The goal of the ‘first’ is to grow and expand as a teacher, so choose one that has the potential to be constructive in your specific teaching circumstances. You know best what ‘firsts’ make the most sense for you, your students, and the course.
Select a ‘first’ that involves a reasonable amount of effort. It’s good to be ambitious and to develop new skills in the process of completing your goal, but choosing a ‘first’ that involves too great an effort can be counterproductive. Know what you’re comfortable with and work within that scope.
Reflect on what you’ve learned. This is the most important tip of all. After you’ve successfully completed your ‘first,” take some time to reflect on the experience. Even if you vow never to do it again, did your ‘first’ help you learn anything that you can be helpful to you as a teacher?
Are you up for the challenge of a teaching ‘first’ this year? Let us know in the comments what you’re hoping to do for the first time in your teaching during 2019!
Despite the dusting of snow on the ground in Everett this morning (and a few lingering flakes falling outside my window at this very moment), it’s officially the first day of the spring quarter here at EvCC. That means a new set of classes–and new opportunities to try out ways of engaging your students from the very first moment of class.
With that in mind, here’s a question for you to consider as you start each of your new classes this week: How do you engage students and welcome them into the intellectual and practical work of the next ten weeks?
In the list of perennial ‘controversies’ at the intersection of teaching and technology, the lowly laptop computer has always played something of an outsized role. I’m old enough to remember a time when the laptop’s extreme portability was breathlessly heralded as something that would revolutionize how and where learning would take place. (“It only weighs eight pounds; ten if you include the charger! Now students can read, conduct research, or write papers anywhere and everywhere! The era of ubiquitous learning has arrived!”) I also remember some of the dire predictions that were lobbed back in response. (“Students will be endlessly distracted! They will use their computers as intellectual crutches instead of learning to think and do for themselves! The end of deep, focused learning has arrived! Besides, what’s wrong with going to the computer lab — or using a typewriter, for that matter?! “)
The Teaching and Tools workshop series included two seminars with a tongue-in-cheek title “Beat the Cheat.” The first session was a broader exploration of the general premise of exams as an assessment tool (spoiler alert – Derek is an occasional skeptic), and the second session explored some of the Canvas features that allow for “security” measures when online quizzes are offered.
Feel free to take a listen to the Podcast versions here:
Do you ever talk to your students about what they can do to be successful in your class and in college more generally? When you have that conversation, what are the essential factors that you discuss?
Is sleep one of them? If not, maybe it should be.
I recently finished reading Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, a book that is considerably more substantive than its vaguely pop-sci titles makes it sound. Walker, a respected sleep researcher, directs the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California – Berkeley, and his book offers a very readable synthesis of what scientists have learned about sleep’s essential role in human health, psychological well-being, and–as it now turns out–learning.