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Tag: Feedback

In 2019, Try a Teaching ‘First’

 

Colorful graphic with the words "Happy New Year 2019"

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.

I should note that I’m shamelessly borrowing this idea from a Washington Post column by Erik Orton: “New Year’s resolutions are hard to stick to. So try out New Year’s ‘firsts'”. Here’s how Orton describes it:

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!

Happy New Year 2019 image licensed under Creative Commons, CC-BY 4.0.

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Is Innovation Just a Buzzword?

Have you been to a conference or a meeting on campus recently where the word innovation WASN’T used? It seems to be a buzzword not just in the halls of academia but in the business world as well. What does it mean to be innovative, and how do we incorporate innovations into our teaching practices?

Dictionary.com  defines the verb to innovate as: to introduce something new; make changes in anything established. Does innovation mean revolution? No – it can mean small changes, incremental changes, to your daily work. Think Small Teaching by James Lang, a book I wrote about in an early post. Lang writes about “back pocket techniques” that you can have at the ready to enhance student learning. I wish I had known that innovations could be small when I first started teaching. 

In my first several years in the classroom I struggled to “get things right” and when things started to go smoothly, I did what many of us do: I rested on my laurels. At that point I was mostly concerned about covering the material each day and not evidence of student learning.  Since then I have taken to heart this quote by 19th Century Clergyman William Pollard, “Learning and innovation go hand-in-hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday is sufficient for tomorrow.”

So, it’s not critical that you re-invent your course or yourself. What about starting with one small task next week? Yes, planning for innovation is a good way to make sure it happens. Consider this: On Monday, start class with this activity. Say to students: Before I introduce the next topic to explore in class, please find a partner and discuss the big topics we have learned so far. Make a list and be ready to describe how they are related.

Opening class with a “retrieval” activity will let you know how well students have actually learned the material, and is a great way to help students to see the big picture of the topics in the course. I should note that the first time you introduce an activity like this you may be surprised how difficult it is for students. I can tell you from experience that not all my innovative practices were a resounding success! Don’t throw away an activity just because it doesn’t work as well as you’d like the first time around.

Are there innovative practices that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about them!

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Mid-Quarter Feedback

Student voice matters.

I think there is no way we can dispute this. If we wait until the end of the quarter and expect students to provide valuable information on their learning experiences in our class, chances are the disgruntled students (and aren’t there always a few?) will let us know what went wrong. Why don’t students tell us earlier if they want changes made in the course (and I’m talking about classroom activities, not course content)?

Because we didn’t ask them.

Mid-quarter check-ins are perfect opportunities to get feedback on how things are going. You may be familiar with my all-time favorite, PLUS/DELTA. A simple grid with 4 spaces for students to reflect on not only what the teacher is doing to help them learn (PLUS) and what the teacher can change to help learning (DELTA), it also includes spaces for students to identify their own behaviors that are helpful and those that should be improved upon.

The most important part of this process is reading and reviewing the anonymous (and I believe it should be anonymous) feedback from students, and then responding, closing the feedback loop.

Here’s the story of the first time I used PLUS/DELTA: I gave each student in the class a copy of the grid and assigned it as a reflective assignment for that evening. The following class period I asked students to team up in groups of 3-5 and to look for trends in the areas related to me, the teacher. I gave each small group another copy of the grid, and in about 10 minutes each group had 3-5 items in both columns, PLUS and DELTA. That night I read over the small stack of papers – only 1 from each team – and formulated my response. It started something like this: “Thank you all for your thoughtful responses. Let me share with you the things that you’d like me to continue doing in the class that are helping you to learn (and I put that list on the teaching station to share). Now let me share with you the things you’ve suggested I change (and I put that list on the teaching station). As you know, I can’t stop giving exams, but I can change the day of the week.” And so on. Interestingly, the class became much more engaged after that exercise! Before the end-of-quarter evaluations that quarter, I reminded students that their feedback helped make this a better class and me a better teacher, and I reminded them of the changes that were made because of their feedback. The next quarter when I was reviewing my IDEA results, I was pleased to read this student comment: “No one ever asked me before how I would change the class. Thank you!”

If you want to get feedback on a more regular basis, here’s one I found by a copy machine recently (I can’t give credit because there was no information on the handout!)

Directions: Please fill out one or both squares and drop in the basket up front before you leave. NO NAMES PLEASE! This is anonymous!

MURKY

This week, what part of the lesson, or what point is still a bit unclear to you? What are you struggling with? And what could I, your instructor, have done/can do to make your learning easier?

CLEAR

This week what part of the lesson, or what point, was finally made clear to you? What was your “ah ha!” moment? And/or what did YOU do this week that made your learning easier?

 

Do you have favorite anonymous feedback examples you’d like to share? Let us know!

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Video and audio feedback in Canvas

Grading assignments can consume a lot of time and energy, and if your experiences are similar to mine, there are occasions where you feel like you are typing the same comments over and over again.  Providing feedback in video or audio form can breathe new life into your grading process.  Your tone of voice, inflections, and emphasis can add a richness to the feedback that isn’t easily duplicated in text alone.  This approach can be refreshing for both you and your students, and it provides an opportunity to engage differently and add another dimension to your presence in the class.  This is especially true in online and hybrid classes.

Canvas streamlines the feedback process in the SpeedGrader, whether you choose text, an attached file, audio, or video.  All the options are described in this Canvas document on providing feedback.  Recording an audio or video file happens right in Canvas.  You don’t have to use external software to create and save the file.  It’s a seamless and approachable process, so long as you have the necessary hardware (a microphone and webcam).

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Does feedback enhance learning?

Each month I meet with a group of faculty in the New Faculty Academy to discuss chapters in the book How Learning Works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching (Susan Ambrose, Michael Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha Lovette, Marie Norman). Our discussions allow us to do a deep dive into our classroom practices, and because the faculty come from different disciplines and teaching experiences, there are always rich conversations that enhance our own learning.

Recently we discussed the chapter “What kinds of practice and feedback enhance learning?” There are 2 kinds of feedback that we tend to give students: formative and summative. Many of us rely solely on summative feedback, such as exams, projects, or papers. I recently heard someone describe the case of relying on exams alone as doing an “autopsy” on student work. Formative assessment is a way, as the authors state, to focus on ways to help students “work smarter.” The authors believe that “feedback plays” a critical role in “keeping learners’ practice moving toward improvement.”  Formative feedback that you might be familiar with would include things like the minute paper or the PLUS/DELTA mid-quarter feedback. Both of these address student learning and allow the instructor to make changes in their classroom practice in real time. Using the minute paper at the end of a class asking students to summarize the main ideas of the day allows an instructor to reflect on whether they were successful in getting those main ideas across. A PLUS/DELTA mid-quarter assessment allows students to comment on what’s working in the class to promote their learning (PLUS) and what changes they’d like to see in the class to help them learn better (DELTA).

Here is a short list of the strategies that the authors suggest for targeted feedback:

  • Look for patterns of errors in student work
  • Prioritize your feedback
  • Provide feedback at the group level
  • Design frequent opportunities to give feedback
  • Require students to specify how they used feedback in subsequent work

Of these, I am most interested in knowing whether you have ever used the last type of feedback. Would this be valuable to you, the instructor, and to students? Do you think it would help students to connect the dots between different assignments?

If you’d like to learn more about other kinds of formative assessments, please connect with me!

 

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