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Tag: Reflection

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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Incorporating Metacognition Practices Mid-Quarter

Image result for metacognition definition

At a recent conference on departmental support of evidence-based teaching practices in Biology (PULSE), I picked up two Metacognition techniques to bring into my classrooms. These seemed so powerful and, honestly, easy to implement, that I did it the following week.

This first idea stems from work that Ricky Dooley (new colleague in Biology) developed with Scott Freeman and others at the University of Washington. In my majors’ Biology class, I have weekly quizzes over the past week’s material.  Standard in-class quizzes, mostly multiple choice (taken with iClickers) with a short answer question here and there. Student performance was mixed, and when we went over the correct answers, many students had “ah-ha” moments when ideas began to click.

Of course, these ah-ha moments were a few moments too late to help on that particular quiz. What I’ve begun doing is flipping that around. First off, I’ve moved this quiz completely onto Canvas. And rather than the usual 10 questions/10 points, they are now 20 questions, still worth 10 points. The first question is the usual question I would ask (although I’ve added more short-answer questions, reflecting questions I will ask on the exams.). This first question (and all of the odd-numbered questions) are worth zero points, so there’s no risk to the student to do their best from their memory (no reason to cheat). The second question (all of the even-numbered questions) is the same question, followed by how I would answer the question. This question then asks the student if they think they got it right, wrong, or somewhere in between. If they didn’t get it right, I ask them 1) explain why they got it wrong, 2) what the right answer is, and 3) why is the right answer correct. This question is worth 1 point, and I grade it based upon how they’ve reflected on their work. Sometimes, within their summary explanations, students will still not fully understand the material. Here, it’s very easy for me to jump in (while grading) and help them individually. An additional benefit is that these quizzes, with the addition of more short-answer questions, more closely resembles the question types I have on my midterms.

The first time I did this (in the 5th week of this quarter), my last question asked the students their opinion on this new style of testing. With the exception of the one student who was already doing exceptionally well, feedback was very positive. They appreciated the ability to correct themselves, and feel that they better understand the material. Their explanations seemed genuine to me, so I’m hopeful that they’ll perform better on our midterms.Image result for metacognition

The second idea I implemented I borrowed from another biology colleague, Hillary Kemp. This I’ve done with my non-majors Cellular Biology course, one that is typically tough for many students, as they begin their path towards an allied health degree.  Exam performance on my short-answer questions is always spotty (lots of higher-order Bloom’s Taxonomy questions).  Usually I would go over the correct answer with the class, in the hopes that they’d do better on the final. Now, rather than go over those answers, I give them their marked-up short-answer sections back, and let them correct their answers for partial credit. I stress that in their corrections I’m looking for them to explain why they got it wrong, and why the correct answer is correct. This is worth just enough to eliminate the need to curve the exam (essentially, they’re working to “earn” the curved points). In my large class (n=48), results were mixed. Many students clearly explained why they got it wrong and understand why the correct answer is correct. However, others just put down correct answers or, worse, Googled the answer and put down technically correct answers, well above the level of our course. Again, I awarded points based upon their explanations rather than the correctness of their answers. I think this exam reflection is helping those students who genuinely want to do well in class, as opposed to those who are maybe not too sure about this degree path. I’m hopeful that performance on our comprehensive final will show improvement because of this reflection exercise.

This post was generously contributed by Jeff Fennell, who teaches in the Biology department at Everett Community College.

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