The Teaching Professor
Current Issue: December 1, 2013
For the past couple of years I have been using some technologies that require setup before the class starts and have found that the setup interferes with my ability to converse with students before and after class.
There continues to be interest in the kind of feedback that helps students make changes that improve their work. Take something called feed-forward, for example. It’s defined as “timely and constructive feedback that feeds into the next assignment.” (p. 451) Here’s a study that assessed a unique form of feed-forward.
Unfortunately, all too often performance on the first exam predicts performance throughout the course, especially for those students who do poorly on the first test. Faculty and institutions provide an array of supports for these students, including review sessions, time with tutors, more practice problems, and extra office hours, but it always seems it’s the students who are doing well who take advantage of these extra learning opportunities. How to help the students who need the help is a challenging proposition.
For the past several semesters I’ve have had students in my border community college classes who are part of our grant-funded migrant student program, known as CAMP. These students are usually first-generation college students. Their parents work in the fields from dawn until dusk, and many of them have worked right alongside their parents. They have tangible motivation for attending college. I was invited to give these students a motivational talk as part of their orientation program. What could I say? Motivation clearly wasn’t a problem for these students. When I finally developed a plan for my hour talk, I knew that I would either create a connection with the students or leave them wondering why I had been asked to speak.
Faculty who believed assessment was another of those “trendy things” destined to pass once something else new came along have been proven wrong. The assessment movement is now close to 30 years old and still very much a part of the higher education scene. Institutions found it hard to ignore once it started being a condition for receiving federal funds and a review criteria used by the national accrediting associations and various professional program reviewing agencies.
Kant declared false the commonplace saying “That may be true in theory, but it won’t work in practice.” He acknowledged that there might be difficulties in application, but he said that if a proposition is true in theory, it must work in practice. What about the proposition “If teachers don’t ask questions, students will ask more and better ones”? A preponderance of practical and empirical evidence shows that teacher questions suppress student questions (see the Dillon reference). Thus we have every reason to believe that if you want students to develop, ask, and attempt to answer their own questions, we have to quit asking the kinds of questions teachers typically ask.
Most teachers love teaching metaphors—the teacher as guide, as coach, as gardener, as maestro in front of the orchestra. At some point in our careers most of us have been asked to pick or create a metaphor that captures how we view the teacher’s role. Doing that in faculty development workshops isn’t as popular as it once was, and many of the most common metaphors are too familiar to be very exciting. A new metaphor might enable us to reexperience how a comparison to something unexpected can change the picture of what we do and why and how we do it.
A recent and excellent article that proposes a model for “building teams that learn” recommends that teachers have students develop a team charter early in their interaction. “Completing a team charter encourages team members to set goals and discuss how they will work together; it begins the discussion about expectations for participation and performance.” (p. 708) As a working document, it helps establish norms that contribute to group effectiveness. The authors see the team charter as a “necessary first step” to evolve from being a group to being a team. (p. 708)
Students nowadays can be pretty demanding about wanting the teacher’s PowerPoints, lecture notes, and other written forms of the content presented in class. And a lot of teachers are supplying those, in part trying to be responsive to students but also because many students now lack note-taking skills. If they can’t take good notes, why not help them succeed by supplying them with notes?
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