Sunday, January 07, 2007

Advice to follow for the classroom teacher

I've been reading Ask-Dr-Kirk, Delaney Kirk's blog, for the last couple of months. She has a solid handle on classroom management and effective teaching. Among other things, her posts have given me prodding to think about the type of teacher I am, and the type of teacher I want to be. While Dr. Kirk is a management professor at Drake University, she understands learning and the classroom. (Sidebar: Another example for me of the dearth of leadership in departments of education within higher education...)

Anyway, she offers an excellent post today about things we teachers do that infuriate our students.

Changing the syllabus after the semester begins. The students look at the syllabus the first day to get a sense of the workload of the class, what types of assignments will be given, when things are due, how you will grade them, etc. Adding to or changing this will upset your students.

Requiring expensive textbooks that you do not use. If you have a textbook, be sure to give readings or assignments from it that you take up and grade.

Sharing too much personal information. I had a colleague years ago that had several dogs that were essentially her "children." She brought up the dogs in every class. The students started rolling their eyes whenever she mentioned them. Sharing some personal info is ok if it is relevant to the class. However, the students are not your friends and don't need to know the details of your everyday life.

Reading to the students from the book. I'm always surprised to hear that some faculty conduct their lectures by going over the chapters in the book page by page. Don't. Another tip: use examples from another textbook or from journals rather than the book your students are reading.

Lack of timely feedback. The students want to see how they did on exams and papers as quickly as possible. One way to set expectations is to tell them when you will be giving them feedback. For exams, aim at the next class period. For papers, I tell them it will be in two weeks. That way, if I get these done early, they're impressed but they don't expect it.

Having rules for them to follow that you don't. If you want them to turn off their cellphones or come to class on time, make sure you do also.

Assignments that they see as "busywork." Try to make the assignments interesting by relating examples to the "real world." Show the students how doing the homework will help them be successful in the class.

Perceptions of favoritism. When you are asked by a student to make an exception to your classroom policies such as accepting late papers or giving extra credit, think about whether this would be perceived as unfair by the other students.

While not all of these are applicable at every classroom level, there's a nugget here for everyone.

I'm particularly personally interested in the timely (and appropriate, I'd add) feedback. During the coursework for the doctorate I'm working on, I was surprised at the differences in feedback received from my professors. Some professors were quick to return papers, but the feedback consisted of a word or two. What can "Excellent paper" do for me in terms of getting better? I know that providing feedback for papers, and exams, can be difficult. In some respects, it is drudgery. And, we all hate drudgery. But there are things we can do.

Providing feedback was one of my bugaboos while teaching. I think the first thing I've done in the last 20 years is to realize that it's not a matter of "correcting" or "grading" papers; it's a matter of providing feedback. That single mindset can help alleviate the drudgery; it's an entirely different paradigm that is more helpful and more proactive. Second, I found that for papers, I offered two different types of appropriate feedback. The first was a written response, a paragraph or two, or more, that addressed the paper and offered a gentle critique; it was more of a holistic feedback approach. The second was a sit-down, workshop-oriented, line-by-line review of the paper with the student writer; it was a conversation that covered all aspects of the writing endeavor with the goal of not only providing the student with feedback but getting the student to think like a writer.

I encourage you to read Dr. Kirk's blog; if you subscribe to her feed, you'll get Dr. Kirk on a regular basis delivered straight to your reader.

1 comment:

Dr. Delaney Kirk said...

Thanks, Peter, for the recommendation. I agree with you on feedback. Even students with "A" papers want to know why you think these are good. I find rubrics help with the grading load and have included several of these on my blog. I also make it a point to plan my semester so I can spread out the due dates and thus the grading. Thanks for coming by.