As a framework for the workshop, CTE/DTAT Coordinator Aymara Boggiano highlighted the main ideas in the article, “The 4-Stage Response to Low Student Achievement,” by John Lemuel (Chronicle of Higher Education, March 11, 2011). Lemuel notes that instructors go through four stages in response to their students’ poor performance: (1) shock; (2) dismay and guilt; (3) contempt and blame; (4) acceptance. While the first three stages are passive, the fourth is active and constructive as instructors begin to ask what strategies they might use to help their students to succeed.
Prof. Boggiano introduced Professors Shankar Chellam from Civil and Chemical Engineering and Brandon Rottinghaus from Political Science, who discussed the ways they adapt their teaching to maximize effectiveness. Professor Chellam noted that he has gone through Lemuel’s four stages, especially early in his teaching, when his expectations were unrealistic and his courses were more difficult. Chellam observed that the key is to be satisfied in his own mind that the course is satisfactory, and then he can deliver an effective class to his students. He accomplishes this by assigning less work, spending more one-on-one conference time with his students so he can get to know them better, and making the work relevant to students’ own lives and experiences, especially through the use of group projects with which they can connect. Projects also provide advanced students the opportunity to exhibit their greater expertise. He also gives quizzes in the first or second week of class so that students know they need to work hard and are motivated to visit him. In these ways he is better able to convey his passion for the subject. Professor Chellam admitted that students still complain that there is “too much work,” or that it is “too hard,” but they also appreciate the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with a professor, and students sometimes end up doing more work than is required because of their interest. He emphasized the importance of noting, “Who am I teaching?”
Professor Rottinghaus cautioned that we should not necessarily leap to change our teaching mid-semester, and that we should be careful to determine the causes for poor achievement, making sure that the problem is with the material or its presentation, before overreacting. Professor Rottinghaus distributed a midterm evaluation form that he sometimes uses to determine the nature of the challenges students are facing; students’ responses may move him to provide more context for concepts, clarify with extra materials, adapt writing assignments or make expectations more clear, or provide a sample A paper from a previous term to show what it should look like. He sometimes incorporates small group work mid-lecture to reinvigorate the class. In large lecture classes, Professor Rottinghaus tries to anticipate problems, assigning students to meet with TAs, sending them summaries of what the exam is about and tips for how to improve performance, sending a “primer” on how to prepare for exams, and creating online practice tests and flashcards for all chapters.
Participants worked with sample cases in breakout sessions, discussing ways they might apply some of the concepts introduced by the speakers. Strategies discussed included:
- Making connections with students’ interests; make the content relatable, real
- Using multimedia
- Enlisting older, more knowledgeable students to help teach the less well prepared; pairing an advanced learner with one less advanced
- Differentiating instruction for different levels of learners
- Assigning varying levels of an activity
- Making advanced learners aware of opportunities that will challenge them outside the classroom—e.g., writing contests, clubs and organizations
- Using current events
- Compiling and distributing lists of additional resources—e.g., exercises to improve performance, Internet links
- Using a KWL strategy: before teaching material, determine what students already know and what they want to learn; after teaching, ask them to write reflectively about what they have learned
- Ending class five minutes early to allow students to come forward to ask questions
- Making office hours mandatory for students who miss classes
- Enlisting others on campus who can serve as resources for students
- Clearly outlining expectations from the beginning of class
- Using recitations to assist with large lectures
[Notes by Tamara Fish, assisted by Aymara Boggiano; Videos by Bruce Martin]
From the Chronicle of Higher Education’s invaluable ProfHacker, I’m passing along a link to the latest Teaching Carnival, which is a forum for higher education teachers (at every level) who wish to share their thoughts and strategies about virtually every aspect of teaching and learning. You’ll find, for example, interesting pieces on handling difficult situations, giving feedback to writing assignments, and the proposed legislation for guns on campus. Take a look, and let us know if you find anything interesting, helpful, or infuriating.
Have a good weekend,