Teaching Tips & Strategies

Ideas for Promoting Good Discussion

"Developing a Rubric to Grade Classroom Participation" (Stephen Brookfield)

One of the typical ways teachers in higher education try to get discussion going is by declaring that participation in the course counts towards the overall grade or mark awarded to students. This will certainly induce speech amongst those most concerned with getting good marks, but it often has little to do with thoughtful discussion. Instead, it turns discussion groups into performance arenas, settings in which students perform behaviors designed to gain recognition and affirmation from the teacher. Students sometimes think the frequency of their verbal contributions – almost regardless of their lucidity or relevance – is the criterion for judging participation. Furthermore, unless the pattern of participation is deliberately disrupted in the first couple of meetings of the course, the pecking order is firmly established by the third meeting. This pecking order is powerfully self-fulfilling; the longer a student remains silent, the more intimidating becomes the prospect of speaking. (read the entire article at: http://www.stthomas.edu/fdc/synergia/news-story-37602-en.html).

"Using Technology for Connection, Engagement and Empowerment in your Classrooms"

Basic principles, tools and strategies, models and case studies from the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt.

Teaching Tips for the First Day, First Semester, Etc.

Some faculty prefer to use icebreakers for the students to get to know each other and feel more comfortable with the classroom environment. These sites offer suggestions for icebreakers, as well as thoughts on how to improve student engagment during early weeks of the semester.

Ideas for linking first day to last day:

Letter to the future: Dakin Burdick from Endicott College recommends this one. At the beginning of the course, have students think about and list the skills they want to develop or strengthen during your course. You may want to use these during the semester to link your activities and content, if feasible, to student goals. On the last day, hand these lists back to students and discuss whether they’ve been able to reach their goals.
Pre-test, Post-test: If you assess student knowledge (or skills or values) at the beginning of your course, use the same assessment again on the last day. Students will gain awareness of how far they’ve come over the semester, and you can identify areas you might want to address differently next time you teach the course. You can also use this data to document your teaching effectiveness in your year-end report – you need not rely solely on IDEA feedback.

Teaching Tips for the Last Day of Class

The wrap-up: Ideas for the last day of class (from Center for Faculty Development Director Ann Johnson)

Letters to future students:

Have students each write a letter to a fictional student enrolled in your class next semester. Have them describe what to expect, what they will learn, and how they can get the most out of your class. Have them identify something that they got out of your class they were not expecting, and provide advice and encouragement. Students can discuss their letters in pairs and/or read out loud (from Dakin Burdick and others, see below). Read more about this technique in "Found Wisdom".

Portfolios: If students have been keeping a portfolio in your course, have them select two pieces of work that demonstrate personal growth over the semester and share with the class. If possible, discuss how the examples relate to your course objectives.
Two most important things: Have them write down (on a piece of paper you can collect) the two most important things they’ve learned in your course, whether a new skill, some new knowledge or how to use a resource. Have each member share at least one thing. I have used this successfully (with classes of 20-25); I also collect the papers and summarize what students get out of the class on my syllabus for the next semester.
Create a ritual for your course: Think about something creative that fits your course content and size – a set of awards, a gratitude exercise, or having students create “toasts” to honor ideas, theories, historical figures, etc., drawn from your course materials and topics.
Modeling life-long learning: Describe for your students what you have learned from them over the semester. It might relate to the success or failure of a new teaching strategy you tried out, or a new angle on the subject matter provided by students’ questions and interests. Explain how you’ll use this new knowledge when you teach the class next semester.
Letter to the future: Dakin Burdick from Endicott College recommends this one. At the beginning of the course, have students think about and list the skills they want to develop or strengthen during your course. You may want to use these during the semester to link your activities and content, if feasible, to student goals. On the last day, hand these lists back to students and discuss whether they’ve been able to reach their goals.
Pre-test, Post-test: If you assess student knowledge (or skills or values) at the beginning of your course, use the same assessment again on the last day. Students will gain awareness of how far they’ve come over the semester, and you can identify areas you might want to address differently next time you teach the course. You can also use this data to document your teaching effectiveness in your year-end report – you need not rely solely on IDEA feedback.

Additional resources:

Strategies for Motivating Students

Summary of research, advice and references compiled by Carleton College on motivating students.

Advice on Collaborative Work

Knowledge surveys for metacognition

Knowledge surveys can be used to gauge student’s perceptions of what they actually learned in a class and to help students develop metacognition about their learning. Knowledge surveys consist of a large number of questions covering the entire content in a course, and are designed to capture different levels within the Bloom taxonomy, ranging from knowledge to comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Students do not answer the questions in the survey, but instead, indicate their perceived ability to answer them on a scale of 1-3, based on their confidence. Knowledge surveys are typically ungraded and are conducted at the beginning and end of a course; the difference in confidence level correlates well with actual student performance in the course. Knowledge Surveys can also be used to critically evaluate the effectiveness of teaching on specific content topics with a fairly high degree of granularity.

In Faculty Development presentation in 2011, Dr. Tom Hickson (Geology) talked about his use of knowledge surveys and ways to analyze knowledge survey data gathered from Blackboard (using an Excel template). Resources from Dr. Hickson's presentation are below.  

BOOKS IN THE FDC LIBRARY