male professor calling on student March 13

Participation Points: Making Student Engagement Visible

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As I contemplate my syllabi for a new semester, I possess renewed hope for students eager to discuss anything at 8 a.m., yet I have taught long enough to know that I will simply appreciate clean clothes and brushed teeth. As reality sets in, I add to my grading criteria an element that I hope will encourage engagement from even the most timid learners.


old-style lecture hall March 7

A Different Take on “Did I Miss Anything Important?”

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When students ask us, as they occasionally do, “I wasn’t in class yesterday. Did I miss anything important?” most of us feel at least a bit of disrespect and some aggravation. If we take the question at face value, it implies that the student thinks at least some of what we do in class might not actually be important. Judging from a search of online forums, instructors’ responses range from genuine interest in helping students understand what they missed and how to make up for it, to contempt exemplified by sarcastic comments such as, “No, since you weren’t present we just filled time until the class was over.” The former response was illustrated in a 2014 article in The Teaching Professor,by Rocky Dailey, who also noted that some absences may be considered more legitimate than others (e.g., due to a student’s participating in an institution-sanctioned activity rather than just deciding not to show up). In those cases, I may feel more inclined to give the student some of my time and effort to help make up for the absence.

My focus here is neither on deciding how to respond to the student nor on the plethora of reasons that students give for missing a class. Instead, I want to turn the question around. Why do students ask this question and, more important, what does it say about my course when they do? I’m particularly concerned about students who still ask the question even after they’ve attended several class for sessions. By that time students have experienced what goes on in my classes, and I take asking whether anything important happened in class as a sign of one or all of the following:

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November 15, 2016

Questions: Why Do They Matter?

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In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke urged the younger correspondent to learn to love questions, even those that were unanswered. This admonition has stuck with me for several decades, especially in times when I am seeking answers to seemingly tough questions. In thinking about actually loving questions, I contemplated my own relationship with them, and I realized that asking questions is one of a teacher’s most essential responsibilities. The act of posing a query is one of the characteristics that actually sets this profession apart. Reflecting on this epiphany, I wondered if and how exactly I pose evocative and powerful questions. I decided that there are several opportunities to place a well-developed inquiry, and I wanted to share those. The “Who are you?”questions are ones we direct to ourselves; the “What are you thinking?”questions are ones we need to ask our students; and the “So what?”questions are for students to ask themselves—with a little prompting from us, naturally.

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smiling students May 20, 2016

Playing Games Can Yield Serious Learning

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How often do you hear college students say, “that was fun!” on their way out of your classroom? Probably not often enough. Of course, who has time for fun when you have a syllabus packed with serious learning outcomes and one semester to accomplish your goals. Not to diminish the hard work involved in prepping for lectures, but when was the last time you asked yourself: Is my class fun?


focusing activities to engage students May 2, 2016

Three Focusing Activities to Engage Students in the First Five Minutes of Class

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In the previous two articles, I shared ideas to address student accountability and student preparation in the flipped classroom. Based on your feedback and emails, getting students to come to class prepared is an ongoing challenge for many of us! In this article, I’d like to keep the conversation going by zeroing in on the importance of the first five minutes of class.


Four students talking May 27, 2015

Fostering Student Learning through the Use of Debates

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There are many ways to get students engaged in a classroom, but when topics are controversial or taboo, students may shy away from sharing their thoughts on the subject. In contrast, some may be so overly passionate about a topic that they proselytize their point. One tactic that helps students feel comfortable enough to speak about controversial topics is through debates that are structured and promote students’ preparedness in defending or opposing a particular stance on a topic.


March 16, 2015

Using Context to Deepen and Lengthen Learning

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Nearly every teacher has experienced students forgetting something important. This forgetfulness comes in various forms. It might involve not following instructions for an assignment, missing a due date, forgetting important details on a test, or even forgetting to take the test itself. Whatever the memory infraction, there are usually good reasons why students forget. Gratefully, there are a few simple ways teachers can build context to help students achieve deeper and longer lasting learning.


February 27, 2015

The Power of Teachers’ Questions Lies in Their Ability to Generate Students’ Questions

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I was looking at one of my old teaching and learning books, Kenneth Eble’s 1988 book The Craft of Teaching. Some parts are now a bit dated, but many are not. It was one of those books that greatly influenced how a lot of us thought about teaching and learning back then.

But I found something in the book that was even older. Eble includes a discussion of and several quotes from an 1879 book (actually the ninth edition) by Josiah Fitch titled The Art of Questioning. Eble writes that it’s a small book and was originally aimed at British Sunday school teachers. Here’s the quote that caught my attention.


January 26, 2015

Strategies for Preventing Student Resistance

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“What if the students revolt?” “What if I ask them to talk to a neighbor, and they simply refuse?” “What if they do not see active learning as teaching?” “What if they just want me to lecture?” “What if my teaching evaluation scores plummet?” “Even if I am excited about innovative teaching and learning, what if I encounter student resistance?”

When teachers try something different in the classroom and students resist, the teacher may back down. Often, this is due to fear of what will happen to their student evaluations and contract renewals. I have been told by many instructors that they once tried active learning but the students hated it, so they went back to what was tried and true. (Silverthorn, 2006, p. 139)