THE Teaching Professor Blog
The Teaching Professor Blog is written by Dr. Maryellen Weimer, professor emerita at Penn State Berks and one of the nation’s most highly regarded authorities on effective college teaching. Many of you know Maryellen as the editor of The Teaching Professor newsletter and from her book Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practices, which is considered the go-to guide for educators looking to adopt a learner-centered approach in their classrooms.
The Teaching Professor Blog features a new weekly post from Maryellen on such topics as: the scholarship of teaching and learning, student engagement, classroom policies, active learning, assignment strategies, grading and feedback, and student performance.
CURRENT ARTICLE • June 19th, 2013
Group work and teamwork. In college courses the terms refer to students working together, often on an assignment or an activity. Group work is the more neutral term, whereas teamwork implies something about how the students are working together. And although teamwork is easy to identify when we see it on a playing field or court, what does teamwork look like in a college classroom?
OTHER RECENT ARTICLES
Here’s a great story. A graduate student is attending a lecture being given by one of her intellectual heroes, the Brazilian educator and theorist Paulo Freire. She takes notes furiously, trying to capture as many of his words as possible. Seeing that she is keenly interested in what Freire had to say, his translator asks if she would like to meet him. Of course! She is introduced and he begins by inquiring about her work. Then he graciously agrees to respond to a set of questions she and her colleagues hoped they would get the chance to ask him. She is impressed beyond belief, but time prevents her from asking one last, difficult question. They meet accidently once more at the event and he wonders if she asked all her questions? No, there is one more. “Given your work, we want to know ‘where is the hope’?” Without hesitating he moves toward her, takes her face in his hands, looks into her eyes, and replies, “You tell them, ‘you are the hope, because theory needs to be reinvented, not replicated … it is a guide. We make history as we move through it and that is the hope.”
For some time now my good friend and colleague Larry Spence and I have been discussing the role of questions in the college classroom. The conversation started with concerns over the quantity and quality of questions students ask—those earnest questions about what’s going to be on the exam and gently demanding queries about what the teacher “wants” in almost any kind of written assignment. Those questions are important to students, but they certainly are not the questions of curious learners nor are they the type of questions that motivate learning and intellectual development.
It’s that time of the year when end-of-course ratings and student comments are collected. When the feedback arrives, the quality often disappoints—and if the feedback is collected online, fewer students even bother to respond. Most of the comments are dashed off half thoughts, difficult to decipher. Complaints aren’t accompanied with constructive suggestions. Yes, some do say really nice things, but others sound off with pretty awful comments. However, I don’t think students are entirely at fault here.
It’s probably the question I’m most asked in workshops on learner-centered teaching. “What are some good places to start? My students aren’t used to learner-centered approaches.” Sometimes the questioner is honest enough to add, “and I haven’t used many previously.” Before the specifics, here’s some general recommendations: start slowly (for example, don’t add 14 learner-centered strategies to a mostly lecture course); try simple, reasonably straightforward activities first; and define success before implementing the activity. As for those “good places” to begin infusing your teaching with learner-centered strategies, here are some approaches to try.
Would your students benefit from participation in a study group? Are you too busy to organize and supervise study groups for students in your courses? I’m guessing the answer to both questions is yes. If so, here are some ways teachers can encourage and support student efforts to study together without being “in charge” of the study groups. Be welcome to add more ideas to the list.
Not everything we do in our courses works as well as we’d like. Sometimes it’s a new assignment that falls flat, other times it’s something that consistently disappoints. For example, let’s take a written assignment that routinely delivers work that is well below our expectations. It might be a paper that reports facts but never ties them together, an essay that repeats arguments but never takes a stand, or journal entries that barely scratch the surface of deep ideas.
April 24 - Tough Questions on Texting in the Classroom
It’s time we started exploring some of the tough questions on texting. The May issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter contains highlights from a survey of almost 300 marketing majors about their texting in class. The results confirm what I’m guessing many of us already suspect. A whopping 98% of the students reported that they had texted some time during the term in which the data was collected. They did so for an unimpressive set of reasons, the most popular being “I just wanted to communicate.” Fifty-six percent of the cohort said they were currently taking a class in which the teacher banned texting. Forty-nine percent said they texted anyway.
April 17 - Helping Students Discuss Technical Content
“What did you think about the reading?” can serve as an acceptable discussion prompt if your class is reading a novel, but a question like that doesn’t generate much response when the assigned chapter is in an engineering mechanics book or a principles of accounting text. For those who teach “technical content” — and by that I mean material with “right” answers and preferred ways of doing things, like problems with specific solutions or checklists of procedures — it can be doubly difficult to get students talking.
I have been known to berate the quality of classroom discussions—student-teacher exchanges that occur in the presence of mostly uninvolved others. Perhaps instead of berating I ought to be trying to help faculty improve how they lead discussions, and that has gotten me thinking about all the details discussion leaders must keep track of and make decisions about — all on the fly. Leading discussions effectively is not an easy task for any of us. Even those who make it look easy have actually worked very hard to hone this important skill.