We’re at that time of the academic year when the daily details begin to pile up. Teach a class, grade assignments, schedule advisees, and prep for tomorrow. It may not feel like a grind just yet, but it does require lots of focused energy, which makes this a perfect time for a quick reflection on why we teach. For some, teaching is just a job; it’s a paycheck necessity. But for readers of a blog on teaching and learning, I’m pretty sure we’re in it for something more than the bucks, which tend to be pretty modest anyway.
Quick, what’s your biggest teaching challenge? If you said it’s students who don’t read their assignments or prepare for class, you’re in good company. For the fourth consecutive year that we posed that question in our survey, Faculty Focus readers identified students who come to class unprepared as their biggest day-to-day challenge. It was followed closely by students who are not prepared for the rigors of college. Finishing third this year was institutional budget cuts, which edged out student motivation for the first time. Technology distractions remained as the fifth biggest challenge.
How much do you know about how your students study? I’ve been asking the question a lot lately and I’d have to say most of the answers I’ve heard aren’t all that impressive. They’re more about how the faculty member thinks students study, how they should study, or how they aren’t studying.
Throughout this summer article series, we’ve addressed some of the most frequently asked questions about the flipped classroom in higher education. We’ve shared ideas for student motivation, student engagement, time management, student resistance, and large classes. Since this is the final article in the series, I reviewed my notes and the findings from the Faculty Focus reader survey on flipped classroom trends (2015), and there’s one more topic we need to address: creativity.
I’m a strong believer in the benefits of students studying together, even though students don’t always understand or even experience the benefits. Oftentimes the potential gains of group study sessions are compromised by student behaviors. Students will saunter into study sessions, mostly not on time, sit around, check their phones, and socialize. When they finally start reviewing their notes, the text, or the homework problems, it’s all pretty superficial. There are very few questions, explanations, or confessions of confusion. The most intense conversation takes place over what they’ve heard from others about the exam and their hopes that it will be easy.
By the third or fourth week of most courses, students have had a reality check. They have taken the first exam, received feedback on their first paper, or otherwise discovered that the course isn’t quite what they had expected or hoped it would be. Here are a few reminders as to what many beginning students and some others might be thinking at this point in the semester.
It all started 56 years ago with a brown paper sack. This no-frills carrier contained a stash of glue, crayons, scissors, and strips of construction paper. These were my teaching tools. According to my mother, I carried this sack with me everywhere. Naturally drawn to showing and explaining things, I later graduated to using a small chalkboard. When our cat had kittens, they became my pupils, though admittedly they were less attentive than my stuffed animals.
This post shares a couple of items that pertain to student note-taking.
I’m always on the lookout for strategies that develop students’ note-taking skills, and economics professor Mark Maier shares a good one in the recent issue of College Teaching. He assigns a “rotating note taker” in his courses. This student serves as the class note-taker, posting his or her notes on the course management system before the next class session. The notes are graded pass/fail and count for 1 percent of the final course grade. If it’s a fail, the student learns why and is assigned another day to take and post class notes.
When I first I started teaching, I knew what plagiarism meant and how it related to schoolwork. But student “cheaters” challenged my beliefs. I also assumed graduate students would submit original work. So it took me by surprise when I noticed a mysterious improvement in one student’s writing capacity, well beyond the skill level he’d demonstrated earlier. When a Google search proved more than 20 percent of his paper was copied, he explained it as a computer error—he’d accidentally dropped the footnote when cutting and pasting. I lowered his course grade, but assumed it really was a snafu—not subterfuge. The (now) obvious question went unasked: Why was so much of his assignment based on other people’s insights?
Language influences thought and action. It’s a fundamental idea in linguistics. I remember first encountering it in a class when I was assigned S.I. Hayakawa’s classic Language in Thought and Action. But it’s a principle that’s easy to forget. Here are a few examples that pertain to education, with the question being—how does what we call something affect our teaching and students’ learning?