What’s the best way to put students into groups? It’s the first task that confronts teachers who want students to work together. And the best reply is one of those “it depends” answers. Here are the questions on which it depends.
Should teachers let students form the groups? Students often prefer this approach. They tend to pick people they know, classmates who are friends, those in the same major, and those who share the same race. It’s more comfortable working with people who are known and similar. When groups are composed of friends, they sometimes struggle with the transition to a more professional relationship. They’re used to socializing, but now there are tasks to complete and that means functioning in different roles. If the group work is a project that requires extended collaboration and will benefit from a variety of opinions and perspectives, letting students form the groups may not be the best approach. On the other hand, for short, ad-hoc group work and for students who may be shy and not used to working with peers, knowing others in the group makes the experience less intimidating.
I lost a dear friend last month, the colleague and mentor who taught me more about teaching and learning than anyone else. Over the years, Larry Spence wrote a number of pithy pieces for The Teaching Professor. Here’s my favorite.
Recently I had reason to revisit Paul Pintrich’s meta-analysis on motivation. It’s still the piece I most often see referenced when it comes to what’s known about student motivation. Subsequent research continues to confirm the generalizations reported in it. Like most articles that synthesize the results of many studies, it’s long, detailed, and liberally peppered with educational jargon. It does have a clear, easy to follow organizational structure and most notably, it spells out implications—what teachers might consider doing in response to what the research says motivates students. Here’s a quick run-down of those generalizations and their implications.
If there’s a downside to another academic year coming to a successful close, it’s reading course evaluations. This post explores how we respond to those one or two low evaluations and the occasional negative comments found in answers to the open-ended questions. Do we have a tendency to over-react? I know I did.
There’s plenty of good research on study strategies that promote learning. It’s also well-documented that students don’t always use them. As most of us are well aware, procrastination gets in the way of learning. Cramming ends up being mostly a shoveling exercise—digging up details and dropping them into short term-memory. But there’s also evidence that students don’t know that some strategies do more for learning than others. And guess what? Neither do some faculty.
Maybe we should be making a stronger pitch for student-led study groups. There’s all sorts of research documenting how students can learn from each other. But, as regularly noted here and elsewhere, that learning doesn’t happen automatically, and some of us worry that it’s not likely to occur in a study group where there’s no supervision and distractions abound. Recent findings should encourage us to give study groups a second look.
The most common approach to cheating involves trying to prevent it—multiple versions of a test, roving observation during tests, software that detects plagiarism, policies that prohibit it. However, if we look at cheating across the board, what we’re doing to stop it hasn’t been all that successful. Depending on the study, the percentage of students who say they’ve cheated runs between 50% and 90% with more results falling on the high side of that range. Can we be doing more? Here are some ideas.
On the surface, learning objectives don’t seem all that complicated. You begin with an objective or you can work backwards from the desired outcome. Then you select an activity or assignment that accomplishes the objective or outcome. After completion of the activity or assignment, you assess to discover if students did in fact learn what was proposed. All that’s very appropriate. Teachers should be clear about what students need to know and be able to do when a course ends. But too often that’s where it stops. We don’t go any further in our thinking about our learning objectives. There’s another, more challenging, set of questions that also merit our attention.
Some students are more challenging to teach than others. They require pedagogical skills of a different and higher order. Sometimes it’s easier to sigh and just turn away. And that’s legitimate in the sense that students (indeed, people of all sorts) have to figure things out for themselves. But many of us were such “works in progress” when we were in college, and a teacher (or several of them) ended up being instrumental in moving us in more productive directions. It’s for that reason I’d like us to consider some of these challenging students, each one a unique individual, but many displaying the same counterproductive attitudes and actions. Descriptions of these students come much more easily than solutions to what’s holding them back. Said more directly, my goal here is to start this conversation and ask for your wisdom, insights, and experiences with students who are tough to teach.