students studying in library

A Study-for-an-Exam Assignment

To remediate the exam preparation study skills that beginning (and other) students are missing, most of us respond by telling students about those skills that make for good exam performance. “Come to class.” “Take notes.” “Keep up with reading.” “See me during office hours if you need help.” And most of us have discovered that this approach isn’t particularly effective. It doesn’t always work well for two reasons. First, students tend not to listen all that closely to advice on how to study when it’s offered by people who sound and often look like their parents, and second, it’s not enough to know what they should be doing. Students need to work to develop and refine those skills.

Consider an approach that might succeed where how-to-study admonitions fail. It starts with a first-year seminar program. A first-year seminar provides a perfect structure for this assignment, but it could be used in a variety of courses. In this first-year seminar course students get the usual instruction on learning strategies, but more importantly they complete an assignment in the seminar called a Strategy Project Assignment. It’s a “multistep project requiring students to plan, monitor, and evaluate their newly learned strategies as they prepare for a test in a course in which they are currently enrolled.” (pp. 272-3)

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A Handout for Students on Note-taking

When it comes to class notes, we all know that students would much rather get the teacher’s notes or PowerPoints than write their own for lots of reasons. They’re getting the content straight from the expert. It makes note-taking less work, and they don’t have to decide what to write down. Further, lots of students don’t like to take notes, and many don’t take very good ones. Having the teacher’s notes keeps students covered if they don’t feel like taking notes or attending class, but the research on note-taking is clear: students need to take notes for themselves.

I wrote this article to help you explain to your students not only why they need to take notes but how to take good notes—the kind of notes that become valuable resources when studying for an exam.

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video assessment

Making Learning Visible with Video Assessment

In winter 2015, I was given the opportunity to design and teach my department’s first fully online course, in calculus. Some design challenges emerged in the process, not least of which was the question of assessing homework. In a face-to-face class, students either turn in handwritten solutions to online problems or present them orally in class. But how can you have students presenting work to each other when they don’t even meet?

My solution—the only solution that could really work—was to have students present work via recorded video and then put those videos in an accessible place for the rest of the class.

The process worked as follows:

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student writing

Punctuating Error: Strategies to Help Students Become More Disciplined Writers

When final paper time looms, students become increasingly anxious about the grammatical errors they believe lurk in their writing. That belief is so strong it can undermine their drafts. Even worse, students have come to expect that their professors will point out errors—and make corrections—that seem invisible to student eyes. Such a learned practice dissuades students from the far more productive work of rewriting sentences that would remove many of those errors just as invisibly.

Helping students learn how to revise and rewrite should be our priority so that their writing becomes more effective and they’re able to eyeball what remaining errors need correcting. Nevertheless, even with that process, some errors persist. For years, I struggled with determining how much instruction to devote to error, how to time such instruction, and where to conduct it—classroom, conference, or paper annotations—so that my efforts would prove more helpful than hurtful.

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students paying attention

Recognizing the Signs of Underpreparedness

Take a few moments to list your top three or four frustrations with students who are not prepared to successfully complete your course—students who almost seem destined to fail your course.

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student studying in library

Journaling Assignment

Students will complete a series of short essays about the idea of fairness in different ethical theories. Students will reflect in writing on the following question: what is fairness or how does this idea contribute to, support or challenge my idea of fairness? Another question students will consider is how a particular ethical theory is or is not fair. Students will be evaluated on the following factors:

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student on laptop in library

A Multi-Tasking Activity

Select a phrase or question like: AM I A SKILLED MULTITASKER?

Round 1:  Ask students to time themselves writing the A-1, M-2, I-3, A-4, S-5, and so on.  They should alternate between the letters of “Am I a Skilled Multitasker?” and the numbers 1-23 in sequence. This round simulates the effects of brain switching, as participants are forced to switch between sequencing letters and numbers.

Round 2:  Ask students to time themselves as they write the phrase “Am I a skilled multitasker?” immediately followed by writing the numbers 1-23.  The second round result should look like this:

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The BIG Questions Assignment

This assignment gets students thinking about and revealing questions and issues of importance to them.

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movie film

The Classic Movies Come to Class

If you are a professor of a certain age, you may have had the experience that I had in my first semester of teaching. I asked, “Who’s seen Norma Rae?” (I wanted to use it to illustrate that working in a mill causes hearing loss.) “Who’s seen Young Frankenstein?” (I wanted to highlight the Abby Normal brain.) The response from students was “Huh?” Today’s students haven’t seen the same movies most of us have, and they don’t seem a generation inclined to watch old, classic movies. A movie in black and white? Forget it.

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