The Weekly Teaching Note

From the Cal Poly Pomona Faculty Center for Professional Development

Archive for November, 2008

The Stakeholders’ Exercise

Posted by weeklyteachingnote on November 25, 2008

Keeping students motivated is a constant struggle for teachers. “Trust me, you need to learn this,” is what we’d like to say, but we all know how (in)effective that argument is! Especially at the last couple of weeks of the quarter.

One professor of criminal justice decided to help his students see that he is not the only person who cares whether they learn or not. Every time he begins a new unit, he asks his students to brainstorm the different groups of people who might be affected by how well the students master the material.

For example, when beginning a unit on domestic violence, his students came up with this list of stakeholders in their learning:

  • Themselves, their supervisors, their partners, and their own families
  • Courts, police, lawyers, medical staff
  • Victim or victims, victims’ children and relatives
  • Suspect and suspect’s relatives
  • Neighbors

They could have gone on to say, “The whole world,” maybe, but the point is clear: Students’ learning is not just about them.

The professor who created the exercise also found two more benefits: students come to see that their instructor is responsible to the same stakeholders for the students’ learning. And, they come to realize that his teaching strategies are carefully selected based on his beliefs about learning. In other words, he would not ask them to do the learning activities he requires if he did not deeply believe it was the best way.

Now, criminal justice is pretty compelling all on its own (or else why are we watching those Law and Order re-runs?). But for every class that students take, other people are invested besides them and their instructors.

For example – who cares whether engineers learn calculus? Everyone who drives over a bridge! Who cares whether engineers learn history or political science? Everyone who might lose or gain something based on where, how, and for whom a bridge is built. Who cares whether art majors learn astronomy? Well, Vincent van Gogh did paint The Starry Night .

The idea for the Stakeholders Exercise came from the National Education Association Advocate Online ( http://www2.nea.org/he/advo-new/bestprac.html , verified 24 November 2008).

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Taking a Break from the Ordinary

Posted by weeklyteachingnote on November 18, 2008

By this time in the quarter, even in Fall quarter, people are starting to get tired and maybe even a bit bored. You have established a comfortable pattern for your teaching; the students have established patterns for their responses. Students are looking toward final exams and final projects with dread at the amount of work they have to do. You’re anticipating all the work you will have in grading those projects and exams. Plus, you still have all of your work outside the classroom. There are still 3 or 4 weeks to go and they don’t feel as if they are flying by. Sigh.

James Lang, author of On Course (2008, Harvard University Press, available in the Faculty Center Library), points out that doldrums are a natural part of any sustained endeavor. Don’t let a slump discourage you, but don’t passively wait it out, either. Try something new in class. Recognizing that coming up with something new during a slump is exactly the problem, Lang offers a few ideas:

  • Posters: have students spend class time creating visual representations of the content you’ve been struggling with. The point is to give them a new way to consider and express their understanding.
  • Teaching someone else: have students create a lesson to teach the topic to younger students, using as many different kinds of activities as possible. If there’s time, a couple of groups could present to the class. This is especially effective if the class has been struggling with something, since as we know, there’s nothing like teaching for learning.
  • Case studies: write or find a decision case in which students have to use the course material to propose a solution to a (hopefully) real-life problem.
  • Inkshedding: students freewrite for 5 minutes about the topic of the day, then pass their notebooks to the next person. The next student reads the first inkshed, then freewrites in response. The notebooks are passed on again through at least 4 or 5 iterations. A full class discussion can then begin, and if some students are shy they can participate at least through reading one of the responses aloud.

Of course, ideas like this take up class time. You may feel that you should be covering more content (there’s always more content). But, it may be worth the time to revitalize everyone’s interest in the class. If you and the students are awake for the last 3 weeks of the quarter, they will learn much more effectively than if they are dazedly going through the motions of the established patterns.

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Using Music to Teach Text Analysis

Posted by weeklyteachingnote on November 4, 2008

Here’s an interesting idea from a teacher of public speaking. This idea seems most appropriate to classes that deal with social issues, but it might be adapted for issues in the sciences.

This professor had his students present songs that dealt with various social issues of their choice. The students handed out copies of the lyrics, played the songs, commented on them in front of the class, and turned in a written analysis of the lyrics. The main task for analysis was to explain how the songwriters acted on listeners’ emotions and intellect to make their points. Students drew distinctions between emotion and logic in the songs.

The professor was pleased with the range of issues that the students identified, including domestic violence, vegetarianism, homelessness, civil unrest, and environmentalism and racism, to name a few. The students reported that they became more aware of issues and got to know their classmates better. The exercise provided an avenue to explore cultural diversity as well, since students chose different kinds of music and talked about why they chose their songs. This exercise appealed to students, obviously, and the professor was pleased with the quality of their work.

Providing a break in the routine, while still exploring substantive content, is a good way to re-engage students, and ourselves, with the material.

To read the entire short article, please see the following reference:

Martin, G. 1994. Music promotes appreciation for cultural difference. College Teaching 42(4):150.

College Teaching is available as a full-text, on-line journal through CSU Libraries.

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