The Weekly Teaching Note

From the Cal Poly Pomona Faculty Center for Professional Development

What to Leave Out

Posted by weeklyteachingnote on March 4, 2009

There are two more weeks of instruction in this quarter before finals week. Many faculty – if not most! – are behind on their syllabus schedules. You meant to cover Chapters 1-10 this quarter and you’ll only get to Chapter 8. You wanted to talk about India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Myanmar, but dang, China was just so big! Oops, there goes the time for quantum mechanics!

How do you spend the last two weeks of class?

Most importantly, don’t try to rush and cram in the last two countries or concepts in the last day of class. Students will also cram this material for the exam, which nearly guarantees that they will not learn it deeply. It’s better to tell students up front that you won’t do this-and-that; allow them to relax and learn properly.

If your class is in a series or is a service course, you might ask for input from a few faculty who teach the next class. Give them a choice of concepts and ask what’s most important for students to know for their class, given the time constraints. This does not mean you don’t get to make the decision; it’s just extra information for you.

If you’re not teaching a prerequisite course, or the concepts are flexible, go back to essentials: what do students need to know or to be able to do to complete the class requirements well? If you have articulated learning outcomes in the syllabus, go back to those ideas – what do you want students to know or be able to do months or even a year or two after the class? Leave out any content or activities that do not contribute directly to those goals.

If you are lucky enough to teach a course where content is entirely flexible, you can ask the students what topics they are most interested in for the last two weeks. This is a good tactic because students’ interest will remain higher if they have chosen the material.

Be very clear about your expectations for the students. If you can’t spend class time on a topic, but you want them to read about the topic and (for example) know some basic definitions, give a glossary for them to fill out. Follow through by pledging that the exam will include only definition questions for this material.

Try not to cancel grade opportunities such as in-class quizzes. You may not be able to do so according to your syllabus. And, the more grade that rides on the final exam, the more anxious students get. Even a few points on a quiz can help people’s nerves, making learning easier.

Finally, learning takes place mostly through practice – the last thing you should cut when you’re running late is the practice time. Remember to schedule a review session and even to spend a few precious class minutes beginning to review now.

In short, try to relax in the last two weeks of class. Your students will finish with a much better frame of mind. Also, you will feel more satisfied by making rational choices about content coverage than by hurrying to try to cover it all.

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