The Weekly Teaching Note

From the Cal Poly Pomona Faculty Center for Professional Development

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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The No-Fault Quiz

Posted by weeklyteachingnote on October 28, 2008

By this time in the quarter, students are anxious about their mid-term grades. First-year students usually need extra support in learning, and they also need high-quality opportunities to raise their grades as they adjust to the expectations of academic work in college.

The “no-fault quiz” is one idea from a faculty member who teaches introductory science courses. Usually it’s best to incorporate this tactic into the class from the beginning, but it can be added in because it’s basically rigorous extra credit.

The no-fault quiz is a weekly quiz of 5 to 15 questions of various types (short answer, fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, etc.), based on the previous week’s work. All correct answers earn points toward the next test. Because the quizzes are extra credit, make-ups are not available for any reason. Points for questions covering the same material are also available on the test itself.

Immediately after the quiz is completed, the professor gives a key and the class spends some time discussing the answers. This way, students receive immediate feedback on their work. The quizzes and keys, but no extra credit, are provided to students with excused absences so that they can still benefit from the learning opportunity.

This professor found that attendance on quiz days rose dramatically. Students even reported that they got up early to look over their notes. The professor felt that good discussions ensued, with students learning to evaluate and analyze their knowledge. Students were better able to persevere in learning because mistakes did not count against them in the quizzes; instead, they were able to re-learn material that they missed on the quizzes.

The no-fault quiz is a win-win situation – students learn the material better and have a chance to raise their grades. Both of these outcomes can help students to succeed in large introductory classes.

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

Sporer, R. 2001. The No-Fault Quiz. College Teaching 49(2):61.

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

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Welcome to the Weekly Teaching Note Blog!

Posted by weeklyteachingnote on October 28, 2008

We decided to create a blog for the Weekly Teaching Notes so that faculty can comment! Please feel free to tell us what you think of each Weekly Teaching Note. Even better, please give us some ideas to feature as Weekly Teaching Notes — things that work for you, ideas you want to explore, or problems that would benefit from more brains working together.

You are free to put a name on your comment or to remain anonymous.

We hope you enjoy the new Weekly Teaching Note Blog!
Victoria Bhavsar, Program Coordinator

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