Relevance, engagement, and passion. Our students deserve it.
Our community deserves it.
Knowing my passion for any information about student success, my campus reference librarian frequently sends me emails about books, articles, and videos that come across her desktop. This past week she held a book for me by Richard J. Light: Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds (Harvard University Press, 2001).
Light gathered his findings from over a decade of interviews with Harvard seniors. One of the questions he examined was “What are effective ways for faculty members and campus leaders to translate good intentions into practice?”
While his research group may be narrow (Harvard seniors) I found his findings to be broadly applicable. Even though I teach at an open-admissions college on an urban campus with (typically) small classes, I found myself rating how I measure up to the findings. Even if a certain category (like teaching in large lecture halls) did not directly apply to my setting, I still found a takeaway. For the teachers who follow this blog, use the items below as a way to self-assess. Perhaps these thoughts would provide for an interesting teaching circle with colleagues. For readers who are not teachers but know teachers, share this blog post with them. And finally, if you are not a classroom teacher, very possibly you are still a “teacher.” If you train staff, lead a community group, or coach a youth baseball team, you have the opportunity to engage and help develop people. There may be a nugget or two for you below.
For brevity sake, I have excerpted a few of the major sub-headings from two of Light’s chapters.
Chapter 4: The Most Effective Classes
- Outstanding small classes. Light found that small classes had a strong correlation with student engagement. Class sizes are typically set by institutional policy. But while I do not set class size, I do have to measure myself when it comes to how I present my material to my students. I have small classes–and that gives me a responsibility to bring enhanced engagement to them each day.
- Powerful homework assignments. Light found students who worked in groups outside of the classroom “benefited enormously.” It encouraged connections and focused discussion. As a teacher, what do I do to encourage these conversations?
- Courses that emphasize writing. This section reminded me of a student I had about fifteen years ago in anIntroduction to Education section. She regularly railed against my writing requirements–and my meticulous red marks “all over her paper.” Her constant refrain back then was “This isn’t an English class!” I have run into her a number of times over the years–and she never fails to mention that she learned more in my non-English class about writing than in any other class. She remains appreciative that she can express herself in a meaningful manner.
- The One-Minute Paper. This simple method has been around for years. Attributed to Patricia Cross, the
One-Minute Paper is just what it states. Students write a brief (one-minute) explanation about the big picture of what the classroom instructor just covered. It provides excellent feedback for the instructor at, say, the end of a lesson. The process moves away from drowning in detail and focusing on the overarching theme. In short, did the students get what I hoped they would? It reminds me of the old adage: Just because I taught it doesn’t mean it was learned!
Chapter 6: Faculty Who Make a Difference
- Connecting academic ideas with student’s lives. This can be reduced to one word: Relevance! Show students how your curriculum relates to their lives. If I cannot show a relationship to their betterment, then why in the world am I wasting their time?
- Encouraging students to disagree with the professor. In my history classes, I establish the “rule” that I wantstudents to question the textbook and question me. Don’t assume the front of the room is infallible. Along with the questioning, though, comes a responsibility that if they disagree they need to present support and at least the beginnings of a reasoned argument. In short, their supported opinions matter! This can connect nicely with the item above about powerful homework assignments.
- Not being predictable. When professors have chosen an ideological position and rigidly hold to it, students can sense predictability. Yes, predictability is important in certain areas like timely feedback. But it can also lessen a teacher’s impact–and maybe even minimize discussion and exploration. In Light’s words: “As soon as students know how such a professor feels about one or two issues, they can predict with near perfect certainty how that professor will feel about dozens of other issues…They say it suggests the professor isn’t rigorously evaluating each issue independently, on its own merits.” The teacher may be guilty of confirmation bias (my words, not Light’s). I love to take counter positions to any side of an issue. Many times, I will even disagree with myself in class as way to stimulate conversation. I want them to think about their views. It’s not important for students to know where I stand on a political issue for instance. My job, I believe, is for them to understand where they stand.
- Integrating ideas from other disciplines. This helps students see broader perspectives of issues. For instance, in my history classes we are constantly looking at how historical events from the 1800s have relevance to cultural trends in the 21st century. We bring in politics, economics, education, and community building to name a few. It makes for vibrant and relevant conversations.
Video recommendation for the week:
Finally, enjoy this video I shared on this blog a year or so ago. It relates the story of a visionary elementary school teacher. Light’s book above looks at college. Both reinforce the need for relevance, engagement, and passion for teaching. Our students deserve it. Our community deserves it.
Enjoy your week—and H.T.R.B.as needed!
REGISTER NOW for my October 12, 2012 P.D.Q. Webinar “Social Media with Purpose: Tips from a Non-Techie!” Click here or paste this link into your web browser:https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2376790441069310976
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© 2012. Steve Piscitelli.