Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Twelve Strategies I Use That Have Made Me a Better Teacher (which I never read about in any book)

I've taught for over 20 years. During that time I've read countless books on teaching. I've read articles on teaching published by trade and academic publications. I've listened to podcasts. Yet my key learnings come from classroom experience. I share twelve of these key learnings, or strategies, below. 

  1. Don’t introduce new technology for students to use UNLESS it makes sense for the teaching of the class. Also, you should have achieved some degree of mastery with the technology. 
  2. Attempt to tackle individual student technology issues on your own, assuming you can do so. By doing so yourself, students who contact you often have one less step to take to solve their problem. That saves them time having to wait for a response from IT.  
  3. Provide an EXTREMELY detailed syllabus. Include all assignments and as much information about course policies/procedures as possible. Review assignment details carefully at the beginning of the course. Repeat them as due dates approach. You can never mention due dates too often. 
  4. Take every opportunity to mention other classes students take, and integrate into your discussion topics covered in these other classes. In some instances you're class builds on this other material. In other instances, absent you making the relationship between different courses explicit, students may not make the connections critical for their learning. 
  5. Be proactive in terms of working with students to complete their assignments. Ask them to meet with you to brainstorm ideas and review assignment drafts in advance of final submission deadlines. 
  6. Admit to your mistakes. You will make mistakes. None of us is perfect. For example, you might have misspellings in your PowerPoint slides. Perhaps you have one deadline for an assignment in your syllabus and one in your PowerPoint presentation. It makes no difference. Recognize your error, apologize as deemed appropriate, and correct it.
  7. Spend most of your "grading" time on providing substantive feedback. That includes the subject matter AND the writing or presenting itself. Spend significantly less on actually assigning letter or numerical grades. The former will be much more valuable to students than the latter.
  8. Seek ongoing feedback from students on the value and effectiveness of what you do in class. That includes readings, assignments, and class activities.
  9. Pay close attention to narrative comments in course evaluations. Consider outlier evaluations carefully. Such evaluations differ markedly in substance and tone from the vast majority of evaluations (which are positive). Others offer suggestions or make comments that no one else in the class does. There’s usually something in these evaluations that can help you improve your teaching. That is, while negative (and even harsh) evaluations sting, there's often something in them you can use to improve your teaching. 
  10. Change components of the course in response to repeated student feedback. If students in different classes over time negatively comment on some aspect of a course, it's probably worth revising.  If you hear a specific suggestion for improvement more than once, it's probably worth trying it out at least once in your class. 
  11. Be ready to change your class real-time, if, for example, an especially rich class discussion merits more time. Or, for example, a student shares an on-topic experience with you privately that you believe would benefit the entire class. In short, plan individual class sessions but remain flexible and nimble to respond to student needs. 
  12. Devote a portion of the last class to critique the class itself. The course learning objectives (or outcomes) serve as a useful starting point. For example, for each learning outcome, I ask students:
    • What concepts were critical to achieving this learning outcome? 
    • How well did you feel this learning outcome was met?
    • What will you take away from/apply from the class related to this learning outcome? What have you already applied?
    • How can the class be improved in terms of achieving this specific learning outcome?

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