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Teaching Excellence Center

Circle Summaries March 1998

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Monday 12:00 Session

Here are the issues that we discussed at our last teaching circle:

What is competence (for teachers and students) and how does one determine it? How does one know what students have "reached" competence?

Are issues of competency be different teachers who teach mostly majors versus those who teach mostly students taking their classes as electives? (we thought that they probably are because if you don't keep the students content in elective classes, they drop your class and before long, you have no program).

Why don't we have peers evaluate us in our departments?

We talked about the possibilities (and HOW it would work) of doing group work in classes of 50-80 students.

We discussed the attendance policy. Those of us who have one talked about why they do; those of us who don't talked about why they don't. Some think that the students don't like being told that they have to come to class to do well in the class; other wondered if their not liking it is reason enough to do away with it. Hmmm.

Student motivation: can one inspire it? Enforce it? What are valid things that motivate students? And how do we as teachers affect student motivation?

We had many more questions than answers, but the discussion was productive nevertheless.

Tuesday 9:30 Session

Lauren gave us a handout consisting of articles on teaching tips by Stanford Erickson and Charles Schroeder. These prompted discussion about a course on teaching. Syllabus construction, teaching instruction, principles, presentation and technology would all be covered. This course is already offered to upper level Psych majors. It would be a wonderful course to have in each field. We looked at and discussed students' comments regarding multi-level competency from that Psych class. Most of the comments echoed teacher's concerns: a fast pace leaves slower learners behind while a slower pace bores the more intellectual students. Learning in small groups was suggested.

Learning in a group setting can lead to "social loafing" whereby most group members sit back and wait for "someone" to take responsibility. Smaller groups cut down on social loafing. Pairs work well as long as partners are switched for each new project.

Using examples in class, i.e. personal stories, works well if they illustrate concepts.

Study guides work well as long as students work without the book. Using the book bypasses the brain. Knowledge must be processed. It takes longer but is retained.

Flash cards are good but better with a partner. In this way partner must give hints, not just spout the answer. Ridiculous associations prompt memory later - "it rhymes with -----", etc. Working alone with flash cards usually isn't as effective. Student merely turns the card over and recognizes the answer rather than processing.

HOT TOPIC: We, who are teachers, did not have a problem studying, memorizing facts, processing information, etc. so it's hard for us to relate to our students who have those problems.

 

Wednesday 1:00 Session

The topic was student motivation. Jim Hardy provided the following information: 40 - 50% of 1st year freshman flunk out after the first year. He feels the problem is the quality of the advising. He thinks that perhaps our expectations are too high. SFA has one of the lowest retention rates of first time Freshmen in the state.

Bob Szafran gave us the following concerning SFA101:

85% of SFA freshman return for the spring term (88% for those taking 101, 83% for those who did not take 101)

Fall semester Freshman GPA - 2.04 (2.17 for 101 students, 1.97 for others)

Pat surveyed her class on what motivates them and they report...

Linda Parr also surveyed her piano student

Students seem to need some vested interest in the class to become motivated. Getting to know them seems to help. Forming study groups is another plus.

There was much discussion of whether an attendence policy, seating chart, or other device was a positive or negative in terms motivation. Most thought of these as necessary evils.

Instructors need to actively avoid negatives to student motivation. Critical analysis of work in a profession seems to ignore the standard or even well-done work as expected and concentrates on the problem areas. This style won't work well in the classroom. We agree that standards are important and need to be maintained, but that this can be done in a positive and encouraging way.

Students should, of course, provide their own motivation, but the instructor can sometimes be important in development of student potential, uncovering and addressing deficiencies, or counseling.

The next meeting is April 29 in the Dean's Conference Room of the Science Building at 1 pm. The topic will be Challenges of Multi-level Student Competence in the Classroom.

Wednesday 3:00 Session

Our teaching circle met March 25th with 6 present. We discussed motivation techniques. Some of the techniques discussed were:

1. l minute essay

2. 5 minute essay - Have the students write one thing learned from lecture today. Also one thing the student would like clarified. Next class meeting it is important to clarify commects. It is believed this procedure makes the students feel they are part of the learning process.

3. Periodically use last 5 minues of class to fill in major points of lecture.

4. Help students to see coursework as life skills.

5. Know your students, then students are embarassed if they do not do well.

6. Use student to student learning.

7. Instill in students the expectation of doing well.

8. Stickers for excellent work.

Thursday 3:00 Session

Topic of discussion on Thursday, March 26: ways of dealing with different levels of competency in the classroom. Conclusion: multi-level competency can be either a blessing or a source of anxiety for the students depending on the particular subject being taught and the way in which the course is structured. The problem cannot be fixed but perhaps there are strategies which may help the situation. Possibilities: utilize peer teaching, offer additional challenges to the gifted students, help lower-achievers to identify special strengths or areas of interest, and offer two or three testing options for the same material (such as essay, scan-tron or aural test).

HOT TOPIC: How can we motivate our students AND ourselves after mid-term?

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