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Teaching Excellence Center

Circle Summaries Fall Semester 2003

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Monday 4:00 Session (no summaries)


Tuesday 3:30 Session

September: The topic of discussion for today was "Knowing if the class is understanding you". The most obvious indicator that the class is paying attention is through eye contact and facial expressions of the students. Several members said that it is also helpful to talk with students after class. One of the preferred techniques was asking for examples or input such as paraphrasing or summarizing from the students. They tend to be more alert if they suspect that you might call on them by name!

Another frequently used method to enhance understanding was having the instructor summarize or list the key points (take home message) of the lecture/discussion. Ways to incorporate student understanding of the key points include the use of "minute papers" at the end of class. The student is asked to take a minute of two to write about the most significant thing they learned in class today. Reading these responses can give the instructor great insight as to the effectiveness with which they got their message across. An alternative technique call "gem papers" takes a slightly different approach. In this situation the instructor asks the student to take a minute to write down what they didn't understand or what they wanted to learn more about. Once collected and read this information is used to develop a "mini" lecture for the beginning of the next class to clarify or expand on issues brought up by the students. Though many in the teaching circle had heard of minute papers, very few had used them and we felt challenged to try them before the next meeting.

With the advent of on-line technology a weekly quiz was thought by some to be an effective method of determining if the students understand the material. Using WebCT the quizzes may be timed to limit the number of answers the students look up. However, some members of the group felt that the process of looking up the answers was beneficial for the student as it reinforced the key concepts covered in class.

Other techniques that were discussed included small group problem-based-learning scenarios and discussion groups. This method is especially effective is both increasing student comprehension and as a method of assessing comprehension as the instructor moves from one group to another listening to and perhaps contributing briefly to their discussions. Faculty encouragement of, and periodic involvement in, study groups is also a way to determine how well the students understand you. Conferences with students or talking with students after class about what they learned that day were other methods that had been used to assess class comprehension. A good way to determine if you are presenting material in a way that students can understand is to incorporate periodic feed back from the class on your presentation.

October: We met and had a really good discussion about what is and how to become an effective teacher.  Brenda was not there and she had agreed to be our scribe and report our discussions, and no one who was there took notes in a format to distribute.  So, to update . . . yes, we met and had a great discussion!   Suzy Weems

Wednesday 3:30 Session

September Meeting: Our teaching circle met and Pat led our discussion of the topic of plagiarism. We used some excerpts from a national teaching listserver to get our discussion started. Some thoughts exressed in the excerpts were that many faculty don't realize how prevalent plagiarism is because they don't really look for it; plagiarism has entered a new level of existence with the Internet; many students (perhaps honestly) claim that they didn't know they were plagiarizing.

Our group had all had experience catching students who had plagiarized. Student responses to the evidence ranged from claiming they didn't know better to unconcerned admittance of their deed. We also discussed the new university academic integrity policy and agreed that was a positive step so that students couldn't claim more than once to be ignorant.

Lauren brought two handouts (one short and one more flushed out) that faculty at other universities had developed to illustrate proper and improper use of another's work / ideas. We discussed whether or not we should take the time in class to go over examples and explain plagiarism in detail. Ken suggested that it should be required material for all ENG 131 classes. Of course, some students place out of that class or transfer it in.

An extensive website has been developed at Texas A&M that covers multiple aspects of plagiarism. The site has a faculty section, defining plagiarism and giving ideas on how to prevent plagiarism in your classes, and a student section that gives explanations and examples of good practice in referencing materials, and provides links and information about avoiding plagiarism. The URL for the site is:

October Meeting: In October, our circle discussed attendance policies. In order to get everyone thinking about th topic and to share a variety of ideas, Lauren sent everyone a group of listserv responses from the PSYTEACH listserv. The email that got the thread started is below. If you would like the whole group of emails, please email Lauren at

I am interested in hearing from others about their ideas for or against having an attendance policy. I assume we all want to help our students get the most out of our classes, while encouraging them to put their best into class.How can we give our students the best chance for success in our classes, while at the same time treating them like the adults they are? What do youthink? Annette

Annette Morgan
Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina-Pembroke

November Meeting: In November, our circle discussed "Professor where are you from?" -- i.e. how much personal info do we share with students and how should we handle the personal questions. Again Lauren shared some emails from the PSYTEACH listserv.

To start the thread:

What do all of you say in response to students who ask you "personal" questions such as:

1) Professor where are you from? What is your ethnicity? 2) Professor are you married? 3) Professor do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend? 4) Professor do you have children? 5) Professor where do you live? 6) Professor what is your religious affiliation? etc.

now some questions are relevant such as how long wehave been teaching (another common question). But are some other types of questions above also relevant? I am often asked these types of questions that seem personal and also seem to have no relevance to the course I am teaching. What is the best way to respond to such student questions? What do the rest of you say to a student when asked about your personal information? Do you answer? I would appreciate all feedback regarding this issue also.

Payam Heidary, M.A.

December Meeting: In December, our circle discussed student excuses. As before, Lauren shared several emails from the PSYTEACH listserv. The thread was started with the following. The group of emails had a large variety of responses and methods by which different faculty handled excuses and make-ups.

Payam Heidary recently drew our attention to the following article:

Caron, M. D., Whitbourne, S. K., & Halgin, R. P. (1992). Fraudulent excuse making among college students. Teaching of Psychology, 19, 90-93.

(The study was done at U. Mass., Amherst.)

The upshot of the article is that 68% of students admit to having usedfraudulent excuses in order to miss and exam or obtain an extension on an assignment at least once during their college careers. 35% of them admit to having done it within the past semester. This is not quite the same as the claim that 68% of excuses are fraudulent. The authors, unfortunately, do not answer that question directly. It is possible from the data they present, however, to estimate the answer to that question. By manipulating the numbers provided in the article, the estimate I have come up with is 47% -- NEARLY HALF of the excuses made by students are fraudulent.

More than interesting...
Christopher D. Green
Department of Psychology, York University

Friday 12:30 Session

September: The teaching circle meet today for the 1st session. Micheal Doughty wins the beginners luck award so far. He made 2 really good pots on the wheel today! Everyone else was close behind. Connie D. remarked that being in the place of a student instead of being the authority figure in an area of learning was very eye opening for her. Linda B. pointed out the importance of breaking a lengthy process down onto more streamlined steps or parts as being a valuable teaching tool. Jennifer S. noted that those simple steps need to be "orchestrated" in order to build meaning, or in this case the ability to physically make a pot.

And, notes from Connie:


Thanks so much for today. I really DID get a lot out of our meeting. Here are some thoughts for your report regarding "being in the student's place." I teach these concepts to my pre-service teachers, but often forget to apply them when I am teaching them.

October: Our teaching circle centered on "frustration levels" in October! We continued learning how to throw clay and in the process gained an appreciation for how students can become frustrated when learning new tasks. I think everyone involved in the circle reintroduced themselves to the student role--a role we sometimes forget once we've been teaching information that seems easy to us (of course, it seems easy because we have been doing it for N years!). We also discussed how it was difficult to explain "how to's" to students when engaging in the activity itself is how a student learns.

November: The Throwing circle meet on Friday. Poor Tracy went home sick so she missed out on the fun. Instead of working on the wheel one on one with the students assistances I had arranged we decided to hand build. In no less than an hour we worked on all three major hand building techniques. By comparison hand building is much more relaxing. Each person also had more of an opportunity to explore his or her individual creativity in terms of surface designs or applied texture. For instance Micheal D. used the same tool to create 3 different textures. Since there were already several ceramic students there, they pitched in and taught the Professors. Kate Sprague (one of our pre-service art teachers) taught all of us how to make clay whistles. We were also more able to maintain a free flowing conversation and had an opportunity to listen to the thoughts and concerns of the students who were present. Pottery from previous sessions have been glazed and fired and is ready to be picked up. The next and last session will be on Friday, December 12 @12:30. Anita

December: Well, the last pottery teaching circle consisted of Doyle and Connie coming by to visit and pick up most of their finished pots. Having one more session this late was really pushing it as everyone is so busy at this time of year. I would like to remind you all to come by and get your pieces as soon as possible. I have most of them in the corner studio in the ceramic area on the bottom of the short, black metal shelf against the wall in the center of the room. An email would be the best way contact me. Again, thank you for attending the circle and for your enthusiasm, ideas and input. Anita

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