Incoming Students with Strong Prior Beliefs

We often come across students who simply state, “They aren’t good at this ‘stuff.'” Having such a strong prior belief of one’s own capability can have negative effects. In particular, it can result in “fulfilling” the prophecy that they had written for themselves. How do we weaken these beliefs?

Dr. Melissa Wehler suggests 5 tips to resolve such an issue in this article. Check it out!

If your classroom was a movie genre .. what would it be?

Dr. Vincent Genareo argues that the classroom should have the same elements as a zombie movie (see article here).

According to Dr. Vincent Genareo, there are the six zombie movie characteristics that can help improve the classroom:

  1. Hook: grab the students’ attention
  2. Collaboration: implement group activities
  3. Problem Solving: allow opportunities for students to apply course material
  4. Risk-Taking: encourage students to master material despite possible failure
  5. Humor: relate to students
  6. Hope: provide feedback to students to demonstrate their progress in the course*

What movie genre is your classroom?

* I would also include in this element that you should summarize all students’ mistakes — from experience, students feel relief that they are not the only ones that made the same mistakes. This also gives you, as the instructor, a sense where your instruction may need improvement!

Activities for Engaging Students

Need fresh ideas to engage students? Take a look at this article by Dr. Lynne N. Kennette and Wes Hanzuk!

Literacy Levels

Food for thought about literacy levels in higher education.

Students’ Perception of In-Class Participation

As instructors, we have strong beliefs that in-class participation is crucial to the learning process as well as a confirmation that students understand the material. But have you ever wondered what students’ thoughts on in-class participation? In a study outlined in this article, students reported believing that in-class participation increased their engagement with the course’s content, facilitating memory of the course’s content, confirmed their knowledge of the course’s content, clarified confusion about the course’s content, and deepened their understand of the course’s content.

Mid-semester Evaluations

While student’s complete end-of-semester evaluations, these can only help you improve your teaching in the future. Early and regular feedback can help you to:

  • Improve a course immediately;
  • Get a class back on track if it isn’t going well;
  • Refine a course that is going well; and
  • Alert you to problems that some of your students may be having.

There are a variety of ways to elicit feedback from your students. TAP offers a sample mid-semester evaluation (pdf) that you can use as is or adapt.

Instead of, or in addition to, a formal mid-semester evaluation, you can ask your students for feedback more regularly. Some instructors like to ask students to write a one-minute memo at the end of each class, in which they quickly answer the questions: “What was the most important idea of today’s class?” and “What questions were you left with?”

You can also hand out slips of paper every few weeks or after major assignments and ask specific questions about the coursework or something more general, like, “Is there anything you want me to know about how the class is going for you?” Customize the questions for your particular class. For instance, if few of your students speak in class, ask them why they don’t participate and what would encourage them to do so. However you choose to ask the questions, allow your students to answer anonymously, to encourage honesty. Take feedback from your students seriously.

Keep in mind that if you ask students for their opinions but then don’t respond to those opinions in any way, they will be understandably frustrated. You may not be able to make the kind of changes your students request, but if that’s the case, you should talk to them about why it’s not possible. Be willing to implement reasonable changes, and don’t be afraid to try new teaching methods in response to student feedback.

TAP’s mid-semester evaluation template (pdf)


(This article was originally posted on 10/16/2015)

Changing the Structure for the First Day of Class

The first day of class is incredibly formulaic. We review our syllabus and typically outline our expectations and the various rules unique to our course, but we forget that undergraduates often take multiple courses. So if we are expecting students to remember all the nuances of our courses, so are others, which according to Roy Starling alters a student’s composure drastically, namely from “learning to survival.”

Instead Starling have suggested to reformat the first day of class in two different ways to prevent this from happening:

  • For the first day of class, have students engage in group work so students 1) can meet each other and 2) be introduced to the course content.
  • For the first day of class, emphasize the assignments’ reasoning instead of its requirements so students understand that the assignments are designed to help them gain certain skills.

To quiz or not to quiz

There has been quite a bit of controversy as to whether or not quizzing periodically and consistently is helpful for students.

Recent research by Batsell and colleagues (2016) has found students performed better across all three different testing conditions where tests were either identical to the quizzes throughout the semester, similar to the quizzes throughout the semester, and completely different both on wording as well as concepts from quizzes throughout the semester. Batsell and colleagues (2016) offer several reasons why this effect may be occurring such as instructor style or type of semester, but the explanation that they believe is most plausible is the daily engagement with the course material. By having scheduled quizzes, students are 1) engaging with bits of information at a time instead of gigabytes (i.e., cramming for their exam the night before) and 2) reviewing the material for a sum total longer than if quizzes were not scheduled (i.e., again not cramming for eight hours the night before).

For the primary source, see Batsell et al. (2016)

“I’m not good at this stuff.”

As ambassadors of our fields for higher education, we often face students who struggle in our courses divert blame by simply stating that they do not have the aptitude for a specific area. Research has actually found that this occurs early in childhood — where six-year-old girls lose confidence in their intelligence and believe that a story character whose gender is not specified has to a male (see BBC link). There are several strategies in combating this issue: understand the student’s foundation, make the content relatable, and simply encourage the student that the area is not solely based on aptitude but hard-work.

Have other strategies? Feel free to leave us your thoughts in a comment!

“Bad Reactions to Bad Reactions”

Mercedes Taylor, a UC Berkeley teaching assistant, offer the following  advice on how “to prevent undergraduates from reacting emotionally to ‘bad’ [lab] results and help them learn the intended concept.”

1. Be positive.

2. Walk students through the possibilities of why they ended up with the results they did.

3. Use the opportunity to discuss the philosophy of science .

Read the article. It’s worth your time.