Focusing on your Learners by Involving them in the Process (FLIP)

An article by Dr. Barbi Honeycutt about three ways we can “FLIP” a classroom without technology or what she calls “unplugged”: 3 Ways You Can Use Index Cards to FLIP Your Class: Another ‘Unplugged’ Flipped Strategy

Using Learning Goals

As instructors, we all want our students to learn; identifying and assessing what has been learned is key to making sure we achieve our goals and that our students benefit.

What is a learning goal?

A learning goal, or learning outcome, is what we want our students to get out of the course. At the university level, these goals unite traditional liberal arts and research goals with the demands for success post-undergraduate in the 21st century. At the individual classroom level, learning goals contribute to this larger mission while also attending specifically to the mission of the individual department and the individual course. These outcomes might come in the form of content mastery or skills knowledge, in a broad variety of areas. For example, learning outcomes in an introductory biology course will likely include knowledge about basic biological facts, like cell processes, but will also include knowledge and experience in proper lab conduct—both of which are crucial for future success in the sciences.

How to define learning goals

As instructors, we do want our students to learn certain things in certain ways, as well as to be able to do certain things. By framing these “things” as learning goals, we articulate more specifically what they are, how they can be attained, and whether or not our students have attained them. Some considerations in articulating learning goals are the appropriateness of the goal to the level of the course, what is the content students should know, and what skills you want them to have.

In an introductory course, learning goals will be different from what they will be in an advanced course—both in content and skills. While an introductory course might focus on learning how to do a close reading or how to act properly in a lab, an advanced course might focus on centralized higher order skills like contextual critical analysis or designing research projects. Content too is based on skill level, a 100-level course might ask for familiarity, while a 300-level course might ask for mastery. Articulating these goals prior to the start of the course will define the path the course takes, from readings, to assignments, to how classroom time is spent.

Once learning outcomes have been defined for the course, instructors can also break these goals into smaller chunks that together will equal the larger goals. In other words, the overall learning goal becomes point Z, and this breakdown draws the map to get there from point A, the start of the semester.

Making these points evident can strengthen teaching and provide important landmarks for students as they move through the course. For example, by breaking down “improve chemistry lab skills” into constituent parts, like “master two substance titration” both instructor and student will be able to more clearly mark progress.

Assessing learning Goals

Throughout the semester, it is crucial to assess and also provide opportunities for students to self-assess whether progress is made towards learning goals. These can range from traditional exams, to indirect assessments such as surveys and informal writing assignments. Peer and self-assessments can also encourage students to reflect on their own role in the learning process. By designing assessments based on your already articulated learning goals, continuity can be established, and learning processes can be improved.

 

 

Working with Different Levels of Academic Preparation

Most classes include students of varying levels of academic preparation. At first, it may seem an insurmountable task to make class time worthwhile for both academically-prepared and under-prepared students. This challenge, however, can be addressed with several techniques.

Know Your Students
It is not possible to address various student needs until you know what those needs are. There are several ways to accomplish this.

  • Solicit feedback during class by encouraging student responses and class discussion.
  • Give regular assignments that require students to demonstrate understanding, not just repetition.
  • Give a pretest. This test, given before material is covered may help to set a baseline for what students know and understand, and can help you tailor future class sessions to meet student needs.
  • Administer attendance quizzes. Attendance quizzes are given for 5 minutes at the end of a lecture and do not affect student grades. They serve as a day-to-day litmus test of how successfully students have learned that day’s material. Allow students to use their notes. After an attendance quiz, sort solutions by common mistakes, and address those mistakes by email or in the next class.

While none of these ideas will work perfectly in every class, experiment until you find which feedback techniques work best in your particular setting.

Planning Lectures
Once you know the needs of your students, you face a new question: for what level students do you plan the lecture?

If you change between easier and more challenging material frequently, you run the risk of confusing your students. If a class is tailored to leave absolutely no student behind, students with more advanced preparation will quickly become bored. If a class is tailored to meet the needs of the most advanced students, much of the class will not have the background to understand the lecture and may become frustrated. To resolve these issues, many experienced instructors recommend leading a class so that it is aimed to the middle of classroom preparation. This way, as much of the class as possible understands what is going on.

Providing Extra Resources
No matter what level class is conducted at, at least initially you will have multiple levels of student backgrounds to address. Providing the extra resources needed to address students’ needs outside the classroom is important as well.

A first easy step is to be aware of tutoring and learning centers that can assist your students. When students ask for help, having this material readily available from the beginning will enable them to quickly get the help that they need.

You may wish to collect both remedial and enrichment material to assist and to challenge as many students as possible. This may be distributed in several ways. You may choose to assign readings on multiple levels. As the semester progresses, you may wish to distribute additional resources through a class website or Sakai page as well.

Final Comments
Although teaching a diversely prepared classroom may at first seem intimidating, it does not have to be an insurmountable task. Make sure that your classroom policies are helpful to all students, and be prepared to provide extra materials, but most of all, be approachable to help students of all backgrounds find and make use of the material they really need.

 

Course Design seminar

Designing Your Own Course (16:186:856) was created to help students design and develop materials for a course which they might someday teach.

Topics to be covered include:

  • establishing learning goals
  • lecturing
  • class discussions
  • active learning
  • assignment design
  • assessment
  • setting course policies

This seminar:

  • is 0-credits
  • graded satisfactory/unsatisfactory
  • will appear on your transcript
  • will not incur additional fees

Class meets the first twelve weeks of the semester on Wednesdays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the College Avenue Campus.

Prerequisites: 

  • open to doctoral students only
  • at least two semesters of college teaching experience at Rutgers
  • OR
  • have taken  Introduction to College Teaching (16:186:855)

To request a special permission number, contact the TA Project with your name and RUID.

The Teaching Portfolio

In your first semester of teaching or serving as a TA, you should begin to collect materials for a teaching portfolio. A teaching portfolio provides a profile of you as a teacher. It is a solid collection of evidence detailing the effectiveness of your teaching and reflections on that evidence.

An increasing number of colleges and universities are using teaching portfolios to help them make hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions. A teaching portfolio can also help faculty members write reference letters for you, as they will be able to see exactly how and why you’ve been teaching and tailor their reference letters accordingly. While a teaching portfolio can help you get a job, it can also help with teaching awards and research grants. With time, a teaching portfolio will document the evolution of your teaching and will aid your personal and professional development.

For every course you teach, you should take notes that describe the course, how you taught it, and why you taught it the way you did. Gather syllabi, copies of any assignments you created, including exams and paper topics, and any handouts you made. Your portfolio should also include evaluations of your teaching. In addition to student ratings or evaluations, you can ask a faculty member to observe your class and write an evaluation. If you attend a workshop, take a course related to teaching, or participate in any other activities to improve your pedagogical skills, document it in your portfolio. Evidence of an interest in teaching and efforts to develop your teaching skills may make you stand out as a job candidate. The Center for Teaching Advancement & Assessment Research (CTAAR) have information on creating your teaching portfolio.

Teaching Portfolio workshop

As you prepare for an academic job search, you will need to develop a teaching portfolio. Attend this session to learn the best way to do so. Special attention will be given to writing your teaching philosophy.

Date: Tuesday, April 12
Time: 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Location: Room 411ABC, College Avenue Student Center, CAC

Register online

Academic Integrity

Preparing for the End of the Semester

The end of the semester puts pressure on TAs in many ways. In addition to your own research, your students feel pressure as finals approach, and thus they may demand more of your time and energy. However, the end of semester crunch can be made more bearable with some planning.

Make sure your students understand end of semester expectations.
Inform students about the format of final exams and/or projects. Let them know if these requirements will be cumulative or only cover recent material.

Often final exams take place in a different location than where class normally meets. Make sure that students understand where and when their exam will take place.

Be clear and consistent with your grading policies.
To make up for lower grades earlier in the semester, students may ask to turn in late work, or request to complete work for extra credit.  If you have agreed to accept late/extra-credit work, then do so. However, do not feel pressured to bend the rules.

Encourage your students to manage time well.
If a project will come due during the final weeks of class, encourage your students to avoid procrastination. Remind students that a little bit of work every day or every week adds up.

Plan ahead to help your students study for final exams.
If possible, hold an in-class review session during the last day of class. This allows students to get their questions answered without having to alter their schedule. It will also give you a feeling for how prepared your students are for the final.

Furthermore, plan ahead to hold review sessions. If other TAs are assigned to the same course as you, you may choose to cross-advertise review sessions to accommodate more students’ schedules.

Clarify grading expectations.
If you are teaching for another professor, make sure that your grading standards are consistent with those of your professor and with other TAs for the course. If you will be expected to do a lot of grading, don’t necessarily expect yourself to grade it all at once; grade in small batches as needed.

Schedule time to get your own work done.
Your teaching is important, but your research is your primary focus. Despite student demands, make sure to plan ahead for uninterrupted time to keep up with your own deadlines. Remember that you must continue to make progress on your research to maintain your appointment as a TA.

Schedule time away from work.
Although your students’ needs and your own work will most likely require a large amount of time and energy, remember to take some time to relax as well. If you reach the point of exhaustion or become sick, it will be even harder to assist students or make progress on your research.

Make sure to be aware of your own needs and to take care of yourself as you push towards the end of the year. If needed, contact your advisor, department chair, or dean for help. Also, the Rutgers counseling center is readily available to discuss any confidential concerns you may have during this stressful time of the year.

 

(This re-post originally appeared on 10/16/2015)

TAing does make a difference

Study suggests grad students may outperform faculty members in the classroom and may also benefit from time away from their dissertations.” (From Inside Higher Ed.)

 

Encouraging Classroom Participation

When students have the opportunity to react to material during class time, the instructor gets immediate feedback on how material is being received. Also, from the students’ perspective, the oft-quoted proverb holds true: “Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand.”

But how can a TA encourage students to participate? Listed below are several suggestions that experienced instructors have used successfully.

Bring a positive attitude

Realize that your attitude can make a huge difference in how students respond to you. Invite questions and genuinely listen when students participate. Make a point to smile at your students. If students perceive you to be an inviting instructor they will be more at ease in responding.

Learn students’ names

Use students’ names when talking to them or calling on them in class. In large courses this may be more easily said than done. However, when students notice that an instructor knows who they are, they feel valued. A student who feels valued will feel more comfortable in the classroom and be more likely to actively participate.

Take a poll

An easy way to test student understanding and intuition without putting one student “on the spot” is to take a poll. Ask a question and offer several possible answers. Have students answer by raising their hands. A student who observes that others agree with them may be less shy about speaking up to defend their answer. This is also a fast and easy way to check that students understand the material.

Red light, green light

In a large section, it may be difficult to include many activities or detailed discussions that require every student to participate, but this does not mean that class time cannot be an engaging experience. At the beginning of the term, give each student red, yellow, and green note cards. Students are responsible to bring the note cards back to each class.

During the lecture, if students understand what is going on, they should place the green card on the front of their desk. If they somewhat follow the material, but have many questions, they should use the yellow card. If students are completely lost, they should place the red card on their desk. This activity puts more responsibility in the hands of the class to give accurate assessment of how well they follow the material being discussed. It is also an unobtrusive way to solicit instant feedback.

Give an “attendance quiz”

Consider giving a quiz at the end of lecture that does not count towards the student grade. Ask only one or two short questions and allow students to use their notes. Emphasize that the quiz will not affect their grade other than to show that they were present. This will give feedback on how well students processed the information gleaned from class, and will encourage them to actively pay attention.

Have students teach each other

As time allows, break students into smaller groups and have them work on an exercise together. When students work in groups, stronger students may learn by explaining concepts to weaker students, and their knowledge will be solidified. Weaker students may be more comfortable asking questions of their peers than of the instructor. Mix up the groups with each discussion.

Have students grade each other

For some assignments, allow students to grade their own work, or exchange assignments and grade a peer’s work. Seeing why answers are right or wrong while the topic is fresh in students’ minds helps to reinforce course material. Peer grading also encourages students to be alert and engaged during discussion so that they grade correctly. This tactic has the added advantage that it saves you grading time; however, you may also choose to spot check students’ grading.

Use discussion questions creatively

Shyer students may feel self-conscious during class discussion, but there are several ways to circumvent this nervousness. Consider handing out discussion questions in advance so that students have the chance to gather their thoughts before coming to class. Alternately, ask students to submit possible discussion questions a day or two in advance. Then, class can be tailored to student interest and needs.

Remember that not every method will be successful in every classroom

Each new group of students will have techniques that work better for their unique dynamic. However, adding variety to the classroom dynamic will help keep students on their toes and more likely to be active participants in the class.

As you set the tone for your students this semester, remember, finding new ways to involve your students in class will take more planning. The payoff of an interactive and engaging learning atmosphere, however, is well worth the effort.