Small Teaching Changes with Big Effects

James Lang, author of Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons From the Science of Learning has been doing a series of posts over at the Chronicle on small changes you can make that can have big effects on your teaching. Its a great series and worth checking out.  He is an English professor, but the techniques he discusses transcend disciplines and are certainly useful in political science.  Here’s a brief synopsis of the posts in the series:

Before Class Starts: Lang writes, “those warm-up minutes actually represent a fertile opportunity. I can use the time to enhance the learning that will take place in the hour that follows, to build a more positive atmosphere for class discussion, or simply to get to know my students a little better.”  One concrete suggestion is put the agenda for the day on the board and leave it there, so students can see how the session is mapped out.

The First 5 minutes of class-Lang discusses four techniques here: opening with a foundational or provocative question; asking what students learned last time to prime them for the new material; ask them what they already know–from previous classes or other experiences–on the topic of the day; and having students write down their responses as a ‘low stakes’ writing activity.

Building connections-find ways to ‘thicken’ connections between the material students are learning in class, and everyday life.  One method is by having students keep a ‘commonplace book’–either in a notebook, online course system, or over social media–where they take ten minutes to record their thoughts on how the lessons of the day connect to their real lives or society, media they’ve consumed, or other course lessons.

The Last 5 minutes of class–how to avoid wasting this time with rushing through material or announcements as students back up, and turning into useful time that promotes synthesis and learning.  One technique is the minute paper, which we discussed here a few weeks ago.

This is really a great series, chock full of ideas you can implement immediately in your classrooms.  Check out the linked originals and be sure to leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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