While I don’t comment on student writing nearly as much as some professors do, I expect students to at least read what I do write. A colleague recently pointed out that our Canvas LMS displays a date stamp at the top right of the Speedgrader web page when a student has viewed a previously-submitted assignment after an instructor has commented on it. I had never noticed this before, I guess because the date stamp’s font is rather small. Here it is, indicated by the red arrow:
This feature became very useful in a course in which students are required to write a series of memos that all have the same format. Last week, a student taking the course sent me this email:
I’m not sure what is expected from the assignments, my memo 3 was completely different from 2 yet your comment says see comments about memo 2. I am a second semester senior doing grad classes that had a 3.6 gpa last semester. Somehow I’m failing every single assignment in a freshman level class, while still attending every single class except one and participating in class basically every session.
I looked at the student’s submissions for memos 1, 2, and 3 — no date stamp. My comments had been ignored. My reply to the student’s email:
The memo is a standard method of efficiently communicating information that is used in a wide variety of professional environments. I’m surprised you haven’t yet had much of an opportunity to practice this form of writing, so here is what I am willing to do: you can earn up to 10 points by emailing me by noon on Friday a memo that discusses how well you incorporated my feedback on your Memo 1, provided by my comments on your work on Canvas, into your Memo 2, and the same for Memo 3 in respect to my comments on your Memo 2.
Completion of my “extra credit opportunity” would have required the student to admit that he had not read my comments and thus ignored the feedback I had provided.
As I wrote back in December, I decided to continue using the Quality of Failure essay as a final meta-cognitive reflection. But given the course’s emphasis on community engagement this semester, I thought I should modify the assignment a bit, in part by tying it to a classroom activity: map-making. A few weeks ago I had each student draw a map of the local community — the place where most live for eight semesters prior to graduation. The purpose of this exercise was to make them aware of the fact that their knowledge of the people who live nearby — their neighbors, in a sense — is quite limited. After some discussion, I collected the maps. Toward the end of the course, I will have students draw the same map, then return the first version so they can see how their thinking has changed. I hope this process will generate some awareness about how the meaning of “community” can differ, even among people living in close proximity to one another.
I will continue using the somewhat tried-and-true knowledge plan and quality of failure essays, but I am going to modify them yet again. I want these assignments to push students toward the realization that they need to take responsibility for their learning by evaluating how and why it happens, instead of assuming that they can displace this task entirely onto me. However, I still see a large portion of students responding to these meta-cognitive prompts without much thought, as if they are following a recipe in a cookbook.
So I have condensed the questions that I ask in these assignments even further, making them more open-ended, in the hope that it will force students to exert more effort in examining their own attitudes and behaviors.
The knowledge plan prompt now reads as:
Plan for this course by writing a 2-3 page essay (double-spaced, equivalent to 11 or 12 point font) that answers these questions:
As an increasingly senior (i.e., “older”) faculty member, professional development efforts–whether my own or those intended for others — occupy more of my time and attention than they used to. People here began a more formalized mentoring program for junior faculty about a year ago, and recently I was one of the people called upon to dispense wisdom about teaching to some of our recent hires.
Instead of just talking at them, I decided to demonstrate some teaching via active learning by using Simon’s ABC exercise: I asked the mentees to write down on Post-It notes what they wanted to abandon, begin, and continue about their own teaching and then stick their notes on the wall. Here is a compilation of the results: Continue reading “The ABCs of Mentoring”
As my American colleagues know, the UK is a socialist paradise and it’s one of the reasons they’re all coming over later this month (the other is our workshop, which you can book a space at here).
One of the many great consequences of our enlightened political choices is the notion of ‘bank holidays’, days especially chosen to have poor weather, so that us Brits can really indulge in moaning about rain. We love it.
This weekend past was, unfortunately, a very poor example, as the sun shone for a full three days, but I braved it all, to go on a short family break on the South Coast. This included a Sunday lunch in a small pub, where (it turned out) a recent graduate of my fine university was one of the people serving us. Continue reading “Encouraging student feedback”
Reading Peter Scott’s piece in the Guardian today, I was struck once again by the continuing failure of policy-makers in the UK to define a clear and consistent approach to British Higher Education. While I don’t think that’s just a UK problem, as Chad’s numerous posts here can attest, it’s one that impacts more directly on my professional experience.
In essence, Scott argues that the nominal drive towards ‘improving standards’ is fatally undermined by the lack of clarity about what ‘standards’ consists of, and about who sets and checks them. Financial implications and the pressures of a globalising market make it hard to gain university-level buy-in.
Last night, I noticed my small notebook where I keep a note of all my ‘proper’ cycles (i.e. not the commuting stuff): it’s been three months since I last rode out in anger. At the same time, I also note it’s been pretty much the same length of time since I stopped being an Associate Dean.
The techniques in this series generally serve three purposes. Activities like lecture summaries and the muddiest point are generally classified as assessment techniques–methods that help an instructor check and see whether students are understanding the lesson. This is useful, but secondary to the purpose that I see them fill: when students know that they are going to be assessed at a certain point in the lesson, they have a greater incentive to
pay attention. And the process of writing down or orally reporting on what they understand or their greatest points of interest requires them to check in on their own learning. In this sense, the fact that students turn in work that instructors can quickly check to get data on understanding and comprehension is just gravy.
Today’s technique, the Minute Paper, is a great example of a tool that hits all three of these benefits.
Transforming students from passive listeners into actively engaged learners need not be a grand task that requires extensive planning. It can start with a simple decision to reserve a short period of class to review and clarify the lessons of the day. Taking us beyond the relative uselessness of just asking whether anyone has any questions, and seeing none, moving on, the ‘Muddiest Point’ technique requires students to actually think through what they do and do not understand, and forces us as instructors to ensure that comprehension is universal.