We’ve Had Writing Day–Now It’s Reading Day

March 2 is reading day.  Unlike the National Day on Writing, this celebration centers on K-12 readers.  But these readers–and nonreaders–grow up to be MU students, and it’s sobering to note that the 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress indentified only 34% of 12th-graders as reading proficient.

On a happier note, Reading Rockets invites your to send free e-cards designed by noted children’s book illustrators.


Should we grade student participation?

I’m posting this link in lieu of this week’s teaching tip, since I’m down in Richmond learning to create online seminars. I’m really hoping you all will share your opinions and practices on student participation.

What’s Your Paper-Grading Practice?

Hofstra University fine arts professor Laurie Fendrich outlines how she tackles a stack of student essays in “4 days, 40 papers.” Team-teaching a large lecture course, Fendrich assigned one small essay, wrote all over it (too much IMHO), asked for a revision, and then awarded checks with plus or minus.  This assignment, however, she’s grading. It’s a 2-3 page essay.

In brief, she skims first, mostly intros and conclusions.  Then she reads a few papers carefully.

She reads 10 essays a day, three at a time before a break.  She allots 10 minutes per page for reading and commenting.  She puts them in piles: best, middle, worst.  She vets best and worst again, then divides the huge middle pile into its own best/middle/worst based most only her comments.

Finally, she assigns grades by pile.

How does her process compare to yours?

Gives New Meaning to “Voice” in Writing

For almost four years movie critic Roger Ebert has been unable to speak, but he escapes his own silence by writing.  Chris Jones has written a poignant profile of the Pulitzer Prize winner for Esquire.

WI Workshops

See the schedule on the writing page at this blog!

Teaching Tip #6: Losing Time, Finding Creativity

So, looking at your syllabus right now, you may be shaking your head and wondering how in the world you are going to “make up” for lost class time.   Important concepts still need to be explored, tests given, papers written and chapters read.  How can we make lemonade from this lemon of a winter? I like to think of this situation as an opportunity to be creative.

How will you decide what to do?

First of all, this kind of scenario forces us to do some careful thinking about what is most important in our courses.  Which concepts are most difficult for students to master?  Where do they really need your help?  Which information can they get themselves outside of class?  It’s time to focus on your primary goals.  If your class time is overstuffed with content, give yourself permission to unstuff it now; you may find your teaching becomes more effective.

If you don’t decide to schedule additional class time, this can be an opportunity to help students become more independent learners.  Some possibilities include

1)      Give students study questions you want them to be able to answer based on the readings, and have them bring their answers to class.  Or, just have them identify the areas in the reading they did not understand. Have students meet in pairs or small groups to answer each others’ questions and make sure everyone comprehends the material.  Your job is to move from group to group, probing responses, helping groups stay on task, and monitoring their learning.  When you find a topic that all the groups struggle with, you can stop the groups for a moment for a larger discussion or a mini-lecture.   This way, you only have to talk about the most difficult concepts.

2)      If you are planning to ask students to view a video on their own time, help them watch more critically. Preview the types of information you want them to pay attention to, or give students a list of questions based on the video.  Otherwise, it’s very easy to get into a passive viewing mode and not really pay that much attention.  If you need to show a video in one of your remaining classes, is it possible to show only the most important clips?  If so, focusing on them also will keep students more engaged and take less time.

3)      Washington is full of experts in all of our fields.  Could your students interview (in-person, via email or on the phone) an expert about one of your course topics and then report to the class via a presentation, posting to a class wiki or journal, or writing a report?  In fact, using technology like Skype, they don’t have to be limited to our area.  Going to museums or exhibits and talking to curators or tour guides (or writing their own tour guide) works too.

What about using technology?  Clearly, this won’t work for hands on classes e.g. design studios, labs, etc.  But for discussion or lecture-based classes, online options abound.

1)      Discussion boards can use the same types of questions posed for in class sessions.  Create threads for each topic and require students to post responses to the question as well as commenting on others’ posts.  MU faculty who use this technique have developed clear guidelines for what constitutes an appropriate post, how many posts students are required to make, and how these posts will be evaluated.  For example, commenting on a student post has to be more than just “I agree with Jennifer” but must add evidence or a new point to the discussion.

2)      If you want to have an online discussion, the BB virtual classroom or chat function can be used for real time chat.  If you use the whiteboard in the classroom e.g. for working problems, you have that functionality in BB.

3)      Screencasting:  Create a narrated powerpoint using Camtasia.  If you’d like to play with Camtasia yourself, you can download a free 30-day trial at http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.asp.   If you’re not a do-it-yourself type, contact e-learning services.  Make sure that you have students bring in summaries, notes, or give quizzes to make sure that they are using the screencast.  Even better, use class time for activities that require students to access your screencast in order to be successful.

These are just a few ideas.   Please post your creative plans for making up “lost” class time for your colleagues to share.  It would be great to have a collection we can all draw from!

Teaching Tip #5: Homework Blues?

It’s only February 2nd and already some students are behind in their reading or other assignments.  If you mention the standard Carnegie definition of a credit hour (one hour in class plus two hours outside of class for each credit) many students look at you with horror or incredulity (the ones who don’t just laugh).  What’s a dedicated professor to do?   There are a number of strategies to try, but they all come down to one basic principle: make it matter.

  • Do NOT “cover” reading assignments during a lecture.  This makes reading completely unnecessary, and time-pressed students figure this out immediately.
  • Use class time to elaborate on the assignment, give additional examples, clarify difficult points or apply material to different problems.  Try to incorporate reading assignments and other homework into the structure of the class. Students who see their work being used, or who share it with peers, are more likely to stay current.
  • Ask students to write: a summary of their assigned reading; a question they have about an assignment; the most difficult part about the homework problem; or any question of your choice, and bring this response to class before you talk about it.  Such responses give you a sense of where students are struggling, and you can target your comments accordingly.  These types of writing assignments also can form the basis for discussion, and they are a great way to infuse “writing to learn” into any classroom.  Grading is optional.  You might choose to use these assignments as part of a class participation grade, or they can be used to document attendance.  Have students fully attended the class if they haven’t done their preparation?
  • Use technology!  Ask students to respond to questions or post the types of responses described above on the Blackboard discussion board.  You will want to have a deadline for these that allows you to review their responses in a timely manner, so you can use them as part of the class.  Students can respond to each others’ posts as well.  (Structuring this type of online activity usually needs to be worked into your course syllabus prior to the semester starting in order to be most effective.)
  • If you find that you are assigning readings or other homework that you aren’t really using in class or asking students to apply in their work, consider whether that assignment is really necessary.  Perhaps changing the reading or the task will make it more effective, or maybe it’s time to come up with something new, or spend the time on something else.
  • Make sure that you allow enough time for students to complete your assignments and really master them  –  you might ask your students how long they are spending on readings or problems and adjust your assignments accordingly.  Asking for this information can also let you know whether students are using a very superficial approach to their work or really getting into it. This is an excellent clicker question by the way – students don’t have to be embarrassed about their own answer and can see what the rest of the class is doing.
  • Discuss with students why you chose particular readings or designed particular assignments, so they have some idea of the benefits you expect them to reap from doing the work.  Then, let them know how to approach assignments effectively.  For example, students do not automatically know how to read college level texts, and they benefit from instructions that help them read more deeply.  Consider a reading guide with higher level questions that ask them to consider the author’s intention, questions they expect the author to address, their reactions to the reading, identification of the main points, etc.  Questions obviously will depend on the students’ level and your teaching goals.   For problem sets or design assignments, discuss how to attack a new problem and consider asking students to keep a journal where they record their attempts.  Reviewing students’ descriptions of their attempts to complete an assignment can give you tremendous insight into where students are going wrong.
  • Sometimes students seem to think that you just won’t notice (or care) that they are not keeping up. Then they get so far behind they become the “disappearing student”. Nip this in the bud now!  Contact students in whatever way you feel comfortable and let them know that you ARE paying attention, you HAVE noticed their absence or lack of preparation and what needs to happen NOW.  You can’t turn every student around, but research on early warning systems indicates that direct, personal intervention can be effective.  Generalized statements to the class and/or assuming the student will notice the problem and turn him or herself around generally do not work!

How do you help students stay on track in your classes?