Tweaking Your Class To Prepare for a New Semester

Tips for Tweaking Your Class as You Prepare for a New Semester

This is a good time to think about how to take a fresh approach to teaching in the fall. Sometimes just a few “tweaks” can make a course more learner-centered. Here are several ideas that consistently work in classes of any size:

Conduct an informal class survey.
Rather than waiting for end-of-semester evaluations of teaching, plan to conduct your own informal survey of teaching between the fourth and sixth weeks of class. This provides enough time for you and your students to have adjusted to the course and also allows plenty of time for you to make modifications. The following two general questions can be adapted to your particular class:

1. What about the class is helping you to master the learning objectives?
2. Please share any suggestions that you believe would help you to master the learning objectives and improve this class?

Surveys can be created in BlackBoard, where results are anonymous, students can jot down their responses and place them in an envelope in class. Soon after conducting the survey, share some of the suggestions and let students know which ones have provided valuable ideas that you are using to make modifications. Students will appreciate the fact that you value their perceptions.

Pause every 10 or 12 minutes of a lecture to engage students.
To avoid that common glazed-over look of boredom and to give students a chance to process information that has been presented in class, plan to ask a question after each 10 minutes or so of a lecture. To encourage all to participate and to prepare to respond, advise students to take a minute and jot down their responses individually. Then ask them to turn to a neighbor and discuss their responses. For more complex questions, each pair may then be asked to confer with another pair of students. You will be amazed at the energy and “buzz” of activity! In addition to helping students to activate their thinking, these Think-Pair-Share activities help them to focus on key concepts and reveal misconceptions or confusions. After a brief discussion with peers, all students—even quiet ones who never participate in class—are prepared with an answer and can be called on feeling they are being singled out.

Use “minute papers” or “muddiest point” queries any time during class.
Many students are reluctant to ask questions in class for rear of exposing their ignorance. Asking students to submit anonymous brief reflections on their learning can bring confusions or misconceptions to light. At the beginning of class, at any point during class, and/or at the end of class, ask students to respond briefly in writing to an open-ended question about what they have learned so far. Examples of questions include, “What was the most important point made in the lecture (or in your reading assignment)?” “What unanswered question do you have?” or “What is confusing about the material?” It takes only a few minutes to scan the feedback from students during a break or at the end of class. You can summarize feedback and address questions after the break, between classes on CourseWeb, or at the beginning of the next class. You can use the feedback to plan additional practice activities on important concepts and skills.

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