Discussion: Want to Improve your Teaching? Be Organized.

AJ kicked off the meeting by discussing the article, “Teaching Clearly Can Be a Deceptively Simple Way to Improve Learning,” by Dan Berrett published in the November 22, 2013 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education.  The article discussed how teaching clearly is basic to improving student learning.  This conclusion was drawn from an analysis of 3 studies that looked at how organization and clarity of professors is connected to deeper student learning.

The group then talked about different strategies we use in our attempts to explain things clearly and be organized in our teaching.  The strategies included:

  • When you explain a concept, have the students reflect it back or explain it to you.  This not only serves as a check for student understanding, but improves the chances of students who initially didn’t understand now “getting it” since it has been explained in more than one way.
  • At the beginning of class, tell the students your plan and goals for the class.  Write the goals on the whiteboard or project them on the screen if possible.  Check back in along the way so they see how they are accomplishing those goals.
  • At the beginning of class, ask students to tell you what they need to know in order to do their assignment.  Structure the class around their stated needs.
  • Give yourself time markers when you plan the class so you know how long different sections and activities should take and you don’t end up rushing through parts.  Be sure to build in some flexibility, too, and be prepared to sacrifice some content if students end up needing more time on a concept than you intially planned.
  • Give students time markers.  For example, tell them how long they have for an active learning activity and then give them a 1 minute warning before the end of that activity so they can wrap-up.
  • Use a variety of examples and illustrations to explain a point, recognizing that students have different backgrounds and different approaches to learning.
  • One example of how to explain the difference between formats is to show them a journal article, magazine article, newspaper article, and blog post and ask them to tell you which is which, how they know and possibly when different types of information might be useful to their research.
  • Watch other people teach so you don’t get stale in your own teaching.  This is a way to find new ideas to organize your classes and explain difficult concepts.

We also discussed time constraints, which is a problem everyone faces with one-shots. It is hard to build in repetition (so that you explain the same concept in more than one way), formative assessment (to check on student understanding as you go) and even summative assessment (to check on understanding at the end of the class so you can follow-up later and change things next time) into one-shots because of this time constraint.  However, it isn’t impossible and we discussed some useful approaches such as asking students to post resources they find during active learning into a GoogleDoc you can review right away, or taking a few minutes at the end of class to have them write 3 things they learned or the muddiest point.  Krystal mentioned that LIS has a book called “Classroom Assessment Techniques” on our shelf that anyone is welcome to borrow and she is also available to consult with anyone who wants to build assessment into their class.

One outcome of this RIOT is that we decided to start each one with a 15 minute discussion of things we are doing in the classroom in order to learn from each other and get new ideas.  These will be captured in the blog posts and categorized as active learning, assessment and/or “in the classroom” so we can easily find them again.  In addition, people want to observe LIS teaching so we will make that happen in the spring.

 

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