As we ready for the new academic year teachers we reviewing our course syllabi and readying for new students. Some classes are large, some are online, others are blended or hybrid courses with some teaching on line and some face-to-face. Regardless of the delivery model, there are still three critical characteristics that directly influence students’ learning.
- Be Kind
The preponderance of research on learning and cognition confirm the importance of teachers creating “ a climate conducive to learning.” Humans learn more effectively when they have a sense of social, physical and psychological safety…and the first week of classes is, especially for our first year students, a time of fear and trepidation.
Students arrive in our classrooms nervous, unsure whether they have the knowledge and skills to succeed; afraid they may not be smart enough or disciplined enough to “make it” in this class. The first day of class is the most important class session of the quarter because it is shape their attitudes and perceptions about you as a teacher and the relevancy and difficulty of the course. There are several strategies teachers use to create a classroom climate that facilitates learning.
a) On the first day, introduce yourself to your students in a way that goes beyond your qualifications to teach the class…let them see the person who is their teacher. Explain how it is your responsibility to guide them intellectually from place A to place B, and that this is a collaborative endeavor: with hard work they will achieve.
b) Establish routines – Structure provides students with a sense of predictability.
c) Hook your students at the beginning of every class: tell a funny story, give a cool demonstration, deploy a clicker review. This ignites the brain and prepares it to integrate new knowledge. (A pop quiz would not fit into this category; quizzes are meant to support the learning and are therefore either planned or at the end of a class session.)
d) Incorporate cooperative learning – When humans think, talk and apply knowledge they are constructing the neural pathways that allow knowledge to be retained and accessed. Cooperative learning especially contributes to a climate conducive to learning when teachers, over the quarter, require students to meet with a variety of classmates (Find a person who is from another place in the world than you and answer this question.)
e) Never grade on the curve. When student scores are organized into a bell curve there is an assumption that some students must fail…even if they did very well on the exam. A more ethical method of grading compares students to proficiency standards rather than to one another. This requires us, as teachers, to carefully analyze our exams and assignments to be sure they are capturing the type of thinking and application of knowledge we expect at certain points in the course, and in the program. With well designed assessments students are better able to demonstrate how much they learned…and earn a grade that better reflects their efforts.
- Be Clear
Students fear they will not have the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in your course. Address this fear by clearly communicating what is expected of students both socially and academically.
a) Be respectful and expect respect in return…then explain and/or discuss what respect looks like in that particular class (Ask them to turn their phones on mute during class and have a funny consequence: anyone who lets their phone ring during class has to stand and sing the school song to their peers.)
b) Clearly explain what students are to learn in this course (outcomes) and why this particular “set of knowledge” is important to them and their lives. How does this course fit into the larger world of knowledge?
c) Clearly identify when and how students will be assessed. The design of your course will determine the grading system that is most fair in illustrating the degree of learning students have accomplished as a result of this class.
d) Include rubrics to clearly communicate academic expectations and levels of proficiency. Always give rubrics to the students ahead of time so they can use the rubric to guide their work.
- Be Passionate
Our students are novices, who have varying degrees of interest in your courses…illuminate for them why this particular course is interesting and important!
a) Help them contextualize the knowledge and skills taught in this class with the broader, more global program outcomes.
b) Point out the relevancy of this information and how it will assist them in the world of inquiry and work.
c) Ask them big and difficult questions that are at the center of your course: In what way has “place” shaped who you are? Where does morality come from, is it biological, social, spiritual? Does art foretell history?
d) Integrate cool technology to illustrate phenomena
e) Create engaging assignments that connect students with the OSU community, the region and the world.
At Oregon State University, students’ academic growth matters. OSU’s collective commitment to enhancing students’ growth will make a difference in our students’ lives…and ultimately in the health and wellness of the great state of Oregon. We recognize that what teachers do makes a difference in their learning…and for that we are grateful to you for your willingness to share your passion and expertise.