ANS 109-year-one-lessons

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A quality that I think serves one well as both an educator and a student is self-awareness. I’d like to put some reflections on my own teaching in this space, with transparency and accountability to my students and colleagues in mind. Things that I learned (or am still learning!) after one year as a technical instructor:

  • Transparency is a process, not an end-state. In principle, transparency – of my expectations, reasoning, et cetera – is important to me as an educator. In practice, it is in some instances easier said than done. Listed below are successes to build upon and areas to improve.
    • I sought feedback often, and responded swiftly and specifically to constructive criticism (e.g., by giving review lectures).
    • I followed up with students later when they asked questions outside of my immediate expertise.
    • I did not make expectations for several assessments clear enough. Although I have previously balked at the idea of using rubrics (they seem to me the potential equivalent of “teaching to the test”), the idea of well-designed rubrics (that don’t diminish student learning) is growing on me.
    • Yet more integration with the Writing Across the Curriculum folks is a worthy goal, including more explicit instruction in writing and more accessible models of what good writing looks like.
    • Always having some kind of positive control helps students navigate the success of their experiments and is essential.
  • Less is more. No really, I mean it this time. New ideas and old reminders.
    • Most importantly, I need to turn down the firehose: fewer assignments, spaced out better. If my goal is to maximize the learning experiences of the most number of students, they need to be allowed sufficient time to struggle productively with unfamiliar types of thinking and writing.
      • I like the idea of turning the S08 Module 3 essay into an S09 in-class exercise, during which students respond to each other’s ideas in 5-min bursts of writing (seeded with the more interesting points raised in S08). This will accomplish much of what the essay did, with less pressure.
      • To increase depth (instead of only sacrificing breadth) of learning, I should include even more drafts. For example, when students write drafts of their major assessment figures in homework assignments, they could also practice writing part of a results section - the two pieces are so intertwined in any case.
    • In lectures, I should strive to cover fewer points in more depth. The students should be forced to grapple with the information more: how would you solve this problem? before here are three ways that people have solved this problem!
    • It might not be realistic to restrain myself to only three comments on a give piece of student writing. However, I can make a hierarchy of comments, which includes three major points and N minor fixes, each clearly labeled as such.
  • Foster even more active learning and cross-group collaboration.
    • Small group interactions should have specific outcomes, or they risk having no impact. Even two sentences of reflection is qualitatively different from none.
    • In journal article discussions, I should always remember to ask follow-up questions before merely supplementing/correcting a student.
    • New activity to try: students could develop concept maps for one of the modules, either with someone other than their partner, or most likely in groups of 4. (I could demo for Mod1, students work together in class for Mod2, and potentially do one independently for Mod3.)
  • Learn to make grades unimportant. I am still figuring out how to reconcile a desire for transparancy with an equally strong desire to keep grade-obsession at bay. Students shouldn’t have to guess how they are doing in my class, or by what mechanics they will be assessed. At the same time, merely giving more information on their standing can fuel rather than relieve focus on grades rather than learning.
    • The most important thing to try for now is to further make sure that I am assessing students on what I say I will: thus, in S09 I plan to pilot a participation grade, allowing me to recognize students who go above and beyond in ways that were previously not a part of my calculus.
    • We could also be somewhat explicit about how much we weigh individual student learning (relative improvement from draft to final product) versus absolute performance on an assessment.