The Flourishing Academic

A blog for teacher-scholars published by the Duquesne University Center for Teaching Excellence

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Creating a Welcoming Classroom Community

by Deborah Scigliano, Ed.D., Department of Foundations and Leadership, School of Education, Duquesne Universityscigliano-headshot

Setting the tone for learning is important to creating the most effective learning environment possible. We are more motivated to learn when we feel connected to the instructor and class colleagues. This applies face-to-face as well as online. Indeed, online courses need special attention to make sure all students feel connected. Here are some ideas to spark your inner learning host.

Before students arrive, send them a welcome email. Let them know a bit about their upcoming course. More importantly, let them know how glad you are that you will be learning together.

Welcome messages are an engaging way to greet students before the class begins on the first day and before each subsequent class or unit. In face-to-face classes write a message either on the whiteboard or a slide to welcome students and set a focus for the class. In Duquesne’s Flex Tech classrooms, students can see the message at their own learning group table.

To welcome students in an online course, record an audio welcome message or post a visual welcome message on the course site. Be sure to emphasize the welcome and leave the “nuts and bolts” to another message.

Warm-ups are short ways to get to know one another. They provide a transition from where students were before class started to where they are now going to be in class. They serve as “head-clearers” as well as community builders.

Examples of warm-ups: tell 3 things about your day, what is your favorite _______? and the ever-popular M & M warm-up. The M & M warm-up involves passing around a bag of M & M’s and inviting each person to take as many as they want. To a hungry student, this sounds great! Those who are new to this warm-up often take a handful.  scigliano-mmNext, each person needs to say one positive thing about themselves for each M & M. That is when the whole-handful people tend to regret their decision because they find it difficult to identify that many positive attributes in themselves. However, it is a great way to learn about the people in the class, including the instructor. Also, it encourages people to think about the qualities that they have. This is not an easy reflection. We tend to see our flaws much more readily than our gifts.

The M & M warm-up can be adapted to online use.  One week, ask each student to pick a number from one to ten. The next week, ask each student to post as many positive qualities as the number they selected. To encourage online learners to read the qualities of their class colleagues, have a Treasure Hunt where students gather one treasure from each student and instructor to compile a list of the qualities participants bring to the group.

Whether you teach face-to-face or online, be sure your students know you are glad they are hescigliano-flextech-message-welcomere. Design opportunities to learn about each class member in order to build a welcoming classroom community.

Here’s wishing you a year full of learning that is welcoming and includes opportunities to learn more about your classroom community!

Bio: Dr. Scigliano teaches in the School of Education, Department of Foundations and Leadership. Her research interests include telementoring, online learning, self-efficacy, and peer coaching. Creating a classroom community, in face-to-face and online classes, is a priority in her teaching.


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SCALE: Small Changes Advancing LEarning

by Laurel Willingham-McLain, Director, Center for Teaching Excellence, Duquesne University laurel-2013

At a recent faculty reception, a colleague recounted how a simple change he had made in his teaching was making a big difference for both him and his students. He had been experimenting with ways for students to “internalize” the content by describing a related personal experience and noting personal lessons they had learned.  Students find it an engaging learning experience and seem to like relating and contributing to the course content, he told me.

Another faculty colleague and I have been chatting about how she has begun using exam wrappers to help students learn from the exam experience itself and take more responsibility for their learning.

These are just two examples of “small” approaches that are known to deepen student learning.

At CTE (Duquesne), we will be focusing on small teaching approaches through an initiative called SCALE: Small Changes Advancing LEarning.

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We are inspired by many colleagues, but in particular by James Lang’s Small Changes in Teaching series, and his book, Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning (2016). Using a “small ball” metaphor from baseball, Lang  writes, “I became convinced… that fundamental pedagogical improvement was possible through incremental change—in the same way that winning the World Series was possible through stealing bases and hitting sacrifice fly balls” (p. 5).  Lang offers well researched teaching approaches that require minimal preparation and grading and can be adapted by teachers in varied contexts.  They take three basic forms:

  • Brief (5-10 minute) classroom or online learning activities
  • One-time interventions in a course
  • Small modifications in course design or communication with students

Stay tuned for CTE Small Teaching book studies over the next few semesters.

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Another example of small teaching is the “transparent assignment design,” promoted by Mary-Ann Winkelmes and colleagues in the Transparency in Learning and Teaching Project.  Their research shows demonstrable gains in learning, especially among underserved student populations, when faculty simply revise course assignments to clearly articulate purpose, task, and criteria.  Dr. Winkelmes led Duquesne faculty in a hands-on workshop in April 2016, and the video and materials are available online (with a Duquesne multipass).  CTE offers an adapted version of this workshop again on September 28, 2016.

Finally, we are drawing on AAC&U research of ten high-impact practices and their common key elements.  On September 16, AAC&U Vice President, Terrel Rhodes, will present an open session for faculty and graduate students TAs titled, Better Together: Highly Effective Practices for Engaged Learning (Read more here).

Join us in discovering the power of small changes in teaching and learning that are:

  • Known to benefit students equitably
  • Achievable by instructors in varied contexts
  • Open to creativity
  • Based on principles of learning


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Have a Great Summer

 

Thanks to everyone who wrote for, commented on, or simply read and enjoyed our blog throughout the academic year! We are taking a break for the summer but The Flourishing Academic will resume posts as of August 22nd, 2016.


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Representation Matters

IMG_4948by Taylor Cavalovitch, a recent graduate from Duquesne University’s School of Education. Taylor was this year’s recipient of the Award for Undergraduate Research offered through the Center for Teaching Excellence.  He was recognized for is research project, “Representation Matters: How Representation in Children’s Literature Influences Children of Different Ethnicities,” presented at the 2016 Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Symposium.

Representation Matters

In a society where all students are subjected to watching and reading the same stories about white men, why and how can educators break past this single story narrative and share the manifold stories of our diverse student population? As a future educator, I have seen firsthand the lack of a diverse curriculum being taught in our schools. Through this realization and reflecting on my own schooling, I wanted to gain insight on how I can better serve my students, understanding that they too come from various backgrounds.  With the help of my professor, Dr. Sandra Quiñones, I was able to develop an action research project that I hoped would improve the engagement of a student from a non-dominant population. The idea for this project was cultivated over the course of an eight-week field placement in a first grade classroom at a suburban Pittsburgh school.

Through my initial observations, I noticed that my host teacher was selecting literature that represented the dominant population: the white students. While this was not a conscious decision my host teacher made, I could tell that three students who were part of non-dominant groups, Venezuelan, Korean, and Chinese, were tired of hearing the stories of one group. In particular, I noticed that my student participant, the student from Venezuela, was much more disengaged than his fellow classmates. I believed it was because this was his first year in the United States and his first experience being under-represented in a classroom. To test my hunch that under-representation and internalized oppression might be the reason for his disengagement, I showed my student participant two pictures, one of Joe Biden and the other of Leopoldo López, and asked him who he thought the smart man was. He selected Joe Biden; although, he was unable to provide a rational reason for his selection.

To positively impact his engagement and self-perception, I decided to read children’s literature that represented this student during the read-aloud portion of the day. As I was searching for appropriate literature, I found texts about Venezuelan culture but had difficulty finding a text that focused on a Venezuelan main character. Therefore, I decided to select the children’s book Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales; a book about a boy from Mexico pretending to wrestle his toys as his twin sisters slept. I thought this title would be a perfect choice due to it mostly being about the imagination of a young boy. However, I did make the decision to adapt the book to make the boy from Venezuela instead of Mexico. During my reading, the student was unable to take his eyes off me. When I asked a discussion question, his hand was the first hand raised.

The following week, I decided to read the book Dream Carver by Diana Cohn; once again, I needed to adapt this book to better represent my student participant. As with my previous read-aloud, the student was much more engaged with the text because the book acted as a mirror, my student participant could see himself in the text.  I then revisited my “Who is smarter?” question. This time, however, he selected Leopoldo López to be the smarter man. I believe that since my student participant was able to see himself represented in the classroom, he then in turn believed that Leopoldo López could be smarter than Joe Biden. My student participant and I developed what I would call an authentic relationship, because he could tell that I took a genuine interest in his culture; therefore, validating his existence in the classroom.

But my student participant was not the only one who benefited from this exposure these books. The other students were able to experience a perspective other than their own, and truly appreciate a different story. I believe that representation encompasses many facets of students’ lives: their linguistic and cultural background, gender identity, sexuality, differences in physical and mental abilities, family dynamics, etc. No student should feel lesser because they may appear to be different. As educators it is our responsibility to value and validate each and every one of our students. Representation matters, and it does play a pivotal role in students’ self-worth and engagement.


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Sketching to Sharpen Writing

By Allie Reznik, Teaching Fellow and English PhD Candidate at Duquesne University

How many of our students are visual learners? Even if the majority of students are, we might be apprehensive to bring creative lessons into our classrooms that engage visual learning. I’d like to offer one example of how we can inspire our students’ creative potentials to sharpen their writing and perspective regardless of discipline.

While reading Alison James and Stephen D. Brookfield’s innovative pedagogical text Engaging Imagination (2014, Jossey-Bass) for the Center for Teaching Excellence’s Book Study, I began brainstorming artistic, visual exercises for my UCOR102 class. And it was perfect timing: we were reading Marjane Satrapi’s powerful graphic memoir The Complete Persepolis (2007, Pantheon) which presents a personal perspective of Iran beyond what we might get from news and social media.

James and Brookfield’s “Three Axioms of Student Engagement” encourage us to think about creative ways for our students to sharpen the work that we’re already expecting them to do. What assignment is your class currently working on? Think of this assignment in terms of the “Three Axioms” here in abridged form:

1. Student learning is deepest when the content or skills being learned are personally meaningful, and this happens when students see connections and applications of learning.

2. Student learning “sticks” more (in other words, retention of knowledge and skill is increased) when the same content or skills are learned through multiple methods.

3. The most memorable critical incidents students experience in their learning are those when they are required to “come at” their learning in a new way, when they are “jerked out” of the humdrum by some unexpected challenge or unanticipated task. (6-7)

For my UCOR102 paper assignment, I had students create a list of questions that The Complete Persepolis personally raised for them in order to determine their thesis statements. My students—ranging from biomedical engineering, physician assistant, business, and pharmacy majors—expect lectures and worksheets in their classes. Asking them to sketch in the UCOR102 classroom would definitely compel them to “come at” paper writing in a new way. They’d be able to see the moving parts of their argument, as well as realize some moving parts that they would need to add or clarify.

Equipped with blank computer paper, I walked into class and announced we’d be sharpening our arguments about The Complete Persepolis. I asked students to write down their argument in 1-2 sentences. Students were then “jerked out” of the anticipated lesson: I asked them to draw—to the best of their ability— exactly what they wrote down.

Students first drew their argument to see their ideas tangibly. After they drew visual representations of their arguments, I encouraged them to consider what was still absent and invisible. Acknowledging the absences in their argument highlights potential blind spots that they needed to clarify. I asked them to write down what else they needed to specify to make their visual perspective sharper to create a more vivid textual argument. Here’s a gallery of student sketches here for you to see how their perspectives began to transform once they saw an artistic rendering of their argument.

Alex pic 1After sketching their argument, students saw what was apparent and what they needed to clarify. In image 1 the student reflected on “what do I mean by women’s rights? What does women’s rights look like?”

Alex pic 2Image 2 yielded questions of “Whose expectations of women am I assuming? How does age affect representation of rebellion?”

Alex pic 3Image 3 led to further clarification of “What does government control mean and look like in this specific case?”

Alex pic 4Image 4 pushed the student to consider “What is the spectrum of how Satrapi’s family members treated her that influenced her? What does Satrapi’s family’s impact look like specifically?”

Alex pic 5Image 5 moved beyond assumptions of childhood and into questions such as “What is Satrapi’s childhood perspective look like specifically? How and why does her perspective change specifically?”

Students moved forward from this exercise—after temporarily stepping into Satrapi’s position as graphic artist—thinking consciously about the creation of visual and academic arguments. Most importantly, students visualized their argument in a new way to see what they needed to clarify.

In what ways have you engaged your students’ creative potentials in your classroom, regardless of discipline? I’d love to hear more about it.

Allie Reznik is a fourth year PhD candidate in English studying the intersections of race and music in American literature. She writes #TSWBAT blog and tweets about food, music, and popular culture at @alliebgolightly.


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Summer Classes: Opportunities for Teaching and Learning

by Steve Hansen, PhD. Associate Director for Faculty Development at the Center for Teaching Excellence at Duquesne University

For Faculty and TAs

Use summer classes as an opportunity to try something new in your teaching repertoire.Summer classes are often intensive in nature.  This requires that you employ a purposeful sequencing of the course to increase students’ learning.  In a non-summer class, the sequencing of the course usually looks unfortunately like this: 

Class Time:       <Lecture> <Lecture> <Lecture> <Lecture> . . . <Exam>

Homework:       <Reading> <Reading> <Reading>      

Several problems arise when an instructor employs this approach during the summer.  First, the intensive nature of summer classes do not allow for lecturing in a relaxed pace because each class meeting is equal to about a week’s worth of lectures in a traditional course.  Lecturing for three hours or an extended period is pedagogically problematic because studies of students’ attentiveness during lectures show a flagging of interest within fifteen minutes.  A second problem with the lecture-reading sequence is that students in summer classes have less time between classes to read the equivalency of a week’s materials.  Finally, a third problem with this sequence is that it depends on summary assessment and lacks formative assessment.  When professors assess student learning in this manner, they miss the opportunity to influence student learning through giving constructive feedback that benefits the overall retention of the materials.

Your summer courses will benefit through employing a different sequencing that is more dynamic and builds active learning strategies into the lectures that allow you informally to assess students’ learning and adjust your teaching:

Class Time: <Mini-lecture + Active Learning + Mini Lecture + Group Activity> . . .

Homework: <Carefully Selected Readings Highlighting Key Information>

To make your summer course more dynamic, intersperse lectures with active learning techniques such as icebreakers, minute papers, think-pair-share sessions, group work, and discussions.  In addition, you should trim the readings to essential key texts.  Interspersing your lectures with active learning that focuses on key readings will allow you to monitor student comprehension of materials and give students feedback that is constructive, frequent and timely.  For a successful summer class, intersperse your lectures with active learning and focus on essential readings that you employ in class activities.

Hamster summer

For Students

Students take summer courses for a variety of reasons.  Some take summer courses to lighten the load of the regular school year; others take summer classes because they want a particular course they cannot fit into the regular term.  Whatever your reason for taking summer classes, there are some strategies that will help the summer go more smoothly.

Summer classes are usually intensive by nature.  You will cover a semester’s worth of materials in a shorter period.  Here are some types for surviving the intensive nature of summer classes:

* Plan your summer.  Be sure you find time for vacation, rest and personal well-being before or after your summer class.

* Prepare to give your summer courses all your energy. When classes are in progress, you will need to focus exclusively on course work because of the rapid pace of summer classes.

* Put forward a strategy to accomplish what the course requires.  Know the deadlines, assignments and readings that are scheduled.  To avoid becoming overwhelmed by the pace, make a calendar that keeps you ahead.

* Participate in every class.  When you participate, you learn more because you are actively engaging your brain which increases your memory.

* Plan to enjoy the experience.  Since summer classes meet so frequently for longer periods with smaller enrollments, you will find the opportunity for more interaction with instructors and fellow students.  You will find that the summer experience is more personal.


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The Finals Lap: Tips and Ideas for Final Exam Review

by Steven Hansen, Associate Director for Faculty Development at the Center for Teaching Excellence at Duquesne University

Though it may seem to students that finals are eons away, professors and teaching assistants know that these last weeks fly by all too quickly. And so, as you prepare (or prepare to prepare) for that final lap, you may want to consider how you want to prepare your students and avoid those desperate emails at 5am on the day of the final. You know the ones. If you didn’t know better you could swear that the droplets of nervous sweat somehow traveled through cyberspace and into your inbox along with them. Reviewing for final exams is a valuable way to help students learn and reduces student anxiety related to finals (Weimer, 1998).

Here are some tips and ideas from CTE’s Teaching & Learning Tips Archive for those final reviews both in and out of the classroom.

Offer a Final’s Feast

A final’s feast is like the last supper for your class.  Have door prizes, snacks and review materials.  Marvin Druger (2006) calls his review session a Biofeast.  “Near the end of the General Biology 121 course, I organize the Biofeast.  This is designed as a celebration of the completion of the course.  A dining hall manager sets up a special meal, complete with hors d’oeuvres, tablecloths, and a huge cake, and students get a ticket for this event.  A review session for the last exam and door prizes are part of the festivities.  TAs also attend, and the Biofeast serves as a memorable climax to the first semester of the course.”

(not a realistic representation of a Final’s Feast)

Review an Old Exam

“I hold a review session before each major exam.  Basically, I review an old exam, and many questions on the actual exam are modifications of questions asked on old exams.  The rationale is that I know what I think is important for students to know, so why not tell them?  Students should not have to guess what’s important in the instructor’s mind.  For example, I want students to be able to analyze inheritance of ABO blood groups.  So, I tell them that a question on the exam will be similar to the following question: ‘If the mother is type A and the father is not AB, which of the following could not be the blood type of the child?’ The actual question on the exam will simply change the blood types in the question.  Also, former exams are available on reserve in the libraries, so that students can review content and get an idea of the style of the exams.” (Druger, 2006)

Set a Phone-in or Email Time

On the night before an exam, a professor (or a TA on duty) sets up block of time dedicated to taking calls or emails from students to help answer last-minute questions (Druger, 2006).

Give a Practice Exam

“Practice tests help students gauge what is expected of them. But practice tests are most effective when students take the tests, rather than read them as though they were study guides” (Davis, 2009).  If you let students spend half of the review time taking the practice exam, use the remaining review time to answer their questions.  Having taken the practice exam, students will have plenty of questions during the remaining time.

Interactive Review with Students as Experts

“Plan your test review sessions to be as interactive as possible. Instead of doing the usual ‘Q and A,’ organize the material in a more meaningful way. For example, you could send out an outline of major topics in advance and have students e-mail their questions to you ahead of time. Compile a list of the best questions and ask students to prepare answers prior to the session. Direct these questions to the students in the review before answering them yourself. You should have some ‘experts’ in the audience when it’s time to review. If students omitted some important questions, guide them to design questions for remaining topics. The practice in writing their own questions and answering them will be invaluable” (Joanne Holladay, “Your Role in Preparing Students for Finals,” University of Texas).

Resources:

Davis, Barbara Gross. (2009). Tools for teaching. San Francisco: Wiley Publishers.

Druger, Marvin. (2006). “Experiential learning in a large introductory biology course.” In Joel Mintzes & William Leonard (Ed.), Handbook of college science teaching (pp. 37-44). Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

Kearney, Patricia , Plax, Timothy G. , Hays, Ellis R. andIvey, Marilyn J.(1991) “College teacher misbehaviors: What students don’t like about what teachers say and do.” Communication Quarterly 39: 4, 309-324.

Weimer, Maryellen. “Exam review sessions.” In Maryellen Weimer & Rose Neff (Ed.), Teaching college: Collected readings for new instructors (pp. 123-124). Madison: Atwood Publishing.