By Morgan Rooney, Educational Development Coordinator, EDC
1. Clarify for your students, and for yourself, exactly what you want your students to do with the content that you expose them to. Be more precise than “they need to know and understand everything we read and discuss.” Think carefully, for instance, about the things that you will ask them to do on their major assignments. What are you really asking them to be able to do with the content you teach?
2. Create time, every class meeting, so that students can provide you with information about how well or not they have understood the content you’ve been teaching. Don’t ask if they’re understood: ask them to do something with what you’ve just taught them. Teaching is not synonymous with lecturing; instead, teaching is when you have helped to create learning inside the minds of your learners. The only way you can know if that has happened is if you hear from your students, every class.
3. When you’re writing feedback on assignments, your task isn’t to justify the grade you’re giving each student—instead, it’s to identify the next step in the student’s progress as a learner and a writer. That next step looks differently for just about every student. Feedback isn’t about you: it’s about them.
4. Collect feedback from your students, especially early in the term, so you have a sense of how things are going and can make adjustments. One simple but effective exercise is called a Stop/Start/Continue. Talk to your students about that feedback: make those changes that seem reasonable and explain the pedagogical purpose for those things you can’t/won’t. Bonus: research shows that conducting feedback sessions has a positive correlation with improved end-of-term student evaluations, too.
5. Invest time and energy in creating a lively classroom and a sense of a learning community, right away, during the first class. That means activities and icebreakers. Those efforts will be repaid tenfold in future weeks in terms of student participation. Students are creatures of habit: if you want them involved during class time, then you have to start getting them involved from the outset.
6. Take proactive, preventative steps to streamline class communications and lessen the email burden. Send out weekly messages (“Monday morning messages”) and include housekeeping items in your weekly lectures. Instruct students to use email only for personal matters, and “train” them to post all course-related questions about content, assignments, etc. to a course FAQ (i.e., a forum or database on cuLearn). Be firm, even with yourself. There’s a larger question of equity here, too: set things up so that everyone can see everything the teacher has to say about these matters, instead of reserving such insights only for those brave enough to ask.
7. Allocate a certain amount of time on a set day or days for prep, marking and so on—and do everything in your power to stick to it. A colleague of mine once said, “teaching is like air—it will fill the space you give it.” That means you need a plan and discipline to give it its space and no more. This is a skill you will need, too, if you get hired to teach, conduct research and perform service work.
8. Never forget that your students are not mini-graduate students or doctoral-candidates-in-training. It’s heartbreaking to hear, but most do not share your passion or expertise for what you’re teaching (yet). Make no assumptions about what they know: instead, conduct meaningful pre-assessment activities, and plan to explain concepts and events that, while second nature to you, are foreign to them. Always try to remember what you were like when you were 18 years old.
9. Quite simply, if you value it, give it a grade. If you want students to come to class every week having done the readings, or to participate in class discussions, or whatever else you think will contribute to their learning, then you need to design an assessment scheme that incentivizes those behaviours. Don’t trust good faith, or console yourself that “well, the good students will do it,” or anything else. You’re not here to teach just the good students: you’re teaching all of your students. Grades are student currency, and your assessment scheme will shape your students’ behaviours.
10. Create opportunities, in class and in smaller assignments, for your students to practice doing the higher thinking tasks that you will ask them to do in their essays and exams. If you want them to create arguments about things, to evaluate others’ arguments, to apply theoretical frameworks to analyze texts, and so on, then the first time they’re called upon to do those things should not be the final essay or exam. Make them do these things with you in class and/or in smaller assignments that prepare them for the larger assignments, so they have a chance to build up some strength and experience.
BONUS TIP: Take advantage of the supports at the EDC. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, 613-520-2600 ext. 4433. cuLearn issues? We can help. Want someone to conduct a midterm feedback session, or observe your teaching and offer feedback, and/or meet with you to talk about any aspect of your course? We can do that, too. Want some targeted training on a specific pedagogical issue? Take advantage of our ongoing workshops. Looking for an opportunity to take a deep dive into learning about teaching? Sign up for our Preparing to Teach certificate (for doctoral candidates) or Certificate in University Teaching program (for experienced instructors).
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