Ask the grumpies: teaching tricks

CG asks:

The Chronicle forum used to have a section Jedi mind tricks for making your teaching easier. We could do something like that for teaching . I came up with a good one this semester because of online teaching.

My favorite is “let others do the work for you”– meaning if there’s something you don’t want to do, think about if there’s a way you can make it an appropriate assignment for the students.  For example, I find lecturing about the characteristics of government programs to be really boring (like, what’s their budget, what’s their purpose, etc.) and things have to be updated each year.  It makes a really great student assignment– they get to research a program and practice presentation skills and they usually add cute graphics and it’s just not as boring as me writing dry facts on the board in a monotone.

Otherwise I really love everything in Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov (Amazon link so we get a small kickback).

Here’s some posts on teaching tactics.

Here’s some posts on teaching just generally.

3 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: teaching tricks”

  1. CG Says:

    Well, I’ll bite since it was my question. It took me a while to realize I was in charge and that I had some levers to move things that were making teaching harder than it needed to be. Here are a couple of changes I’ve made over the years that have helped me come to really enjoy teaching (after initially not loving it and finding it very stressful).

    –Get the students to do more of the talking in class. They like it better and it takes some of the pressure off of me.
    –Make papers due on a day/at a time when I am likely to have the energy to grade them quickly. For me this is Monday morning. My grading efficiency has gone way up since I made this change and students appreciate how quickly I return their papers.
    –During the pandemic I eliminated the last of the exams from my courses and replaced them with short open-note/book papers that literally covered all of the exam questions. I realize this wouldn’t work for every class but it was a positive change for the students and for me, without any loss of assessment power as the expectations for answer quality are now higher.
    –I used to have a big project due right before Thanksgiving, so the students could relax that weekend, which meant that I spent every Thanksgiving grading. I realized if I moved the due date later it would only ruin one Thanksgiving in their lives, while the current system ruined mine every year, so I switched (duh).
    –Schedule a couple of zoom classes in an otherwise in-person class. We teach at night and I have a long commute (many of the students do too). Having a couple of class sessions during the semester when no one has to physically get to campus provides a good break. I do this when we have out-of-town guest speakers who will be on zoom anyway, or for writing conferences: in other words, when there is a good reason to do it.

  2. xykademiqz Says:

    I teach classes with a lot of math and physics. Undergrads, by and large, are not well prepared in physics, mostly because they haven’t been taught properly how to set up and solve problems (in part because the freshman physics classses are monstrously huge).

    – Meeting students where they are is a must. That varies semester to semester, but there’s been a downward trend in the students preparedness in math and physics. When I say math, I mean like basic algebra (factorizing simple polynomials, manipulating fractions), and generally the ability to work with symbols and do it reasonably fast. This has followed our trend of increasing enrollments.

    – I teach my own discussion for every large undergraduate class. Getting properly coached how to set up and work problems, every single step, is a big help for them. This is something often farmed out to graduate students, but they’re usually (with exceptions) simply not good enough as teachers for this very important task

    – No matter how long the students have to do homework, most won’t look at it till like two days prior. Schedule your office hours accordingly so you can meet the greatest need with the smallest number of office hours. These days, at least one office hour slot is online

    – I was requiring online drop off of homework years before the pandemic (when it was clear all students have phones and can scan work). Grading online is pretty fast IMHO

    – There is no substitute for reading the room. Whatever materials you use, you have to be able to adapt to the particular class. I am actually pretty low tech in class, just me, board (or document camera, depending on classroom size), and writing implements. With that, I can answer any question on the fly, change topics, go faster or slower, repeat whatever is necessary. I can now do a pretty good approximation of this fully online as well, with two screens (one is a tablet+stylus). Given the material I teach, it makes a lot of sense. Ability to draw some helps, I admit that. But you should use all your talents in the classroom!

    – Teaching is a whole-person endeavor. Students make an emotional connection with you that actually helps their learning if you know how to leverage it. Learning names (if you can to it) helps learning, because they don’t feel nameless and they feel more accountable to come to class. Being demanding while at the same time encouraging and approachable helps learning (you set the challenge and believe in them they can rise to the challenge+cheer them on)

    – I like to teach late in the afternoon and generally in off-peak slots because I can have my pick of the classroom. Having my pick of the classroom does wonders for my teaching satisfaction

    • Alyce Says:

      You sound like a really good teacher, but to my non-professor self, these all sound like things that are more work, not less work for you.


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