More on teaching tactics: roll call, do now

We already talked about Roll Call— simply calling people’s names from the attendance sheet before class and marking them in or absent, whether or not you use that information.  The book Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov talks about threshold techniques, which is the way you greet students as they enter, and DH has picked roll call to be his threshold technique.

Do Now is another technique that can be useful in technical classes.  Basically you have a little problem for them to solve that they should be able to solve in a short amount of time at the beginning of class.  It’s either written on the board or given in a handout that they pick up as they enter.  It’s a way to check for understanding and to get the ball rolling and the brain activated for class.

DH has been talking about the interaction between the two.

Roll call (effectively his threshold technique), strengthens the utility of the Do Now. People show up early for the roll call, and so they’re there to start on the do-now before class. It’s gaining him probably 5 minutes of time on 3/4 of the students.  And he can use the time since he’s going right up to the bell every session.

Do Nows and quizzes are pedagogically essentially the same thing– quick checks for student understanding and an incentive to keep up with the material.  However, the Do Now has many psychological and mechanical advantages over the quiz.  Students like the Do Now better than the quiz.   They feel a lot different.  They’re less intimidating. And he doesn’t have to grade them.  They feel more like they’re for the student learning than the end result of a grade.

He was using quizzes for attendance, feedback to the professor, and an incentive for them to keep up with the material. Now roll-call and cold-calling are filling those needs.

me: I’ve definitely been doing more cold calling.  I’ve been trying to learn a new student name or two every class period  so that kid gets picked on.  Once I’ve picked on them, they’re more likely to ask questions.

DH: I’ve realized that cold calling can be a learning tool, and hopefully that comes through when I walk them through anything they’re struggling with, and the way there’s no judgement on wrong answers.  Anyway, off to class.

I hope it went well!  Do you think we should allow students to sink or swim on their own, or is nudging them ok?

Teaching Tactics: Part II

(Part 1 here)

This is a story about my DH.

Very few students start out in DH’s department.  Many of them stop in his department on the way down to the university’s gut major, having flunked out of another major.  He teaches the first core course in the major.  Every semester has seemed more demoralizing than the last.  That’s not quite true… some semesters have been better than others (and moving from 8am to 9am helped a lot), but sometimes he’ll have to fail half the class, sometimes (partly) because they just fail to show up to things like exams.  Often nobody in the class earns an A.  Occasionally he’ll get a few students, ones who picked the major as a first choice, who get an A but they’re the exception rather than the rule.

He worries that it’s him.  It’s not him.  I’ve sat on his classes.  He’s as good as any teacher I had in undergrad.  The students also love him– he gets close to perfect teaching evals, and the students actually write comments in the comment section.  But they’re not learning the material.  And that makes him sad.  Because he’s a wonderful person who cares deeply.

It’s also not him because 40-60% of every entering class doesn’t make it to graduate in that major.

Since he started teaching, he’s been treating students like adults, even if they don’t act like adults.  Gradually he started adding things like making attendance mandatory and grading for it (some semesters with homework quizzes, some semesters just having an attendance grade).  Even so, students would still skip so many classes that adding that to their first two exam grades there’s no way they can pass the class.  Yet they still show up to lab.  Something isn’t reaching them.

This summer we read the teaching tactics book Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov.  It disagrees with a lot of these pie and the sky ideals books, which, incidentally, I will also say don’t work for me and I have WAY better students than DH does (Boice works for me, but some of these other books are ridiculous– all theory, no empirics, and implementation has gotten me into trouble in the past).  One of the major points of disagreement was whether or not to treat students like adults.  This one argues that students need guidance. Some of them are incompetent but teachable.  They don’t take notes because they don’t *realize* they’re supposed to be taking notes and they don’t know how to take notes.  They need to be told to write down everything the professor puts on the board, a technique that Lemov terms “board = paper.”  (#2 does notes scaffolding instead of “board = paper” — that doesn’t work so well with DH’s discipline or the math class I teach because they have to learn to draw diagrams and figures).

We sat down and talked about what DH’s students need.

1.  They need to come to class.
2.  They need to be engaged.
3.  They need to do their homework.

1.  Come to class:

As we mentioned above, changing the points given for attendance, having quizzes, etc. none of these were strong enough to incentive students to get out of bed if they didn’t want to get out of bed.  Students just did not realize they were failing by not showing up.  Tactics along those lines are not going to work because they are insensitive to how attendance directly affects their grades.

What they need instead is to know up front and in their faces that someone is going to notice when they’re not there.  When I had this problem with my students, another professor recommended that even if attendance isn’t part of the class grade, that you take roll every class.  At the beginning of class.  Loudly.  You can just toss the sheets later if you’re not going to use them, but just calling out the names lets them know that you are aware when they’re not there, and maybe you care.  It works.  I still get the occasional unexcused absence, but not consistently and most days everyone shows up.  I make a big deal about missing people, “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller” — they tell each other that the absence was noted.  I often get an apology and the same student rarely misses twice without a university approved absence.  I haven’t had a person fail my class since I started taking attendance.

K-12 has true mandatory attendance, so the book doesn’t discuss this specifically, but it does have suggestions on how to make kids know you know they’re there.  Greet everyone at the door.  Use their names in class.  Cold call so that people cannot hide.  (The book has a really large section on cold-calling, which is not like the cold-calling that terrified me as a student– well worth reading, and I’m going to implement it too).

2.  Engagement:

There’s a couple of chapters on engagement, full of great stuff, much of which I already implement because apparently I’m awesome like that (my problems are instead discussed in the two chapters on classroom climate and behavioral problems, but that’s another post that may never be written).

Techniques include names such as, no opt out, cold-call, Vegas, stretch-it, at bats, volleyball metaphor, etc.  No opt out, the first technique, was new to me, it’s where if someone called on doesn’t know and then someone else answers, you go back to the person who didn’t know and make sure they know now.  They have to listen and keep thinking, and eventually get the solution themselves.  These techniques keep all the students awake and moving.  And all students, they don’t let just some students dominate discussion.  You’re not just lecturing, even in a technical class.  (Note, some of these techniques will not work in a ginormous lecture hall, but do work well for DH’s mid-size classes.)

3.  Homework:

Grading every homework would be best, but sadly there’s no money for a grader and DH only has a finite amount of time.  But instead of just letting them decide whether to do their homework and get the grade or not do their homework and get a zero, tell them they need to do it.  Get them to create study groups on the first day of class.  Occasionally spend some time in class on homework problems before they’re due so they’ve gotten it started.  Make doing the homework the norm– everybody else is doing it so you should be too.  It’s expected.

These changes have been working.  Not 100%, but the lost group who is normally checked out this time of the semester is much smaller than in previous semesters.  More homework is being turned in complete than any previous semester.  And most importantly to me, DH is not dreading each class day.  He’s teaching, they’re learning, and he’s learning too.

The big underlying theme from all of these is actually a form of Libertarian Paternalism (or “Nudging”).  With these students, it’s not the hard rules of grades or quizzes or mandatory attendance that’s important.  It’s the verbal iteration and reiteration of expectations.  Even though DH knows their names, calling roll is important.  Letting his students know that he knows they’re there.  That they’re paying attention.  Reminding them that they’re supposed to be taking notes instead of playing hearts on their laptops, that he can see them, that he knows and cares.  These social cues work much better than the realistically more important (to their futures) possibility of actual failure.  And that’s interesting, and a lesson to us, especially if our main goal is to get them to learn the material.

Do you think there’s a role for these kinds of tactics?  What do you do about attendance, engagement, and homework?  Do you think we should allow students to sink or swim on their own, or is nudging them ok?

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.

Atomic Habits: A book review

After being less than impressed with The Power of Habit, I decided to give Atomic Habits (amazon link=> we get a cut) by James Clear a spin.

tl:dr Although this book is much better than The Power of Habit, it is ultimately still an imperfect book.  Definitely worth giving a read, maybe not worth purchasing unless you have a specific easy-to-define-and-implement habit you want to focus on.

Unlike The Power of Habit, most of the book (until the last section) is made up of examples that make sense and are not taken out of context. It also goes much more into depth with more nuance than the previous book (which it does cite extensively).

Each chapter ends with bullets and potentially actionable items.  There are habits cheat sheets with “laws” explaining how to create a good habit and how to break a bad habit.  These laws are broken into easy to remember subheaders:  Make it obvious, Make it attractive, Make it easy, Make it satisfying.  Make it invisible, Make it unattractive, Make it difficult, Make it unsatisfying.  This is helpful– I hope that the podcasters at By the Book pick this one up sometime.

The “Advanced Tactics” section that the book ends with is problematic, relying almost entirely on anecdote and contradicting most of the rest of the book, leaving the reader with a particularly confusing “it’s complicated” message, along with additional bizarre messages like you should only try to do what you do well (I should really be a grocery bagger, I thought to myself, though that is not where my comparative advantage lies) but you should also only chase your passion (because people do more when they enjoy the work) but you should also do the boring bits (because the most successful people do the parts they don’t enjoy).  Examples from this section are very correlation is causation.  After reading it, I felt a sense of hopelessness, like maybe I should just early retire and forget my career, which I hope was not intentional.

For me– most of the stuff discussed in the book I already do or have done.  But I also have been struggling with bad work habits for the past couple of years.  I used to have very good work habits, but somehow they’ve been broken.  I need to fix that, but I’m not sure how.  It seems to be more complicated than say, getting into the habit of taking a walk every day or calling about politics.  (And… when I start focusing on one area of life, something starts slipping in another, which is not what any of the online lifestyle bloggers ever mention… it’s always exercise more and everything else will get better too.)

I’m not sure if this book will help with that, but I’m going to think really hard about the systematic problems I’ve been having with my work and give these checklists a spin.  I also want to get a book on habits by an actual academic to see if that has any useful advice.

And, of course, I will blog about all of this in a future post.

Ask the grumpies: Dissertation Student from Hades

Stacie asks:

I have this student. She is a PhD student and she gets under my skin! Several months ago I could tell things were not right between us as she was very combative and defensive in class. I tried various ways to figure this issue out in class to no avail. I finally asked for a meeting and honestly felt blind-sided and rail-roaded by her response. When I tried to discuss her behavior, she was quick to retort how she wasn’t the problem, it was me and began to recount my failings [update:  failings were that Stacie is “cold and distant”]. It honestly caught me off guard and I didn’t know how to respond. I ultimately tried to diffuse the situation and talk about how we would work together in the future. I did find out that other students definitely see problems in her behavior in various classes, but have yet to find another professor who will vouch for this. I’ve asked and they say they have no problems with her, but then I hear other students talk about how much this student is being difficult in their classes… (this also drives me crazy!) I talked to my Chair whose overall response to most things seems to be “oh well” so that didn’t really help.

I am really having a hard time keeping my cool around this student who continues to be defensive in class. I am definitely having trouble “teaching others how to treat me” – probably because I don’t like conflict, try to be “nice”, and don’t have great one-liners at the ready to respond to student behaviors.

Yes, I am the newest faculty member, one of the only young females in a mostly senior, male faculty, and have been told I’m the most “human” of any professor we have. (I used to think this was a good thing, but now am not so sure.)

I was wondering if you could help me with how to think about this issue or some phrases I could use regularly with this kind of thing with students or other things I can do to survive this kind of issue. I have a feeling this won’t be my last student who challenges me like this, but I don’t want to always worry or over-think these things. I honestly have some great students, but this one student is the only one I can think about! It drives me crazy!

Well, we don’t have any great advice on this particular student.  Avoiding her completely would be awesome, but it sounds like that might not be an option. Mostly, it sounds like you need a mentor who has handled PhD students at your school for a while and has tenure. They can give you suggestions for the circumstances.  It also sounds like you’ve tried in vain to find such a mentor, and that really sucks.  We’re sorry you’re not getting more support on this.  :(

However, you can also look outside of your department.  Seek out the following resources: 1) talk to the head of the teaching development center at your school, whatever that’s called. (Or teaching & learning, or teaching & Faculty development, etc.) They exist for things like this! 2) talk to your faculty ombudsperson, as they may know more resources and probably have seen similar situations in the past. 3) attempt to get mentoring informally from senior colleagues — if not in your own department then in other departments. You could talk to other people who supervise PhD students, members of the student’s dissertation committee, the Director of Graduate Studies for your department, or the Dean of the Graduate School (or someone in their office). Take them to coffee and ask for advice. It’s good for the future to be friendly with these sorts of people anyway. 4) Outlast the student. Unfortunately this also takes time.

In terms of how to prevent these kinds of things from happening in the future with other students, Teach like a champion is an invaluable resource with tactics that really do work. It isn’t quite as much help for what to do after a problem has started, but it’s great for setting up a professional environment where problems won’t start. We have some posts on teaching tactics from it that you might find helpful if you want to get a taste while waiting to get it from the library.  Maintain control of the classroom, and very strong personal boundaries. Don’t let the turkeys get you down.

Update:  That is an incredibly gendered complaint.  Professors are allowed to be cold and distant and setting boundaries and having a personal bubble helps immensely when you’re a young woman professor.  If you didn’t have such a bubble, students would be complaining about something else because they would perceive you as unprofessional.  There’s no way to win.  Allowing space and distance is the way to go because it isn’t so time intensive or emotionally challenging, even if you get punished for it.

Getting grey hair is also good for reducing student challenges. And experience is great for not letting obnoxious students get to you so much. But those strategies take time.

In the mean time, hopefully the academic part of the Grumpy Nation will chime in with additional suggestions.  We’ll also try to get a signal boost from Historiann to get her always helpful readers.

Book recommendations for new faculty

Wanna get your friend/family/colleague/buddy/department/library a gift?  Here’s what we found useful:

Anything by Robert Boice is good. Try these:

Teach like a Champion by Doug Lemov:  Our posts here.

Crucial conversations (our review coming soon!)

Your money or your life: Everyone needs this.

Women Don’t Ask: useful for both genders.

Ms. Mentor solves all…

PhD comics if you don’t have them from grad school!

On Course by James M. Lang if you don’t have teaching experience (or not much)

Aaaannnnd…. Academic murder mysteries! So many fun ones to choose from.

What else?

RBOChildren

  • I now understand why my parents let my sister tear up my stuff.  If tearing up the receipt that came with DC1’s library books keeps DC2 happily and safely entertained for 20 min, that’s worth the confetti and loss of a “bookmark”.
  • This early potty training is AWESOME.  Seriously guys, I cannot tell you how absolutely cool it is do to this part-time pottying with diapers the rest of the time.  DC2 prefers pooing in the potty and we prefer dumping it out of the potty to cleaning it off hir rear.  It is SO much easier getting started than it was with a 15 month old who had already been diaper-trained.  Just like the book said it would be.  Wish we’d had the book when DC1 was 6 months old.  If you have a baby who can sit-up, get a potty and just try putting your baby on it as soon as ze gets up in the morning (or after a nap).  It is addicting and totally awesome.  (Also saves diapers and lessens the ick factor.)
  • I think we discovered one of the anti-perfectionism tactics that DC1’s first grade teacher used last year.  Last year when DC1 got a problem wrong and we’d ask hir about it when the homework came home, ze would shrug and say, “Yeah, the reason I got that wrong was [this silly reason], I know it’s [correct answer] now.”  This weekend I wanted to discuss a comment hir teacher had left on a math problem, saying that DC1 should have rewritten the (Saxon math) problem and done borrowing, which DC1 had done one of the Singapore math ways in hir head instead (and gotten incorrect).  DC1 said ze had never looked at the homework and never looks at hir returned homework(!)  So ze has had no clue about what ze has gotten wrong or right or why (except on spelling tests, for some reason).  And it isn’t discussed in a growth mindset way, but is treated as a fixed mindset thing– you do the work and it’s done and that’s it.  So I guess we’re going to start going through homeworks to talk about and to demonstrate learning from mistakes.
  • DC2 waves hello and bye bye.  It is SO CUTE!  Update:  and claps!  Update:  first word [older sibling’s name]  Ze also sounds like a happy little puppy when ze gets excited.  *pantpantpant*
  • DH said, “It wasn’t so much an accident as an out of potty experience.”  Then he started talking about the pottygeist.  He tried to make a joke about the excretionist, but it failed.  DC2 thought it was hilarious, but who can trust what the potty gallery thinks?

Link love: the pre-semester stress is building edition.

The Blog That Ate Manhattan has some extremely interesting information about women’s health and evidence-based medicine. (Also recipes, travel pics, the usual.)  Check it out, especially this fascinating post about breast density, mammograms, and scare tactics.

A gai shan life talks about her evolving relationship with money and what it can do.

Man we admire MutantSupermodel.  Here’s her list of 10 things she’s learned as a single mother.  Then check out her solution to last week’s Disney Dilemma in the post before it.

A post from captain awkward (linked out of comments on a Scalzi post about how not to be a creeper) about what friend groups should do with the “creepy guy” and how not to back up a rape-culture.  (Caution:  triggers)

Thanks to femmefrugality for the sunshine meme nom.

We were in this week’s carnival of personal finance.

RBOC

  • My subconscious is ridiculous.  I was reading on cloud’s blog about how one-handed reading is essential for a new mom, and I thought, “If I had just given birth I could totally read all the Georgette Heyer I wanted in the hospital!”
  • I like oatmeal in the morning.  You can’t use quick-oats… they taste like sawdust.  I like to throw in a handful of dried fruit (dried cherries are my favorite, but often I’ll just have raisins), put in half a cut of rolled oats, one cup of water, then zap for 2 and a half minutes.  If I’m feeling feisty I’ll sprinkle with pecans and cinnamon.  Nom.
  • Little kitty is vehemently anti-tape.  She cannot stand for it and must needs destroy it.
  • DC has been enjoying kindergarten!  Very different from Montessori, but ze is adaptable.  The oldest child in the class is actually only a year and a few days older than DC, and the youngest is less than a month younger.  5/8 of the children are early entrants.  The first grade class DC is doing math and reading in appears to be using a second grade math text book.
  • It’s funny how I was reading today in the teaching tactics book about color coding for misbehavior (something that probably won’t fly with college students) and DC came home talking about how one of the first graders went from green to yellow for yelling in class.  Definitely different from Montessori.
  • Recent conversation:

Me:  You’re probably deft with a soldering iron
P: it’s actually been quite a while since I used one. But it’s probably like riding a bike…with a really hot stick in one hand.

  • Irony:  Writing a note on a student’s homework that they need to be much better in terms of presentation… in crayon.
  • I just noticed that all the academic bloggers we interact with are either science or humanities.  Not another social scientist in the bunch.  (Well, except maybe Sexademic, but I doubt she reads us back.)  I wonder why that is.
  • Why did someone else’s cat throw up on my front porch?  really?  Who DOES that?  I suspect the large and curious Siamese across the street.  Seriously, they couldn’t do it in the grass?
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Getting kids to behave in a teaching setting

It’s all about tactics…

We’re reading this book by Doug Lemov on how to improve K-12 teaching, figuring it should help us with college and graduate students too, even if not everything transfers over.  This book is really awesome because it’s about tactics.  What are techniques that you can actually use to get students to pay attention, keep listening, behave themselves and learn (mostly remember) the material.  It’s a great book with lots of great tips in a classroom setting.  Little nitty-gritty details.

We’ve had it in mind as we go through the summer, applying it more to a pre-K setting.

Example.  So DC says to me the other morning, “Ms B said if I flipped my flip flops one more time, she was going to wear them.”
“I think that means she wanted you to stop.”
“Why?”
“You were probably disturbing her or other kids.”
“Really?”  DC asked incredulously.
“Did you stop?” I asked.
“No, I flipped them two more times.  But Ms B didn’t put them on,” ze replied, disappointed.

I think what we have there is a failure of Ms B to communicate.  DC honestly had no idea that she wanted hir to stop flipping or why on earth she would have wanted that.  With kids a certain age, it’s best just to be direct.  “DC, please stop flipping your flipflops.  It is bothering me.”

Also while we’ve been reading this book, DC has started swimming lessons. The first session ze had an experienced and short woman teacher.  DC behaved like an angel and progressed marvelously.  Second session, DC had a tall inexperienced male teacher.  DC acted up in ways that we rarely see hir act up.  And so did most of the other kids in that group.  We were constantly reminding DC to listen to the teacher because swimming pools are dangerous and it is important to listen.  (Indeed, on the last day of class, DC fell into four feet of water and took a while to fish out, but was oddly unfazed.  DH, otoh, almost had a heart attack.)  DC claimed ze just didn’t hear when the teacher said to stop splashing or to stay away from the slides.  He would also give up on kids doing the right thing too soon, and would make idle threats that he never followed through on.

DH spent some time over these sessions comparing what it was that the first teacher and the second teacher were doing differently, especially on occasions with the tall male teacher when the students actually behaved.  Specifically, the kids behaved on the days when they were in the big pool instead of the smaller one where they could stand on their own without life jackets.  In the big pool, they had to sit on a mat for safety reasons when it wasn’t their turn with the teacher.  And, importantly, in the big pool, the tall teacher was the same height as the kids, not towering over them.  It was easier for them to listen to him.

Supernanny was right.  It is important to get down to the child’s level when you’re trying to get them to behave, listen, or obey a command.  Second, when they’re bored, they’re going to act up.  Give them something to do and limit their possible actions.  Too much freedom can lead to pushing that freedom too far, and not being in a position to pay attention to the teacher.  Finally, as before, follow through with commands and threats.  If you give up too early, then they have more reason to ignore your commands and threats.

These are all tactics.  Not high flung philosophies and so on, but concrete small things that improve the experience for everyone and help increase learning because of that.  It is easier to learn when kids are not distracted and it’s easier to teach when kids are well-behaved.

So that’s our recent experiences in getting pre-K and K-12 folks to pay attention and learn stuff.  We wonder what bleeds over to college students…