There is a fundamental difference between praise and encouragement. This is a distinction to keep in mind as we wrap up the semester and provide students with feedback on their learning. We want our students to reflect on their learning in ways that move them toward their next goal—we need to do that, too.
We live in a “great job” world where students have become accustomed to hearing praise. It is, to some people’s thinking, cheap and easy to handout. Encouragement, on the other hand, takes more time and effort to dole out. The results of praise and those of encouragement differ greatly. Praise can signal that the job is over and we can sit back and admire the results. Encouragement lets us know that we are still working and that the job is not finished.
Think about your student as a runner. If you yell out “Well done” before the end of the race, the runner might get the idea that s/he is done and can rest. But, if you yell “Keep it up—your getting there”, the runner is bolstered by the support and keeps moving.
Encouragement can have the effect of keeping a desired behavior going. That can be attending class, being active in discussions or submitting work on time. It also communicates expectations, standards and models behavior for others.
Here are some resources to get you started:
Let’s Discuss Class Discussions
Whether we teach online or in-person, we know the value that stimulating classroom discussions can have on student learning. It is an opportunity for students to practice concepts, get clarification and apply new ideas. Getting discussions started and maintaining momentum can be a challenge. We might also have a core group of students who are vocal and others who sit back and watch. Leading classroom discussions is a dynamic art–the challenges, tools and students are always changing.
Here are some common challenges faculty face in discussions with some helpful resources:
♦ Getting students off the stage:
We have to work constructively with these eager students who may intimidate others with their ideas and enthusiasm. We don’t want to shut he student down, but instead help channel their participation.
♦ Get students off the sidelines:
Students may be quiet in class for a variety of reasons–fear, lack of preparation, etc. Understanding the reason may help find an appropriate solution for moving the student forward.
♦ Writing useful and engaging discussion questions:
We might be able to have spontaneous discussions in class–especially for topics that engender passion. But, discussion questions which help students achieve course competencies can also be prepared in advance.
♦ A special note about online classes and the value of discussions:
Discussions take on a heightened level of importance in many online classes. Discussion activities can help students feel connected to their classmates and instructor. Students often report higher levels of engagement with the material and the course itself. Ultimately, these feelings may lead to greater motivation and course success. This short article from Jennifer Freeman at UT TeleCampus, Using Discussions in Online Courses: The Importance of Interactivity, gives online discussions their due and provides practical ideas instructors.
It is not just military service that sets student veterans apart from their classmates. According to a 2013 American Council on Education report, they are often the first members of their family to attend college and are often about a decade older than other students. They tend to study harder and are driven to succeed, but feel less engaged and connected to campus life.
The good news in this study is that many veterans feel supported by their institutions. This support is found at every level—from the financial aid process and registration and the classroom. As faculty and staff, we need to find ways to ensure that veterans have the tools and skills they need to walk their educational path. But, there are challenges as you will read in this article from military.com. Misconceptions about veterans abound, do a reality check at NEA Ten Things You Should Know about Working with Today’s Student Veterans.
Cultivating a sense of belonging on campus can be helpful. So, how might we get started?
Here are some ideas:
- Ask if a student in interested in sharing his/her experiences rather than singling someone out in class discussions
- If a student veteran seems to be struggling, talk with him or her
- Know the resources that are available, this includes VetNet, but also the services that are available to all GCC students, both traditional and online
- Remember that sometimes active duty students need flexibility with due dates—be accommodating when possible
- Introduce them to organizations and activities on campus. Review tips for Getting Student Veterans off the Sidelines for some ideas
- Capitalize on each veteran’s strength and determination to help reach educational goals
The VetNet resource center is a must-stop for veterans on campus—it is the place to get certified for educational benefits, meet other vets and find support for challenges. Advisors can learn how to meet the needs of this population from the NACADA: Advising Student Veterans.
Perhaps one of the best all around sites for learning about student veterans is the American Council on Education: Supporting Student Veterans. The articles and resources here are directed at all members of the educational community. You will find information on helping make the transition from soldier to student and much more.
At the mid-semester point, we can start to see and feel fatigue setting in for both our students and ourselves. Finding that spark of creativity and enthusiasm can bring our classes to life and give us the energy to finish the semester as strong as we began. It can be as simple as new discussion starters, innovative ways to structure assignments or useful encouragement for students.
Working from the experience and practice of other faculty is often helpful. The Center for Teaching and Learning at UNC Charlotte has compiled an impressive list of Best Practices in College Teaching that looks at the kinds of challenges we all face.
- The Thoughtful Questions section is full of stimulating one-liners for those times when there is a lag in the discussion. These can also be used for critical thinking about course material and concepts.
- Use the Rewarding Learner Participation section to help move discussions forward in ways that simple praise doesn’t often do.
This is just a fraction of what this link has to offer!
You are sure to find your own favorite new ideas to try. Our challenge to you is try one new idea during your next class. Write it into your lesson plan for the day. Then chose another and another….
As professors and educational professionals, we are expected to be experts in our discipline, but may lack the skills and knowledge to help students who struggle with mental and emotional health issues. This is not a new concern, but studies show that the number of college students with both diagnosed and undiagnosed mental illness is increasing. Mental Health Awareness Week (Oct 5-11) at GCC has raised our consciousness of the issue and stimulated discussion about meeting the needs of all our students.
In 2011, The Wall Street Journal published a piece entitled, A Serious Illness or an Excuse? Looking at the issue of mental health and college students by Andrea Petersen This article highlights some of the common challenges for both students and faculty as they try to navigate these often stormy waters. Take a few minutes to read this article– you will gain a fresh perspective on what it is to be a student who is struggling.
If you think mental health issues are isolated or overstated, look through the National Alliance on Mental Health’s report, College Students Speak, A Survey Report on Mental Health. In essence, this organization has found a significant demonstrated need for support for college students face a variety of mental health issues such as depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety and PTSD. The report includes a section on what students should know and what faculty & support staff need to know.
While it might be somewhat easier to identify students who are struggling when we see them in person and work face-to-face, online students are often a different story. In Identifying and Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Online Students in Higher Education, Bonny Barr provides some common clues that students may need extra support. Just as valuable as her insights and research are, the links she provides at the conclusion of the article to mental health resources are ones to bookmark. Keep in mind that resources are available for online GCC students, just as they are for traditional students. Think about adding a link to the GCC Wellness Center to your online class.
Here at GCC, many faculty and staff have worked with students who are dealing with mental health issues in our classrooms and offices. Don’t go it alone. There are specific resources to help students create paths to learning and being a part of the GCC community.
If you struggle with writing exams, know that you are not alone. Constructing well-written, clear and meaningful exams can give any faculty pause. We strive to link learning and course objectives to the assessment while providing an accurate measure of learning and knowledge–not an easy task. We often know what to test, but getting at the heart of that in a meaningful and well-phrased, concise question is an art. Here are some resources to stimulate your thinking and exam prep.
In Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis (p. 362-365), the general strategies include:
- Focusing on learning outcomes and the learning to be assessed
- Viewing the test as a means of understanding students’ intellectual progress
- Concentrating n validity and reliability
- Using a variety of testing formats and question types
Indiana University in Bloomington’s How to Write Better Tests, A handbook for Improving Test Construction Skills offers a primer on all facets of testing and the pros and cons of different strategies. The handbook includes new ideas, such as the T/F—fill in the blank combination question and advice on scoring exams.
The Center for Instructional Development and Research is an important resource for writing any exam. Here you will find articles in critical target areas such as aligning exams with learning, writing exams, question types and grading.
Multiple choice exam questions:
Some teaching books that we really like here at GCC with information on assessments and writing strong test questions: (Copies of these books are available at the library.)
- Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis
- Effective Grading, A Tool for Learning and Assessment in College by Barbara E. Walvoord and Virginia Johnson Anderson
By now you are getting to know your students and have an idea of who they are as learners. Perhaps you have already discussed accommodation agreements with specific students and you are looking for ways to ensure that each student achieves learning objectives and course competencies. One way to communicate with students is the Early Progress Report (EPR).
This fall the deadline for Early Progress Reports is October 27th at 2pm. But, there is no reason that you need to wait until then. Students may find it helpful to have these reports earlier. The sooner they understand the nature of the problem, the sooner they can make changes, discuss options for staying in the class, and perhaps most importantly, they can get the help they need to be successful in your course. Even more importantly, the more quickly struggling students are identified and receive academic support; the more likely they are to stay in college and achieve educational goals.
If you have an inkling that a student may be struggling, but are not be sure how to help, the EPR can set the stage for additional academic support. Use the ERP for students who are not making satisfactory progress in your course or who might be displaying behaviors what could lead to academic difficulty (i.e. tardiness or absenteeism).
In the early progress report, you can include information about:
- Course expectations (you might include excerpts from the syllabus)
- Detailed feedback about student work
- Suggestions about extra academic help (tutoring, use of class resources, etc)
- Ideas for improvement
- Your office hours and contact information
The ERP can create accountability. It encourages the student to take steps to remedy the situation and make improvements. It can also alert the student’s advisor about challenges the student is facing.
To help tailor your suggestions to students facing failure or academic difficulty here are some helpful links for resources at GCC:
It is never to early to be thinking about how you will grow and learn this academic year. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in the start of classes that we forget to make plans to attend on campus events or submit proposals and attend conferences in the region. Here is a handy list of excellent professional development events for you to mark on your calendar. Money is often available to help defray costs of travel and registration. These events are also on the Teaching and Learning schedule.
PD on and Off campus 2014-2015
As we start making plans for our classes and our students, we have to admire how much has changed in a few short months. During the summer GCC has been thriving, growing and moving in exciting directions. The commitment to students, staff, faculty and the community remains strong, but the tools that allow us to create and foster success have expanded and deepened.
For instance, you have probably noticed the new look of the GCC website—these changes make the site more mobile-friendly. There are new technology and moodle resources to help students and faculty. Plus there are new posts and links at the Teaching and Learning site to help solve problems, see common challenges in new ways and support the vital work that happens at GCC.
But perhaps most importantly, we have new students and many returning students who will be new to each of us. They will look to us to nurture, support and encourage their educational goals. While each of us has our own tried and true methods, the best teachers and staff are those who are looking to improve, innovate and take risks. Now is the ideal time to try something new…. and there are resources to help do that! Read about the moment that Eric Mazur’s teaching changed dramatically.
The start of the semester is exciting—full of transitions and fresh starts. This is the time to “hook” students and get them interested in your class and the work they will do! Take a look at 101 ideas for the First Three weeks of Class.
General Tips and Ideas:
Also available on the Teaching and Learning website are ideas for working with diverse populations, motivating students, designing courses and assignments, etc. You can use the search tool or the menu on the right hand side of the site. If there are resources you have to share or ideas for additional resources, please let me know at email@example.com.
Have a great semester!
Here we are in the last week of classes and starting final exams. While it is easy to let off the accelerator a little bit, this is the time to put all our efforts into the final lap around the track. Role model the behaviors and attitudes that you want to see from your students–help them carry their natural momentum to the end of the academic year. With final exams fast approaching, we need our students to stay focused and committed to learning.
The last day of class is a time to praise students and show them how far they have come in a few short months. Everyone deserves and needs a pat on the back! Read what some faculty do to end the semester on a high note and ideas for the last day of class and think about how you can adapt these ideas to fit your students, discipline and teaching style.
Think about incorporating some new review techniques into final exam preparation. Show students that getting ready for the final exam can be fun and productive.
Share these studying tips and techniques with your students. They can help this semester and in the future! Encourage study groups and ways of connecting that might make this time of year less stressful.
Once the grades are calculated and entered, it is easy to out the semester to bed and forget about our own learning. We have all learned so much this semester, from our students and our colleagues—reflect on this learning. Review your syllabus from the semester and decide NOW what worked well and what needs revision. The postmortem should include assessment of how well you believe students met learning objectives and course competencies. Your assessment will give you a head start on next semester.