Friday, June 5, 2015

TERM'S END THOUGHTS and How to Engage Me at Your School


The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.
~Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

The deep purpose of education, in its best sense, is to support people in developing the capacity to live well together in the world.
~ Emily Lardner:  The Evergreen State College, Washington Center for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education. 2005.

I wanted a perfect ending . . .  Now, I've learned the hard way that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle and end.
Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and  making the best of it,  without knowing what's going to happen next.   Delicious ambiguity.
~ Gilda Radner, 1946-1989 American comedienne

Executive Summary  During 2008-2011, more than 250 Hawaii Pacific University faculty--both full time and part time--signed on to a web-based faculty-support program called Adjunct Success.  Through this program, faculty had available a series of 16 web seminars (live and in recorded archive), a bimonthly newsletter and many other resources.  The author of this program, Richard Lyons, offered in 2008 some end-of-term counsel that highlights adjustments to consider at this time when students stress out right along with some of us.  His newsletter advice is so concise, timely and on-target that I asked permission to reprint it below in mail I sent monthly to faculty.
Seven years later, it remains excellent counsel.

By Richard Lyons, Faculty Development Associates
Originally published in the bi-monthly e-newsletter of Adjunct Success, and reprinted by permission.

As the term enters its last few weeks, it is common for some students to demonstrate signs of fatigue and a loss of momentum. Telltale signs might include:
  • Arriving late to class, often in a flustered state;
  • Missing one or more classes when their previous attendance was exemplary;
  • Failing to meet due dates for assignments;
  • Being under-prepared for in-class assignments;
  • Submitting assignments that don't meet their previous standards, and/or yours;
  • A decline in mental engagement and participation in classroom discussions;
  • A decline in spontaneity and/or sense of humor.
Remembering that today's students are often working too many hours and trying to maintain balance in other aspects of their lives, try to practice Stephen Covey's "Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood." The key to overcoming barriers to students' acceptable completion of this course is proactive, helpful communications. Talk with individual students - especially to those whose loss of momentum has been most dramatic, and to the class as a whole, to develop a grounded perspective. At this point in the term, students frequently perceive doom in not only yours, but other courses they are taking. Consider making slight adjustments in assignments that will be perceived as demonstrating understanding for students' welfare, without markedly lowering your standards. Often, students will perceive even a slight relaxation of high standards as a huge stress reducer.
In addition, examine your plans for the remaining few class meetings. Consider modifying activities to induce added energy into each by:
  • Shortening the length of lectures;
  • Using more visuals, such as video clips of current news events, to increase the relevance and applicability of course material in students' minds;
  • Employing more collaborative learning activities in which application is made of concepts studied throughout the course;
  • Scheduling an upbeat guest speaker who can synthesize course material studied throughout the term;
  • Provide informal feedback to each student more frequently;
  • Adding humor when appropriate, e.g. "top ten reasons why . . ."
We can probably all recall a time when we "hit the wall" -- physically, intellectually, and/or emotionally. And we can also probably recall a coach, mentor, or teacher who helped us get over that overwhelming obstacle. Becoming that kind of supporting person for your students during the last class meetings will enable you to have a long-term impact on their academic and career success.


Do a Quick Self-Evaluation of Teaching  At least one class before you do the required end-of-term student evaluation, consider a quickie of your own:   a fast stop-start-continue, perhaps done on index cards:  A + What worked best for you in this class?  A -  What made learning here difficult for you?  On the card reverse If you were making a recommendation about something I could change, what would that be?  [Even if you haven’t done regular self-evaluations, doing this can blunt the useless and sometimes hurtful end-of-term “bombs” that sometimes appear in written EOT comments.]  When you share the results with students, offer your own view of what worked best.  (At the link just below, you’ll find a variety of templates, including a quickie recently contributed by Malia Smith.)

Establish a goal for one teaching change in your next classes   Plan to try a new strategy, observe a colleague, ask a potential mentor to observe you.  Consider regular self-assessment in your next class: Self-Assessment of Teaching Builds Trust & Provides Practice-Improving Data=    (this will redirect to the new location at HPU’s web site)

Find out what students learned in your class   Students learn much more than content in your class; they often also discover or build/enhance skills in how to learn, from us or from each other.  Often they enhance self-awareness of their own learning strengths and challenges.  Why not ask them to identify their major learnings?  This could take the form of the simplest of one-minute papers, or a “letter to a future student.”  What was your top learning, about content or about your own learning process, that would help you if you started this class again, and that you could pass on to other students?  Sign if you wish, and I’ll acknowledge you as the author; or comment anonymously.  In doing this, you’re giving them an opportunity to reflect on the most helpful parts of their experience; an opportunity to serve future students, and a document you can make part of your teaching portfolio.  The same kind of experience could be generated by a journaling exercise.



I can do focused, interactive workshops
on active learning and college classroom management
and other topics.

Local expenses (rental car, lodging) as needed, or a small honorarium.

I live in VT and can travel easily and cheaply on the east coast.
During each year I am 6-8 times on the west coast, especially
in Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco, Reno, and Los Angeles.
In mid November I am in Honolulu for two weeks.

I’m not a lecturer; interactive workshops that model
good practice are my focus. Write for references.

phone (cell) 808-781-3294
Michael Dabney
702 Wake Robin Drive
Shelburne, VT 05482

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