March 18, 2011

What I learned about teaching this quarter

Another quarter has come and gone already. At the end of each term, I like to look back at what I've tried to do in the class and figure out what worked, what didn't work, and what I can do to improve for the next quarter.

What worked:

"Reading Quizzes" due at 8:00 am every day of class.  Okay, I'm still not convinced that the students are actually reading the text as much as I want them to, nor do I necessarily like calling them "Reading Quizzes" but I do get great information about what is generally the most confusing aspects of the material that we are going to cover.

I'm going to try to improve these by off-loading some of the clicker questions onto the "Reading Quizzes" in an attempt to make students confront their misconceptions and gaps in understanding.

What didn't work so well:

The Interactive Lecture Demonstrations were not as effective as I had hoped.  They took too much time and the payoff wasn't what I was hoping for.  I may try a few more, but I'm also thinking that I need to attend one of their workshops to see how to do them better in class.

What I learned:

I had a rough Fall quarter.  At the end of that quarter I felt that I knew less about teaching than I did at the start of the quarter. Part of the reason I reflect on what I've learned about teaching each quarter is an attempt to get better at teaching.  Before last Fall, every single term I had taught I felt like I was carrying forward lessons which I had learned and was therefore becoming a better teacher.  But my Fall quarter was pretty much the opposite of everything I had ever before experienced.  Strategies which worked well in the past crashed and burned. Students were frustrating and became closed to trying new ways of learning.  I tried adapting, I really did, but in the end I felt like the students and I were just surviving the class and each other.

This past quarter was a much better experience. True, the classes were smaller, probably in part due to the students wanting to get as far away from a bad teacher as possible. The students who remained were more willing to engage in the material and I feel that the class got deeper into the material this quarter than last.

I hadn't changed much in the way of what I was doing in class.  There were a few minor tweaks here and there, but overall the class was largely the same experience.  As this Winter quarter was drawing to an end I was trying to figure out what I had learned about teaching that would carry forward to next quarter. It was then that I realized the main difference between the two quarters was that somehow I had connected with the students in the Winter in a way that I had not in the Fall.

I'm still not sure what the difference was in HOW I connected with these students.  The point is that, when there was no connection, the class was disengaged and uninterested in learning. The more connected I felt to the class, the more willing to engage with the material they seemed to be.

It seems so obvious now that it is almost silly that I had to learn this lesson for myself.  I know in previous environments I've been in it has been easier to connect with students.  I don't know why it was harder last Fall, and in a sense it doesn't really matter.  I just need to remember to be cognizant of how the class is getting along with me so that we can't concentrate on learning.

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