Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Making Your Classroom New Year’s Resolutions

Fall Quarter is over and done. Maybe it was a good one, or maybe it wasn’t so pretty. But it’s over. Time to reflect on the quarter and make some resolutions about what you’ll do in your classes in 2017. To help you get started, I’ll share some of my resolutions for 2017.

Resolution #1 – Listening with Intention

This is one of my resolutions that crosses over both my professional and personal life. Just before sitting down to write this blog post I had a meeting with a colleague. We decided to get away from our offices so agreed to meet at a nearby coffee shop. It was quite noisy (you know that sound that an espresso machine makes? It seemed to be amplified today!) which made it hard to listen carefully. But here’s an even bigger problem for me -I don’t know about you, but when I am having a conversation I tend to be thinking about my response even before the other person is finished talking. I’m sure I miss a lot of what the person is really trying to say, so I am going to practice looking at the person and focusing on them rather than my own responses. I have time to practice with family over the holiday, so I hope to come back to campus having sharpened this skill.

Can you see how this would be a good habit to work on in the classroom? I don’t think our students necessarily expect us to have an immediate answer to every question, so why not start a response with, “I like that question. Let’s unpack that some more.” That gives you a bit of “stall” time to formulate a response or to ask a clarifying question. Can’t tell you how many times I said to myself, “Oh, I’ve heard this question before” and my response was totally automatic. But sometimes I missed what the student was really asking so we had to start over again. Practicing listening with intention will be my homework over break.

Resolution #2 - Reflection

I think that building a practice of reflection is critical to good teaching and every aspect of my job. But how much time do I spend doing it, and how well do I do it? I bought myself a small notebook, and my second resolution is to make a note every day before I go home about something that happened that day. In fact, I am going to put this on my calendar so that I get a little reminder to do it!

What do I think the benefits will be and why do I think this is important? Terry Heick, founder and director of teachthought says that “reflection is a fundamental tenet of learning…to reflect means to look back at how something ‘went’ in all of its available parts and patterns.” What are those patterns? Strengths and weaknesses, comparisons and contrasts, and cause and effects among others.  Reflection will allow me to think about planning for the future (even if the future is as close as the next day) by reviewing the past. So my little black book will have a special place on my desk next quarter, and I am committing to writing every day about how at least one thing went.

Reflection #3 – Revision

I have been in my role as the Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning for 2 full years now. Most of you know that there is a steep learning curve when you start a new job, and because this is a newly created position, it seems like there is always more stuff that gets added to my position description. As it is, there are lots of moving parts, and as I begin every quarter it (almost) feels like a new job. But there are some activities or parts of my job that I feel like I have a good handle on now. So, do I just continue doing them in the same way for another year when things seem to be going well? I’m thinking about ways I can infuse some innovative practices into my work.

If you have been teaching the same class for a while, maybe it’s time to do some revision. While I do not recommend completely revising a class (especially only weeks from the beginning of a quarter), why not try a new assignment? Or introducing students to transparent rubrics if you have not been using them? Start small, and then measure the effects. If you use an assignment but create a new rubric, are you seeing an improvement in student grades and understanding of the material? Remember that revisions should not be taken lightly. They require substantial planning – even for something as “small” as a new assignment or rubric.

So if things don’t go well, reflect on what happened (see Resolution #2). Actually, even if things did go well, reflect on it! It could be that the assignment was a great one, but the directions were not clear. Ask students for feedback (using formative assessments) to help improve your work. And take a look back at September’s blog post, “What to do if you’re having an off day.” Learning from failure is an important task to master!

I hope that you had a great fall quarter, and are looking forward to the New Year, new classes, and new students. There is nothing more satisfying than the look on a student’s face when they begin to comprehend the material. I hope you have that experience many times in 2017!

- Peg Balachowski, Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning