Things you would have done differently

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Caly:
Hello all,

I may be teaching a course next year with an associated lab section.  This will be the first time that I will be responsible for an entire class.  I was hoping some of you might tell me about some of the small (or not so small) things that you would do differently or that you have incorporated into your classroom.

Thanks.

helpful:
What kind of lab? What subject is it? The more specificity the more those with similar experiences can help. (and how many students?) (and what year of their program?)

B.F.:
One of the changes I have made since the first time I taught a course has been to incorporate more discussion. These are some techniques I use now with discussions:
 
1) On the first day of class I conduct a discussion in which I state controversial statements related to course topics and have students either go to the front (agree) or back (disagree) wall. I then ask for a few students from each wall to say why they chose that side. It is important to arrange desks so students have room to move back and forth.

2) I ask students to get into groups of three or four to discuss a particular issue. I ask each group to select a spokesperson who reports the group's results to the class. You can use this technique to have the groups come up with examples for course concepts and then write down examples for the next time you teach the lecture.

3) Tell the class to read up on material they will discuss the next class period and tell them to bring their textbook. The students can then be given time in class to look up the answers to problems, case studies, etc. and discuss the results with the class.

4) Tell students to turn to the student next to them and talk about a particular issue. This technique is particularly useful when you need to handle an unexpected situation. You can have the students discuss pretty much anything related to the class topic.

There were times my first time teaching a course that I had miscalculated how long it would take to discuss a topic leaving me with extra time in the class period to kill. The second type of discussion I list above would have been particularly useful do when that occurred.

I suggest that you do mid-term evaluations. I found myself needlessly worrying that things were not going well in my courses. Giving mid-term evaluations allowed me to see what was really going on. I also suggest you have students fill out surveys regarding aspects of the course you are concerned about. I have them fill them out for extra credit points. I write the survey questions so that students will respond with suggestions on how to make course projects better and I then incorporate many of their suggestions.

It can be very difficult when you first begin teaching, but it gets easier with time. Teaching is a skill and like most skills it takes time to develop. Good luck.

Sharon:
For classes up to 100 students, I learn everybody's name...It is extremely difficult, but I accept the ordeal, thinking of it as a long-term investment in staying away from Parkinson and Allzeimer :)

I think this is the single most important element that boosted my teaching evaluations. I am too lazy to design exercises & stuff, so i just lecture on and on...which they actually like (probably because they are lazy as well :)

FFT:
The one piece of advice I would pass on is the single most important piece of advice I was given by the person who trained me as a teacher, not so long ago. She would always repeat to me: "You can use whatever style and techniques you want in the classroom, but you should always have in mind a specific reason for using them". She emphasized to me that all teaching techniques have their place and can be used to good effect in the appropriate setting - whether it's lecturing, small-group discussion, the use of readings, different types of assessment, etc. But it's essential that you as a teacher know *why* you choose to use this technique. Even if your reasons turn out to be wrong and the technique doesn't work, it's much easier to assess what happened and to fix the problem if you were clear to yourself why you expected the technique to work in the first place. As a bonus, if your students ever challenge the techniques you're using (I experiment a lot, so it sometimes happens to me :)), you'll have an answer ready immediately!

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