Quick Tips on Teaching

Nicole Deterding, the Departmental Teaching Fellow for Sociology, shares a quick tip on teaching.

Have questions about Nicole’s ideas? Leave a comment, and she’ll get back to you!

3 thoughts on “Quick Tips on Teaching

  1. Nicole’s approach is a great way to start the semester, but often the first meeting of section or lab jumps right into content and we don’t have the luxury of time to delve into an open-ended discussion of goals (theirs, ours), meta-goals and the hidden curriculum, *even if* it’s one of our priorities. When we don’t have control over the course schedule, how do we apply this quick tip? Is there a 2-minute version–like having each student mention why they’re taking the class during their introduction–that keeps it short without seeming giving the thought process short-shrift (and thereby setting a *bad* example)?

    • Hi Erin,

      Great question! You hint at this with your last parenthetical, but as a sociologist, I’ll boldly assert that the first few meetings of a group are *always* about establishing expectations. Whether the process is modeled implicitly or made explicit is your choice as an instructor, stemming from your own goals, teaching philosophy and personal style. My quick tip suggests a way one might explicitly facilitate an inevitable social process: how do we begin to reconcile our students’ expectations of us and our expectations of them this semester?

      Improving content knowledge is an expectation that could easily go unstated since, as you point out, there’s likely more than enough to material to cover that first meeting. As teachers, though, we also have other important objectives for our students. In my case, I want to help my students build skills that transfer beyond our classroom. I hope they move past memorizing facts to develop the attitudes and behaviors of a scholar in my field.

      These kinds of goals are less likely to be at the forefront of students’ minds as the semester begins. As section leaders, we can help them envision the range of possibilities for our time together. Taking 5 minutes to start with “what do good sections achieve?” and “what is unproductive in this setting?” is a nice, grounded way to start the discussion. It begins with the things they viscerally understand (what it feels like to be a student in a classroom) but hints at something they may not have articulated before (the goals and desires these feelings indicate). If they can start to make those connections, they’re on the way to being reflective learners. Five minutes is usually enough for that first day—plenty of time left for the tough parts of the readings!

      Regardless of how one chooses to accomplish expectation-setting, I’d suggest it jibe with the plan for the rest of the semester. Asking students why they’re taking the course could be useful if you have flexibility to cater to those things. On the first meeting, though, be prepared that students’ reasons may be disappointingly narrow or may not be things that the course can provide. A discussion—no matter how brief—provides an opportunity to guide them towards the bigger-picture objectives.

      Of course, accomplishing these objectives is another matter entirely! That is an ongoing process that unfolds over the semester, whether one prefers to model her priorities though how she uses her section time or to combines that with some “meta-level” signposting.

      Other teachers out there: what do you do to find out whether your expectations align with those of your students?

  2. Those are great ideas. Even as Erin posted, if there is not time, we must make time. When we take a few moments to discuss students expectations, we are non-verbally sharing that they are important and their input is important.

    Sound and sage advice, Nicole.

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