Category Archives: Center for Instructional Practice

CIPs Teaching Tips – Spring 2013 #13 “Are your prompts and assignments more or less developmentally effective?”

According to the Sunday, April 14, 2013 issue of “Education Life” in the New York Times, “the Common Application has overhauled its essay prompts. The most popular option — write on a topic of your choice — is being eliminated. Instead, students will find prompts … designed to help them find focus and to encourage more personal reflection.” This is, of course, news that affects applying students and admissions officers, but those of us in the classroom can learn something from it as well.

Though the essay prompts provided are open enough to provide room for students to use their own voice and to formulate and convey their own opinions, they are also focused enough to help students  grasp what is being asked of them. This is extremely effective with prospective students and also with first year and sophomore students. Why? Because these students need guidance to build an idea. They need “representations” of concepts in order to grab hold of an abstract thought. Developmentally many of these students, no matter how bright, still have to work hard in order to apply abstract thought. These “representations” become a kind of abstract concrete for them to latch onto and use to build meaning.

Here’s an example of one of the prompts:

Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?”

This might not seem that guided, but it is much more guided than asking students to write “about themselves.” It also provides more focus than asking them to “Describe a time when you challenged a belief.” The second two sentences in the prompt act as building blocks. They help students to latch onto experiences, memories, or emotions they already possess in order to begin to construct their response.

The librarians will tell you how first and second year students come looking for sources about topics as broad as a particular era in history. Often this is because these students are not yet familiar with how to research well, but sometimes we do our students a disservice. We treat them as if they are graduate students. We expect them to be able to abstract and connect in ways that they truly have not learned yet. They are bright enough; they simply are not cognitively advanced enough.

This upsets many of us. We expect them to be ready. We might even demand they be ready. How can we reach them if we don’t meet them where they are and then propel them forward? When most of us went to college, it was filled with the best of the best. These were usually students who were bright and also the cream of the crop, as in, the most cognitively advanced. Many of our students will not be as cognitively advanced as we were when we entered college until their senior year, or perhaps not even until they graduate. More students go to college now than in years past. This means that the average level of cognitive development has changed.  Just because some of your students are as advanced (notice I did not say “bright”) as we were in undergraduate or even graduate school, this does not mean that they all are.

Some students aren’t motivated. Some are lazy. Some are struggling to understand what you want from them. They feel stupid. They probably aren’t. Help them out. Meet them where they are. Don’t “dumb down” your courses; remember, these students are bright. Rather, design your prompts and your assignments in a manner which helps them to make connections and create ideas. Give them the building blocks they need. Then go ahead and grade the hell out of whatever they build.

Here’s to another good year done and an even better one to come,
Cinse

 

NY Times article cited:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/education/edlife/extra-essay-requirements-on-college-applications-can-discourage-candidates.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

CIP, Center for Instructional Practice

Resources and support for every cycle of teaching…

Contact Director Cinse Bonino for a one-on-one CIP instructional design session:

Email: bonino@champlain.edu or CIP@champlain.edu Phone: 802 651 5965 Skype: cinse.cip

CIPs Teaching Tips – Spring 2013 #12 “One way to build a lesson”

Here’s a quick guide for creating a lesson based on mind, brain, and education concepts. Click on the link below. Click on “Okay” and then click on the arrow to play the Jing. You can scroll to the bottom of the document (as usual) on the sidebar.

You can use this format to make the lecture portions of your classes more interactive OR you can add more of the suggested activities for increased hands-on learning

Hope you find this useful,

Cinse

Here is the link if you need to copy and paste: \\cosmos\AdminHome\Bonino\1 MASTER FILES\Student jings videos or voice threads\One_way_to_build_a_lesson.swf

CIP, Center for Instructional Practice

Resources and support for every cycle of teaching…

Contact Director Cinse Bonino for a one-on-one CIP instructional design session:

Email: bonino@champlain.edu or CIP@champlain.edu Phone: 802 651 5965 Skype: cinse.cip

Wait! You want us to tell our students to turn their cell phones ON?!

Check out a recent article by our own Andy Burkhardt, and formerly ours Sarah Faye Cohen:

“Turn Your Cell Phones on”: Mobile Phone Polling as a Tool for Teaching Information Literacy”

(Click on title for access to webpage; you’ll need to scroll down to the table of contents on the site and then click on the article. A PDF version (full text) will be available there as well.”

Abstract

While mobile technologies are ubiquitous among students and increasingly used in many aspects of libraries, they have yet to gain traction in information literacy instruction. Librarians at Champlain College piloted mobile phone polling in a first-year classroom as a less expensive and more versatile alternative to clickers. By utilizing a technology that virtually all students have in their pockets librarians found that it increased engagement from previous iterations of the session. In addition, by asking poll questions about students’ experiences, librarians were able to facilitate in-depth inquiry into information literacy topics. Ultimately, from direct experience in over 30 different classes, we found that mobile phone polling is a useful tool for any librarian to have in their pedagogical toolbox.

CIPs Teaching Tips – Spring 2013 #11 “Grading Quick Tip”

It’s that time of the semester again – grading is or is about to pile up around our ears. Keep in mind that grading is your chance to give personalized feedback to your students. Good feedback helps them to learn. Make sure your feedback delivers this opportunity. If it simply gives them the ultimate, perfect answer instead of facilitating their growth; or if it ends up as a rant about what they did wrong, take a deep breath and change it. Turns out…we can learn a lot from grading too.

May your piles diminish in wonderful ways,

Cinse

CIP, Center for Instructional Practice

Resources and support for every cycle of teaching…

Contact Director Cinse Bonino for a one-on-one CIP instructional design session:

Email: bonino@champlain.edu or CIP@champlain.edu Phone: 802 651 5965 Skype: cinse.cip

CIPs Teaching Tips – Spring 2013 #10 “Medium”

One denotation of “medium” is a size that is smaller than large and larger than small. It can also mean an average amount as opposed to more than or less than usual. It can also have a connotation of being humdrum, boring, or even a compromise. Another definition of “medium” is someone who, or something which acts as a conduit or connection, creating a delivery system. What does “medium” have to do with teaching?

All of the above meanings of “medium” come into play when you end up with a class filled with a mix of students which includes a group whom are at a lower level of cognitive development than the rest of the class. This happens with the most frequency in first year classes. It might look something like this:

One group of students complains because you don’t give the “clear” directions. Another group in the same section complains you are too “picky” and “exact” about what you want them to do. You don’t seem to be able to win. Students say they want leeway but seem to stress when it is given to them, or students want clear guidelines but then complain when they are penalized for going outside of them. Why can’t they make up their minds? Meanwhile, there is another group of extremely bright and cognitively advanced students who get everything you say. What’s an instructor to do?

*You know you don’t want to teach in a wishy-washy, middle of the road (medium) style that doesn’t really work well for anyone.

*You are also certain that teaching only to those who get confused is unfair and provides nothing for your really bright students.

*You might feel as if you should teach only to the brightest and let the others “fall” where they may, but you are dedicated to creating an effective learning environment for any students willing to engage and apply themselves.

The solution to this situation involves the final definition of “medium” given above: creating learning opportunities which enable students to “connect” what they are learning to why they are learning it and how what they are learning will be useful in their lives and careers.

But there is a secret to making this work. In order to be successful you must design the learning in your classroom based on the following:

  • It is not enough to simply connect learning to lives and careers; students must SEE the connections.
  • They will not perceive these connections unless they are pointed out to them.
  • They will not understand these connections unless they are explained to them in an obvious and accessible manner.
  • They will most likely not remember these connections unless they are pointed out to them multiple times.

How does this help your bright students? Won’t they get bored while all this is going on around them? Not, if you use their comments and questions to elevate the discussion generated by helping students through the four steps above. Not if they are invited to help uncover the connections in the first place or encouraged to restate them in accessible ways (for their classmates).

Show your students the learning process; show them why what they are learning matters and how it fits into the design of their lives and careers. If they can see these connections, they will better grasp the new concepts and information they are learning. Better yet, they will carry them out the door of your classroom and use them in their lives and careers.

EXAMPLE:

Students need to learn that good communication is extremely important in creative fields. If a client, director, producer, or manager gives specifications or instructions about a deliverable to a creative professional, that individual needs to be able to listen well, discern what s/he knows or doesn’t know, and ask questions to clarify what needs to be done. S/he further needs to understand that the client, director, producer, or manager might not be clear about what s/he wants in the first place OR might not be good at communicating this OR both. Students are encouraged to treat assignments in a creative course as similar to the specifications or instructions they would receive in their careers. If the student complains about the instructions and blames the instructor for making them unclear, but does not ask for clarification, the student will receive a lower grade. The instructor will explain that this reflects what will happen in their career if they do the same there. If they are paid by the project (flat fee) they will have to put in many more hours of work redoing the project to get it up to spec. This results in time and therefor money lost. If they are paid by the hour, they will indeed get paid for all of their hours spent working; however, it is unlikely they will be rehired since they took so long to do the project!

*This method of making obvious connections can work in all areas of learning – science, math, the humanities, technology, or whatever.

Here’s to the wonderful mediums and methods available for showing connections to students and to a learning experience that’s far beyond “medium” in its worth and effectiveness,

Cinse

P.S. If you’d like help designing specific learning activities to uncover the connections in your course, make an appointment for a one-on-one at the CIP.

CIP, Center for Instructional Practice

Resources and support for every cycle of teaching…

Contact Director Cinse Bonino for a one-on-one CIP instructional design session:

Email: bonino@champlain.edu or CIP@champlain.edu Phone: 802 651 5965 Skype: cinse.cip

CIPs Teaching Tips – Spring 2013 #9 “Reconnecting after the break…”

If you break something – a leg, a vase, a relationship… and you want to mend it, you need to reconnect. Bone to bone; ceramic piece to ceramic piece; estranged partner to estranged partner. These transitions back to “what was” aren’t always easy. Sometimes, especially in relationships, even when you prepare for a reconnection it doesn’t go the way you envisioned it would. Reminding yourself about the foundation your relationship is based upon can be extremely helpful during these transitional times.

Consider Spring Break. It was nice for us and for our students to have time away from schoolwork. Of course, some of us, (and believe it or not, some of our students), did nothing but work over break. Regardless of whether your break involved work, pleasure, or both, it is now time to reconnect. Let’s remind ourselves of one of the foundations of our relationship to our students:

We are here to help our students learn.

While it is true that if the students weren’t here, we wouldn’t have a job, they are not here for us. We are here for them. Post break is a good opportunity to refocus on the fact that our primary purpose is to help our students learn. To provide opportunities for them to discover new concepts. To create learning environments which stimulate their curiosity and deepen their understanding. To see them not as individuals who get in the way of our teaching but rather as the individuals we are committed to help learn.

Happy transitioning,

Cinse

CIP, Center for Instructional Practice

Resources and support for every cycle of teaching…

Contact Director Cinse Bonino for a one-on-one CIP instructional design session:

Email: bonino@champlain.edu or CIP@champlain.edu Phone: 802 651 5965 Skype: cinse.cip

 

CIPs Teaching Tips – Spring 2013 #8 “A simple architectural design for a good class”

What makes a successful course or class session of a particular course? Here is one simple design to consider…

The FOUNDATION pillar – this pillar represents the foundational knowledge or skills upon which the course is based.

This knowledge or skill is cogent, widely recognized, accepted, juried, or reviewed.

The FOCUS pillar – this pillar represents the focus of exploration.

This focus provides an engaging and intelligent lens for exploring identified concepts or skills within the foundation pillar.

The METHODS arch – this arch creates a “way into” the focus concepts.

These methods provide experiences and explorations which help students to connect focus concepts to foundational knowledge in interesting, meaningful, available, useful, and lasting ways in terms of their future career, habits of mind, daily life, and perhaps their global citizenship.

So what?

Sounds like one feasible and possibly useful way to structure a course or class session, but what does it have to do with teaching and with course design?

Class Session

When you create a learning activity or lesson for a particular class session, remember the foundational information your lesson is based upon, but do not merely convey that particular foundational information. Instead, identify your “engaging and intelligent” focus – what are the specific concepts or skills you want students to connect back to the course’s foundational knowledge? The focus should be something which excites you and hopefully your students as well. Then, design a class activity or experience which enables students to use your chosen focus to explore your course’s foundational knowledge. Keep in mind that students often need to first “see” concepts in an arena that is well-known to them, and quite possibly outside of a specific discipline, before they can fully comprehend it within a given disciplinary setting. The methods you use to create this student learning experience should make the relevance of what they are learning impossible to miss. Design learning that helps students to discover and understand the connections between: what they are doing in class and the focus of your course; between the focus of your course and the foundational knowledge; and between all of these things and their careers and lives.

Course

A good course design identifies and addresses the two pillars and the arch mentioned above. Problems arise when any one component outweighs the others. A great foundation with no focus; fruitful methods with no substance; or an exciting focus which is not well-rooted in a strong foundation are all recipes for disaster. Arguments over course design often arise when individuals are concerned that one of the pillars is missing. This concern is often valid; however, the answer is not to focus on the foundation at the expense of the other components. And, while good methods make a course come together and help deliver learning to the students, methods alone are never enough. Different instructors excel at designing different components. Designing a good and effective course requires a mix of minds that represent skills in creating each of the components. The final skills needed are the ability to see the usefulness of what other colleagues have to offer and the willingness to collaborate to erect a strong course out of all the components needed.

Here’s to strong pillars and graceful arches,

Cinse

CIP, Center for Instructional Practice

Resources and support for every cycle of teaching…

Contact Director Cinse Bonino for a one-on-one CIP instructional design session:

Email: bonino@champlain.edu or CIP@champlain.edu Phone: 802 651 5965 Skype: cinse.cip