Archive for October, 2009

Early in the semester I stated:

Thankfully, none of my classes have what I consider to be too many students.  I was surprised recently to hear somebody complain about having 27 students instead of the expected 22.  I realize that, for a class of that size, five students is a 23% increase, but I cannot yet grasp the idea that 27 students can be too many.  Of course, I’ve been conditioned by teaching years of classes with between 50 and 80 students.  Maybe I need to bookmark this post and read it in a year or two when I find myself acclimated to my new environment and complaining to the registrar about every student over 20.

While I still don’t feel that any of my classes are too big, I have been surprised by the lack of difference between teaching a class of 65 students and a class of 35 students.  One nice thing is that grading takes about half as long.  In terms of the proportion of students who participate daily and the day-to-day classroom experience, though, things are not a lot different.  I’m not ready to start complaining yet, but I wouldn’t mind a smaller class.  I guess I vastly overestimated the amount of time it would take to change my perspective on this issue.

Read Full Post »

During my time teaching college students I have tried a number of ideas to encourage students to complete the class reading assignments.  This semester is different only because I wrote a rant about the need for professors to hold students accountable for coming to class prepared.  Toward that end, I have given the students in each of my three courses daily quizzes since the second day of the semester.  These quizzes typically consist of one question about the previous day’s class discussion and two questions about the reading.

So far, the quizzes have been good and bad, with the negatives seeming to outweigh the positives.  The positives include students who have an incentive to do the class reading.  In the case of busy students (and most of them claim to be busy), this sometimes means that they read for my classes first because they know they will be held accountable for the material on the quiz.  The negatives include taking up a lot of time at the beginning of each class (especially during the 50-minute MWF classes), student whining, and the fact that I am constantly reminded that not all students come to class prepared.  In previous semesters there was no way to know how many of the students had skipped the reading.  Now I do.  Finally, as I’ve noted before, student preparation does not necessarily translate into student participation.

Right now I’m not sure what I’ll do to encourage student reading next semester.  I’ve considered allowing students to self-report their level of preparation and also give themselves a daily participation grade.  This approach has worked for others that I’ve observed and I think that it is worth a try.  On a daily basis, the biggest benefit of this idea would be the increased class time.  The most comforting aspect, though, may be my reduced knowledge of the number of students who don’t do the reading.

Read Full Post »

Since I took it upon myself to school my freshmen students to the fact that students who talk in class at a private college are wasting a lot of money, student behavior has greatly improved.  Sure, students still occasionally talk to each other during class, but these sidebar conversations are much shorter, quieter, and less distracting overall than they were before I staged my intervention.  Unfortunately, I’ve had another problem related to student talking: many of them are reluctant to participate in class.

Over the course of my teaching career I have done a lot of things to try to improve student participation and to give quiet students a chance to participate in meaningful ways.  These efforts have included in-class writing, debates, and the ever-present think/pair/share.  Despite the use of these efforts this semester, there have been many days when I posed questions only to be met with blank expressions or students looking down at their notes.

Obviously, students who have not prepared for class may not feel comfortable participating, but when I call on students they typically have relevant contributions to make.  I’ve considered whether I am simply asking the wrong questions, and some of my questions are surely too obvious, too complex, or considered irrelevant, but I do not think that this is typically the case.  As I learned student names this semester and was better able to call on students to draw them into class discussions, the problem lessened.  The idea that student participation is a key part of my classes gradually seems to be sinking in, but there are still times when I want to tell my students to S(peak)TFU.

Read Full Post »

I’ve noted before that How I Met Your Mother is one of my favorite comedies, but the beginning of this season has been even better thanks to Ted’s experiences teaching architecture to college students.  Full episodes are available online for your time-wasting pleasure, but here are a few clips that provide a taste of what I’m talking about.

First, we have Ted’s first day of class, which is actually similar to my own first day teaching college students.  And second, Ted gives Barney the kind of pop quiz that I can only dream about.  I bet that would get students’ attention.

Read Full Post »

Pitse1eh’s post the other day about drowning in teaching as a first-semester assistant professor got me thinking about my own division of labor (or lack thereof).  She wrote:

I’m drowning. I really am. I find myself wondering if I worked all those long years just to get a job that I don’t even like. I constantly tell myself that it will get better, that everyone has a hard first year, that when all of my classes aren’t new prep things will calm down and I’ll be able to return to what I really love — research.

Over a month into my first semester as an assistant professor, I also haven’t had any time for research.  As I commented on her blog:

I’m in my first semester at a liberal arts school, and my experiences have been largely similar to yours. I have a 3-3 teaching load and I currently have two new preps, but I am exempt from service (including advising) this year. I teach at 8 or 9 am every day (and I am terrible at working from home), so I am in my office from 7:30-4:30 five days a week and do whatever else needs to be done at home (usually on Sundays). I’ve been working about 50 hours a week but exam season is in full swing so I anticipate that that will increase.

Next semester I will have one new prep and I will probably continue to have one or two new preps each semester for the next few years until I’ve covered all of the classes that will make up my primary rotation. As I look around at my colleagues, they have a set of prepared classes that they teach and occasionally teach a new course. They obviously still have to spend time grading but they are not doing nearly the amount of work to prepare that I am. I’m looking forward to getting to that point.

The biggest difference between the two of us seems to be that I like research but love teaching. Because of this, the fact that I have spent absolutely no time on research since the semester started doesn’t bother me. I’m looking forward to getting back to research over winter break and continuing next semester when I have a bit more time, but for now I don’t think much about it.

I would imagine that there are a lot of people in Pitse1eh’s position, having accepted jobs that will eventually allow them to spend time on research but finding themselves overwhelmed with teaching.  Although I’m not in this position, I’m still looking forward to next semester when I will have fewer preps and more classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Read Full Post »

I like the idea of Monday-Wednesday-Friday courses.  Three 50-minute class sessions each week can help prevent students from getting bored in class.  These short sessions are also more easily filled with a class exercise or discussion, allowing me to cover fewer topics in more depth.

Until the beginning of this semester, I had never taught a Monday-Wednesday-Friday course.  In graduate school my courses were either once or twice a week.  I never really considered the ramifications of this until the semester got underway and I realized that there are not enough week days to prepare for two new MWF preps.

So far this semester I’ve been preparing for each class session a day or two in advance.  This means that I prepare for Wednesday on Monday or Tuesday and Friday on Wednesday or Thursday.  This also means that the only in-office time I have to prepare for Monday’s class is Friday afternoon.  Unfortunately, I can rarely prepare quickly enough to avoid my prep time overflowing into the weekend.

Someday when I only have to prep one class (or fewer!) a semester, this may not be too bad.  As it is I’ve resolved the problem in the near term by arranging my spring preps for Tuesday-Thursday.

Read Full Post »