Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy instructional new year

Seeing as we're approaching the New Year, I thought we could share classroom-related New Year's resolutions for 2008: something we'd like to be more conscientious about, improve upon, etc. I''ll go first:

Return student work in a more timely fashion. I'm usually good about this, getting student papers back to them within a week of the due date. But occasionally it takes longer than it should, and the longer it takes, the less students attend to (or can do much with) the feedback I provide. Sometimes this is just a matter of sheer workload, but (I admit) it's traceable to my dislike of grading. I actually enjoy reading people's work and providing comments, but the need to assign grades tends to kill my motivation for some reason. So let's see if I can be more on the ball in this regard next year.

What's your resolution?


  1. Not quite a resolution yet, but I am trying to decide whether I should resolve to make massive, detailed semester-long course calendars detailing what we'll be doing on just about every day throughout the semester.

    My motivation for doing this is that I'm considering giving short, 1/2 page writing assignments on many (or most) of the readings and I think this could all work out better if they had such a detailed schedule.

    (The goal here is to get more people to do more of the reading; I've tried in-class reading quizzes, but this hasn't worked: most students do very poorly and it takes up too much time, so maybe these writing assignments will do the trick).

    Until now I've just given an order of readings on the syl. and given the details in class.

    Dr. Phil would ask me, "Is this working for you?" and my answer would have to be, "No," so I'm looking to try something new to meet my goal of getting the students to do the reading and thus be adequately prepared for class.

    Should I make this resolution? If not, is there a better resolution to make to address these issues?

  2. Hmm...where to begin with resolutions? My biggest teaching goal for the upcoming semester, at least, is to find some more non-lecture-based learning activities that work well for me.


    One thing I've tried is to ask students to write short summaries of a specific passage from the reading. Not only does this ensure that they at least read an important passage, but it also gives them regular, hands-on practice at interpreting the text. I think it worked pretty well. I used a semester-long course calendar for this, but I'm not sure you'd need to.

    For one assignment, I posted my own summary (after the due date), along with comments about things that students often missed or confused. I then had students write about how their summaries resembled and differed from mine, and what concrete steps they could have taken to improve it. Students said that this was helpful.

  3. I will be serious about reading more secondary literature about material that I am unacquainted with.

    I will also use more diverse means to evaluate students: quizzes, presentations, protocols, exegetical essays, argumentative essays, exams, et cetera.

  4. I *will* resist the urge to lecture. I will, I will, I will.

    As for the reading problem: what I do is put a question about the reading on the board at the start of each class. A simple question, not 'philosophical' at all; just asking for some piece of info, just a word or two, that anyone who had read the material with a reasonable level of attention would certainly have picked up. (But not so easy that a student could find the answer in a moment or two of skimming after arriving in class.) I make available a box of small slips of paper. They write their answer and their name on a slip and hand it in. (Answers are due by the time class starts, so this is also useful for getting them to be in class on time.)

  5. I will try to do a better job at getting to know my students, I think that my job is usually much easier if I establish an early connection, but teaching 3-4 large classes a semester makes it difficult and energy-consuming...

  6. I would like to employ more learning activities in class this year, as my classes tend to include lecture and a good deal of discussion. The trick is finding or coming up with good ones. I recall Nathan mentioning his use of these in class. Are there any you'd like to share, Nathan, to help me keep my resolution?

  7. Since Mike asked (and someone else asked this in a comment on my post about lecturing), here are some of the things I do. Many of them are motivated by my observations as a TA in grad school that oftentimes what students heard and what they were thinking was quite different from what the professor was saying (i.e., he said one thing, what they heard was totally different), so I came to think that it's good to often try to find out what students are thinking. (Lecturing is not good for this).

    - Write some common, but less than clear, claim on the board and ask them, on paper, to explain what someone might means when they say this. Then discuss, weed out the better and worse proposals.

    - Ask them, on paper, to come up with as many reasons people might give in favor (or against) that claim. You've got the start of arguments to evaluate.

    - I often quickly "lecture" by distinguishing a number of possible positions one could take on an issue (i.e., conclusions) and then, in groups, have them come up with as many reasons they can think of for those conclusions. (If you do this for abortion, you'll find that most students' argument about abortion are ones that philosophers never discuss.)

    - I see my ethics class as basically an applied basic logic class, so I am interested in them learning how to formulate arguments in valid form, and so identifying missing premises, thinking about whether the premises are true or not and why, whether there are counterexamples to such premises, etc. I have a whole set of worksheets I have devised to try to do this (they come after some of the techniques above have been used). Some discussion on this blog has given me some ideas about how I should profitably scale back on the discussion of numbers of arguments and leave them to think through on their own in their papers.

    - We make a lot of charts to try to develop correct definitions / find the "essence" of a thing. E.g., instead of telling them various theories of what a person is, we develop a chart with one column of things that are clearly persons (and possible things for which the term person would apply, a bit tricky for them), things that are clearly non-persons, and unclear cases in the middle. Then we try to figure out what the persons have in common that makes them persons, etc. I find this chart and cases method to be useful for lots of things, including just doing philosophy in general.

    OK, those are a few things I try to do besides lecture. What do other people do besides lecture?

  8. My resolution is to start coming up with assignments for my students that are more enjoyable to grade and comment on. I figure this should help both me and my students.


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