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Dear Faculty Commons,
My students and I are all starting to feel the mid-semester slump. I want to liven up my class sessions and also need some low-stakes ways to check in and see that students are getting the material. What can I do that doesn’t make a ton of extra work for me (#GradingAvalanche), and doesn’t sound scary, like a “pop quiz,” for the students?
Stumped about the slump
The weeks after midterms can be tough, but there are lots of small ways to get everyone re-engaged in your course. Here are some strategies that work for your students, without making too much more work for you!
Quick Writes are, well, quick!
There are lots of different kinds of quick write activities, and it is important to choose one that fits an explicit teaching goal. So let’s say that your goal is see how well students have made connections between new content and previous concepts. You could try having them write “60 second summaries” of the previous class session at the beginning of your current one. Collect them and assign a quick check or minus judgement based on the accuracy of the summary. You could also try this technique at the end of class.
A Google A Day keeps misconceptions at bay!
We learned about this great technique at this year’s Summer Institute on Teaching from composition instructor Andy Ross. What students come into our courses knowing through their daily lives can both help or hinder their learning–and this is certainly true of their information-seeking skills! This activity combines critical thinking about how and why we search for information with a free-write activity, and it helps to put students in a critical mindset at the early stages of a research assignment. It’s also a great way to start a conversation with your students about what they know about conducting research or finding information in order to identify gaps in understanding and help them transition to complex search systems such as scholarly databases. If you are teaching a writing course and looking for other low-stakes activities and assignments that can help students think about their research process, consider checking out the library’s repository of ENGL110 Information Literacy Activities.
Clicker Success Stories
Consider Clickers to involve every student, not just extroverts. Even if you’ve never used clickers before, the majority of UD students have had experience with them. Ask them to bring clickers to your class and try these low-stakes formative question types to gather input from the entire class. Student Perspective allows opinion expression without repercussion and promotes reflection. Misconception helps identify the muddiest point and heightens understanding. One-Better-Answer focuses on content evaluation and interpretation and enhances discussion. Peer Assessment engages entire class and supports process improvement. Download the free software from ats.udel.edu/clickers. Stop by Faculty Commons if you’d like a brief orientation to feel confident employing this teaching tool.
Many of our faculty are currently using Clickers as a well to get students engaged quickly and frequently. Terry Harvey (Computer Science) notes: “Clickers have helped me engage students in great ways. Students are more engaged when they are asked to commit to an answer, and the opportunities for pair-share and peer learning come faster and easier when prompted by clicker questions. When I explain what I am doing and why I am doing it, students pitch in and work hard, just as they did twenty years ago when I first started teaching.”
Create Mini Debates
You’ve probably already heard of the classic think/pair/share technique of having students turn to the person next to them and discuss for a few minutes. If the “share with your partner” prompt isn’t eliciting discussion, try making it more formal. Have each pair designate one person as A and the other as B and assign a specific role to each person. Person A could be on the pro side of an issue, with Person B on the con side. Or each person could have to emulate a specific thinker, author, or historical figure and argue a point from their perspective. The idea is to encourage structured disagreement in a low-stakes way such that students have to make and defend argument before coming together as a class to share their discussions.
Turn Social Media into an Asset
Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube are usually not welcome in your classroom, but we know that students spend lots of time on these platforms. Many faculty members are now creating hashtags for their courses (e.g. #UNIV601) and encouraging students to tweet or ‘gram content that relates to the class which can then easily be pulled into a feed. If that’s not your style, try asking students to keep an eye out on social media for relevant stories or content for your course. You can ask them to participate in “Social Media Show and Tell” for a few minutes and share why the feel the content is relevant or interesting.
What are your suggestions for avoiding the mid-semester slump?
Leave your comments and suggestions below!