Making Your Next Semester Easier

10 Ways to Make Your Next Semester Easier
  1. Read student evaluations.
  2. Encourage peer critique of assignments.
  3. Use templates for grading papers.
  4. Offer options for students to do drafts of papers.
  5. Offer opportunities for formative evaluation for both course and students.
  6. Set deadlines for assignments that meet your needs, as well as the students’.
  7. Don’t assume that assignments are clear; encourage questions early on in course.
  8. Don’t go wild with assignments; think of your own time, too.
  9. Make notes on syllabus for the next time that you teach the course.
  10. Keep a teaching journal.

Courtesy of Jeanne Sorrell; George Mason University School of Nursing

Lessons Learned:  4 Tips for Next Time

1.  Develop a Course Portfolio (all assignments, samples, notes, reflection).

  • Documents learning.
  • Gauges impact
  • Recognizes the organic nature of a class.

2.  Take Time for Reflection.

  • What is the main focus of the class, and do the readings/assignments match that focus?
  • What are the learning objectives for the course, and do the assignments meet these objectives?
  • Do the objectives, assignments, and activities reflect the overall course goals?
  • Is the time allocation for various activities realistic?

3.  Change It Up.

  • Consider how students learn today.
  • Find ways to integrate new technologies.
  • Change one thing to make it better

4.  Find Ways to Measure Impact.

  • Consider ways to count what you do (evaluations aren’t enough).
  • How do you know your course has meaning for students?
    • Different forms of evaluation
    • Thank you notes/emails
    • Reactions from other colleagues
    • Success at finding jobs/internships/other opportunities

Courtesy of Janette Muir, George Mason University New Century College

Teaching Tip:  ‘LEARN’ at the End of the Term

In the crazed weeks at the end of a semester, combat fatigue, ennui, and frustration by keeping everyone focused on LEARNing.

Let something go.

Faculty frequently over-plan courses, due to excitement about a topic, pressure to cover information, and/or a miscalculation of students’ abilities. And since many courses experience delays as faculty adapts to instructional life, we can end up feeling burdened by our own syllabi. Yet we know that cramming the last three weeks with six weeks’ worth of material is counterproductive for learning. Students are ready for and need in-depth learning. So prioritize one or two things you most want students still to learn, and deliberately cut out something else: an assignment, a lecture, a reading. If you then need to adjust your grading scale or your exam material, do so. Most importantly, tell students what you’re doing and why it will improve their learning.

Energize the classroom.

When everyone is burned out, keeping the same pace with the same steps is likely to lead to less learning. Consider trying something different with class time. Have students work briefly in pairs or trios on a question or issue. Distribute a short news article, show a YouTube clip, or bring in an artifact loosely related to class material. Have students write or draw, make models, design an ad campaign, give one-minute speeches or present three-minute plays. These activities may “take time away” from more serious classroom activities, but students – and faculty – often come back refreshed and more able to focus: subsequent learning will thus be more efficient and effective.

Ask your students.

Your students are smarter now than they were thirteen weeks ago. They’re not only ready to engage in synthesis and generation of new ideas, but they need to do so to internalize the core concepts of your course and be able to transfer them to future work. If given a little processing time at the start of class – two minutes to brainstorm a list or talk over a solution with a partner – students should be able to tell you what they already know about the topic of the day, its connections to previous units, and its most challenging aspects. Likewise, they should be able to tell you at the end of the class how the details of the day link to larger concepts or pose questions that set up the following day’s class. Soliciting information from them will take extra time, but you may find you can cut out overviews and reminders and focus on the learning with which students still need your help.

Rubricize your grading.

Three good things happen when you create a checklist for grading final projects, particularly if you use the checklist to specifically describe “high-water marks” of student achievement: not “Introduction” but “Intro engages the reader and presents a clear argument.” First, you clarify your own expectations, which makes prepping the final sessions and grading the projects easier. Second, if you hand out the checklist to students, you decrease the chances of those inadvertent “simple errors” that increase your grading stress. Third, by circling or squiggle-underlining phrases on the rubric, you can respond specifically to projects without investing time creating new individualized comments which are near-useless since most students have finished learning from you.

Next–focus everyone’s attention.

One of our key challenges as educators is helping students remember and use material from one course as they move into others. Instead of feeling depressed about what hasn’t been taught or learned so far, create scenarios, tasks, or discussions that help students focus on how they can use what they have learned next semester or in “the real world.” Students often engage strongly with such exercises and feel more satisfied with a course overall when they can see how it will help them later. And their future teachers and employers will thank you, too!

Prepared for the Stearns Center by E. Shelley Reid, George Mason University English Department–