Five weeks down, ten to goPosted: February 21, 2012
I realized yesterday that we’re already one-third of the way through the semester. A scary thought. The past five weeks flew by, and what do I have to show for it? Let’s measure. Three new journal articles reviewed for my dissertation. One, in particular, with an analysis method that was new and intriguing to me. A lit review matrix that is starting to feel more substantial. Maybe not a whole lot closer to being complete, but it’s starting to shape up. A lot of wheel-spinning on several research projects. A partially finished manuscript. But I haven’t FINISHED anything! I haven’t checked a single thing off of my mental to-do list. All of this unfinished business is really bothering me.
It’s bothering me so much that I have almost forgotten my few accomplishments. One job application submitted. Possibly the first of many, but it’s at least a step in the right direction toward life after graduate school. And (drum roll, please) I have made it through the first 5 weeks of teaching on my own. Five weeks of lesson plans. Three graded assignments. And lots of formative feedback. Okay, so I am only halfway through grading the third assignment, but you get the idea. In theory, I knew the value of formative feedback, but I can now really appreciate how helpful it is for instructors. In my class, we cover a content area through the required text, some interactive lecturing, and some in-class activities. The students reflect on it, and then they respond to a structured prompt in their personal blog, applying the content to their own research proposal topic. I give them feedback through written comments. I give them suggestions to keep them moving in the right direction, or I redirect them when it’s clear that they missed the boat in an area or two.
The whole exercise has been tremendously helpful to me because I can tell which content areas have confused students. I know what I need to spend more time explaining in class or finding examples to help them make those connections for themselves. Some of my comments are longer than the students’ own blog posts, which, I will admit, has been rather time consuming, but it has been a great way for me to connect with each student on an individual level. Overall, I have been happy with the students’ progress, but I can also clearly see the range of interest and effort among the class. In talking with faculty who have lots of teaching experience, I understand that you can’t reach every student in the same way, and there are some that you will never reach. But I’m not jaded yet. I still want to try and help each of my students connect with the material in ways that are meaningful to them.
I also want students to feel comfortable letting me know when they are struggling with something. I also want to know which activities are helpful and which ones to re-think or set aside. I asked the class to help me with this by communicating their concerns and suggestions in any format that is comfortable to them. Because I knew that some students might feel uncomfortable approaching me directly, I created an anonymous feedback form. I did this a couple of weeks ago, but I didn’t get any submissions until yesterday, when I received two comments. Fortunately, I didn’t see them until after class last night, which has given me time to work through some of the cognitive dissonance they created! One comment was glowingly positive about the structure of the class and the learning objectives. The other student had a completely opposing perspective. Ironically, our lesson last night was on frequency distributions. It made me think about these two perspectives and wonder whether either comment is representative of the average perspective… or whether they are both outliers? I immediately thought, “What a great teachable moment for my students!” Now I need to figure out how to answer my own question. Stay tuned.