Category Archives: 2. Featured Articles

Rote Learning Can Turn Reticent Students into Active Learners

We’re all guilty of it—calling on the willing student with hand raised and eagerly waving rather than waiting for a more reserved student to hesitantly choke out a response. However, doing so most likely favors the student who is a better rote learner rather than a more creative thinker.

The reason has to do with the way people remember information. Students who are quick to respond likely have strong working memories, which allow an individual to hold onto information and store it until it needs to be retrieved. Working memories cause the avid hand-raisers to readily withdraw ideas from their memory banks, making them have what we often refer to as a steel-trap memory. These students can access several ideas as they think, so they can quickly calculate, translate, or call out the right answer.

As any teacher knows, not every student has this ability, especially those with distractibility. These learners tend to not have strong working memories. However, researchers are now saying they are actually more creative. Having a poor working memory, (the non-steel-trap kind) makes ideas flow more freely instead of fitting into the confines of the working memory bank. When ideas bounce around, creativity results.

Consequently, when instructors favor the willing hand waver over the quieter student, they may be acting biased toward a specific type of learner. Therefore, teachers should  integrate practices that help students without high-functioning working memories. Ironically, rote memorization is one of these practices, and it is a learning strategy sorely missing in Americans’ educations today.

By requiring memorization, we actually help students master a subject. Below are strategies you can pass along to help students with lesser working memories become more proficient learners.

  • Chunking. Chunking is memorizing bits of information (chunks) and grouping them into a larger whole that is more easily retrieved. Example: memorizing a few new vocabulary words that are somehow linked instead of attempting to memorize an entire list at once.
  • Mnemonic Mnemonics are an acronym, rhyme, image, phrase, or song that act as a memory trigger. Example: I before E except after C and words that sound A as in neighbor and weigh.
  • Metaphors/Analogies. Metaphors and analogies are the best devices to remember complex subjects because they take previous knowledge and apply it to new information. Example: comparing the direct organizational strategy to an inverted pyramid, with information organized in descending order of importance.

These learning strategies can help even our tightest-lipped students join the conversation and become more active learners.


What strategies to you use to pull in reticent students? Share your ideas!

 

 

Stress Management 101: Preparing Students for the Job Search

[Instructors: Download a PDF of the advice in this article here.]

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no matter how well we teach students to write cover letters and résumés and prepare them to interview, they will likely experience anxiety when they begin their job search. It’s only natural—they are new at the process, which is inherently fraught with fear. So how can we best prepare students for what lies ahead? Below is advice you can pass along to your neophyte job hunters.

Acknowledge the reality of situation. Looking for a job is one of the most difficult and stressful tasks we undertake, and money concerns are just one reason—it’s also disconcerting to have little control over the hiring process. Everything from unanswered applications to not receiving feedback on interviews to uncontrollable events that affect the hiring process contribute to the anxiety-provoking experience. For these reasons, experts suggest that job seekers go into the process being aware that everyone faces these hurdles and that eventually you will find work.

Be realistic. It doesn’t make sense to apply for jobs that ask for specific requirements you do not possess. Likewise, understand your own personal deal breakers when it comes to who you will work for and what you will do. On the other hand, experts suggest remaining open to situations that may be less than your ideal position. Remember your first job is just that—your first job. It may not be perfect, but you can learn something from every position you hold.

Keep focused. Have a goal and move toward it. Chart out your primary objective and then create specific steps to achieving it. Commit your proposed actions to paper—they will become more real. Hold yourself accountable by putting in time and adhering to a schedule for your job search. Learn to enjoy the rewarding feeling of finishing tasks on the path toward your goal.

 Know yourself. A career takes careful consideration and planning, so it makes sense to think about what you want out of yours. Do you enjoy working alone or in groups? Are you willing to move to take a job or travel regularly once you have one? What kind of people do you want to surround yourself with? Are you attracted to small or large firms? Then conduct a self-analysis: What are you good at? Not so good at? Define your hard and soft skills, your values, and other strengths and weaknesses. Understanding yourself and what you can bring to an organization is the first step to finding the right fit.

Learn to handle rejection. There’s no getting around the fact that you will face rejection, and it’s normal to feel down sometimes. Remember that failure is temporary. Face the emotion, process it, and then move on: Do not let setbacks put you in the doldrums. Use positive thinking, reach out to family and friends for support, and develop grit and resilience. Job hunting is a part of life, so take the long view.

Reassess.  If you are feeling hopeless because nothing is panning out, reassess your strategy. Perhaps you can talk to a career counselor or mentor. Perhaps you need to rethink your tactics or goals. Don’t let too much time go by before you take action to change what is holding you back.

 Take care of yourself. A job search can be overwhelming, so it’s important to keep yourself fit, mentally and physically. Eat well, get enough sleep, and don’t forget to exercise. Make sure to keep up social relationships and stay busy with activities unrelated to hunting for a job.


Instructors: What advice do you offer your career-bound students? We’d love to hear from you!

The Nutty Professor: Pedagogy of Classroom Humor

by Janet Mizrahi, The Guffey Team

The longer I teach, the more I am thankful for my sense of humor. Not only do I need it to get through teaching ten courses each year—I have found my students need a laugh sometimes, too. I’m no Amy Schumer or Joan Rivers, but I do crack wise in my classroom upon occasion, and I have come to believe that doing so is a crucial aspect of my pedagogy.

I’m not alone in that assessment. Much research has reported the benefits of using humor in the classroom. It is well documented, for example, that humans like to laugh—doing so alleviates boredom, surprises us, and creates an enjoyable experience, all of which can help engender a positive learning atmosphere. Perhaps even more important is that humor disables the threat response. The student/professor relationship can be intimidating, as can new subject matter. By being funny at times, a professor can be seen as less of a threat, allowing students to connect with both the subject matter and the deliverer of that information.

In addition, humor can enhance boring or dreaded subjects. None of us wants to admit that our subject inspires snoozing or fear, but learning can be daunting, and humor can help defuse that sentiment. Likewise, humor helps capture student interest; a funny story may encourage students to connect with subject matter. Finally, humor increases students’ attention. A witty remark mid-lecture can reignite most students’ wandering attention and even make them want to retell a joke. Such retelling is the key to remembering, a goal we all want to achieve with our students.

Integrating humor into your classroom

Most of us who teach college students realize that much of what we do in the classroom is a performance, and that the manner in which we deliver information is just as important as that information itself. Humor can be part of that performance. However, experts advise starting early in the semester; you need to prime your students to expect humor so they know it’s okay to laugh. In fact, tell them so!

While you want to always be genuine, use any trick you think will work. Can you do a great English or Australian accent? Use it! Try exaggerating where appropriate (“I will give the first person to answer the next question an A in the class… kidding! Or am I?”) If a prepared or spontaneous joke doesn’t elicit a reaction, recover with a quick reaction: “Hey, that was supposed to be funny—you guys are a tough audience!” I’ve heard of professors using props such as balloons with content written on them, referring to iconic music or actors known to the younger generation, and deliberately flubbing up technical devices, all to get a laugh.

If none of those suggestions appeal to you, below are some alternate ways to include humor in your teaching style.

  • Develop funny stories for specific topics. Just like no standup comic would perform cold, prepare your bits ahead of time. Alter them after you learn what works and what doesn’t.
  • Employ self-deprecating humor in small doses. Many comedians are the brunt of their own jokes. Personally, I find this style of humor quite useful. For example, when I teach résumé writing, I use my own [somewhat ancient] college history as an example. When I write the dates I received my degrees, I cover my mouth and mumble, “Nineteen blah-blah-blah.” The students always laugh.
  • Make your mistakes funny. Acknowledging your own errors can help humanize you and therefore create a bond between you and the class.
  • Use humor in bits and pieces. You don’t want to appear to be clownish or unprofessional, so be judicious with the timing and frequency of your humor.

Of course, there are some taboos to be aware of when you use humor.

  • Never, never, never make a student the butt of a joke. Once the students have heard a classmate ridiculed, every one of them will all be wary of becoming the next victim, activating the threat response and reducing your ability to connect with your audience.
  • Avoid “insult comedy” for the same reason. Offensive remarks that refer to age, ethnicity, physical appearance, religion, sexual orientation, or violence should be off the table.
  • Steer clear of alcohol and drugs as a topic. They both are landmines that can lead to unintended consequences.

One final piece of advice: Realize that your humor will not work every time. Not every funny comment will garner a laugh, and not every class can be won over. However, if you’re at all like me, you’ll have more fun if you are enjoying yourself on the stage that is our classroom… and hopefully, so will your students!


Do you use humor in your classroom? Tell us about it!