Tag Archives: teaching

Hooking Students in First Five Minutes of Class

Have you ever tried to start class only to be greeted by sounds of unzipping backpacks and chattering classmates? Sometimes coaxing students to focus at the beginning of class can be a challenge. However, we miss a golden opportunity to create an engaging atmosphere that inspires active learning if we let those first minutes slip by.

Although we all have days when we must begin with routine announcements or other business, you may want to consider some alternative strategies to grab students’ attention immediately—and keep it.

Begin with questions. Try projecting several questions about the day’s topic for students to think about as they seat themselves. For example, say the day’s lesson will focus on the direct organizational strategy. Questions that might encourage students to think about the lesson could be Why do many colleges use the direct strategy when sending rejection letters? or Do you ever have a difficult time finding specific information in an e-mail? Questions from the previous night’s homework can also prepare students for attentive behavior.

Review material. Help students recall what they learned in the prior class by asking them to volunteer specific ideas or concepts. Write their responses on the board, making sure to revise for accuracy, and use the exercise as a segue into new material. If you take roll, you can ask students to respond with a fact they took away from the last class session when you call each name.

Assign quick writes. A low-stakes writing exercise helps cement new ideas and retrieve prior knowledge. (It’s not necessary to collect the papers as long as you monitor students’ activity to ensure they stay on task.) Just the act of writing—especially in writing courses—helps students transition to the classroom, where they are expected to think and focus. Try asking the class to compose a tweet that encapsulates a learning objective or to write a quick summary of a news item you exhibit.

Create a loop of slides. Put together a series of slides that feature course-related content for the day, multiple-choice questions, quotes from readings, or fill-in-the-blank sentences. Or you might want to remind students of due dates or long-term project milestones they should be thinking about.

Practice grammar. The first few minutes of a class session are a great time to present a quick grammar lesson that becomes part of a midterm or quiz. Starting these lessons the first minutes of class can encourage students to arrive on time, too!

Allow teams to collaborate. If you have a group project, allow teams the first minutes of class to catch up with one another, even if it’s just to discuss a time to meet outside of class. Students will become engaged instantly if they’re working together.

The semester flies by, so taking advantage of those first minutes of class to reinforce learning makes a lot of sense!

What do you do to make the most of the beginning of your classes? Start a conversation!




Start the Semester Strong

None of us entered our field because we wanted to alienate students. Yet unwittingly, much of our traditional first-day agendas do just that. Reading the syllabus as a contractual obligation, warning about late work and poor attendance, and being the “sage on the stage” can create the opposite of an atmosphere that will excite students about our courses.

So just what will engage our students from the get-go? At Spartanburg Community College, new faculty watch a video called Voices of Our Students that was created by a student intern, reports Dr. Tena Long Golding. The video contains students’ perspectives about their college teachers and reveals that students describing a “great professor” use words such as honest, relatable, engaging, concerned, invested, and enthusiastic.

Students in the video also describe what makes for a “favorite professor.” They list the following desirable traits:

  • are consistent and predictable
  • believe in students’ ability to succeed
  • entertain when lecturing
  • help students having trouble by being available and offering feedback
  • make connections between course content and the “real world”
  • motivate students using a variety of methods
  • open discussions after lectures
  • share personal anecdotes
  • view students as individuals

As we start our new academic year, perhaps we can use these student impressions to help us create more meaningful courses—and maybe even become those “favorite professors.” Below are some ways to start the new semester off on the right foot.

Offer a meaningful promise about what students will learn. Tell students what they will take away from your course. A statement such as “Everything you read and write about in this course will be relevant to your futures as business professionals” will likely grab their attention.

Engage the class with multimedia. Our millennial students are used to being dazzled by images on their screens. Can you create or show a short video? Play a podcast? Project photographs? You’ll wake up even the most uninterested students if you appeal to their need to view learning at least in some part as entertaining.

Demonstrate consequences of poor classroom behavior. Perhaps you can make your own cellphone go off or respond to a text message while you are speaking. While going over the syllabus, you might tell a “sad story about Missing Student” who skipped so many classes and got so hopelessly behind that she [fill in the blank.] Present your pet peeves to students in a creative way.

With a little effort and a few tweaks to the standard way of starting a new course, this may be your best year of teaching yet!

Do you have any first-day activities or strategies to engage your students? St

Okay with Being Labeled “Tough”

by Janet Mizrahi

Perhaps I’m a “hard” teacher because I went to college when it was unthinkable to turn in a paper late or not complete assigned readings. I hold my students to the same standard. Or maybe it’s my mother’s influence. A 30-year teaching veteran, she advised me to always start out tough and set high goals. You can always get easier, she’d tell me, but you can never get tougher.FEB2016_shutterstock_93835213

Mother knew best, and I wear the mantle of a tough teacher unapologetically. As an instructor whose students will likely never have a writing class again, I feel it is incumbent upon me to show them a slice of real life, where bosses will have little patience for late or careless work. I know I do, and my courses reflect my expectations.

It’s not easy, granted. We all live or die (or at least stay employed) by how students rate our courses, but I’m certain driving students hard is in their best interest. Not long ago, I read an essay in the Wall Street Journal that backed me up. Here’s what it said that corroborated my approach.

Constructive, even painful feedback is key to achieve expertise. Research has shown that top performers in every field pick “unsentimental coaches” who challenge and drive them. While my friend Amy didn’t pick her first writing teacher, she does credit him with teaching her to write—and that was after he marked her first college paper with a “D,” crossed it out, and replaced the “D” with an “F.” Was she mortified? Absolutely. But when she recently reread the paper, she agreed, with chagrin, that he was right.

Rote learning has gotten a bad rap. Rote learning is not much in favor these days. Why make students memorize anything if the answers can be found in a calculator or by searching online? Because research shows that repeating skills leads to mastery. I’ve watched students learn. As writing instructors, we know that the more students practice, the better their work. Is it fun? Maybe not, but it’s crucial to learning a skill.

Failure IS an option. What message do we send our students if we allow them to think their poor work is acceptable? What good do we do their future employers by sending these students into the workplace unprepared? Knowing failure is an option keeps my students from thinking they can disregard assignments or expect passing grades from sloppy, careless work. I’ve found that just their knowing I’d fail them makes them do their work.

Strict trumps nice. See above. If you believe your students have the potential to be better, it’s up to you to hold them to that standard. That’s hard to do when you’re their buddy.

Grit wins every time. It takes tenacity to make it through a tough teacher’s class, but research backs up the notion that students whose teachers push them hard make the greatest gains. My youngest daughter started at the bottom of the heap in her college ballet class. Still, she looks back fondly on her first-year ballet teacher who repeatedly told her, “That was HORRIBLE. Do it again.” His bothering to correct her meant she wasn’t hopeless, and she knew that. I’m convinced her grit, her sheer will to improve, took her through four difficult years until she received her BFA in Dance.

Praise should be earned. I remember being crushed when I received a B on a college English paper. But I got over it and went on to become a professional writer. I wholeheartedly believe giving false praise hurts more than it helps. When I tell a student “You nailed it!” that student beams because she knows I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it. If you really want to boost your students’ self-esteem, teach them to be better writers so they feel the confidence of achievement.

Resilience comes from coping with difficulty. We keep hearing about the stress our students are under, and I see it regularly. But we also know that learning to cope with stressors and life’s challenges makes us stronger and more resilient. Isn’t that the goal? Offering our students the support to improve while honestly assessing their work will net stronger, more resilient citizens.

My experience tells me my mother was right about starting tough and just as right about easing up once the standards have been set. I know this because at the end of each quarter, my students write confidential narratives assessing their experience of my course and of me. I don’t expect 100% positive ratings, and I do not receive them. But the majority give me high praise for forcing them to work hard. “Definitely challenging, but worth it” is a common refrain. I also regularly receive unsolicited e-mails in which former students tell me how grateful they are to have learned the skills I taught them. I even get and return hugs as the students file out on the last day of the quarter.

It’s not always easy being the tough guy—but it’s worth the effort.

How do you feel about being labeled tough or easy? Share your views with us!