Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tales from a Teaching Observation

Students raised concerns about Instructor, so I was dispatched to investigate.

I can definitely see why Instructor and the students are not happy with each other. Instructor speaks quietly, mumbles, doesn't finish sentences, and faces the board while speaking. The students talk to each other during class. However, I must note that most of the students were talking about class. They were asking each other, "What did Instructor say?" In my experience, the vast majority of talking during lecture is of this sort -- trying to figure out what was said -- and only a small fraction of talking during class is gossip about sororities and the other things that we accuse students of valuing more than their educations.

Instructor wasn't too keen on changing to different board technique or presentation style. Instructor claimed to be unable to turn around to face the class after writing on the board because there is so much material to cover in this class that there is not time to wait until finishing writing to talk to the class. Instructor also claims that the students are complaining because Instructor cares. Instructor seems to believe that if Instructor didn't care about the class, then the students wouldn't either.

Furthermore, Instructor claims to be doing a good job teaching because Instructor spends a lot more time prepping for class than other people who teach in this department. This reminds me of the students who whine about getting bad grades despite the hours of time they claim to put in studying for class.

In case you were wondering, here is Becky Hirta's One-Size-Fits-All Recipe for Teaching Math Class If You Don't Yet Have a Teaching Style That Works for You:
  1. Face the class when you are speaking. Talk clearly and project so that you can be heard in the back of the room. Enunciate.
  2. Plan ahead of time. What are you teaching today? Work out all examples in your notes first so that you do not end up with a crazy algebra disaster on the board.
  3. At the beginning of class tell the students exactly what you are going to do. Say something like, "We are going to learn four things today. First we are going to define the secant line. Then we will define the tangent line. After that we will define the derivative. Finally, we will use the definition of the derivative to calculate the slope of the tangent line."
  4. As you start/finish each of the things that you mentioned at the outset, make that clear: "OK, so that was the definition of the derivative. Now we are going to use it to calculate slopes of tangent lines." If you wrote the four things that you were going to do today on the side board, check them off as you finish them.
  5. Students do not pay attention in the last five minutes of class. Give the announcements and the homework assignment at the beginning. Remind them frequently of your office hours. Plead with the students who are behind or confused to come to your office hours.
  6. Bonus: Sort your gradebook by total average, and get in touch with the bottom 10% - 20% of your class by email. Say things like, "It looks like things aren't going as well as we would have hoped for in math class this semester. Is there something wrong? If you're having trouble getting things, come by my office, and we can probably straighten things out. If you can't make it to my office, there is tutoring on campus in [place / times]."
If you stick to the above recipe and make it very, very clear about what you expect on graded work, students are unlikely to complain about your class.