Author Archives: cdr1

Classroom Management Redux

About two or three years ago it seemed that the most requested topic for faculty programming was classroom management. All we had to do was schedule an event with the words, management, incivility, or millennial in the title and it was standing room only. As styles fade, so do topics, and this was no exception. However, much to my surprise, this topic seems to be back in “fashion”, but with a twist – a rather serious twist. Now it seems, that it isn’t simply about that student snoozing in class or texting under the desk, it is also about true incivility, and, in some cases, true behavior problems. Faculty are being faced with students who, due to legitimate medical conditions, are struggling with how to interact appropriately in the college classroom. This is, of course, in addition, to the traditional, occasional, rude, inappropriate, and disruptive student. It is a difficult position to find oneself in. How does one differentiate between the student who simply needs a swift, decisive “reality check”, and one that is truly adrift? I wish I had a glib and easy answer. But, alas, I do not. One thing I can suggest is that it starts with the faculty member. Beginning the first day the students and faculty meet, the tone is set. The syllabus sets a tone. Language sets a tone. I am not suggesting a list of policies need to be handed out to students on the first day, however, I’m going to encourage each individual to think about how to convey a serious respect for the classroom and the learning endeavor, and how to demonstrate, thus command, respect for each and every individual. In addition, I’m going to encourage faculty to try and take themselves, and their personal biases, out of the equation.

Will you encounter problem “children” – most definitely. However, by managing “disruptions” with immediacy, firmness and discretion, the disruption to the majority of the attentive students will be minimal or completely unnoticed. For example, napping might drive you stark raving mad, but unless the napper snores, or tumbles out of their seat, it is a non-event to the rest of the class. My suggestion is to keep it that way.

If you have specific issues that you’d like to discuss, or you just need to vent, feel free to give SITE a call. We’re here when you need us.

Say what you mean. Mean what you say.

Now and again I ruffle a few feathers. OK, more than a few. I don’t mean to, but I sometimes have a unique perspective on teaching. Lately, if you want to get a good, heated discussion going, mention the phrase “attendance policy” (I originally mistyped that as “attendance police”- I nearly left it for entertainment purposes).  Why, one may wonder, is a mere attendance policy such a hot button issue? Well, it’s really pretty simple. Many of these policies have nothing at all to do with learning. Seriously. Nothing. Here’s a short list of some of the attendance policies that I’ve encountered lately:

 

* Three strikes and a student’s grade gets lowered. (An aside: I don’t know why the baseball analogy, and not football – 4 downs, or basketball – 7 fouls before the double bonus. )No matter what level of work the student is doing in class. No matter what the student is earning on tests or assignments. The absentee student loses points and often an entire grade. Harsh.

 

* A second type is even more confusing, conflating behavior with attendance. These policies usually have very elaborate points schema for how to score “attendance”.

 

* A third is mixing attendance with in-class participation. I know the theory “if a student isn’t there, he/she CAN’T participate”. Yes, true, however, the demonstration of the participation is what’s important here.

 

When a faculty member develops a policy, it is usually with the most noble of intentions. However, the policy sometimes has unintended consequences. Let’s review those that I mentioned.

 

The “three strikes” policy has a few permutations. Sometimes the policy will state three “unexcused” absences, with no description of what an excused absence actually is. This is sometimes intentional and leaves students with the impression that as long as they tell you ahead of time, it’s “excused”. Some faculty ask for some kind of documentation for the absence. After all, medical/dental/psychological/legal professionals generally work a 9:00 – 5:00 day. In the case of a family death, I’ve seen faculty ask for death certificate copies or newspaper obits. In a few horrifying instances faculty have asked for the phone number of the medical professional or institution so they can “check”. Here’s my advice, stay away, far, far, away, from asking for this type of documentation. This is HIPPA territory. I even checked with one of our university legal eagles. The bottom line – health and wellness issues are the third rail of “excused absences”. Do not touch. Yes, students may be…ummmm…obfuscating, but, it simply isn’t worth the possible angst it will cause you. And frankly, I don’t think I’m smart enough to decide if a sick child or an extra shift at work is a good excuse or not.

 

Attaching in-class behavior with attendance is truly confusing. Some policies take off attendance points if a cell phone rings, if a student is texting, or if a student comes in late, as well as a standard deduction for absences. What message is being sent by mixing up in-class behavior with attending class? That these activities are the same? And are they? And worse, how much valuable teaching/learning time is wasted with taking role and ticking points off a roster as transgressions occur. You are a discipline expert. Do you really want to document behavior instead of discussing viral replication?

 

The third policy substitutes a “fanny in a seat” for actual in class work, and the students know it. If there is actual work required, no matter what it is, and the student is a no-show, he/she will lose those points for the day. They are thus automatically penalized for not attending. They are also not practicing what you have decided that they needed to learn for the day and will probably suffer the consequences on a future test or assignment.

 

An attendance policy is certainly discipline and course dependent. A studio course, or a limited meeting course, will certainly have different requirements. But, no matter what path one chooses it is in everyone’s best interests to describe your policy as clearly as possible. This is no place for grey areas or fuzzy math. Also think about how the actual mechanics of the policy will affect your teaching. The following is an example of a clear participation policy, with the bonus of rewarding attendance.

 

* Students will earn participation points by taking part in daily classroom activities. There will be, at least, one learning activity in each class session, and these activities must be completed during the class period in order to receive credit.

* Activities may include:

- Quizzes

- Short essays

- Problem solutions

- Mid-semester evaluations

- Etc.
 

If you find you are having behavior problems in your classroom, sadly, you are not alone. Give SITE a call and we will be happy to help you better manage these specific problems. However, with the policies above the message seems to be that learning may be secondary. I know you don’t believe that.

 

Finally, food for thought.

 

Over 120 years ago, Harvard University issued a statement to faculty that grades were to be assigned on the basis of academic achievement ONLY, and no deductions were to be made because of absence, tardiness, and other forms of student misconduct (Making sense of college grades: why the grading system does not work and what can be done about it, Milton, Pollio, and Eison, 1986).

Writers in the measurement field (Gronlund, 1990;   Mehrens and Lehmann, 1991) advise against including student behavior factors (e.g., students’ effort, interest, attitudes, improvement, class participation, and attendance) because they contaminate [emphasis mine] the grade as a measure of achievement of the course objectives. (Jacobs, & Chase, 1992)

And you didn’t think I’d write an entry without mentioning course objectives, did you?

 

 

Stop, Go, Change…

If I had a nickle for every time I’ve recommended the mid-semester evaluation to my faculty friends, I’d be spending my days sitting on a beach, with an umbrella drink, reading trashy novels.  (And now you know my plan for retirement.) A “well conducted” mid-semester evaluation can gather a plethora of interesting and useful information for the faculty member. We here at SITE recommend a mid-semester evaluation as one of the tools a faculty member should use in almost every consultation we do. I sometimes feel like a doctor explaining why exercise is the key to good health. Don’t you get tired of hearing that? Is it only the fact that it is undeniably true that keeps you from banging your head on the nearest desk? Such is the case with mid-semester evaluations. They are sometimes scary, sometimes a PIA (you can look that up in the Urban Dictionary), but yield fascinating information when done well.

My prescription for a well done mid-semester evaluation is pretty simple (some of my colleagues will disagree with my contentions, but that’s OK too).

  • It should be short – really short. The average student should not need more that 5 minutes to complete it and it will be easy for you to evaluate.
  •  It should appear random and not systematic. Like anything else, a student who becomes inured to an activity will begin to feel bored with it.
  • It should solicit information that you actually may be able to use.
  • Debrief, debrief, debrief. No matter what kind of feedback you get debrief it with the class. Of my four elements for a valuable mid-semester evaluation this is the most important.

Keeping in mind these simple rules I am “presenting” a new, to me, mid-semester evaluation that is both elegant and easy.

It’s called Stop, Go, Change and it goes like this:

Distribute file cards to the class and ask them to make three comments as follows:

1.      Stop: something you don’t like – can be about the professor, the class, the material, your fellow students, yourself, anything at all.

2.      Go: something you do like – ditto above.

3.      Change: something about your own learning – what do you need to do [more of or better] to succeed in this class?

Th  That’s it. Give your class about 5 minutes (maximum) to complete the evaluation, collect the cards as they leave. Now sit down with your favorite comforting beverage, and read through them. You will get lots of information, and most of it will be interesting, if not useful. If there are suggestions that you can implement immediately, do it! If there are unreasonable suggestions (e.g., stop assigning homework), explain why your homework assignments are an integral part of your teaching and perhaps ask what might help the class complete homework assignments.

Th   Debriefing is the key to any good mid-semester evaluation. It says you heard and responded, even if you can’t do what they ask.

 If    If you need help interpreting your evaluations, feel free to come in and speak to any one of us. We’ll be delighted to give you a hand.

      Try it, you’ll see – you won’t be sorry.


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