Author: Laurie Wolfley

Establishing an Effective Classroom Environment, Aug. 2016

How can you create a positive classroom environment in your courses?

Effective classroom management entails meticulous planning but also a readiness to switch gears and move away from the script when necessary.  It requires firm control but also a willingness to relinquish that control to take advantage of a teachable moment.  It requires leadership but also a sense of compassion and understanding of your students.

Consider these techniques as you develop your classroom management style:

  • Begin to establish an effective environment on the first day of class
  • Interact with students right away
  • Be prepared to respond to challenges:
    • What will you do if students consistently arrive unprepared?
    • How will you handle disruptive students?
    • How can you encourage quiet or shy students to become engaged?
    • Should you post your lectures, slides, in-class materials, etc., online?
  • Engage, Engage, Engage

Refer to Classroom Management on the CETL website for more details on establishing an effective environment and managing your classroom.

Fighting First-Day Anxiety, Aug. 2016

Are first-day jitters leaving you feeling anxious and under-prepared?  Have you been waking with a jolt at night after dreaming of being locked out of your classroom, unable to turn on the overhead projector, or incapable of getting your students’ attention?

The first day of class is important on many levels:  It affords you the opportunity to introduce yourself and the course, get a sense of your students, and set the tone for the semester.  It also gives students a chance to try the course out—to get a sense of who you are and what your course will be like.  Carefully plan the first class session, so you are sure to cover everything intended.

Use these guidelines to avoid the kinds of last-minute surprises that can ruin even the best teacher’s confidence.

Before you step into the classroom:

  • Know the rules
  • View your class roster
  • Request a HuskyCT site
  • Order your text books and other course materials
  • Order library reserves
  • Visit your classroom

On the first day:

  • Set a goal
  • Introduce yourself
  • Show an interest in getting to know your students
  • Introduce your course
  • Ask questions
  • Save time for student questions

Visit CETL’s web pages on Preparing for Your First Class and Interacting with Students During Your First Class for suggestions on how to achieve these goals and other helpful details.

If you are new at teaching and unsure about how to establish your identity in the classroom, take a look at the Faculty Focus article Six Myths about a Teaching Persona.  Faculty Focus also recommends a variety of First Day Class Activities.

Breaking the Ice in the First Class, Aug. 2016

The first day of classes can be daunting for both students and faculty:  Students may be anxious about their professors, as well as about the work load of the course and other expectations; their instructors are likely to be anxious about establishing a positive first impression, conveying the syllabus and other information about the course, and generally setting the right tone for the next 14 weeks.

One way to ease that anxiety is to try an ice breaker, perhaps playing a name game or encouraging students to mingle as they complete a scavenger hunt aimed at learning about one another.  Marilyn Weimer offers the following advice in the “Teaching Professor Blog”:

  • Best and Worst Classes—On one section of the board, write “The best class I ever had,” and on another write, “The worst class I ever had.” Under each, write the subheadings, “What the students did” and “What the teacher did.”  Then ask students to add attributes to lists, being careful not to identify names of teachers or courses.  Afterward, discuss among the class how to capture the best attributes and avoid the worst this semester.
  • First Day Graffiti—On sections of the board or separate flip charts, write the beginning of a sentence; for example, “I learn best in classes where the teacher ___,” “Students in courses help me learn when they ___,” and “I am most likely to participate in classes when ___.” Have students walk around the room and finish the sentences, then discuss them and their significance to your course as a class.
  • Syllabus Speed dating—We hand out syllabi, but do students actually read them? This technique teams students up to search the syllabus and find answers to a series questions, such as “How will participation be graded?” or “What citation style is required in this class? Why?”  This encourages interaction and collaboration while ensuring that your syllabus gets read.

See more about these techniques on the Faculty Focus page First Day of Class Activities.  For even more ideas, visit the University of Michigan’s First Day(s) of Class.

Reflecting on Our Teaching this Semester, May 2016

Believe it or not, right now—as classes finally come to a close and we immerse ourselves in assessing our students’ learning—is the perfect time to pause, reflect, and assess our teaching as well.  At no other time will we likely be as tuned in to what worked, what didn’t, and why.

Ideally, we would revise the course now, when it’s fresh in our minds, but we may not have time to do that.  What we can do, though, is take some notes and write short reflective pieces that we can refer to later, when we do have time to revise the course.  Consider these guidelines for reflection:

  • Take notes on your student-learning outcomes:  Did students achieve the goals you set?  If so, did anything specific account for the success?  If not, what were the barriers?  What can you do next time to avoid those barriers?  In retrospect, were the outcomes you expressed really the ones you were seeking?  If not, take notes on how you might revise them.  If you didn’t articulate student-learning outcomes at all, draft ideas for a few now; students are more focused and receptive when they have a clear understanding of your expectations for their learning.
  • Comment on your course materials:  Note which texts worked and were well received by students.  Was a text outdated, poorly written, or otherwise insufficient?  If so, note the problems and make a list of the attributes you’d like to see in a replacement text.  Would other texts or additional technology (YouTube videos; TED Talks; news feeds; links to documentaries, music, articles, etc.) enhance the course?  Make a wish list.
  • Consider the flow of the course:  Were there instances in which the transition from one topic to the next was stilted and in need of a smoother transition? Did students need information from a later unit earlier in the semester?  Should you spend more time on one topic and less on another?  Mark up your master syllabus to remind yourself of these issues.
  • Reflect on how you used class time:  Did you take the time to introduce your course’s student-learning outcomes and discuss their value to your students at the start of the semester?  Which classroom activities were particularly successful?  Did you spend too much time lecturing on material students could have learned from the reading, at the expense of interacting with that material in class?  Would you like to record some of your lectures for presentation to students online, leaving more class time for activities?  Do you wish you had incorporated more opportunities for active learning?  Did you refer back to your student-learning outcomes as you wrapped up the course?  What energized or deflated student enthusiasm?  What energized or deflated you?

This need not be a formal, drawn-out endeavor; even an hour or two of reflection can make a world of difference later on.  Now may not feel like the perfect time for deep introspection, but you may not teach this course again for several months—maybe even years—so take advantage of the moment to make the next experience easier.

If, upon reflection, you decide that you would like help revising your course, feel free to seek the services of faculty development specialists or instructional design specialists through the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.