It’s my fifth semester teaching, and I’ve learned so much in this short amount of time. The one thing that I want to remind myself, and hope you all can appreciate, is that the best thing to do is to keep it simple (silly!). Keep the lessons straightforward, use simpler language (or dovetail simple language with new, complex terms), and spell out what you expect of the students. What is obvious to us is rarely obvious to them, whether this is regarding the material or general classroom expectations.
So what are some things I do to keep it simple? First, being consistent. Posting lecture notes at the same time each week, having a general format for my slides… Specifically for this, I like to have one set of my notes for myself, and another set specially made for them. This latter set has a “fill-in-the-blank” format, so they can follow along with the notes while writing down key words without getting bogged down by writing every single thing on the slides. I want them to have time to absorb what’s on the slide, not worry about copying every single letter.
Another simple, but often overlooked, approach: give the students a moment to digest what you just told them. Long pauses – and I mean LONG pauses – after you’ve talked about a slide. Wait until it’s uncomfortable for you. It won’t be for most of your students since they’re busy writing things down, and then processing what is on the slide. This will give students a chance to ask questions, now that they’ve been able to think about it. They also won’t feel rushed, which if they do, can be very intimidating and frustrating for them. Maintaining a positive atmosphere is key.
I don’t provide comprehensive study guides for each exam; inevitably, there are students who complain that these guides are either too specific or not specific enough. So I make it clear to them that they will need to create their own study guides; instead, to supplement their studying, I provide a sample of study questions, ones that reflect the content and style of wording on the exams. This helps them focus in on the more detailed parts of what I expect them to understand for the exams. I also sneak in some multiple choice questions during the lectures, sometimes straight from what I will ask on the exams, so they get a feel for the style of questioning. It also helps point out any confusing wording that I may not have considered before, so I get great feedback from the students.
Finally, I make it clear to them that communicating what they’ve learned is the most important part of this whole educational process. I make writing an emphasis, having them answer their questions as if they were explaining it to someone with very little knowledge of the subject. This means they have to break down the logic of a question and explain things that might seem obvious to them. Assuming that the other person knows what you’re talking about leads to misinformation and miscommunication – not just in classes, but in life! So I want them to start building positive habits here.
That’s my current plan – keeping things simple and straightforward, breaking complex ideas into their component parts, and clearly explaining and showing my students what is expected. One more thing – I do my best to maintain a positive, friendly atmosphere, saying hi and welcoming my students to class, asking if they have any questions or concerns before we begin class, then saying goodbye to the class. Little things like this, I feel, go a long way in changing the attitude of your students. Happy students are more excited to learn!
Final thought: I teach biology, and I like to show my students videos from Crash Course, a channel on YouTube. They have great videos not only for science, but even history and English, among other topics. The videos are short (about 10 minutes), and they’re fun and engaging. Check them out here: https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcourse/playlists