Monday, April 25, 2016

Benefits of Using Rubrics

Though more commonly used in K-12 classes, rubrics can work as a fantastic form of communication between student and teacher.  When rubrics are utilized for a course, students need only to glance at their rubric for an assignment for expectations and specific components of focus for an assignment.

Why use rubrics?

Firstly, rubrics help instructors do a plethora of things within their courses including remaining consistent in their assessment of assignments between students, provide feedback that promotes student learning in a sustainable way, and clarifying expectations of an assignment for students.  Some instructors have even found that rubrics help save them time when grading large amounts of work, since the grading criteria remains the same throughout.  These instructors still spend time writing comments, but they are then also able to return to the scale their rubrics are set on in order to grade more efficiently.

Secondly, rubrics also help students.  Providing students with a copy of a rubric before they being completing an assignment will help them understand overall expectations for their work, and will make note of specific components that are listed on their rubrics.  Students are also more likely to become aware of their learning process and the progress that they make throughout the class by utilizing the feedback received on rubrics to improve in the future.

How can you develop a rubric?

There are several different types of rubrics that you can choose to employ within your classroom depending on which one works best for the work you’re assigning.  If you’re new to rubrics, start small by creating one rubric for one assignment in a semester.  This will allow you to test the waters and see if rubrics work well for you within your own courses.  It may also be beneficial to ask colleagues if they have developed rubrics for similar assignments, just to get an idea of what sort of rubrics might be the most helpful. 

When creating a rubric, consider how you would outline the elements or critical attributes that will be evaluated for the assignment.  Then work on creating an evaluative range for performance quality underneath each element.  Leave comment boxes next to each section of the rubric for optional comments on specific components or to reference students back to a particular section of their work.  From there, all that’s left is to assign a numerical scale to each level.  Be sure to provide students with a copy during class and walk through the components together, asking for questions along the way.

For those of you who would rather type your comments, consider making your rubric into a fill-able PDF that can easily be sent out to students.

Adapted from: Cornell University CTE
Written by: Jessica Moser 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Five Better Practice Tips for Spicing Things Up

Daily grind of teaching got you down?  Finding it difficult to put spring break behind you?  Try these five teaching practices by Roben Torosyan to improve outcomes and liven up your classes.

Wait—Most teachers know that they should wait after asking a question in class, but they don’t accurately perceive how long they wait.  Often, teachers wait less than a second before calling on someone, pacing nervously, or rephrasing the question.  Consciously taking the time to wait three to five seconds will allow students adequate time to speak up, answer more fully, and ask better questions themselves.

Kick-start your opening; shout before you walk out—Be sure to start and end your classes with something memorable.  Drama and action can motivate learning in class and after it’s over.  Kick-start your opening with an especially dramatic example, an unobvious questions, the answer to a difficult homework problem, a relevant cartoon, or some intriguing background music.  End by having students shout out a one-word takeaway.  Or ask the question you’ll start the next class with.

Do less and do it more deeply—Imagine a list of 12 learning objectives.  Next, imagine that you need to rate each as essential, important, or of minor importance.  Now, what if you were challenged a little more to select no more than five objectives as essential and important?  Most faculty would find this difficult to do, but it is a significant thing to consider when creating your own curriculum.  With doing more things comes spending less time on each thing.  Therefore, consider the fact that each daily plan should include no more than three to five vital takeaways that students will understand, be able to do, or think differently about.

Grade smarter, not just harder—It’s no question that a large portion of an instructor’s time is spent grading.  They take the time to write comments only to discover that students continue to make the same mistakes in future assignments.  Instead, try returning problem-sets marked only right or wrong and have students find and correct their errors before points are assigned for work.  Only mark one page of a draft, noting the problems that students can look for in the rest of their paper.  Challenge students to correct their mistakes for further revisions.  Offer more clarifying feedback.  Rather than mentioning that something is “unclear,” guide the student to “expand, explain, and give examples.”  Lead and end critical comments with strengths.

Mix it up—It’s an easy thing to find yourself falling into ruts and using the same activities over and over.  Consider switching up your usual “think/pair/share” exercise with a small group activity or a large group debate.  Don’t just mix up activities, but also presentation modes (visual, aural, kinetic) so that the content comes to students in a variety of different ways.

Adapted from: Roben Torosyan for Magna Publications
By: Jessica Moser 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Staying Relevant

“Why do I need to know this?  Why are we doing this?  Why are we spending so much time on this?”

Students sometimes struggle to see the connection between class content and activities of a course and the ways in which it can remain relevant in their future lives.  This leads to them wonder about, or sometimes even question aloud, what the purpose of an activity serves.  Research also confirms that perceived relevance is a critical factor in maintaining student interest and motivation and contributes to higher student ratings on course evaluations.

In order to keep relevance strong in your course, consider implementing the following three practices.
  1. Regularly share and discuss the learning outcomes of the course.
    Often times, course learning outcomes appear once on syllabi, and then are never referenced or heard from again.  Reiterating outcomes help clarify what students will know and do when they complete the course, keeping them on track from completing assignments and participating in class.  However, don’t stop at just listing the outcomes, discuss the relevance of these outcomes with your students.  This discussion stresses the need to know why the knowledge and skills listed as learning objectives will come into play in students’ future lives, helping to keep them motivated.

  2. Clearly tie learning outcomes to the required activities and assignments.
    Once you’ve had the discussion about the importance of the learning objectives you’ve set for the course, it’s important for you to make direct ties to them when assigning new work.  Often times, faculty may think that the links between learning outcomes and activities are obvious to students, but that’s not always a valid assumption.  Each assignment should be justified by answering questions like, “How does this assignment relate to the course outcomes? How will this assignment help fulfill them? What should the student know and be able to do after completing the assignment? Why was this particular assignment chosen to achieve the learning outcomes?”  When students understand what the assignments are helping them accomplish, they see the assignments’ utility and find the work more meaningful.

  3. Orient students at the beginning of each class period by discussing the “What, Why, and How” of that day.
    Some instructors already help establish each class by providing an outline of the day’s material for students to follow along with.  This is a great way for students to stay on track, but is even more effective if students are able to place the items on the agenda into the context of their lives.  Try adding a brief explanation of the what, why, and how of each course to get students on track, motivate them, and help keep each day’s content specifically relevant.
What?: What are we doing in class today?  What questions will we try to answer?  What concepts will we address?  What activities will we do?
Why?: Why are we studying this?  How are today’s content and activities tied to the       course learning outcomes?  What should I know or be able to do after today’s class?      How can the information and skills be used in everyday life?
How?: How are we going to address the content?  Will we use lectures?  Activities? Discussions? How will different learning styles be accommodated?

Keeping students in the loop as to the value, purpose, and procedures for course activities helps maintain a healthy level of relevance within your courses.

Adapted From: Jeff Fox for Magna Publications
By: Jessica Moser 

Monday, April 4, 2016

From the CETL Library: Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms

In a world of ever-growing technological opportunities, it can be overwhelming to consider implementing Internet technologies within your courses.  This book by Will Richardson offers thorough explanations on how to utilize a wide variety of technology-based tools to strengthen the teaching and learning experiences within your classroom.  Just glancing at the table of contents illustrates several different technologies that you may not have previously considered using as learning tools within your classroom.
These include:  

  • Weblogs – a way to consider blogging with your students
  • Wikis – an easy collaborative tool for sharing and editing
  • Multimedia Publishing – including podcasting, video & screencasting, and live streaming 
  • Social Networking – effectively using Facebook and Ning

These topics are then broken down into subcategories, each one contemplating the execution within your classroom and the effects that you can look for through their use. 
The final section of the book is reserved for discussing the impact of these tools on education.  Richardson considers the relevance of these tools as well as their effect on the learning process, the overall mastery of a subject, and the significance Internet technologies can have on students in their future careers.   He writes that within their careers, students will most likely be asked to work with others both close to them and from around the world.  They will be asked to read and write in linked environments so that they can perform, research, analyze, write about, and share online content.  “Compare that to an educational system that, by and large, asks those same students to work independently on paper for a very narrow audience (usually the teacher who gives the grade), and the disconnect becomes painfully clear.”

This book is written for novice or experienced technology users.  Richardson’s real-life classroom examples and how-to tips make it a great resource for those looking for relevant ways to incorporate technology and collaboration within their courses. 
Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms can be found in the “Instructional Technology” section of the CETL library.

Written By: Jessica Moser