Category Archives: student success

IDP: Reflections on Student Evaluations


In addition to the qualitative and quantitative department measures, two years ago I added a pre-post assignment dealing with students’ expectations for the class. I got this from one of the student success articles I read. Students respond to three prompts that tell me about what they look for in a good class, a good teacher, and how they view their role in the whole learning process. The rankings of x/10 indicate how well the reality at the end of the semester matched the expectation they set in their first assignment. They also add additional comments.

I find these pre/post assignments to be especially helpful when students do not rate me as satisfactory or higher in the course evaluations. For example, in the Fall 2015 EDU220 course evaluations, five or six students responded with less than satisfactory in several areas. The student evaluations are typically done with three weeks left in the semester. When I drill down into students’ comments at the end of the course, I’m pleased that overall I met their expectations (see attached pre/post First Assignment). In talking with my EDU students in particular, many of them need the entire set of course experiences to feel confident about their ability to serve English Language Learners.

Because most of my courses deal with students’ confidence in their own abilities, I continually focus on ways to help them relax, have fun, and see their own personal growth.  My daily challenge is to build relationships that are strong enough that they are willing to take risks and learn new things.


When Making a Difference Means Failure

Making a difference makes us feel good. As educators and those who work in an educational environment, I honest believe it’s built into our DNA. The desire to make a difference is what makes our work meaningful.  The gratification that comes from helping someone, seeing a student finally “get” the concept, or watching a student grow and mature is relatively short-term. We see it in within the semester or so that we are working with specific individuals.

But what about the students who we couldn’t reach? We all have worked with them – the constantly absent, texting aficionado, excuse ridden, unengaged students. The ones who don’t do the homework, do not participate in class, or fail tests without caring often end up with grades that reflect that behavior. They do the bare minimum. They are also the ones, who at the end of the semester, are searching for extra credit or some way to blame you for their poor grade. They leave us thinking – is there something else I could have done? Does this student have extreme circumstances that I don’t know about? Is there just a personality conflict? Should I give them the benefit of the doubt, or should I let them fail? If they fail, will they come back and try again? These are tough decisions to make sometimes, especially given the conversations we have had this week about the Aspen Award.

How does this go back to making a difference? Maybe, by letting them fail we ARE making a difference – but with no gratification for us. Maybe the student who really didn’t earn a passing grade must learn the important lesson of setting priorities, time management, making choices, or even simply being present for the commitment he/she made. By passing them, are we simply delaying future, more consequential failures? Are we really doing them any favors by bumping up a borderline grade?

Unfortunately for us, we often don’t get to see the impact that has on a student in the future. Sometimes it is not until much later in life that they realize that failing that class set them on a new, more positive course. By then we don’t see the difference we made. And those differences often require more work and energy from us. I would like to argue that, in fact, a difference was made.


Life is Not a Multiple Choice Test

… well I suppose it can be, if you know what the choices are. In many cases, however, the available choices are not fed to you. There is no bubble sheet to fill in. It’s up to you to figure it out with no hints from a prompt.

Many of our younger students have been tested to death. One thing is for certain, they are comfortable with multiple choice options.

Last semester, I told my students that I was assigning a final project instead of a final exam. They begged me for a multiple choice test instead. To their credit, I had assigned a large number of projects throughout the semester, so I caved and wrote a final exam for them.

I do believe, however, that a degree means more than regurgitating facts. There are a number of other skills employers expect when they hire someone with a degree. I think these skills are learned through the college experience as a whole.

I came across this list of traits that we really cannot measure with tests today:

Whether or not we use multiple choice tests for factual knowledge, I believe the experience of going to college and completing practical application projects helps develop these characteristics.

Next time I work with a student who is frustrated, doesn’t like group projects, writing assignments,  or has roadblocks and other issues in the way – I will come back to this list, for no matter what a student’s major is, these skills come along with it. And we all get to contribute to that!



Making the Most of the Last Five Minutes

We have all been there as a student….the class is close to over; we start gathering materials, opening and closing backpacks, planning our escape as quickly as possible to the door to either run to a next class or sprint to the car to beat traffic.  As an instructor though, these final minutes of class are extremely valuable and we need to think of creative, strategic ways to use that time wisely.

As I wrote in my initial “6×6” post, the first five minutes of class are critical to establishing the purpose and tone for the day.  Similarly, the final five minutes of class are equally important to assess learning and establish expectations for the next class meeting.  Specifically, I believe the final five minutes of class are perfect to administer some type of classroom assessment technique (CAT) to determine, in a low-stakes, low-stress manner, if students learned the content for the day.  A resource I have used and shared with others with much success is “Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Instructors” by Thomas Angelo and K. Patricia Cross.  This resource includes how-to advice regarding implementing classroom assessment techniques into instruction to determine how well students learned material for the day.  The beauty of CATs is 1) instructors receive immediate feedback regarding student learning and 2) instructors can modify instruction based on the results of the assessment to better help students learn.  Personally, I have a few favorites.  I use “The Minute Paper” at the end of class and ask students to respond to two questions: What was the most important thing you learned during this class? And What important question remains unanswered?  I also use concept maps frequently, where students draw or diagram the connections they make between a major concept and other concepts they have learned in the class or throughout the course.

Although I’m more of a dog-lover myself, CATs (in this sense) are something I enjoy and try to keep in my bag of teaching tool tricks as much as possible.  And, they really help to make the last five minutes of class more worthwhile and meaningful for students.

For more info about CATs, visit:


It’s All About Your “Hook”


As I was choosing new song lyrics for my students to infer as an activity today, I was thinking about how important it is that I ” hook” my students into a lesson, and this requires constant change, as each semester I see new faces…

Coming from an education background, it is still ingrained in my lesson planning that idea of incorporating an exceptional anticipatory set, or “hook.”

I find this step so imperative in activating my student’s prior knowledge/ schema when introducing a new topic.  The change comes when I monitor and adjust the videos, activities, visual aids, and realia I implement each semester as I reflect upon each class. Here are some of my examples:

Video Clips: My RDG 081 students were reading a article on child-rearing styles, and after they read, I chose to have them watch a video clip that  added a different type of style than what the article listed. The feedback from the students was very positive, as the video did a nice job of presenting the attributes of each style.

Activities: For my RDG 091 students I use fortune cookies to introduce patterns of organization and transition words. I have them work in small groups of 4-5, and they have to create a paragraph using everyone’s fortune. This type of application makes them think and builds their collaboration skills.

I also use visual images. A perfect example is when I introduce propaganda…I have the students look at different types of advertisements with a partner, and label each advertisement with a sticky note. This is a perfect introduction, as it is relevant, and makes that connection for them as they then have to transfer this skill  to reading actual text…






As I plan my lessons….I think ……What can I do to create that spark of interest to engage their minds and curiosity in what they are learning about?

So bottom line is…..Yes, it’s all  about your hook!






I don’t know about you but when I transitioned from high school to college I was not ready.  Funny thing is when I talked to my dad about it he also indicated that his experience was the same.  Both of us bombed out of courses that first semester and had to recover.  However he was quicker than me as he went on to get his degree in a few years and I took…20!  I was a retention/persistence nightmare student.  I never saw an advisor, declared all sorts of majors, went to several colleges, and took a WIDE variety of courses.  Now I advise new first year students, Waahahaha!

I am sure it is easy to see why I can identify with the new student.  When a student walks onto our campus for the first time it is at that very moment life changes drastically. So much is coming at them that even something as common as setting a password becomes foreign.  We expect them to instantly understand, even know, common used words, processes, and requirements.  I don’t know about you but I only know what I LEARN and I learn faster if someone takes the time to teach me.  FYI, letting a student struggle to figure all this out is NOT student empowerment, that’s just laziness on our part. Going the extra mile will help our students go further down their educational path.

Each time we engage a student we have the opportunity to share in a learning experience.  It is in these sorts of engagements that we can create change in our students’ lives, change in our campus, and change in our community.  We need to understand that change takes time and it is our job to be patient.  Each of us have the POWER to stimulate change in those we encounter by simply taking the time to share our knowledge.

I think Spiderman says it best…



The Energy Enigma

It’s a weird thing about energy. It’s hard to capture. At the end of a hard day at work, it can completely evade us. On most Friday evenings, I think it gets buried in the sofa cushions with all of our lost articles.

We have all learned that energy cannot be created or destroyed. So where does it go when we are searching for it the most? Maybe there is a different formula for the type of energy we are all looking for?

Would you believe me if I told you that energy could be created by expending energy?  i.e. Energy begets energy. It seems counter intuitive, doesn’t it. How can I create energy if I don’t have any?

Personal example: Today I came home from work after eight hours of interviews, which consisted of sitting in a chair for most of the day. My energy meter was hovering around “empty,”  in the red zone. I had 20 minutes of free time before going to pick up the children.

I had a choice: I could melt into the sofa for a 20-minute nap (sounds delicious); or I could put on my running shoes and go run around the local park. I’m not much of a runner, but the weather was so nice and the park looked so inviting. I opted for the run.

Miracle of miracles! My energy meter was back in the green zone, and I was back in action and singing songs with the kids in the van. My brief exercise session also gave me the energy to write this blog before the Friday night deadline and fully engage with my online classes for the evening.

When you repeat this type of behavior on a regular basis, you come to rely on a brief exercise session to get your energy back on track. In fact, a brief exercise session can function just like a cup of coffee in the morning, but the benefits are far greater and last a lot longer.

There are hundreds of personal testimonials and research studies to be found on this topic.  Here is just one such post that I enjoyed reading.

If you are up for a challenge, try replacing your morning coffee with an apple and a brisk walk. I guarantee you that your energy meter will soar! (I triple dog dare you to write a blog about your experiences.)

Photo “borrowed” from Dr. Alisa Cooper.

p.s. I know you have an apple in your office if you have been keeping up with your Write 6×6 blogs!  :O)



Success is not just from attending class!

Community college life can certainly have its share of fears, accomplishments and yes, even set backs. It really can be a worthwhile endeavor if you find your niche in “college life”.  For some it may take only a few weeks and others it might take longer; however, the most important task “I feel” is to find your niche, that place that just feels right. If you seek out a club, find one. If you want to join an organization, do so. If you need a mentor, seek one out. If you want or need to find a job, then the career center on campus will help you find one. You really should find social circles in which “you the student” can feel like a valued participant. If you do one or more of the above mentioned things, your success rate has or will rise.

Being a GCC Ambassador

It’s pretty cool when you are recognized off-campus as a GCC employee, especially when you aren’t wearing your Gaucho Gear. We go through the internal process of:

  1. Why is that person staring at me?
  2. Do I know this person? Should I know this person?

Then they say, “You were my _____ teacher at GCC!” and then I think:

  1. Wait, what am I wearing right now, do I look presentable?
  2. How did they do in the class?
  3. How nice that they remembered me and their experience at GCC!

So then I get over my fears of being caught at the grocery store in sweats, with no make-up, and actually settle in to learn about where  they are in life and what they are doing currently.

This is the most rewarding part.

As much as it’s healthy to carve out a piece of your life just for you, when you live, breathe and believe in higher education, it is hard to separate that part of your life. Whether we know it or not, we are all ambassadors for GCC. I had this conversation about seven years ago with Rick Watts (you might know him) as we felt so strongly about the honor and privilege of representing GCC when outside of work hours.   Jim Reed and I frequently celebrate these occurrences, as this is a huge source of pride for Jim (I know, really!).  I love to work with people who feel this is a career with benefits beyond pay and who understand the impact they can make – these are my fellow ambassadors!


And the Oscar Goes to….

On the heels of the Academy Awards, I was reflecting on our own “award winners” at GCC who are often unheralded for their tenacity and perseverance.  While attending the Arizona Academic All American awards ceremony last week, I met three such amazing students who were being honored with high academic achievement.  And like many Oscar nominees, the pathways they each encountered to reach this milestone were unconventional at best and complicated at least.  One of the individuals never thought college was in their future, having never graduated from high school.  Another was a non-traditional student who imagined the classroom would be filled with 18-year-olds and not conducive to a more life-experienced style.  Still another was bold enough to venture into a major where the prominent demographic was male.  In each case, these students climbed over rocks and traversed crater-like holes to achieve a GPA that qualified them for scholarships at one of the three public universities in Arizona.
We all know “potential All Americans” in our classrooms, walking down the courtyard, studying in our library.  They are dedicated but are challenged; they are accomplished if not introverted; they are reaching for a goal that no one thought they could attain and quietly and steadily making progress toward the goal…the degree or certificate that boosts them to the next level of success!  With small encouragement, these students too should be recognized for their accomplishments.  A word on their paper congratulating them on improvement from the last draft; full completion of a physics lab that had been particularly challenging; accomplishing the all-important verb conjugation that is a must in mastering another language.  While this progression may not be the stuff of fanfare, they are the significant steps as a student makes as they acquire the needed skills to continue to move forward.  
A Gaucho applause for the nominees and the academically accomplished winners!