Category Archives: Teaching Ideas

Making the Most of the First Five Minutes

I have the pleasure each semester to observe faculty from across all disciplines teach.  I look forward to these observations because it allows me to learn and grow as a teacher myself, seeing what is working well in our classrooms .  Some of the most successful teachers I have observed utlize the first five minutes of class to set the tone for they day and to excite their students about learning.  They accomplish this by:

1. Greeting students by name as students enter class.  A friendly, individualized good morning or good afternoon goes a long way to establish a positive rapport.

2. Thanking students for coming to class.  Many students have made a great sacrifice to be at GCC, so the recognition of them making the effort to be here can also help establish the positive learning environment.

3. Beginning class with a writing prompt to activate prior knowledge and set the stage for the learning ahead.  While taking attendance, one instructor has students reflect on a question or prompt that either reviews material from a previous class or the reading that was assigned.  Another instructor asks students to complete a practice problem while settling in.  In both instances, learning takes place as soon as students arrive.

4. Reviewing the objectives for the day.  Some instructors write the day’s learning objectives on the board; others verbalize to students what will be accomplished.  Either way, instrutors set the stage for students by indicating the goals for the lesson and what students will hopefully learn.

The first five minutes of class are valuable minutes to establish the positive classroom environment and to set the stage for the learning for the day.


Who is More Nervous on Test Day — The Teacher or The Students?

You’ve created amazing and interesting lectures, outlined clear objectives, assigned appropriate reading, used technology in creative ways, conducted review sessions – you may have even told the students what will be on the test. That should be enough to ensure they will succeed on test day, right?

Much to your dismay, scores were not what you had hoped. What went wrong? Do the students just not study, do they not care? What was missing?

After my first experience with this, I started looking into what could be done to identify the needs of the students better. This is where I began learning more about using informal assessment tools.

Informal assessment is a way of determining what students are learning and where they need more guidance by interacting with them without using a “test” or “quiz” to find that result.

I began by using the 321 Summary at the end of each class. It is a simple questionnaire:

  1. Write three things you learned today.
  2. Write two questions you have.
  3. Write one thing that was helpful today.

This tool provides feedback both ways – for students to assess how I did in helping them learn the material, and for me to answer any unresolved or confusing points. It also helped me learn what teaching style I should use for certain individuals to get the most from the lecture sessions.

Asking students to reflect on the class period and ask meaningful questions about it gave them the potential for better retention of the material. It also provides them with the opportunity to practice their critical thinking skills.

I generally use Canvas to respond to their questions before the next class. If there is a common theme in the questions, I know I need to spend more time on that in the next class.

As an Adjunct Faculty member, I do not have an office or office hours, and therefore, students really don’t have the opportunity to come and see me individually without making an appointment and finding a private place to meet. It’s been a great way for students to communicate important personal or other issues they have that would normally be covered during office hours.

I have found that by communicating with the students in this fashion, they become more comfortable with me and the class earlier in the semester, and I learn more about the students that can help forge a better experience for us all.

Oh, and by the way … The first semester I used this tool, average test scores went up by 8-14 percent. Students were surprised at how “easy” the test was. While the students didn’t realize they were being “assessed,” they were able to master and retain the material more effectively.



Walk 1-2

As a teacher of five hybrid sections, I’m trying to make my feedback comments friendly and focused.  These are some of the comments I’ve given  in response to their first content-based Discussion:

You have your first absence for not submitting a Discussion posting on time. Please see me so that I can help you be successful in our hybrid format.

You will earn full credit by responding to two of your classmates. Remember that your participation in Discussion is part of attendance in a hybrid course.

I like how you participated in the Discussion over several days!

Your response format really captures the K-W-L, Randy.  Here’s another strategy for your chart!

Do you have any suggestions for me?


When life gives you lemons, take a walk??

stephanieThis is a guest post from faculty member Stephanie Sawyer, M.S. | Fitness and Wellness. Last week was tough for many of us, and Stephanie had a great way to handle it.

I wrote a PAR blog about yesterday’s Canvas situation. I shared it with one of my mentors, Louise So, and she thought you would get a kick out of it. When life gives you lemons, take a walk?? Enjoy! Stephanie

After my refreshing quarter-mile walk from the parking lot to my office (I know this because my I-Runner app calculated the distance), I was greeted with a district-wide message stating that Canvas was down. Not believing that such a thing was possible, I logged into Canvas to find that it was true. I didn’t panic at first because the class in Canvas that I needed to access didn’t occur until the evening, still several hours away.

However, as the hours passed while I went about my day teaching other classes, the panic started to set in. I kept thinking that it was just a matter of time before Canvas was restored. Unfortunately, that was not the case as I was now two hours away from a two-and-a-half-hour night class. I needed access to two power-point presentations, a Discussion Board activity, and an interactive, web-based activity, which were all on Canvas. I can “song and dance” a class as well as any of my colleagues, but two-and-a-half-hours is a little long.

As I started looking for my power-points on my office computer, I realized that they were on my home computer since I had created them before becoming full-time faculty and having an office computer. Therefore, I had to hike another quarter-mile back to my car, drive home and e-mail myself the power-points from my home computer. This event took about an hour in all. In addition, I had to run to the copy center and print out copies of everything that was on Canvas.

I am happy to report that I made it to class on time, had all of my materials on hand and accumulated over 14,000 steps for the day. The lesson learned was to not always rely on technology, to have a backup plan and make sure that there are master copies to retrieve in a pinch.