Tag Archives: student success

Making an Entrance

In my heart of hearts, I genuinely want those around me to succeed, and I take pleasure in watching them do well as they develop. I’d rather help people work out their problems than tell them what they need to do. I don’t consider any of those things character faults, but very early in my teaching experience I learned that certain actions can be confused with weakness. Weakness in the classroom leads to problems that are not easy to correct.

To say I was nervous on my first day in the classroom would be an understatement. I made the mistake of not wearing an undershirt, and my  light blue dress shirt was a drenched dark mess by the end of the 45-minute period. I imagine I seemed as ridiculous as Sir James Martin from Love & Friendship:

That lack of self-confidence and abundance of nerves  lead to problems throughout the rest of the semester. I found out very quickly that if a classroom doesn’t respect you as a person, they also will not respect your lectures, your grading, or your discipline.

That was a difficult semester, but as time went on I gained confidence and my nerves subsided. This lead to better relationships with my students and more success in the classroom. Year to year things improved incrementally. Eventually though, something happened.

Image of Luke from Star Wars about Overconfidence.
Ah George Lucas, your horrible dialogue rings true.

With my nerves fully at bay, my inner-nice guy came out again. With it, the entire catalog of issues I had in my early years started to manifest themselves again. Why?  Because while my students may have liked me, they did not respect me.

So here we are at the heart of the lesson folks: Respect is key. Respect should always be in the back of your mind when standing behind that desk. Whether it was nerves or being “Mr. Nice Guy”, I lost the respect of my students, and with it, full control of my classroom.

It wasn’t easy, and I still make mistakes, but I have learned to balance my kind demeanor with the responsibilities of being an educator. I found that I can still joke, have fun, and be myself, as long as students know I am serious about my job.

The most effective method I have found to encourage a healthy classroom dynamic is to start off strong. I like to make my first week of class filled to the brim with activity. I like to give students things to do, show them the gamut of what is to come: a journal, a discussion, a short essay, a quiz, and a reading. I do it all, because it lets students know that the primary goal of my course is for them to learn. If we end up having fun in the process, that is a bonus.

The classroom is a world with its own environment, dynamics, and life. It has the power to evolve and overtake you if you let it. Start off strong, confident, and focused, and that classroom will turn into an environment that encourages both learning and respect.

 

 

 

Humility + Assessment = Success

I have always been fascinated by assessment, unfortunately I know not everyone shares my feelings on the subject. I have had colleagues who consider it a dirty word. They dread the thought of it, and treat it as just another hoop to jump through when the time comes to participate.

A pre-test here.

A post-test there.

A journal reflection.

Or the ultimate avoidance, just saying a regular class assignment is, in fact, assessment.

Unfortunately, those who avoid confronting the challenges of assessments are not helping with the end goal, to improve student education through meaningful analysis and feedback.

The reason that some fear to participate in a group assessment and decide to take a solo route is that assessments are looked at as inconvenient or difficult; however, these approaches often overshadow efficient strategies for approaching this dilemma, strategies that which rely on one, simple trait: humility.

I love my standardized rubric for essays. It isn’t perfect, but it is consistent, and students appreciate that. The rubric is based off of one that is required to be used in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. That system consists of 16 colleges and every writing instructor uses the same rubric for their essays. I was lucky enough to see that rubric be initially implemented as well as its evolution over the last decade into its current form.

Now there was significant pushback when the rubric was first forced upon the faculty. Arguments ranged from “but I don’t grade essays with a rubric” to “my rubric is already better than this one”, but top to bottom it was adopted.

It is difficult to adjust teaching habits, but understand that a standardized rubric doesn’t change the way we teach, it simply unifies the way we grade. In that way, a standard rubric is even less intrusive than requiring a specific assignment for assessment.

So what is gained from using the same rubric for every essay?

Starting on the class level, it is easy to get a snapshot of student’s skills improving (or not improving) over a semester. It also allows the teacher to see if the class as a whole is struggling in a specific area (I’m looking at you point of view slips). This lets allows class needs to be addressed on a holistic level through lectures. I do this with my youtube series “English Power Lectures”, but setting aside 15 minutes when essays are handed back to address major problems does the trick as well.

When multiple faculty start to use the same rubric the assessment becomes that much more valuable. Now trends can be seen over a much larger group of students, it is also possible to see where one class struggles and another doesn’t. With this knowledge, teachers can share techniques for dealing with that particular issue. This is the beauty (and truly the purpose) of assessment. It serves as a common tool and focal point that can start an analysis, conversation, and implementation of course wide improvements.

Now implementing something district or even school wide is difficult, so start small. Talk to a group of fellow faculty (or adjunct faculty) and do your best to develop a rubric that works for multiple assignments or essays. Use that rubric in a course and compare notes. It won’t be perfect, but assessment can always be improved upon. It may be difficult to unify your grading techniques with others, but remember that teaching isn’t meant to be a solo endeavor. Instructors are stronger as a community, and students will benefit from that community. All it takes is a little bit of humility.

 

Student Success and Financial Aid – Week #2

Count yourself lucky if you didn’t have to rely on Federal Financial Aid for your college education.  At GCC, approximately 60% of our students must battle this maze every year.  In my time as the Vice President of Student Affairs, I have heard many stories from students, learned to understand the secret language of federal financial aid, and offer suggestions on ways to improve our service to students.  For example, take the U.S. born student whose parents were undocumented immigrants from Mexico.  When our student was 13, the parents were deported back to Mexico, leaving our student to fend for himself. Fortunately, he had an older sister who could help but nothing can replace the care and guidance of parents.  I learned there is help for exactly this situation, it’s called a Dependency Override, and while complicated, it allowed the student access to federal financial aid.

Every semester, a process called Enrollment Cancellation begins 35 days before the start of the semester.  This is a District-wide process that drops students from their classes for non-payment.  It has a complicated long story, but suffice it to say, there is a lot of angst surrounding this process.

Last summer, GCC was preparing to drop approximately 7000 students for non-payment.  Luckily, we were able to push robocalls to these students, encouraging them to sign up for a payment plan.  We also learned that approximately 3500 students had a federal financial aid application on file but had not completed the steps for awarding.  We saw this as a call to action, an opportunity to reach out to these students and to try to push them through the maze of financial aid.  We coined the phrase “Financial Aid Friday” and on a hot Friday in July, we were able to reach over 300 students.  GCC gained a lot of attention from District Office that day and a representative was sent over to witness and participate in our big event.  As a result of our focus on student success and financial aid, the messaging that students received was streamlined and made easier to understand.

So, what has GCC done now that we understand the impact of the federal financial process on our students and their success?  We have streamlined the GCC Financial Aid department and have hired four part-time staff to focus solely and completely on getting students through the maze we call federal financial aid. We are also planning additional Financial Aid Fridays throughout the summer.  The biggest take away for me has been in seeing the positive impact of one-on-one attention to our students.  It is time consuming and costly but ultimately, worth the price if we can help one more student through the maze.

 

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: http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/cats/

 

Student Success (from a Fiscal Perspective)

How many times a day do you see, hear, or think about the phrase “student success”? It is our primary goal, our focus, and the driving force behind everything we do. What about when your job duties (including the “other duties as assigned”) do not bring you in direct contact with students? Can you still contribute to student success? The answer is yes.

This is something I think about often because we are frequently asked to report on how we promote student success and I have a job that does not bring me in direct contact with students. However, after reading some of my fellow bloggers’ posts, I found that I am not alone in my assertion that yes I can contribute to student success.

I promote student success by helping faculty members navigate the myriad of forms, processes, and systems we have in the fiscal world. When faculty members are successful at the non-teaching part of their jobs, they are likely to translate that feeling into a happier and more successful learning environment. In “Sincere Thanks from an Adjunct” Chris Krause says, “The positive feelings and willingness to help I have experienced outside the classroom spills over into my classes as well. Students are the direct beneficiaries of this. I can be more available and am more willing to advocate for them when needed, because I am happy and comfortable in the environment” (Write 6X6 Blog).

I promote student success by participating in the One2One mentoring program. This program allows me to share with students strategies I have used to overcome obstacles in obtaining a college degree or finding my way around campus or dealing with the pressures of family, job and college all at the same time. It gives me an opportunity to listen and learn what that student needs to be successful and offer guidance and reassurance that their goals are attainable.  Ladonna Lewis, in “Coming Out of the Closet,” says “We all have closets that we can come out of with our students when appropriate” and “Maybe we can just listen to them sometimes, and try to connect them with resources. Sometimes for students, just seeing that someone like them can be a college professor, or administrator, or professional, can help them see themselves achieving their goals” (Write 6X6 Blog).

I promote student success by identifying myself as an employee of GCC. When I walk through the Enrollment Center or across campus students routinely stop me and ask directions, how to work the computers, or where to get help with… you name it.  Every day I come to work there is an opportunity for me to make a difference, taking the time to stop and answer their questions (or find someone who can) is a little thing that can make a big impact. In “Feeling Disgruntled?” Ingrid Austin says, “Just remember that we’re here to make a difference and that everything we do should be done with pride, joy, and self-satisfaction because what we do matters.  It matters to the students who are out there making an effort to better themselves” (Write 6X6 Blog).

Finally, I hope to promote student success in the future by accepting the suggestion of President Kovala. In “Random Acts of Relief” she says, “… to pay it forward with these and any other great ideas to give our students the extra nudge to the finish line. Stopping a student on the sidewalk and simply asking how they are doing, or walking through computer commons or the Library and checking in with students as they are busily working on the computer. Better yet, when a student is in line at Grounds for Thought, offer to pay for their coffee. These small gestures go a long way to assure students know we care about them and their success” (Write 6X6 Blog).

 

Becoming a Student Once Again

I recently made the decision to begin a doctoral program through ASU.  Earnign a doctorate has been a goal of mine for a number of years, but I always found reasons why the timing to start a program was just not right – new job responsibilities, young kids, cost, time, etc.  But, as many mentors in my life told me, “There will never be a perfect time,” so I took the plunge beginning last summer and what a journey it has been thus far.

I recall my first day of class last summer for our introductory course.  One word sums up my feelings that day – defeated.  First, I, along with my fellow students I was meeting for the first time, were locked out of the building where the classroom was scheduled.  Obviously, being locked out does not make you feel very welcome?!?   Second, our new professor began class asking us to refer to the responses that were due today.  Well, my heart sank as I had no idea what she was talking about but noticed many of my new classmates did.  I realized I made the mistake of not logging into Blackboard at the start of the week to review any assignments that were due for the first class.  So, in just thirty minutes, I found myself locked out of the classroom and already behind in assignments – let’s just say my confidence was a bit shaken.

I share this story for one main reason – becoming a student once again has helped me to better understand our students’ experiences and feelings.  I am currently doing well in the program (knock on wood), but I experience many frustrations with unclear assignments, bureaucratic hurdles, time management, and even at times, my own motivation.  Our students of course experience these same challenges, and most definitely, even greater challenges than mine.  But, returning to school has allowed me to experience what it is like to be a student again.  And, these experiences help me in my job to work with others across the college to better support our students.  Being a student is not easy.  Hopefully, we continue to develop support programs and services and create welcoming classroom environments that alleviate students’ fears and anxieties.  Or at least, hopefully we don’t lock them out on day one!

 

I believe in you.

6th grade. I don’t even remember her name, but my 6th grade teacher commended me on using the correct too (two/to/too).   It was at that point I felt that what I had to say (and write) in class mattered.  It set a standard for me academically; and I didn’t want to be less than what the teacher said I was (smart!).

I wish I could remember her name and thank her for believing in me more than I did.

 

Exercise is Medicine

Exercise is Medicine.  

There is no magic pill, except the kind that you see depicted in the image below.

whatsyourmed_forweb-01

Exercise is Medicine is a global initiative that was created by the American Medical Association and the American College of Sports Medicine. In a nutshell, they want doctors to recognize physical activity as a vital sign.  So next time you visit the doctor, don’t be surprised if you are quizzed on the amount of physical activity you are doing.

The value of this overarching message is everywhere around us. At the community college, it can be seen at every level of learning and it impacts every single one of us.  A healthy employee and a healthy student is the best recipe for college success.

Teaching: As faculty, are we taking the time to look after ourselves so we can serve our students at our optimal ability? SPICES stands for social, physical, intellectual, career, emotional, and spiritual wellness.  This is an ongoing journey, not a destination.

Learning: Students who engage in regular physical activity will benefit from improved selective visual attention (SVA), which experts agree is the key to learning.

Student Success: Regular participation in physical activity is a determinant of student success.  There are literally thousands of studies on this topic.

Trend Toward Inactivity in the Workplace: When we add online teaching and learning to our list of responsibilities, the amount of sitting time increases exponentially. In 1950, 30% of Americans worked in high-activity occupations. By 2000, only 22% worked in high-activity occupations. Conversely, the percentage of people working in low-activity occupations rose from about 23 to 41%.
Source: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/physical-activity-and-obesity/

Check out this infographic on Sitting is Killing You to see why inactivity is a concern for your overall health.

Do you believe exercise is important?  Please take the following survey.  The results will be shared in next week’s blog post.  Survey: My Benefits of Physical Activity.

See you next week!