Category Archives: Teaching Ideas

EDU 250 – More than what I thought!

In my ongoing journey of professional development to increase my knowledge and skills as an academic advisor I am currently in the process of working on the  Foundations of Student Services Certificate Program.  As part of the program I was required to take EDU 250 – Teaching and Learning in the Community College.  As an academic advisor I was tenaciously focused on delving into my craft and learning all I could about ADVISING students, so this class really wasn’t at the  top of my list.  As is goes, it has been the class which I was disinclined to take that has been the most useful! Little did I know that EDU 250 would provide me with some of the most essential skills I needed to serve students and help my team as we built the Gaucho 101 Program.

With the EDU 250 course under my belt I acquired a critical understanding of the many characteristics a community college student might have and the challenges some those characteristics bring.  I have a new respect for our students and what it has taken for many of them to simply walk onto the campus.  From the 1st Generation Student to the young parent who is balancing home, work, and school it is vital that each get advisement that suits their individual needs.

Then after examining the different learning styles of a student that awareness impressed upon me how important it is to build programs which incorporate different learning styles.  I now deeply understand that just talking at a student might not serve their needs and how vital it is to include visual and tactile moments of learning when possible.  Admittedly it takes time to add such elements to an advisement session but it gives the student more opportunity to truly learn.

What really rocked my advisor world was learning about course planning and design, as it gave me a good action plan for both advising students and building programs.    I have endeavored to make these four elements of course design part of my every interaction with students and to do my best to bring them into any program our team designs.

  • Knowing the aim, goals and objectives for the student
  • Finding clear ways to present the subject matter
  • Include learning activities
  • Evaluating

Beyond giving our instructors a solid foundation the EDU 250 course offers valuable knowledge at the heart of Student Services.  I highly encourage anyone who advises students or works on student programming to enroll!!


Use MLA and APA Templates in Composition Classes

I spent almost 30 years in aerospace technical writing before coming to Glendale to teach Freshman composition.  Aerospace technical writing uses Air Transport Association and military style guides that dictate not only format and presentation rules like APA and MLA do, but also dictate content requirements.  In business, the challenge in any new airplane program always was: How do we teach hundreds of technical writers (good subject matter/content experts) how to write in the new specification required by contract — quickly and cost-effectively?

Our answer in business was to use specification templates.  This template concept is transferable to academia. Imagine text book and Purdue OWL sample papers readily available in MS Word files.  Imagine that you are given an electronic copy and have free editing access to that copy.  Imagine putting YOUR content IN PLACE OF the content in the template while leaving the formatting intact, leaving only your own words and a properly-formatted paper in the end.

Using MLA and/or APA templates in a composition class can provide these benefits:

  • Save time and effort for students.
  • Save time and effort for instructors (~30% classroom time “saved” per a 2012 survey of Glendale English 101/102 instructors for a TYCA West presentation).
  • Conform to the style specification in the final paper – as good as or better than classes that do not use a template
  • Eliminate “arguments” over the right way to apply the style guide (the template is the style guide). If needed, work together as a class and change the template.
  • Eliminate worry about future revisions to/versions of the specification mid-term (the template is the style guide).
  • Add/reinforce MS Word skills for students.
  • Spend more time discussing good writing skills versus format details.
  • Create goodwill from students (“the instructor made this easy/wants me to succeed”)
  • Give students a proven sample/template they can use in their other college classes.
  • Prepare students better for what they will actually find in the work world.

While this template approach makes writing essays and reports easier for students (and correcting papers somewhat easier for instructors?), student success still relies heavily on student effort.  Note too that use of a template is not done in a void but rather in conjunction with the textbooks, Purdue OWL, and other sources.  The hardest thing to teach and reinforce, of course, is attention to detail – first time, every time.  This is something that you’ll need to constantly and continuously harp on, with or without a template.

My experience has also been that students appreciate the templates I provide and move more quickly and easily to writing good, compliant papers using templates.  My sense is that the resultant APA and/or MLA papers themselves are better written as well.  Of course, I’m also one of those guys that thinks all our modern productivity improvements will lead people to read more and be better informed.

Good thing hope springs eternal, eh?

A template for formatting? Give it a try — your students might just thank you!


The Prepared Environment – It’s Not Just for Kids

While my kids were little, I volunteered in their Montessori school, and later on became a teacher there as well. One of Montessori’s first rules of engaging children in education is making sure the classroom is inviting and the materials the students need are readily available. This prepared environment encourages students to explore areas that interest them and learn the love of learning from an early age. Many Montessori teachers spend a large portion of their time arranging the environment to create that love and interest in learning.

Of course, here at GCC, we are not working at the elementary level or with children. The adult learner certainly has different needs than a child. But at what age does the physical environment stop being important in encouraging the love and interest in learning? I would like to argue that even as adults working with adult learners, we still are greatly affected by the space around us.

As a Geographer, I am always concerned with the spatial layout of things. We design cities with space in mind; we design airports for the best flow of traffic and comfort of passengers; we design the layout of retail stores to attract shoppers to make more purchases; we hire interior designers to make our homes inviting and useful, and we even design websites to be useful and to draw readers in. The best designed spaces are the ones that have the engagement of their users.

How we can make our classrooms more conducive to the educational process in the fifteen minutes between classes depends on what kind of tone you want set in your environment:

  • Do students need to see the board or screen? Is there anything obstructing that view? What about the side walls, is there anything they need to see there? Often desks or tables that are pushed all the way to the side walls of the room are obstructed by items on the instructor desk (like the computer monitor).
  • Do you stand behind a podium or in one place, or do you move around the room during class? Is there anything obstructing your movement in the classroom? Are you tied to the instructor PC to advance slides? Desks or tables arranged in rows tend to work best for standing in one place, and arranging them in groups provides more space for walking around.
  • Do you like students to be quiet and listening to your lectures, or do you have them interacting with each other during class? Again, the row arrangement makes for a quiet/listening class, while group arrangement allows for small group discussions and interaction.
  • Do you use handouts or other materials frequently? Is there anything that gets in the way of distributing things to students? Could there be a centrally located holding area for these materials? Is there an empty front table (because of course many students don’t sit right in front) that can be used for these materials?
  • How do you manage on test day? Are you concerned about cheating? Can table groupings work in this situation? Is there a way to separate them out enough for that day?
  • Are there permanent materials on the walls (charts, maps, etc.)? What kind of shape are they in? Are they located where students can see them?

I know, we generally only have fifteen minutes to get into a classroom, set up for the day, conference with students, etc. How possibly can we be responsible for preparing an environment, too? I usually employ the help of my students. This benefits the entire classroom environment by engaging the students in creating their space.  It also supports the idea of teamwork – we all are contributing to our class. Also, students are moving around a little before class starts – hopefully that gets the cobwebs out of their heads to get started on the right foot.

The other concern with this is that we should really be returning the classroom to its original condition when we leave. I always try to meet the person in the room after me to see what he/she wants before I rearrange and then have to move things back. Often, the person after me is open to the changes I’ve made because the flow of energy in the room works better for their classes too.

We plan and arrange space in cities, airports, retail environments, and even websites.  A classroom environment is no different – arranging the space to meet your teaching style and the students needs can make a big difference in student engagement and retention.


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.