The Best Teachers

As the first full book on teaching that I have ever read, I found Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers do (2004) to be a perfect introduction to the academics of pedagogy.  As an introduction to the teaching of teaching, Bain has brought together the ideas and practices of successful and effective college instructors from across the country, and from across multiple disciplines.  He presented all this in a format that is easily read and understood.  As soon as I began reading, I was imagining how any of the suggestions could be applied in my classroom.  The tone set by Bain was exciting and contagious.  He brought the reader along with him as he discovered what these different instructors created in their classrooms.  He inspired the reader to wish to become one of those teachers.

Not only was the book easy to understand, but it was very logically organized.  Bain begins with the first step when wanting to teach, knowing how people learn and brings the reader through the complete process of teaching ending with how to evaluate their students and themselves.  Within each chapter, he gives multiple examples of what these good teachers do in order to prepare and do their jobs.  Bain takes the reader through how others prepared to teach, student expectations, class conduct, and evaluations.  The information given within each of these chapters was insightful and exciting, at times the explanations of what each teacher did was not very clear.  I would have liked to have had more details on specific tools or processes that these teachers used.

The biggest things that I will take away from having read this book is 1) the way that these teachers view and treat their students and 2) that they continue to evaluate their teaching successes on a regular basis.  These teachers expected much out of their students and told them so.  They understood that their students were there for multiple reasons and with differing goals.  The teachers also explained to their students that they were responsible for their own results and that the level of their success was their own decision.  It was reassuring to read this as it is something that I do in my own classrooms.   Secondly, these teachers are always evaluating how they are doing.  They do not assume that everything they do will always work with every student.  They kept notes of what went well and what did not during classes.  These teachers are always trying to find new and innovative ways to keep students involved and interested.

As a new scholar of pedagogy, I was very pleased to have been given this book to read.  While I would have like to have had more concrete and detailed examples of what these teachers did with their classes, I have a good foundational understanding of where to begin my own journey.  I have already implemented a few ideas into my current classes (students writing their own class goals, guided notes, and more intentional pauses during lectures).  I also have some more ideas for future classes and course content.


Assessing Classroom Assessment Techniques

This is our last book review of the semester.  Angelo and Cross’s Classroom Assessment Techniques rounds out the life cycle of required readings.  We began with an overview of college teaching with Bain, learned how to get our students involved with Barkley, and wrap up the process with learning how to assess our students with Angelo and Cross.

As with Barkley, this book has both had me re-thinking current classroom assessment tools and has earned a permanent place on my reference bookshelf.  As with Barkley, I have tagged various CATs (classroom assessment techniques) with post-it notes and I have multiple notes written in the margins.

I appreciated how the authors arranged the book.  The book began with assumptions made about classroom assessment.  These assumptions pointed out that assessments require goals, planning, and training.  Assessments are not just points on a page or quizzes for the sake of quizzes.  Bringing these assumptions to the forefront of assessment training erases the preconceived notions of how and why to grade.  The authors bring the reader through the steps needed to create effective assessments and use examples of techniques to illustrate their points.  Part two is full of assessment techniques for teachers to adopt and adjust as needed.  I really liked how each of these techniques was set up.  Each technique includes a description, purpose, related teaching goals, suggestions for use, examples from different disciplines, steps needed, how to use the information gained, additional ideas, pros, cons, and caveats.  This is a lot of information for each technique.  But I believe it is all very useful and helps me to understand the applicability of techniques.  Finally, part three reveals the lessons learned by the authors over the years in relation to this book and future research opportunities.  It was interesting to read this section.  Other then individual academic articles, it is not a section that is often found in books.

After reading some of Barkley’s suggestions, I had immediately implemented some tips into my current teaching workload.  After reading Angelo and Cross, I began to rethink why I was using the assessment tools.  I realized that what I had been doing was to include exams into the syllabus because I assumed that was what I had to do.  Well, we all know what happens when we assume . . . (ask me if you don’t).  I learned that what I needed to do was to think about what I wanted my students to walk away knowing and how I wanted them to use that newly gained wisdom.  I have since, made a change in the final assignment of one of my classes.  With my advisor’s approval, I have decided to not have a traditional final exam.  The final was to be online, open book and students would have had 24 hours to complete the test.  However, I don’t believe that this would be the most effective way to ascertain whether or not these students thoroughly understood what we had been discussing all semester.  In place of the final, they will instead write a personal reflection piece regarding what they learned in this class.  They need to explain what they learned and why they learned it.  This was a research class.  Most of them will not go on to do research.  They need to understand why this knowledge is beneficial to them.  That is now one of the goals of my class.  They are also to include, as specifically as possible, how they will use what they gained from this class in their future, both here at The University of Alabama and after.

In conclusion, I don’t think that it is hard for you, the reader, to understand that I liked this book and appreciate that it is another “keeper” in my academic library.

COM101: A Teaching Observation

There is a class that I have been observing all semester.  COM 101, aka Principles of Human Communication, is a freshman level introductory communication class.  There are five specific course objectives:

  • Analyze and describe verbal and nonverbal communication in one’s own life, in relation to interpersonal, group, and organizational-level interactions.
  • Analyze the role of communication in creating organizational, social, and cultural norms.
  • Learn the history of human communication.
  • Understand theory used in communication.
  • Gain an understanding of research methods used in communication research.

During the semester, students will take three exams, reading quizzes for each of the twelve classes, a syllabus quiz, a plagiarism quiz, and four communication analysis papers.  In order to ensure that all assignments are completed, each quiz, exam, and paper is scheduled clearly on the syllabus.  The syllabus is provided to each student via Blackboard.

This class has an enrollment of over two hundred students.  It meets in an auditorium styled room.  The seats are set up in an arc, facing the front of the room, and in rows set at different levels.  They are cushioned seats, but close together and have only a small flat surface for writing notes or placing one’s computer on.  The instructor’s desk is at the front of the room and set off to the right side of a large media screen.  There are four more screens, two on each side of the room, to allow students a choice of where to look.

With so many students, it is difficult to effectively maintain an attendance policy.  The instructor teaching this course has employed an online program that is offered by the textbook publisher.  This program allows the instructor to incorporate any number of questions during the class period.  The instructor sets up five questions that directly relate to the topic of discussion.  Students receive a small amount of credit for answering each question.  Additionally, the same program is used for attendance.  The program records the student answers.  As long as there are answers recording for the student, they receive credit for being in class that day.

The class meets twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday from 2:00 – 3:15.  It is a long time to sit and listen to someone speak.  The instructor does a good job of breaking up the lecture with short videos, the online program questions, and taking a break and asking straightforwardly “Is everyone doing ok?”  These strategies make a long class period easier for both the students and the instructor.  It is important to note that in a class this large, it is very difficult to engage in interaction with the students.  As a result, the instructor needs to lecture for almost the entire class time.  On occasion, she has had the students turn to each other to discuss something.  But, the classroom volume increased dramatically, as you can imagine with two hundred people speaking at the same time.  So, this tactic has not been used often.  The only other thing that the instructor might want to keep an eye on is that some of the videos that she showed during class were a bit long.  Some hit the eight to ten-minute mark.  Keeping the videos to around four or five minutes would help keep the attention of the students.

The instructor, herself, is very approachable and knowledgeable.  She has office hours right before class time and regularly sets meetings with students if they cannot meet during her office hours.  She regularly uses current events and happenings to help when explaining topics. She also brings in many of her own personal experiences as examples to make topics more applicable to real life. At the beginning of each class period, she plays a music video while students are coming in.  The music video introduces the class topic for the day.  For example, when the chapter for discussion was intercultural communication, she played “Roam” by the B-52’s.  The title “Roam” indicated moving around and the music video had photos of different places from around the world.

I am extremely impressed with how this instructor handles such a large group of students. It can’t be easy to have to talk the entire class period and keep the attention of so many people.  I have watched as students in the class have conversations during lectures, put their feet up on the seats in front of them, and basically disrupt the class for the other students around them.  The instructor had been patient until approximately halfway through the semester.  One day, she began the class with a mini-presentation on respect.  She focused on respect for other students around you.  She did not call out anyone by name.  She did not point to anyone or make specific references to any one student’s behavior.  However, while I watched, it was clear that those who were disrespectful understood what was being said and to whom.  I thought it was a very effective way to address the behavioral issue in the classroom.

Overall, I am impressed with how the instructor teaches the class.  Teaching a class of 200 is very different from teaching a class of 30 or 15.  Trying to keep the attention of so many and making sure that all the information is covered is challenging.  The hardest part may even be assessing what knowledge the students are retaining.  But this instructor makes it look effortless.  She’s a pro.  I think it is safe to say that I would like to be like her when I grow up.

Script of Anchored Learning video

Slide 1

Hi! My name is Marieke Keller and thank you for choosing to learn about anchored learning, otherwise known as anchored instruction.

This video will introduce you to who developed anchored learning, what anchored learning is, and an example of how anchored learning is being used by educators around the world.

Slide 2

During the 1990’s, while at Vanderbilt University, Dr. John Bransford assembled a group of scholars who, eventually, became know as the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, or CTGV.

This group focused their efforts on the development and designing of technology driven lessons for students in various content areas. One of their best know creations was a set of video math lessons called The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury. These lessons used the theory of anchored learning.

Slide 3

So, what exactly is anchored learning?

Anchored learning is a teaching technique that uses technology to present a problem that students need to solve.

First of all, the lessons are presented in a technological manner. Lessons may be on dvd’s, interactive computer programs, or online sites.

Students watch the lesson together and this creates a shared experience for them to work from when solving the problem. This is the anchor.

The lessons provide all the information the students need to solve the given problem. They are given the situation, any vocabulary associated with it, and specific points that are needed for discussion. The instructor then guides and coached the students through the problem solving process.

Slide 4

In anchored learning, there are 7 fundamental rules that are used to direct the structure of the lesson.

Rule #1 – Generated learning.

This means that the students must become actively involved in generating the solution to the problem. It’s also important to note, that students need to know that there may be more than 1 right way to solve the problem.

Rule #2 – Technology based.

The lesson is presented to the students in a format that allows for interaction. Additionally, this method gives life to the situation and make it more applicable and therefore, important to the student.

Rule #3 – Meaningful

The problem to be solved must be a situation in a scenario that is relevant and meaningful to the student audience. This may be a playground mystery for elementary students or a freshman 15 problem for college students. This makes the lesson more interesting and students are more inclined to pay closer attention.

Rule #4 – Problem complexity

The story or scenario has to be complicated enough to catch the students’ attention and keep their curiosity peeked. They need to want to know what happens next. The more steps in the problem solving sequence, the more complicated the process.

Rule #5 – Embedded data

The lesson needs to include all the necessary information for students to solve the problem. There also needs to be extra information that is irrelevant to the problem. Students learn how to decipher which information is required to solve the problem and which information is not. All the information, necessary and unnecessary, is presented by a narrator.

Rule #6 – Knowledge transfer

This means that the knowledge gained in one lesson can be used over and over again in other lessons. Lessons are used to build on prior lessons.

Finally, Rule # 7 – Cross-curriculum learning

The lessons created in one subject area may also introduce topics related to other subjects. For example, a reading lesson may introduce historical information, connecting the two subjects together.

Slide 5

The system of anchored learning is a multi-step process:

First, the instructor shows the presentation to all the students at the same time. This creates the anchor, or bond, between the students.

After viewing the problem, students are put into small groups to discuss the problem. They need to decide what the important information is and then they need to come up with a process to solve the problem.

When the groups present their suggestions for solving the problem, the pros and cons of each option are discussed. 

Slide 6

So, how is anchored learning used?

The CTGV (remember them?) produced numerous programs for educators using the anchored learning approach. One of the most widely used was a math series called “The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury.”

This was a series of 12, 15-20 minute videos in which Jasper Woodbury encountered a problem that needed to be solved.

During the video, the students are given the information they need to solve the problem.

Students are put into small groups to solve the problem.

Once the problem has been solved, the students may watch how Jasper and his friends solved the problem.

These videos took traditional math work problems and brought them to life.

Slide 7

I hope that you now have an understanding of anchored learning. We have discussed how anchored learning is a teaching technique that uses technology, the rules of structure of the lessons, and how it was applied in “The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury.”

Thank you for joining me and happy teaching!


Anchored Learning video

(Sorry all, audio has failed.  So have my attempts to correct it.  I will add the script later today when I get home.  at least you’ll be able to see what I meant to say with each slide.)

Well now, I have to say, that the things I am learning in this class go far beyond college and university teaching.  That being said, here is my video on anchored learning.  I hope you enjoy it.  (Ok, I also hope it works. There are two options for you to choose from.)



A review of Barkley

Holy Handbooks, Batman!!  This is what I’ve been searching for my whole life!  Well, maybe not my whole life, but I sure could have used it last semester.  However, before completely losing control, let me tell you my original opinions.  While reading through the first five chapters, I was intrigued.  Specifically, I was attracted by two things.

First was the idea of not just providing feedback on assignments, but also providing methods of improvement.  I have always been nervous when sitting down to grade students’ work.  I have never felt comfortable in my ability to grade fairly, consistently, and effectively.  I think that may be the reason it takes me so long to do just that.  Then, I find that I consistently fall into the routine of leaving notes on what they did incorrectly and not necessarily on how they can improve. My bad.  But one of the reasons for taking this class and choosing Higher Education as my cognate was to learn and I will.

The second thing I was attracted to was the statement, ” . . . that students must connect what is being learned to what is already known, and what one student knows is not the same as what another knows. (p. 39)”  or even what I know as I discovered in class just today what my students had no idea what an older word processing program (WordStar) was.  I completely lost that connection to my point.  Not to worry, I recovered with Apple computers.  Thank you, Steve and Steve.  But remembering that my students come from different life experiences is very important.  My attempts at casual conversation before class begins and ‘Tell Me Something Good’ on Fridays help me to learn about my students.

I loved reading chapter 6.  It even reminded me of Bain a bit (sorry, Kit), in that these were teachers who obviously cared for, honored, and respected their students and were grateful for the opportunity to be a part of their education.  Not once did Barkley need to indicate that these were the best college teachers.  Depending on definitions, they may or may not have been the best college teachers.  But, to me, these were best of people.  They cared and showed it.  It was empowering and inspiring to read.

While I did not review every example given in the rest of the handbook, my plan is to do just that.  I hope that this will become a book where the pages are worn out and covered with additional notes by me as I attempt these activities.  I hope to dog-ear the pages of my favorites and cross out my disastrous attempts.  I have already been underlining, highlighting, and post-it note flagging.  I believe that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.



My teaching philosophy

I’ve always thought that my teaching philosophy was pretty straight forward.  I do not believe in what I call regurgitative learning.  I do not expect students to memorization information and then spit it out at test time.  I want my students to learn not just know.  I want them to ask questions, to use information and learn where to find it.  Not knowing an answer is not a problem, not knowing where to find that answer is.

My students are encouraged to work together in discussion and assignments.  The world outside the classroom does not require memorization and isolation and I can teach my students what to expect after graduation.  I tell the straight out, they will never have a manager hand them a blue book, point to an empty room, and tell them to answer a few questions (by themselves) for the next 2 hours.  Instead, students need to learn where to find the information that is asked of them and learn how to work in groups.  This is how they will be working in life after college.  Additionally, students are allowed multiple attempts to the score that they want within a predetermined time frame.  This way they are responsible for earning their own grades.  They can continue until they have a perfect score or stop when they feel their score is acceptable to themselves.

As a teacher, it is my job to do and give my best to my students.  I expect to be organized, prepared, transparent, fair, and interesting for my students.  Before classes begin, I have planned goals, assignments, and activities for the students.  Classes are broken up between short lectures, videos, individual reflections, group discussions and activities, and class discussions.  I bring in real life examples to show applicability of the information being taught and I always try to relate topics to potential work scenarios that they may come across after school.

I believe that one part of my role is to help them begin the transition from college to career.  I fear, sometimes, that students are not prepared for what lies ahead of them in the “real world.”  In order to give them some kind of heads up, I often connect what we are discussing in class to potential scenarios that they may come across during their careers.  I hope that they leave my class have some understanding of what lies ahead for them.

At the beginning of each semester, students are given specific information regarding assignments, grading, expectations, and any other relevant information for the class.  The syllabus is long, but covers a lot of information including assignments, schedules, grading assessments, and required readings.  (However, I still reserve the right to make changes during the semester if needed.)  Additionally, I give my students a list of expectations that apply to both student and instructor (me).  I expect a lot from my students and let them know from the beginning.  I also know that they are capable of a lot, and I let them know that as well.  They should begin with all the information they need to complete the course to their desired outcome. Every one of them has the capacity and capability to be as successful as they want to be.  Students are ultimately responsible for the grades that they receive but it is my responsibility to give them the tools and the means to do so and will be available to them during their journey.

I also want my students to learn that they have responsibilities.  Responsibilities to themselves and I will give them the tools and directions that they need to meet those responsibilities in my classes.  Every one of them is responsible for their own success.  Ultimately, if my students can leave my classroom with at least one nugget of knowledge that they will use in their futures, then I will have succeeded.