A New Year’s Teaching Resolution
Todd Zakrajsek, PhD
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
People make New Year’s Resolutions to address any number of areas in which improvement is desired (e.g., exercise more, spend more time with family, volunteer more, travel more). As a long-time faculty member I can honestly say that it did not occur to me for the longest time that I could also make one or two New Year’s Teaching Resolutions. If this is something you have not done, well, it isn’t too late. Of course, most people make their resolutions on or before January 1, but from an academic sense, as faculty it seems appropriate to make our resolutions just prior to the first day of the Spring semester.
I am not going to be so presumptuous as to tell you what your resolution should be this year. That is totally up to you. That said, I will provide a few suggestions just to get you thinking of the many possibilities. Also, as always, I am a big fan of starting small, doing well, and building on success. There will be plenty of time to ramp it up later.
First, consider the general “area” in which your resolution(s) may fall. Some that come to mind for me include (1) engagement in the classroom; (2) assessment learning; (3) classroom climate; and (4) interprofessional support. There are many additional areas for consideration. These are areas that seem to be under constant consideration in my mind.
Engagement in the Classroom. One possible is to “prompt students to participate more during class sessions.” There are many possibilities in this general category, but my favorite “oldie” that still works well is the “think-pair-share” (Lyman, 1981). Having students think for 30 – 60 seconds about an issue or question, pair with a neighbor, and then share what pairs have discussed does not take much class time, is easy for students, and gives everyone an opportunity to participate. If you are already doing this technique, think about how you might apply a Classroom Assessment Technique as an engagement strategy (Angelo & Cross, 1993).
Assessing for Learning. One option for your resolution is to have students become more involved in the development of a grading rubric for a given assignment. There are many resources for developing grading rubrics (e.g., http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/112001/chapters/What-Are-Rubrics-and-Why-Are-They-Important%C2%A2.aspx) and in my classes there have been many benefits to having students participate in the grading rubric process. My preference is to develop a rubric, give it out on the first day of class, and then spend a bit of time getting feedback from the students. I would often give them up to one week after the first day of class to submit to me any concerns suggestions, after which I take all suggestions under consideration and post the final rubric. This also helps to build classroom climate…..the next topic.
Classroom Climate. Building and maintaining a classroom of respect is something both worthy of consideration and something that requires your attention. For example, if you know difficult dialogues are likely to take place at some point during the semester, then you can prepare for them in advance. Although you may not be prepared for all possibilities, it is always possible to be a bit better prepared. There is a great deal of information under difficult dialogue initiatives (e.g., http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/difficult-dialogues/) and also in areas of universal design for learning (e,g., http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines_theorypractice).
Interprofessional Support. There are many expectations of faculty in areas we were never trained to be proficient. I have been spending more and more time lately looking for areas in which my colleagues have strong disciplinary training and asking those individuals for guidance. For example, faculty in the areas of English have specific training in grading papers; faculty in Speech/Communication and Theater are masters at grading presentations; and those in Religion, Politics, or Social Justice are very good at moderating conversations about difficult topics. Of course there are many professionals in the areas of Counseling, Student Success, Libraries, and a host of other areas that can benefit my experience in working with students (Zakrajsek, 2014).
New Year’s Teaching Resolutions do not need to be elaborate or time consuming. The goal is to identify an area that could use a bit of work and then put a bit of energy into addressing that area. So, when you hit the gym next week, or convince yourself to pass on that piece of cheesecake, keep in mind you could also be developing a think-pair-share prompt or calling a colleague for a teaching chat. Kick off the New Year with some new behaviors, and best wishes for a fantastic 2015.
Angelo, T.A. & K. Cross, P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, Second Edition, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Lyman, F. (1981). The Responsive Classroom Discussion: The Inclusion of All Students. Mainstreaming Digest. University of Maryland, College Park, MD.
Zakrajsek, T.D. (2014). Developing learning in faculty: Seeking expert assistance from colleagues. In, P.L. Eddy (Ed.). Connecting learning across the institution. New Directions in Higher Education, No. 165. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.