This is the second article in a two-part series about my experiences with the Fall 2014 workshop series associated with the Faculty Diversity Internship Program (FDIP) at the Los Rios Community College District. For a more thorough background on the program and to read about the first three workshops in the series, please see my previous post.
The last three workshops were led by Dr. Will Davis, who is a professor of biology and director of the MESA program at American River College. Will’s workshops focused on the practical aspects of teaching in the community college classroom.
The focus of this workshop was on classroom management and how to set the tone for a class on the first day. We worked to identify the attributes that we most want to see students develop (I chose confidence, expertise, and problem-solving). Next, we talked about strategies for handling behavioral issues in the classroom and then applied those strategies in small group discussions of hypothetical classroom situations. The last part of the workshop was a discussion of how to use course policies and the first day of class to guide students towards appropriate and productive behavior.
- Standards for behavior should be made explicit and be enforced consistently (this means you need to think through your classroom policies carefully)
- When faced with challenging, or potentially dangerous situations, you should reach out to more experienced faculty and the administration for assistance and guidance
- On the first day of class, you should seek to make students feel welcome, and give them the impression that you are well-prepared and passionate about helping them be successful. You should also make sure students feel comfortable addressing you – tell them how you would like to be addressed.
- Appearance matters. Think about how you want students to perceive you. Dr. Davis, for example, is an older, bearded, white man – he feels that students look at him and assume he is an experienced and knowledgeable teacher (which he is), so he chooses to dress causally in the classroom so that he seems more approachable. A younger professor, who might be more concerned about being perceived as credible, may want to choose to dress more formally.
- Don’t bait and switch. The first part of your course should be representative of the whole in terms of both pedagogy and difficulty of the material and assessments. This allows students to make an educated decision about whether to remain in the class before the drop date has passed.
We started the workshop with a lecture/discussion covering major ideas about effective lecturing. This was followed by a worksheet activity where we thought about different topics in our discipline that could be presented with different organizational schemes (i.e. chronological, spatial, cause/effect etc). Then we broke into groups and applied what we had learned by delivering a five minute explanation of a topic of our choosing. I really enjoyed this activity – I heard really engaging talks about using poetry in the classroom and strategy in soccer (I talked about GMO potatoes). After the group activity, we had a Q&A session with Los Rios Chancellor Dr. Brian King.
- Engaging students at the beginning of a lecture is important – some possible methods include opening with a personal story, arguing the relevence of the topic (perhaps to a particular career or exam, such as the MCAT), or opening with a seemingly contradictory statement (“I saw a dinosaur on the way to class today”).
- Be sure to tell students at the beginning of a course how to listen to your lectures – should they sit back and listen, takes notes, or use a provided outline?
- Make sure you plan time for a conclusion that summarizes the lecture and connects it to the rest of the course. This often gets lost when professors try to cram too much into a lecture and run out of time.
- You can increase participation in online discussion boards by referencing specific questions or comments from the boards during the lecture (i.e. “Sonja asked a really interesting question on the forum last night …”).
In the final workshop we discussed why students drop out of school and what we can do to reduce the dropout rate. We also discussed how to deal with moral challenges in teaching and worked through a number of case studies that presented professors with moral dilemmas. The workshop concluded with an orientation for the second stage of the internship program.
- Having high, clear expectations is important because it communicates both the value of the course and the path to success in the course.
- Spending some time reviewing material from previous courses can help retain students. This is particularly important at the community college, where a significant amount of time may have elapsed between when a student took a prerequisite and when they walk into your classroom.
- Do your best to connect your students to each other and to resources on campus. Feeling isolated can make students more likely to drop a course or leave school.
- Have flexibility in your course structure to allow leeway for life’s intrusions. A student may have missed an assignment because they were out partying, or it may have been because their kid was sick, or they had to take on extra shifts at work. Inflexible course policies can make students feel like they can’t recover from a bad week, leading them to drop out.
- There are a variety of decision making frameworks that can be used to address difficult moral issues in the classroom. It is a good idea to think about hard issues from several angles – what rules (either departmental or your own) are relevant, what are the consequences of each option (for both the student in question and others in the class), and which option best serves learning should all be considered.
While the instructors did an excellent job with the workshops, I feel that the participants also contribute a lot to making the workshops valuable learning experiences. This year there were around 40 interns in the program, who are almost as diverse as the students at Los Rios. The interns brought a wide range of experiences as students, teachers, and professionals to the workshops. I particularly appreciated hearing about the experiences of interns who had started their academic careers as community college students.
Though I admit that this is a fairly lengthy post, it only really begins to cover what we did and learned in the FDIP workshop series. If you have any questions about the program or my experiences with it, feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org). Alternatively, you can contact Dr. Dolly Green (email@example.com), who is the Los Rios Director of Human Resources and Employee Relations and the organizer of the FDIP.