Bloom’s Taxonomy

For years, Bloom’s Taxonomy has been near the top of the list of college teaching advice. Recently, I wrote another article on this subject.

Note: Before you spend more than $100 on a used copy of Bloom’s original book, I encourage you to purchase Steven Banks’s book: ..... (read more)

Student Evaluations

Make Sure Your Evaluations Aren't "Evil-uations"

Does this apply to you?

To many (most?) college instructors, “student evals” are a once-a-term event that prompts a bit of anxiety and not much more. Your students complete them, they are sent in a sealed envelope to someone at your college who reviews them, and later you receive the results. The moment arrives. Drum roll!!! With fear and trepidation, you open the envelope. There are the ratings and comments from students. They are good, bad or indifferent. You close the envelope, file it (possibly in the circular file), and you move on. That is, you move on unless they were really bad. Is that all there is? If you think so, click here.

My Advice During the Term

(You have to love my 7th recommendation. That's an order.)

  1. Review a copy of the student evaluation form you will be using. Do an honest assessment of where you stand on each the criteria. Build on your strengths, but work to improve your weaker (Note: I did not say bad, poor, or lousy) areas.
  2. When planning a class, review the form and ask yourself how you and your lesson will size up.
  3. After class, review the form again and identify areas where you could have done better.
  4. Don’t wait until the end of the term to learn what your students really think. Have them complete anonymous evaluations several times during the duration of the course.
  5. Use online survey tools like Survey Monkey to create anonymous evaluation questionnaires for your students to submit.
  6. Tell your students that you value their feedback, and mean it. Explain that you take all their comments and ratings to heart and thank them for the time they will be taking to fill out the evaluation forms.
  7. Just before you leave the room so you students can anonymously complete their formal evaluations, point out the headings on the form. This is important. Each term I see dozens of incorrectly marked ratings. Make sure they know that “Strongly Agree” means they wish to give you a high rating and that this is the rightmost column. Tell them that “Strongly Disagree” is the rating they should give if they don’t think you are doing well in the area. Then, tell them that they will have to find that column on their own. (It can’t hurt to get them laughing a little before they grade you.)

My Advice After Your Receive Your Formal Student Evaluations

  1. Review your evaluations. Pat yourself on the back for the positive feedback you received and give careful consideration to the less positive responses.
  2. Identify any trends. For example, you may have received 96 percent positive ratings, but assume that most of that other four percent were about your ability to explain things clearly and how well organized you were. Think about why, right or wrong, some students thought poorly of you. Identify, or make a good guess at, what you did to garner these responses.
  3. Identify any highly critical evaluations. Almost certainly, the displeasure this student experienced precipitated a bit of unpleasantness for you too. Often times, you will have a sense of who wrote such an evaluation. This may have been the student from %$&#%$ who aggravated you to no end. Let’s say he was angry because, allegedly, you never answered his questions. Think about how you could have dealt with this student better. No matter how wrong the student was with his feedback, by addressing the issue you will create less grief for yourself in the future.
  4. Take to heart negative comments students wrote about your behavior, comments like “You were an easy grader,” “You assigned far too much homework,” “Lay off the jokes,” “Ms. Smith acted like she wanted us to fail,” “Mr. Jones never graded our homework” “Our instructor never answered questions,” or “She was the worst instructor I ever had.” “He let some of the other students run the class.” These all deserve your attention and, in many cases, some changes on your part.
  5. Never think that positive ratings without any written comments are good enough. If your students really think highly of you they want the dean and whoever else may read your evaluations to know.
  6. Ask for assistance in areas in which you want to improve.

More on Student Evaluations

How good is good enough? Find out what your Dean, Associate Dean, Department Chair, or whoever you evaluations thinks. Ask other faculty for their opinions too. Personally, I like to see the frequency of positive ratings in the upper 90 percent range. Even more so, I love those written comments, the good ones that is. If there are no written comments yet the instructor received 99.9 percent positive ratings, I question whether they took the evaluation seriously. I have rehired adjuncts with positive ratings in the low 80 percent range, especially when there are nice write compliments. However, I have no rigid cutoff. If I am convinced that the instructor can and wants to improve, I will often give that individual another chance. I think I went into the 70’s once when I knew the instructor had dug himself a hole early in the course. Also, I weigh ratings by type of course. I know that, on the average, 100-level mathematics students and general education science students are harder on their instructors. I hope you feel your time was well spent reading this post.

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Posted March 14, 2010

A New Way of Looking at Students

I doubt you ever thought of students this way before.

Terms like raw material, assembly line worker, quality control inspector, product, and customer mean something to most of us. Just to be sure we are on a level playing field, I will put these in the context of a clothing manufacturer. Raw materials include the fabric used to make pants. Pieces of fabric are cut to shape and sewn together by an assembly line worker known as a seamstress to make the product, a pair of pants. A quality control inspector checks to make sure the product meets certain standards, for example the quantity of legs. Assuring there are two legs, the inspector puts a little slip of paper in the pocket that reads, “Inspected by No, 7.” Now, if there are fewer than two legs or there are no pockets, I am not sure what the inspector does. But, somehow, the pants make it to the store where I, the customer, shop. Unfortunately, I don’t realize the problem until I get them home and have no place to put my left leg. (Don’t you just hate it when that happens?) Okay, enough silliness about pants. I will now pull a rabbit, no make that lucid point, out of my hat. Sit tight. Drum roll. More drum roll. Hear it comes. Cymbal smash!!! Vois la! … what? You say you can’t see it? Well then, read on and I will describe my amazing feat of prestidigitation. Few academics think of the learning process in manufacturing terms. Up until now, I may have been the only one. I hope you join me! These terms provide a valid and insightful lens through which to view your students. It's true! In a learning-centered class your students are all of these. Learning is the change in knowledge or behavior of the raw material, a student. The student himself is the assembly line worker who makes this change. You, the instructor, are just the foreman. You provide the tools and give direction, but learning is the active process that your assembly line workers perform. In a learning-centered class, the students should also inspect their own work, which creates a richer learning experience. (This is a topic I will write about in a future post.) Anyway, the educated student is now the product. Your quality control inspectors provide you will a sample of the product they approved, often in the form of answers to test questions.  Remember, you are the foreman, the boss. Your job is to make sure your assembly line workers and your inspectors are all doing their jobs. You can’t possible check everything they did (i.e learned), but you collect enough information to rate how well they are doing their job. Are they making good products (i.e., educated students). Some earn a bonus, and you give them an “A.” Sadly, you may have to fire one or two. Their pink slip reads, “F.” The students who pass the course are also their own customers. They paid for the product that they have become - a more educated person, one with greater knowledge and abilities. In industry, the concepts of raw material, assembly line worker, quality control inspector, product, and customer are distinct and unique. The fascinating aspect of education is how these terms apply to one distinct entity, a student. If both you and your students understand this multifaceted metaphor, the learning environment in your classroom will be enhanced and you will have far fewer rejects. No one-legged pants; that's for sure. :-)

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Posted March 13, 2010

Do I Need to Spoon Feed Them?

No, but you do need to help them learn.

A common complaint I hear from students is that their teacher doesn’t explain things well. It may be that the instructor actually explains things extremely well. However, students learn by more than hearing. They want to see how problems are solved, and they need practice solving problems themselves. These represent the three primary ways in which students (or anyone, you and me included) learn. Read on. You may already know about the VAK system. VAK stands for visual, auditory and kinesthetic. If you are not appealing to all three of these learning styles, then you are leaving a gap. No, make that a precipice, into which some of your students will fall. This is especially true if you are teaching freshman level courses. Okay, let me digress for a second. If you are not appealing to all three VAK learning modalities, maybe you are actually leaving a VAKuum? :-) (Hey, did I hear a groan? :-( ) You owe it to your students to deliver information (a.k.a. teach) to all three styles of learning. This is true in problem solving courses like chemistry and math. It is especially true in career and technical education (CTE) courses. Students study automotive technology and heating, ventilation and air condition because they are good with their hands. Once they do something, they have learned it. Based on my experience, a significant percentage of CTE students struggle to learn from the book and often don’t understand the details of what their instructor tells them. An adjunct of mine, a wonderfully kindhearted CTE instructor, commented to me today that his students wanted to be spoon fed, and he wasn’t going to do that. I will be meeting him soon to discuss the complaints his students voiced to me. I was convinced that these respectful and articulate students were putting in the time and effort, but they need to see more examples. They like him as a person, but they don’t feel he is helping them learn. They need to watch him work problems and then work examples in class themselves. I will be explaining to my adjunct that accommodating these needs is not spoon feeding. He is an intelligent and caring person. He is capable of taking my advice to heart. However, if he doesn’t, I will not be able to hire him back, at least not to teach this particular course.

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Posted March 9, 2010

Establishing Rapport with Your Students

My Top Ten Tips for establishing and maintaining a good relationship with your students.

    1. Ask Them About Themselves – During your first class session, have your students complete a questionnaire. I have usually asked students about prior college history, major, educational goals, and employment. I also asked them to tell me whatever they wanted me to know about them. In addition, I would ask them to rate their comfort level in my course. The scale I gave them ranged from “Piece of Cake” to “I’d Rather Sleep with Snakes.” You may also consider asking about their hobbies and interests. I encourage you to indicate that completing your questionnaire is optional. Give them the opportunity to complete it to the degree each student is comfortable, thereby respecting their right to privacy.
 
  • Address Them By Name – Learn their names and address them by name in class. My goal was to know every students first name by the 3rd class period. Now, I never had more than 32 students in a class, and I never taught more than one class each term. This would be a very ambitious goal if you are teaching a large lecture, and it can get challenging if you teach more than one course in a term.
   
  • Relate to Them as Individuals – During class, make reference to what you know about your students. If your statistics student, Roger, loves baseball, get him to talk about baseball statistics. If your photography student, Tanya, lives on a farm, ask her if she has taken many pictures of barns. If your automotive technology student, Juan, owns an antique car, ask him about the challenges of adjusting a 4-barrel carburetor. If your chemistry student, Nikki, wants to be an artist, talk about the chemistry of acrylic paints. You get the picture.
   
  • Respond Promptly to Their Voice Mail and Email– You need to be available to your students, and part of that means checking your messages regularly. You may think that once or twice a week is enough, but if students need your help, they expect to get it quickly.
   
  • Return Homework and Tests Promptly – What do I mean by promptly? No later than the next class period.
 

 
  • Answer Their Questions – I recently read about a young lady who approached her instructor with a question. Her instructor said something like, “Oh, sweetie, just go sit down, and see me after class.” The student left immediately after class, dropped the course, and dropped out of school. Overreaction? Maybe, but you never know what impact you will have on a student.
   
  • Arrive Early and Leave Late – If you rush into class at the last minute, or even worse, if you arrive late, you are sending the signal to your students that you have more important things going on in your life. If you rush out immediately after class, you are robbing students of the time some of them may need with you. Not good ways to establish rapport!
   
  • Give Them a Voice – No you would not be turning the asylum over to the inmates. It’s called a learning-centered environment. One-minute papers are just one of the methods you can use to get feedback from your students.
   
  • Admit It When You Are Wrong – When a large percentage of students missed a particular test question, it was usually because I had constructed it poorly. I would admit my error and make it right, often by giving them all credit for that problem.
   
  • Care – This is not something you can learn. Either you do or you don’t. If you don’t care about your students and their success in your class, find another part-time job.
  What do you think is the most important piece of advice? CAST YOUR VOTE
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Thank you!!!


© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Posted March 7, 2010

One of the Seven Principles of Good Teaching

Principle 4: Prompt Feedback

David Royse (2001) (see my References page) gives an especially good summary of Chickering and Gamson’s findings after many years of research into teaching and learning. Here are the seven principles as paraphrased by Royse:
  1. Frequent student-faculty contact;
  2. The encouragement of cooperation among students;
  3. Active learning techniques;
  4. Prompt feedback;
  5. Emphasize time on task;
  6. Communicating high expectations; and
  7. Respecting diverse talents and ways of learning.
While not necessarily the top complaint I hear from students, Prompt Feedback is in the top ten. My Advice Return all quizzes, tests, and graded assignments the very next class period. End of discussion! If you have reasons why this is not doable, if you have reasons why you personally cannot do this, if you have reasons (a.k.a. rationalizations) why this is not reasonable, then here is my advice: Get out of teaching. You do not have the commitment it takes to be a good college instructor.

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Posted February 27, 2010

Do Boy Scouts Make the Best Instructors?

Maybe so, because we know they will always be prepared.

( Note: If you use equipment of any kind when you teach, pay close attention to Item 6. )

The Boy Scout motto, everyone knows it. “Be Prepared.” There is no better advice of a college instructor. I want to couple this with the old Head & Shoulders tag line from half a century ago. “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” Sure, this all sounds obvious. Why read any further? Well, every year I hire new adjuncts who certainly know the value of being prepared. Yet every year I see one or two of them get off on the wrong foot with their students because they weren’t prepared. Here are six of the ways you need to be prepared:
  1. Give yourself extra commuting time, “commuting contingency” you might call it. Be prepared to deal with accidents (not yours I hope), railroad crossings, slippery roads, the need to stop for gas, and whatever else could slow your travel so that in virtually every case you will arrive at class in plenty of time.
  2. Have you syllabus ready for the first class. Your students should know what is expected of them right from the start.
  3. Have classroom activities ready for the first class. Don’t simply review your syllabus, give an assignment and dismiss class. What kind of first impression do you think that leaves with students?
  4. Create a lesson plan for each class to help you stay on schedule. I was a bit anal about this. Often I would create a spreadsheet in which I would break down my class period into 5-minute increments.
  5. Be prepared to shift gears. Have extra material and/or class activities ready in case you need them.
  6. Before class, try out any equipment you will be using. Whether it is a computer and projector for delivering a PowerPoint presentation, or the lab setup for a chemistry experiment, be prepared. You could be teaching them to balance a wheel, develop a picture, use a surveying transit, take blood pressure, or run a sophisticated piece of laboratory equipment. It doesn’t matter what you are teaching them to use. Fumble around, and they will assume you don’t know what you are doing.
Bottom Line:  
  • Be prepared for class; or be prepared for angry, critical, complaining students.
   
  • Be sure your first class goes off like clockwork. It is important that you leave a good first impression with your students, because first impressions are difficult to change.
 

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Posted February 27, 2010

Is It Wrong to Grade on Class Participation?

No, not unless you do it like a former adjunct of mine.

He was a motivated and passionate instructor who had retired from a successful career in industry and was now teaching college science courses on a part-time basis. What he did, or actually what he didn’t do, led to hours of my time to sort through and rule on a formal grade appeal lodged by one of his students. This occurred because the instructor counted class participation for 15 percent of the final grade, but he neither defined what constituted class participation nor gave students feedback on their participation. The student submitted 3 ½ single-spaced, typed pages that seemingly detailed every time he had participated in class. Furthermore, he provided the name of a classmate who was willing to confirm all this and attest to the fact that this student participated more than anyone else in the class. I shared this information with the instructor. His response was that none of this was participation. He indicated that the student came to class unprepared and asked questions, the answers to which he would have known if he read the assignment. The instructor also said the student was continuously disruptive and sarcastic with his comments during class. Class participation is a valid and often times important type of assessment, but you need to be specific as to how you will grade participation. Furthermore, during the term, you should provide students with feedback concerning their participation. In my opinion, this should be no less than two or three times during the term. If you this sounds like too much work, then my advice would be don’t grade your students on class participation. It’s all your decision.

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Posted February 27, 2010

The Good Lecturer

A list of behaviors that characterize a good lecturer.

David Royse, editor and contributing author of Teaching Tips For College and University Instructors.  (See my references page or check it out by clicking on the right.)  Royse believes that a successful lecturer is someone who:
  • Makes frequent eye contact with the audience
  • Knows the material so well that he or she can speak without reading the text and who, to be blunt, has something to say
  • Incorporates humorous anecdotes or cartoons
  • Provides an overview and summary
  • Smiles occasionally
  • Tells personal asides that illustrate points and provide a “break” from serious note-taking
  • Has eliminated almost all redundancies and repetition from the lecture
  • Emphasizes major points
  • Knows how to tell a story
  • Modulates his or her voice, speaking softly or more loudly at times
  • Knows when to pause to let the audience reflect on a point
  • Provides the audience with relevant examples or illustrations
  • Has no distracting mannerisms or irritating verbal habits (e.g., saying “uh-h-h” after every complete thought)
  • Is comfortable taking questions but who doesn’t get sidetracked from the day’s topic
I agree with everything Royce says, that is with a couple amendments of my own. I believe the ideal lecturer:
  • Smiles often, not just “occasionally,” when interacting with your students. It conveys such a positive message to your students. (Refer to my Post entitled Teaching Success Secrets for the role of personality in one’s success.)
  • Strives to eliminate redundancies and repetitions. Don’t beat yourself up if you are not perfect. My faculty advisory for my first adjunct teaching assignment told me it took her three times through a course before she got it down pat. She added that she felt sorry for her students the first time or two.
To Royse’s list, I am going to add a few of my own thoughts. I believe a good lecturer:
  • Doesn’t lecture too much; he or she breaks up the class period with activities that engage students (I know that is more difficult in a large lecture hall, but it is not impossible.)
  • References prior material to help students “tie the pieces together”
  • Relates topics to his or her students
  • Engages students with frequent questions ranging from rhetorical to questions addressed to specific students
  • Encourages student questions and answers questions with utmost respect
  • Adjusts his or her lecture to meet students’ needs
  • References prior material to help students “tie the pieces together”
  • Demonstrates sensitivity to all issues of diversity
I hope you find this advice helpful!

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Updated August 7, 2011

Teaching Success Secrets

Do You Have the Personality to Succeed as an Instructor?

I found this presentation ( - - - open this post to see the presentation - - - ) on a website entitled SUCCESS 360. On slide 12 the author, Vadim Kotelnikov, suggests that one's knowledge accounts for just 15 percent of that person's financial success. Personality, he contends, is responsibility for the other 85 percent. I contend that this applies for teaching success also. So, what is the best personality for a teacher? It is the one your students are looking for. It's time for a little introspection. Do you think you have that personality?

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Posted February 27, 2010

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