Monthly Archives: October 2008

Increasing Student Participation – the Response Sheet

For those of us who were painfully shy as children – “painful” really is the right word – we recall our teachers telling us that we must participate in class discussions. I still have my high school report cards – the most frequent comment is “needs to participate more.” I remember even being very shy around my parents. When I wanted to tell them something really important, I wrote them a note. Some of us are just more comfortable writing than speaking.

Students’ speaking in class is highly valued and rightly so. Those of us who practice student-centered instruction don’t want to be the only one speaking during the class session. We also don’t want only a handful of our students participating in discussions. Therefore, I appreciated when Mel Silberman, author of several books on active training, conducted a session at the Baruch College Faculty Orientation in August in which he offered some tips on how to increase participation – tips included “pre-discussion” and students’ calling on the next speaker. And I have to say his methods worked; he increased participation in the session. My concern is the narrow focus on speaking without giving students an alternative to expressing themselves. An alternative that may embolden students to speak in class later in the course or down the road in other courses.

When I first started teaching, I was particularly sensitive to students who are not comfortable speaking in class regardless of the reason. I wanted to give students an alternative way of participating. While I was looking at sample syllabi, I came across a syllabus that incorporated another method of participation, a response sheet. I am sorry to say I do not have a record of the source of this way of using response sheets and have only one copy of a syllabus with my directions to students- with a few years away from work as a full-time mom, crashed hard drives and flooded basements – more than a few things have been lost. As I have stated, participation in class discussion is highly valued and often represents a portion of each student’s final grade. So why do we appear to only value oral participation? Could we not have written participation? The response sheet is an alternative avenue of participation for students that has worked well in my classes.


Posted in Communication Skills, Student Participation | 9 Comments

Breaking the Ice

Did you meet Mel Silberman, Temple University’s guru of active classroom participation, when he spoke at Baruch in 2006 or 2008? I recently came across a four-page paper (here) that Silberman wrote on the subject of classroom icebreakers. Who would have known that you can promote social interaction while simultaneously engaging students in the course content?

Posted in Classroom Management, Student Participation | 1 Comment

Grafting onto What Students Already Know

When I was a boy I was extremely proud of one of my dad’s apple trees, the one onto which he had grafted three varieties of apples and a pear. By carefully attaching cuttings from these different fruits onto the stem of a single tree he had been able to make it bear a cornucopia. This is probably why I use the grafting metaphor to speak of what I see myself doing in the classroom.

Students come to us with a range of knowledge about many things (although many of us are much more concerned about what they seem not to know). I think it helps enormously to find out what our students do know and then put this information to use as starting points-the places where we can begin grafting on the new concepts we seek to impart to them. If we simply begin tossing out information, without having a sense of what students are able and ready to do with it, we run the risk of having it hurtle right past them, without finding any place to attach. If we take some time to find out what they already know, then we can graft the new material onto a trunk full of sap that will help the new ideas blossom and fruit.

I often come to a full stop before starting a new topic and spend a little time feeling the class out. I pass out blank index cards and ask them to answer a few questions anonymously. Then I read them out to the class, so that we all get some sense of what the group collectively knows and doesn’t know. In the course of this I’m able to begin planting seeds of interest, to provoke some of them into curiosity, and to help them reflect on what it is they’ve already learned somewhere else but thought they’d forgotten (and it also assures them that they do know something). And then I work to graft the new material onto what we’ve found they already know.

(Glenn’s caveat: I’m writing this for new teachers, folks still struggling to find their way in the classroom, and not for seasoned professionals, though the old salts among you are welcome to it.)

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Intellectual Challenge vs. Grade Inflation

What are your thoughts on course evaluations? I find them to be a great motivator for reflecting on course content and delivery. My latest project is to increase my ratings on the item: “The course challenged me intellectually.” I feel I have been too lenient at times, not challenging our students enough and falling victim to grade inflation.

Just yesterday, I looked at a student’s draft of a slideshow for an upcoming presentation. The students are graded on their draft but can gain half the subtracted points back if they revise their drafts and their final slideshow is effective. The student had handed in a draft that was below par and, as a result had lost quite a few points . . . and promptly e-mailed me, saying how disappointed he was. It broke my heart.

I am struggling with a balance between challenging students, motivating them, and grading them effectively. How do you strike that balance?

Posted in Course Evaluations, Grading | 8 Comments

Getting a Grip on Traditions

Dennis Slavin, Associate Provost, is to be credited for this blog post’s title. We would like to direct you to a conversation between Dennis Slavin and Mikhail Gershovich, Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Communication Institute at Baruch College, about teaching traditional essay structures at:

Below is a link to information on Student Writing at Baruch College from the Faculty Handbook:

What is your view of the traditional introduction-body-conclusion approach in teaching composition?

Posted in Communication Skills, Students' Skills and Abilities | 1 Comment

Teaching the Work-Life Balance

Is it me or are many of our BBA students preoccupied with securing the type of prestigious, high-paying jobs that can take a terrible toll on the personal life? How many undergraduate students do you know whose life ambition is to be an investment banker, management consultant or auditor for the Big Four? Don’t get me wrong—I know many who are happily employed by such firms (even in this economy), and it reflects well on Baruch College every time we place a student. My question is this: should professors push their students to think more about their future work-life balance?

Over the years, I discovered some interesting comments on careers and job hunting that I share with students every semester. I’d like to share a sample with you.

1. Michael R. Bloomberg’s commencement address, Johns Hopkins, May 22, 2003 (click here for transcription). Read the two paragraphs that begin, “Whether or not you go to graduate school…”

2. Steve Jobs’ commencement address, Stanford, June 14, 2005 (click here for transcription). Read the two paragraphs that follow the “My third story is about death” subsection, or fast forward to time 8:45 in the following video.


3. “Stupid Interview Questions,” by Liz Ryan, Business Week, Sept 21, 2005 (click here for full text).


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Mind the Gap: Creating Links Between Class Sessions

My classes meet twice a week. And while my syllabus presents a carefully planned series of linked readings, writing assignments, and in-class activities, I know my students don’t always experience the course as seamlessly as I might like. How could they with everything else they have to do?

One simple technique I’ve been experimenting with aims to create stronger links between individual class sessions. It’s a version of the strategy I used while writing my dissertation: to end each day’s work by jotting down a single concrete task to get started with in the morning. Applying this strategy to the classroom is easy and takes only a few minutes of class time; what’s more, it can provide an important form of intellectual communication between students and professor.

Here’s what I do:

Step 1. At the end of class, I ask students to reflect in writing on a still unclear point, a key concept just covered, or a remaining question from that day’s activity or discussion. (3-5 minutes)

Step 2. At the beginning of the next class, I ask students to share some of what they wrote at the end of the previous class and we use that as our new starting point. (3-5 minutes)

Building in time to think and reflect at the end of each class in this way can enable students to create continuity in their learning, and develop the good habit of ending a work session by identifying some next steps. In addition, students get practice summarizing and assimilating what they know, what they’ve learned, and what’s still not clear. And instructors get a better sense of students’ experience of the course.

Since the writing functions as a kind of mental bookmark, to be consulted and taken up at the beginning of the next class, there’s no need to collect it (although you might).


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Teachin’ Thinkin’

Many years ago, I engaged in a short dialogue with a former colleague who had told me that he was hired to “teach music.” I differed with him and insisted that we were hired to teach thinking, writing, study skills, and many other things that were ultimately applicable to all of life’s situations. I told him that music was merely our vehicle. I think it’s important for us professors to tackle problems of innumeracy and illogic wherever we can. Over the decades I’ve tried to get students to engage in thought sometimes to the detriment of the day’s musical-historical topic. Here are some examples.

1) To negate their tendency to use facile opposites (i.e., “Schubert is the complete opposite of Bach”) I ask the class, “What is the opposite of ‘yes’? . . . ‘up’? . . . ‘black’? . . . ‘salt’? . . . ‘cat’? . . . ‘ketchup’?” They begin to laugh and see absurdity in opposite-of thinking.

2) To deter them from using negative terms to describe music (i.e., “The piece does not have a singer” or “It is not a fugue.”) I tell them that while such statements might be true, the piece neither has nor is an electric guitar, a screwdriver, a fuzzy overgrowth, or a bad aftertaste. It’s best to describe what something is (contains) rather than by the potential infinity-minus-one of what it is not (does not contain).

3) To correct freshmen who think they will all get an A in the class with HS-effort I tell them, “U. S. News & World Report states that 63% of you freshman graduated in top quarter of your HS classes. My question is this: What percentage of you will finish in the top quarter of this music class?” There are always too many who answer “63%.” That’s a real eye-opener for incoming freshmen.

4) To give them a sense of connection to history I ask, “How many people here had ancestors who were alive during the 15th century?” About 10% of the hands go up. They often look at each other and mouth, “How the heck am I supposed to know?” I’m sorry to say that this one boggles many minds.

5) To get them to think about the mathematics of the division of the octave I ask them “How many pitches can there be in an octave, if the two pitches can be hypothetically represented by 100 Hz (a string length of 4 meters) and 200 Hz (2 meters)? How many if they can be represented by 200 Hz (2 meters) and 400 Hz (1 meter)?” When they get this wrong, I ask them how many numbers there are between x and 2x.

I’m wondering if any of you have general thought questions you use in your classes/discipline that you’d like to share.

Posted in Students' Thinking | 1 Comment

Multiple Choice Questions for Quants?

Lately, I’ve been wondering about the efficacy of multiple choice exams in quantitative disciplines, like operations management, calculus, finance, etc., and discovered this little study that García Cruz and Garret presented at the 2006 International Conference on Teaching Statistics in Brazil (link to proceeding). Using a combination of multiple-choice and open-ended questions about descriptive statistics, they found, “that many students who choose the correct answers in multiple-choice questions were completely unable to demonstrate any reasonable method of solving related open questions.” Food for thought.

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