Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Encourage our students: by Professor Ursula Sohns

In my online developmental reading course, my students are all at the very earliest stages of their college learning. They often underestimate their own abilities and need a boost of confidence. As an instructor, I tend to give lots of comments to the students who are not turning in correct work, and sometimes the A student just gets the words good job or something like that.

An exchange happened one week that makes me realize that we never know how we may end up encouraging our students!

While grading an assignment I came across one that was excellent. I thought it would make a great example for other students so I wrote this comment on the instructor comment line as I graded the assignment.

My comments on the response part of a student assignment:

You may see this list of questions and answers pop up as an example for the class--I won't have your name listed. This is great note taking.
The student sent this E-mail several days later.

Ms. Sohns,

I was meaning to send you a message on Friday to thank you for you recent comments on my note taking. It truly means a lot. I think I am getting better at this reading stuff :0) I am truly honored that you are considering using my notes. Again, thank you very much and have a wonderful week.
The student's note struck a chord with me. It reminded me how much of an impact my words can have. I see the assignments but I don't know the story of the student behind the assignment. When work is weak, I make sure to give encouraging, specific feedback. This exchange made me realize how important the specific positive feedback is. Just because a student consistently turns in good assignments doesn't mean that student is aware that his or her work is particularly good.

We need to be constantly aware of what we say to our students. My comments on assignments are a major source of communication in an online class. I realize that I need to tell my students what they are doing well, just as much as I need to tell them what they are doing incorrectly. I can't assume that the A or B student really believes to be worthy of that grade. Like I stated at the beginning, My students often underestimate themselves and need that boost of confidence. And I often underestimate how important my comments are to them.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Teaching Best Practices: Grade Transparency

"Though I don't teach an online course (but allow students to check grades online), I see the strength in being transparent with grades so that students fully understand from the beginning how they are doing. In the past, the nurture in me dreaded taking grades on quizzes, tests, etc. where students did poorly (usually at the beginning), but I have found that letting students know early how they are doing (I tended to shelter them by deferring my taking a grade) has benefited them the most. This will create less stress for faculty at the end of a semester as students should fully understand how they "earned" their grade."

Posted by: Seth J. Batiste, M. Ed.
Assistant Professor
Developmental Studies
Lone Star College - North Harris/GreensPoint

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Classroom Management: Solutions to unruly student behavior

Problem: Students come in late or leave early.

Solution: In your course syllabus, let students know that there will be a short group quiz at the beginning of class and a short assessment at the end of each class session. Make these quizzes and assessments part of their grade.

The group quiz should focus on the concepts and learning objectives of the day. For example, if students had outside reading for homework, the group quiz would test them on their knowledge of what they had read. The quiz is out on a table for students to pick up during the first 5 minutes of class. After that, the professor picks up the exam and puts it in his/her briefcase. Students get a grade for the quiz. If they are absent or late, they get no grade. No exceptions.

The group quiz is not meant to build anxiety among students. In fact, students are encouraged to collaborate and discuss the answers, which helps them be prepared for the lesson of the day.

The assessment may be as easy as a three questions:

1. What did you learn today?

2. What did you not understand?

3. How will you apply what you learned today?

These assessment questions help the professor make decisions about the way the content is presented and whether follow-up is needed. The questions help the student focus, synthesize, and assimilate. If students are absent or leave early, they may not make up the assessment. No exceptions.

The solution not only solves the problem of students being tardy and/or leaving early, but it also gives a positive way for students to value coming to class and actively participating.

Dr. Joyce Boatright
DS Professor, LSC-Lonestar. College

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Angel tips to work with students on line (email signatures) by Professor Ursula Sohns

Here’s a tip to work with students on Angel:
In my course orientation I pointed out the place on the E-mail page where students can add a signature line to their E-mail. I requested each person to creat a signature line with their name and best contact phone number on it.

Now the rest of the semester I have a phone number any time the student sends an E-mail.

The instructions for the student are:
  • Go to the Angel email window and click on Preferences


  •  Check the box to use email signature and then complete the information

We learn as we go!!!

Ursula Sohns
Professor of Developmental Studies
North Harris College
ACAD 160-A 

Monday, November 9, 2009

Get Out! (On-campus field trip) by Bob Lynch

Don’t you just love it when everyone in class leaves with a nice feeling? With the diversity of students, that can be tough to achieve. However, I’ve found an activity that seems to work. It’s effortless, it’s free, and it’s authentic learning. I take students to the little pond many don’t even know about on the North Harris campus, between the Winship Building and the Student Center, just east of the fountain.

From what I understand, the biology classes have been doing this for years, but for us other instructors, connections to our subjects may not be as obvious. My day classes use the pond to take notes for descriptive writing assignments, and even though we’re only in the heat and humidity for 15 or 20 minutes at the end of a class session, everyone seems to leave happy.

Once each semester, I take students there whether they’re in my Reporting classes or in my Developmental Writing ones. I have them gather close to the pond and jot notes as I give them a couple minutes to absorb each of their senses: What do you see? Now, close your eyes, and what do you hear? What do you smell? Can you taste anything in the air? Touch the things around you; what do they feel like? Lastly, how do you feel inside?

For my reporting students, they have written feature stories about the pond, describing it and including interviews with passersby and people who maintain it. (Thanks to the biology department and its volunteers!) The pond is an innocuous, safe place for my students to start their reporting. It’s also a terrific exercise for them to practice showing their readers through vivid description, creating pictures of the scenes in the readers’ heads, rather than just telling them. The reporting students even quoted background about the pond that they uncovered on a pre-migration Web page.

For my developmental writing students, the trip is their last paragraph-writing exercise. Then, they use the same notes to build their first full essay. For either course, the pond makes a good subject for writing.

It has so much. While there are no lions, tigers, and bears, you can find fish, flowers, and dragonflies at the pond. There are also the rocks, frogs, tadpoles, minnows, water and water bugs, with trees, grasshoppers and birds nearby. Every time, students notice new life there. It’s a calm sensory explosion.

I’m always amazed at how many of our urban students tell me they hadn’t been to a pond before and it’s an experience they won’t soon forget. Some have actually written that stopping by our tiny, man-made pool of water – probably just 10 feet by 25 feet – was one of the greatest experiences they’d ever had.

Here are some unedited excerpts from recent paragraph assignments revealing how that little pond had so much effect on them:

As I stood there, I found myself mesmerized by this beautiful red plant. It stood about five feet tall, and at the top was this gorgeous red flower. Just seeing that flower with the sound of the dragonflies was an amazing sight. That one flower had the power to make me feel alive again.

This was a very good experience, because I had never been to a pond.

I was hungry watching all the colorful fish in the water interacting with each other.
The fish made me hungry for seafood; consequently, I wish I could have eaten breakfast before I came to school.
So, my great experience at the pond was a complete success; I felt so relaxed and calm, like I was in another world.
Taking a trip to a pond and seeing lots of things, such as fish, flowers and birds, was very exciting.
Therefore, being at the pond and learning about it, I felt relaxed and ready for my day.

Being able to go to the pond to see the animals, insects and plants was a great way to start out my morning that day.

Going to the pond and seeing all the plants and animals was the most relaxing part of my day.

The experience was exciting because I saw many critters that interested me on my trip to the pond.

Over by the pond that day, I felt relaxed to see how beautiful it looked with all the fish and tadpoles, even though I was coming down with the flu.
Here’s more detail about the pond itself, in a developmental student’s paragraph assignment, as he submitted it:

My trip to the pond was very exciting. When I got there, the first thing I saw was this big beautiful red fish swimming in the water around beautiful plants next to a turtle and other animals in the pond. Then, I heard the beautiful sound of the birds and bugs around, I was so excited because when I was little I went to a pond in Mexico and a lot of memories came to my mind. Also I noticed a smell of paint and fish mixed together. It’s a good thing I had a fresh mint in my mouth, while I was sitting on a hard rock beside a soft plant. I was very excited watching all these animals living in the pond but I had to go to my next class.
Written by a bilingual, first-year student not yet at the college level, that paragraph is pretty darn good. It is structurally sound – it has all its parts. Here’s another example giving some wonderful description of the pond in the final essay of a classmate, as it was turned in:


I recently found a great way to de-stress. A visit to the campus pond is free, and it’s close to most of my classes. On Wednesday, a couple of weeks ago, my class and I went there to observe the peaceful scenery. Once we got to the pond I saw, heard, and felt a peaceful mixture of things.

I saw a peaceful scene drenched in sunlight. A huge Texas star hibiscus, about five feet in height, dominated the center of the pond. Two orange-and-white fish circled slowly in the bottom of the pond, ignoring the horde of tiny minnows swimming at the top. Lily pads with purple blossoms covered most of the ponds surface and provided the fish with shade. Off to one side, overtaken by algae, stood a broken fountain.

A mixture of sounds floated toward me. The students talked among themselves over a whir of mid-morning traffic on a nearby highway. The lazy buzz of cicadas grew louder until it gradually became the dominant noise. Had the fountain been working it would have put the finishing touch to the symphony of noises all around me.

I also felt some interesting things at the pond. Feeling the warm sunlight relaxed me to the point where it was hard to concentrate. I stuck my hand in the tepid water and a bunch of tiny minnows began nibbling at my fingers. As I caught two of them, they wiggled around in my hand like slippery half-cooked noodles. These were some of the interesting things I felt at the pond

The soothing sights, sounds, and sensations helped relieve me of the stress I had accumulated that week. The pond is a peaceful environment and a great spot to relax before your next class. The pond is a great built in stress-buster for the campus that you should try out for yourself.
How inspiring! That’s downright ready for college English. (Please forgive that part about his catch and release of the minnows.) While there’s a lot to be said of the need for routine class structure, many students need to occasionally get up and move about to stay interested and alert, and to produce such fine work. And who doesn’t want to get out of the classroom now and then? Going to the pond is one method I’ve used, thinking out of the box of the classroom. You may consider this for an activity or find another gem on campus to visit. Remember, though, our little man-made pond is easy to get to, free, and connectable to learning. You’ll leave with a nice feeling, too.


Bob Lynch is an adjunct instructor who has taught mass communications and developmental writing at Lone Star College campuses over the last four years. Last month, he celebrated 30 years as a professional journalist for print and online media across the country, including sharing in a Pulitzer Prize.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Data Card Activity by Professor Glenda Williams

In Psychology 2317, the majority of my students are nursing majors with a few others majoring in social work, psychology, or education. The first concepts that I teach are types of data (qualitative, quantitative, and ranked) and levels measurement (nominal, ordinal, and interval ratio). It has been a challenge to engage students in grasping the necessary terminology but I have developed a lesson that has proven to be a winner in student engagement and learning!

This semester, I took 10 different photos of family members and former students (with their permission) and I added a few sentences of description about each person including many different data points. Then I included instructions for students to go through the statements, list as many data points as possible and label type of data and level of measurement for each.

I did not do any lecture or explanation of the concepts, but allowed students to use their textbooks and work together in groups. I made copies of the ten different individual photos. The class formed groups by finding others who had the same photo.

After allowing time for them to make their lists and label the data, each group reported and I listed their findings on the board using the examples to correct any misconceptions and to draw generalizations regarding the concepts.

Here is what happened.

1. The energy level in the class rose as students began to work together actively rather than just listening to lecture.

2. Students who had read the chapter before class reported greater understanding since they were actually applying the concepts to real examples.

3. Every single student participated, even those who had not done the reading before class.

4. At the end of class I revealed that the people in the photos were my family and I felt that students saw me as more of a real person.

5. I had the opportunity to point out that while we usually think of just the numbers when we look at statistics, that the whole purpose of data gathering and analysis is to serve individuals.

6. My own enthusiasm increased as I had fun creating something new for class.

I shared this idea with my colleague Lynda Dodgen who used the strategy in sociology earlier in the semester with similar results.

Lynda says: “I am sold on this teaching strategy and I appreciate you sharing the idea with me. I found that it created an environment more conducive to learning. There was excitement as the students left that day, and it seems to be lasting.”

She adds: “I have seen a higher rate of retention this semester. I have been amazed at the numbers taking their first exam and turning in required work. I have noticed that the exam grades are higher than in past semesters. “

Using profiles and case studies captures the imagination of students so that they become intrinsically motivated to get involved with the material. Terminology is taught by application rather than by rote memorization from a vocabulary list.

Interested in knowing what the profiles looked like? See one below.

This is Eric. He is 6 years old and beginning the first grade. His birthday is in April. He loves to play baseball and ride his bicycle. He has an extensive vocabulary and knows the difference between nocturnal and diurnal animals. At the age of 4 months he went to the ER via life-flight due to a head injury, but he has fully recovered. He wears a size 10 t-shirt. He has 3 living grandparents. He weighs 60 lbs and is tall for his age.

1. List as many data points (observations) as you can find in the above information. You may take the data from the picture or from the text. Data points or observations could be numerical measures or categorical measures that can be observed about the individual. Examples would be age and gender.

2. Determine whether the data are qualitative, quantitative, or ranked.

3. Determine the level of measurement (measurement scale) for each data point.

Posted by: Professor Glenda Williams.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What's Your Drama! (Ice breaker activity)

Lashun Griffin had the brightest idea for engaging students while still giving late-comers a chance to double-check financial aid paperwork, get their books at the bookstore, or find an empty parking space. Students in her freshman English composition class received a handout with the following:

“Human beings love stories. We put them everywhere—not only in books, films, and plays, but also in songs, news articles, cartoons, and video games. There seems to be a general human curiosity about how other loves, both real and imaginary, take shape and unfold. Some stories provide simple and predictable pleasures according to the conventional plan. But other stories seek to challenge rather than comfort us, by finding new and exciting ways to tell the tale or delving deeper into the mysteries of human nature, or both” (Gioia and Kennedy 5).

What is your story? What led you here? What are your fears and failures? What are your triumphs? What keeps you going? What stops you in your tracks? What conflict are you battling? After stating your name and major, please answer tow of the questions listed above. Be ready to answer pertinent follow-up questions.

What makes this such a great idea? She says students were able to unload their drama. It cleared their minds to talk about the trouble in their lives that particular day. They felt l they were seen as people rather than as numbers. They felt connected to others in the room because they shared common challenges and triumphs. And it is an excellent way to introduce the personal narrative, which is a specific assignment in freshman English.

This icebreaker could easily be used in any class where story is a part of the curriculum: developmental writing, freshman English, general speech classes, psychology, sociology, video storyboarding…If you are teaching Second Start classes, you might try this great little idea next week. The rest of us can store the idea in our GIFT bag because we’ll be starting over in four months.

Collaboration: Joyce Boatright

If you would like to collaborate with the blog by contributing with your GIFTs (Great Ideas for Teachers) email Joyce boatright (LSC-North Harris Faculty and Staff Center Director).