Sunday Afternoon

DSC_0624A friend who teaches elementary school once told me that the summer is like the weekend: June is like Friday night – full of anticipation and excitement; July is like Saturday – open and unfettered; and August is like Sunday afternoon – susceptible to the anxieties and pressures of the work week (or school year), yet filled with an excitement all its own.

As you find yourself squarely situated, here, on Sunday afternoon, you may be thinking about your fall course.  Most likely, you feel that things went reasonably well the last time around, but that there are a few things you’d like to change, and it’s now or never if you intend to implement your changes this semester.

Here, we offer some suggestions to help you get your course ready for this semester, and to make the process a bit easier next time around.

Review your class notes and course materials from last year.

  • Address typos, mathematical and/or logic errors in your notes and materials.
  • With respect to your notes – rethink timing and scope:  was there too much crammed into some classes?  Were some classes too “light”?
  • Was there something iffy or bothersome about the way the textbook presented certain topics?  Is there some way you can work around this with some advanced planning?

Survey your in-class activities.

  • Did the students enthusiastically participate in the activities? If not, what could you do to help them see the value of these activities? Are the actual activities the issue, or is it the way that you introduced, framed or implemented them that may be the problem?
  • Was the frequency of activities adequate? Did you use in-class activities too infrequently or irregularly? Students are more likely to see the value of, and learn from, activities that are regular and consistent.
  • Was the level of activity and intellectual engagement appropriate? If students feel that the activities are too simplistic or basic (or not really related to the material), they may be less likely to invest real intellectual energy. Make sure that the activities that you use are valuable stepping-stones to understanding (and not simply “busy-work”).

Review your problem sets and assignments from last year.

  • Were there specific questions or entire assignments that just didn’t work out the way you’d planned? If so, make a note to not use that assignment again, or to revise/reword the prompt.
  • Were there gaps in your assessments?  I.e., were some very important concepts/topics left unassessed?  Now might be the time to try to mind that proverbial gap.

Revisit changes made during the previous offering of the course. 

  • Did the changes advance your goals for the course and/or for student learning?  Why or why not?  What could you do to make these changes more effective?

Consider the feasibility and utility of implementing new teaching & learning methods and/or tools.

  • Can you get your desired changes into place quickly enough? If not, put a note in your calendar for a few months before your next anticipated offering of the course, so that you can start the implementation process sooner next time.
  • What are the learning curves and implementation issues for you and your students?  Are you confident that the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks, and that the students will realize the benefits?

 Update your syllabus.

  • Review managerial info (contact info, TA names, office hours, etc.).
  • Refresh your Subject Description and Learning Outcomes:  do these really capture what you want students to get out of the class? Do they make you excited about teaching the class? If not, how can you change them to make them more thrilling for you and your students?
  • Update descriptions of and requirements for assignments.
  • Review your assignment and exam schedules, and double check due dates. N.b., last year was a leap year – so you can’t just “subtract 1” from all the dates from last fall.
  • Review your grading policies.

Plan for next time.

As you teach this term, take a few minutes after each class to reflect on the class and make notes about what worked and what didn’t – include ideas for changes that you would like to make for next year. Spending time after each class will ensure that the thrills of victory and/or the agonies of defeat are still fresh in your mind. Noting what worked particularly well, along with particularly interesting student questions and comments, will help ensure that you incorporate these insights in the future. Of course, correcting content and logic mistakes immediately after class, will save you time and effort, and perhaps embarrassment, the next time around.

Finally, as the metaphorical weekend draws to a close, take a bit of time to focus on what you enjoy about teaching this particular subject.  What will get you out of bed on the “mother of all Monday mornings” (the first day of class in September), and what will keep you excited and motivated all the other mornings of the semester?

Happy teaching and learning!

(“Aquinnah Sunset, Martha’s Vineyard” from Janet Rankin / cc by-nc-sa)

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