What’s in a name?

Judy Davidson’s advice column in Faculty Focus this week couldn’t be more timely, arriving just as our rosters firm up at the end of add/drop.  When it comes to getting students to engage in the classroom, an environment that makes each student feel essential to the learning process is a powerful asset.  Judy’s piece offers a set of concrete tips on how to spend a small amount of time to build a connected team of learners who are ready to speak up, dig in, and support one another throughout the semester.  The first step: getting students to know their classmates by name.

The article offers a number of quick-but-powerful suggestions for getting students to make connections with one another through introductions, class discussions, and group work.

For the full article, visit http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/activities-helping-students-learn-one-anothers-name/

Paula Haines, Coordinator of the First Year Writing Program

Welcome, Spring 2014!

The UMass Lowell campus is coming back to life. The copiers are on overdrive, printing the syllabi that we’ll hand out next week.  As you prepare for the start of Spring 2014, here’s a link to an article on “The First Day” by our own John Kaag, printed in The Chronicle of Higher Education back in December 2012.  The advice is absolutely timely: John offers a few reminders, tips, and encouragements to help us set the tone for a productive semester as we meet our new students for the first time.

Have a terrific Spring 2014, everyone!

A guiding hand in the classroom

John Kaag’s opinion items in Times Higher Education are all worth the read; his “Parental guidance required” is a short meditation on the complex, competing priorities of academic life.  His conclusion reminds us that the classroom is a place to listen, encourage and connect:

“My daughter has taught me several things that I didn’t learn, or just forgot, in graduate school: that the simplest things are often the most profound, that many kids who have trouble speaking want desperately to communicate, that my writing must matter to a wider public and that I don’t have to be imperially alone in my ivory tower.”

For the full article, visit http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/comment/opinion/parental-guidance-required/2004709.article.

Paula Haines, Coordinator of the First Year Writing Program

Concept maps for assessing learning

I use concept mapping frequently in my teaching as a tool to assess students’ learning. The key is to start small with no more than 10 concepts for students to map. In class, I put students into groups of 3 (any larger and not all members always participate) and give them 10 concept names. They write each concept on a separate post-it note. It is then their job to arrange these post-it notes on poster paper so that they create a hierarchical and branching arrangement of the concepts. The most “inclusive” concept is at the top of the map and the least toward the bottom. The students are able to move the post-its until they are satisfied that their arrangement really reflects how they view the relationships between the concepts. Now comes the most important part; drawing arrows between the concepts and writing a succinct linking phrase which connects one concept to the next. These linking phrases really show you, the instructor, how your students understand the inter-relationships between the terms they are mapping. Some students have not thought about how the concepts they are learning are linked until they are asked to map them. There are many great articles on how to teach students to create concept maps. I would be happy to share them.

Anita Greenwood, Dean
Graduate School of Education

Goals and outcomes of the class

When I started teaching (many years ago) I began planning each class by thinking about what material I needed to cover.  My classes improved dramatically when I began my planning by thinking about what I hoped each student would learn to do. Once I established the goal or outcome of the class, I could design activities that would ensure that the learning had actually taken place.  And I did not keep my goals a secret. I began each class but letting the students know what I hoped they would get out of that day’s work.

Charlotte Mandell, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education