Course Is It? Students as Course
Marva A. Barnett, University of Virginia
(A very similar
version published in Margaret-Ann Kassen, ed., Language Learners of
Tomorrow: Process and Promise. Report of the Northeast Conference on
the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook
Co., 1999: 61-97. Posted with permission.)
Dedicated to my students of French 332,1
in appreciation of their patience, ideas, and ever increasing levels
of engagement. Their cited comments come from a course focus group,
classroom assessments, Teaching Analysis Poll, and end-of-semester evaluations.
someone asks us as teachers what is most frustrating about teaching,
we often complain about students' attitudes and the behavior that results
from them: students don't care about learning anymore, they don't come
to class, or-when they do-they aren't prepared or don't pay attention.
All in all, they don't take enough responsibility for their learning!
People's attitudes (and students are people) are determined by
many factors, including their parents, friends, environment, education,
and previous teachers and classes. But attitudes can change, and by
working with our students we can help them grow into responsible, dedicated
learners, the learners of tomorrow.
roles of teacher as expert knower and student as tabula rasa,
of teacher as leader and student as follower, tend to disengage students
from the learning process. When we as teachers assume an overwhelmingly
active role, leaving only passivity to the students, it is not surprising
that they accept that passive role. Of course, our own expectations
and attitudes have been molded by our previous experiences, both as
students and as teachers: On the one hand, we tend to treat students
as we were treated; on the other, having encountered student passivity
in the past, we may come to expect it. Thus is recreated the pattern
of expectations: Teachers will hand out information, which students
hand back on exams and papers.
this pattern perpetuates itself, changing it requires our making a conscious,
vigorous effort to develop more responsible and engaged students than
in the past. Yet by respecting students for who they are and for what
they know, by recognizing them as responsible learners, and by offering
them appropriate challenges and support, we can promote better learning
through greater student commitment and harder work. This essay argues
the value of shifting one's attitude in this direction, offers techniques
and methods for making the shift, and provides students' reactions to
the resulting new approach.2
really good to know that people care about you as a student but also
as a person, and that makes a relationship where there's respect, and
a lot of times I would just do my homework because I wanted to respect
her, not 'cause I really wanted to do it. The only reason that I did
it, really, was to keep up that bond."
(focus group transcript, 1998)
Why an Attitude Shift?
Most of the Work?
these basic questions about course design and implementation:
created the course?
decided what everyone would read?
decided what the workload would be?
decided what counts for how much?
decides how a class meeting will go?
decides what constitutes competent work?
decides what everyone will talk about?
knows just about everything about the topic?
a typical course, at any level K-16, the answer to all these questions
is, "the teacher." And, for most of the questions, "the
teacher" is the best answer, the one that will lead to a coherent
course with a solid content and valid evaluations of students' work.
The person who knows the most about the subject and the most about teaching
and learning should design the course and make the major decisions.
As the teacher, the leader and expert, each of us needs to make final
decisions about students' learning and competence; we need, in the end,
if the students' role is as small as the traditional answer to these
questions makes it, what real stake do students have in most courses-aside
from a grade? How can they, and why should they, contemplate taking
an active role in making the course work? Without giving up the leadership
role in a course-and recognizing the fact of individual learning styles-we
can as teachers share the learning and managing with and amongst our
students. We do not always have to determine how a particular class
will go. We do not need to define every discussion topic. We can give
students some choice about how they learn some information and skills,
about how they complete some assignments. As Palmer (1991-92) writes,
we can give students a voice.
What's In It for the Students?
though the teacher must design and chart the course, setting the basic
goals and standards, most students can skillfully take more responsibility
for day-to-day activities than we have traditionally encouraged them
to take. The various techniques described in the second half of this
chapter send a clear message that students have a say in what happens
during class and that their ideas matter. Thus they engage more in the
course, in the several ways detailed below, and consequently enjoy the
course more and learn better.
Greater Confidence in their Ideas
students what they think (both about the subject matter and the way
the course is going), listening to their ideas, and responding thoughtfully
to them increases students' confidence in their ideas and willingness
to share them.
put us at ease & we felt like she respected our opinions, whether
she agreed with them or not." "I always felt comfortable joining
in class discussion--she always welcomed new ideas."
students, final course evaluation, 1998
Engagement in Courses
natural, almost immediate, result of greater confidence is students'
willingness to engage more fully in our courses. At nearly every level
of schooling, students are pulled in many disciplinary and social directions
in any one day. They constantly need to set priorities and face frequent
deadlines. Since people extend effort in directions they perceive as
productive, responding positively to students' work provokes them to
care about and focus on our courses. In fact, particularly dynamic students
may help you generate other students' interest even beyond the classroom.
Conscious Feeling of Responsibility
recognition that they are responsible for making class meetings effective
and for learning leads to better preparation, thinking, attendance,
and participation. By the time they reach high school, they know, for
instance, what it takes to make a productive discussion; we can develop
their sense of responsibility for classroom success in various ways.
Here is one example: A few weeks into each course, I ask students to
answer anonymously the following four questions:
did the discussion go?
could the teacher do to improve class discussions?
could the other students do to improve discussions?
could you do to improve discussions?
I then consolidate
and return their listed answers. Students regularly respond with similar
comments, remarks that echo what we teachers repeatedly recommend. Here
are sample answers (1996) to the last, most personal question, "What
could you do?", answers that I returned to the students:
about analytical questions before coming to class so I don't feel like
I'm 'on the spot' and pressured to think on my feet--that way I cram
up and can't think."
"Maybe read the story twice and try to analyze it before class."
"Try to add more to the discussions."
"It's necessary to really think about the readings before class."
"I could read more closely with a dictionary. I should participate
more but I do not feel very comfortable with my French & I don't
feel as if I express my ideas clearly."
good suggestions from peers can effectively persuade people to take
on their share of the responsibility. Students showed that they recognized
their role in learning when, in 1998, 40 percent of them commented on
end-of-semester evaluations that a course weakness was their own level
Spirit and Support Network
was also good that we had the same partners [throughout the semester].
I got to be good friends with them and got used to calling them, like,
every night [laughter]. But it was good."
students; focus group transcript, 1998
who take responsibility for learning spend more time creating, refining,
and developing their ideas without our intervention (for a summary of
the theory and research on student responsibility in college, see Davis
& Murrell, 1993). As social creatures, we naturally feel more responsible
toward people we know than toward strangers. A very simple way to build
community, and hence responsibility, is to make sure students get to
know each other as soon as possible. Throughout the semester, we can
continue to build community spirit by structuring cooperative groups
or teams in which students not only work but also develop interpersonal
rapport and support networks. This kind of community within the classroom
can extend beyond the classroom as well, as when one student used the
class e-mail list to invite classmates to lunch at the French House.
answer to the final course evaluation question, "How effective
were the student-student interactions and teacher-student interactions?",
one student wrote: "Extremely effective! There was just amazing
interaction between students and teacher and it was definitely the most
effective aspect." Another wrote, "Wonderful-we feel 'bonded'
in this class-students + teacher" (1998).
always stressed that we could present as many new ideas as we wanted,
as long as we had something logical to support that. And that helped
a lot, not only just writing for French, but it helps you think about
other things the same way."
"Yeah, I think so."
"Taking an argument and having solid things to back it up . . .
, it's going to help, you know, if you go into law, if you're going
to do the literature stuff, if you're just going to have a conversation
students; focus group transcript, 1998
greatest good that stems from this approacha good for both students
and societyis the deeper intellectual development that results
from students' truly engaging with their own ideas and those of others
in a supportive community (see the summary of Swedish research results
in Rhem, 1995). It has become axiomatic that people who study for tests
soon forget most of what they could produce in the testing situation.
It is through taking on ideas and trying them out for a while, arguing
with them, analyzing and synthesizing them, supporting them with evidence
from the course, and finally working them into the texture of one's
understanding that people learn. By listening patiently to students'
ideas and diligently questioning unsupported opinions, we can successfully
move students to higher levels of critical thinking. They come to understand
that solid thinking involves more than receiving knowledge from perceived
authorities or believing one opinion to be as good as another; they
recognize that good opinions are supported with reason and facts and
that individuals must commit to their beliefs, taking into account what
they have learned (Perry, 1970, 1981; Belenky et al., 1986; see Kurfiss,
1988, for summary). And one of the most important aspects of teaching
critical thinking is providing an atmosphere "wherein students
can let go of some of the personal moorings that impose limitations
on the ways they think" (Meyers, 1986, p. 99).
we should not dismiss the importance of students' satisfaction with
their academic experience and with their own successes. We are all heartened
to see comments such as the following in response to the evaluation
question, What sort of effort did you put into this class? "A
lot. More than most other classes. I feel like I've improved a lot."
The same student responded this way when asked for course improvement
suggestions: "None. She took all our suggestions to heart. She
changed the final exam because of our suggestions" (1998). Given
such students' self-perceived effort and improvement, their happiness
about the course and teacher's flexibility does not result from pandering
to the "student as consumer." On the contrary, such students
recognize that the course proved challenging and beneficial, while responding
to their needs and desires. Everyone wins and wins in a big way. For
example, upon majority student vote, we revised the final exam from
a pencil-and-paper test of the same skills and knowledge that students
had already shown they had mastered into a student-organized, directed,
and produced tour of the University Grounds. Thus students used their
research, composition, editing, and speaking skills to create a French
tour designed for francophone visitors.
Teacher: Are the Challenges Worth the Benefits?
advantages for student learning make worthwhile our tackling a potentially
demanding challenge: being flexible and relinquishing some control.
The only way students will accept the responsibility that comes from
helping define class meetings is our sharing with them some decision-making
and responding nimbly to their ideas. Yet in giving up some control,
we gain freedom, intellectual stimulation, student responsiveness, and
interpersonal connections. Moreover, Boice (1996) provides evidence
that college teachers who show their students that they care (what he
calls "being immediate") experience far less classroom incivility.
Students who might shy away from taking on responsibility may change
their minds when faced with engagement on the part of their peers or
when we orchestrate greater levels of responsibility into their cooperative
group work (see Johnson et al., 1991a, for practical suggestions). Certainly,
not every student will respond to this approach in every course; we
must wonder, however, whether those who do not take responsibility when
offered it would be any more engaged in a less interactive course.
you're working together, it helps to be in a group, because you can
learn from each other."
"Plus, each person has something different to offer . . . . We
all read the same poem, but we came up with different analyses, and
I think that's also kind of what happens with poetry, because everyone
has a different idea of what it is. I think it's not just the teacher
spitting out what it should be to you."
students, focus group transcript, 1998
students' comments refer to my standard practice of asking them to choose
poems to study in depth. Their choices complement the required readings
on the syllabus, and their group presentations define class activities
for two weeks. Involving students in selecting some readings requires
a teacher to take some risk and be open-minded. Yet what might occasionally
be lost in their choosing a relatively slight poem (a rare occurrence,
actually) is more than matched by the vigor with which they investigate,
study, and explicate their poem. Stimulated to produce their
own ideas, they are struck by what they can learn, and we also benefit
from their thinking. It can be tantalizing, intriguing, provocative,
vexing; their ideas make us think more, just as working through ideas
teaches students to know pertinent facts and to think clearly about
them. As Wayne Booth notes, "Responding to students' rival readings
actually changed my opinions about how to appreciate a given novel or
work of criticism" (cited in the Reinventing Undergraduate Education,
1998, p. 16).
language courses, students working in groups may produce grammar and
pronunciation mistakes. As we know, however, their errors, or learner
talk, are a window into their understanding of the target language that
give us insights into their learning processes (Brooks et al., 1997)
and learning strategies (Oxford, 1990). Moreover, even as they make
target language errors, they are most likely hearing others' ideas and
learning something, as long as the work is challenging, interesting,
and clearly defined. If, on the other hand, they speak English during
group work, we need to investigate why:
- Did they
not understand the directions?
- Have they
finished the assignment?
- Was it easier
or more difficult than we'd thought?
- Are they
bored and thus not as engaged as we'd like?
- If so, what
would be best to do in the future?
Positive Peer Pressure
who work in well-organized groups come to expect and rely on support
from each other. The structure inherent in cooperative learning tasks
and projects (detailed later in this chapter) encourages students to
monitor themselves and each other (Johnson et al., 1991b, pp. 30-38)
and thus more likely become lifelong learners. We simply need to meet
the challenges of defining tasks clearly, giving necessary support,
and then trusting students to work conscientiously.
impeded your learning?
too heavy." (Teaching Analysis Poll (TAP), 1995)
What most helped you learn in this course?
class we are accountable for something." (TAP, 1996)
each night." (TAP, 1998)
fact, the 1995 workload in French 332 did not vary much from that in
1996 and 1998. Yet students' perception of the workload and of the value
of preparation became more positive as I made clearer how their work
affected their learning; students can recognize their own hard work
and acknowledge its value. Better student preparation will result from
our clear directions, our openness to students' ideas, and class activities
that obviously cannot work without students' serious preparation (see
Millis, 1998). Going hand in hand with a high level of student engagement
are two demands on us: being flexible and knowing our subject very well
(see Harper and Lively, 1987, for applications of this perspective to
high school and community college conversation classes) . When we give
students more responsibility, when we challenge them to bring knowledge
and ideas to class, they need to perform. Since we must respond to their
work, we control totally neither the information brought nor how it
is managed. Yet when we respond thoughtfully to students' ideas, questions,
and experiencegiving them our full attention and engagemen-they
take our assignments seriously, realizing that they are accountable:
"I definitely tried at the beginning, like, not to read. You know,
in a lot of classes you can skim a couple of pages just so you have
one thing to say and then, 'Good job; you spoke.' And then that didn't
work. So then I started really reading, took time, looked up the words
I didn't know." (focus group transcript, 1998)
How Do We Make our Attitude Shift Visible?
to shift our attitude as teachers to one more respectful of students
as people and as thinkers will not work until they understand our perspective.
Typically trained to be passive, students do not usually expect this
new attitude. But they will respond to our challenge to take a central
role and thus enhance their learning when we show them clearly that
they matter in the course. We can do so in three different ways:
defining clear, challenging expectations
teaching to engage students directly
stepping back frequently to see how the course is going.
Clear, Challenging Expectations
Because students have mostly been trained to receive knowledge passively,
we must counter their natural expectations with explicit expectations
of our own. We can show that we count on their active engagement by
lifting the veil of secrecy over why we conduct class as we do, by challenging
and supporting them as necessary, by offering them clear criteria for
what constitutes good work (including models of students' achievements),
and by giving clear, quick feedback on their performance.
Lifting the Veil
Traditionally, teachers have carefully veiled the reasons for specific
assignments and classroom activities and have avoided discussing course
objectives after listing them in a description or syllabus. They might
have said, as did the Wizard of Oz, "Pay no attention to the man
behind the curtain!" It was as though the students would somehow
learn better if they did not know the point of the lesson. For instance,
a standard language course goal is reading skill development. Yet traditional
activities center on asking students what happened in the text, with
the seemingly implicit assumption that answering questions spontaneously
teaches students how to read, or that, knowing already how to read,
students can answer comprehension questions. It was not until the 1980's
that we began teaching reading strategies explicitly, letting students
in on some secrets of learning (see, for example, Phillips, 1984; Barnett,
responsible thinkers, students will more likely buy into a course when
they know why they are asked to invest and what they should expect to
reap. On the first day of a course, we need to ask students what they
expect from the course. This works best when they think individually,
then discuss in small groups before sharing with everyone their answers
to one or more questions such as these: "What do you expect to
learn in this course?" "How do you expect this course to expand
on the one you just finished?" "Why did you enroll in this
course?" Explicitly juxtaposing our expectations with theirs makes
the course much more meaningful for them and sets the stage for us to
cue them in on the "whys" of various teaching and learning
activities (see Barnett, "On the Same Wave Length?", 1999)
It also helps us close the gap between what students and teachers traditionally
expect from a course (Teeples & Wichman, 1997-98).
example, I currently aim to help students develop their critical thinking
skills, including their ability to find and analyze provocative rhetorical
figures of speech in literary texts, what we call in class figures
de style (e.g., metaphor, oxymoron, euphemism, antiphrasis). Thus
I frankly tell the students with each rhetorical figure exercise that
memorizing definitions is just the first step; in reality, they need
to learn how to discover important rhetorical figures of speech in a
text and to explain why they are powerful. During the focus group (1998),
one student noted that having to find the figures de style in
a citation from a familiar reading made the students really appreciate
French writing. Another student added, "And she made you figure
them out, like why is it there, what is the point, the significance?
I guess we have to do that if we'll ever start understanding the subtleties."
Thus, although students groaned upon seeing yet another figure de
style exercise sheet, they acknowledged the value of the exercises
because they knew why they were doing them and because they found they
learned from them. (For a succinct summary of several effective techniques
for teaching thinking, see Weiss, 1992-93).
the most telling argument for removing the veil of secrecy comes from
a focus group recommendation (1998). Proud of my technique of requiring
students to share in class two or three questions about the short stories
we read, believing that it engaged the students in discussing what they
wanted or needed to know, I had asked the facilitator to discuss this
technique specifically. Although one student noted her gratitude for
these chances to discuss what they had not understood from readings,
another said, "I didn't know that those [questions] were that important,
though. Maybe she should have stressed that this is why we're doing
it. Cause I didn't really do it
Maybe if she'd just said, 'this
is the reason why we're doing it, this is what I want you to get out
of it,' then maybe we'd probably think about it a little more."
Her comment confirms many students' willingness to work for the intrinsic
goal of learning, of "getting something out of it."
Offering Challenges and Support
students without demanding too much can be difficult, but we can offer
students support of various sorts. The value of community support and
cooperative study is well documented; for example, Treisman found at
the University of California-Berkeley that minority students who were
organized into supportive, cooperative study groups in a challenging
honors program were substantially more successful in calculus than were
students who studied on their own (1985). Also, scaffolding, giving
students help where and when they need it, helps them accomplish more
challenging tasks than their level of expertise would seem able to sustain
(Shrum & Glisan, 1994). We can build scaffolding into the course
ahead of time (as in the case of model answers, described below), but
we can also set up a scaffold quickly, when students let us know that
it is necessary. One student describes this type of support: "Another
thing that she did one time that really helped--'cause we weren't doing
very well on the structure of our papers--we were just throwing down
words and ideas. So she made us write an outline, and that was really,
really helpful. And it made us really think about our thesis and how
to back it up, and that was, really, that was a good paper." "I
was going to say the same thing," said another student (one among
the best in the course and the other the weakest) (focus group transcript,
1998). The "outline" mentioned was the requirement that each
student submitbefore writing the next paperpreliminary ideas
and thesis statement, together with supporting arguments and evidence.
As a model of both the process and the product, together in class we
created such an outline.
support also comes simply from our willingness to meet students where
they are and help them progress. Students easily perceive such support
and often note it on end-of-semester evaluations: "strengths: enthusiasm
for the material but especially for teaching, and a willingness to do
whatever necessary to help us." The instructor furthered my interest
in the subject "[by being] enthusiastic, made me confident in my
ability, pushed us to our limits" (1998). People thrive on facing
and meeting reasonable challenges.
Giving Clear Criteria and Models
had a syllabus that told us what was due during the whole semester,
and we never got off of it, which was nice."
"We turned in something [to be] graded just about every class and
got it back quickly."
"Overall, every little thing that we did fit in somewhere."
students, focus group transcript, 1998
teacher is the leader, and the students want to know where they are
going and how to get there. The syllabus is the first road sign, and
it needs to guide dependably. A syllabus should, among other things,
pin down major assignments and tests, making clear that details will
come in good time and will depend, to some extent, on how students respond
to materials as they meet them. Even when first teaching a new course,
we should be able to define in course packets or on web sites clear
guidelines and grading criteria for assignments (for
example see Appendicess. B & C), in-class work, and exams.
See also Tulou and Pettigrew (1999).
theoretical guidelines, however, concrete models of good work help students
understand what they are to do, while inspiring them with what is possible.
Students are remarkably willing to permit us to offer their work anonymously
as models for future students, and even for their classmates. After
all, what could be a greater sign of their success than having their
work chosen as a good example? For instance, the first time my students
analyzed rhetorical figures of speech in writing, few of them went beyond
definitions, even though we had discussed numerous analyses in class.
In returning their graded work, then, I added a sheet of sample "A"
answers from students who had succeeded. Armed with these models and
the realization that some of their classmates were already at this level,
more students analyzed better on the next assignment.
On peer-editing guidelines, one student noted:
had specific expectations for what we would say. She gave us an outline,
didn't she, in the packet. This was what she expected us to write and
what would help us, and so I think this will help me in revising papers
[in future courses]."
group transcript, 1998
my classes have a percent for participation, but you never have a clue,
like whether that's a joke or not. But, like early in the semester,
she gave us an indication of what our participation grade was, an idea
of what to work on. So you knew that she was really paying attention.
So we knew that it actually mattered."
group transcript, 1998
models with individual feedback gives students clear paths toward success.
After they have tried to follow a model, they need to know what is good
about their work and how to improve. The student quoted above notes
that people work harder when they know that their work is noticed and
when they learn how well they are doing. It takes just a few seconds
per student to complete the Participation Feedback Form;
I distribute these about a month into the course and then again, if
necessary, a month later. Whenever students see their current grade
and my suggestions, their participation improves perceptibly for the
next several class meetings.
grading students' peer-editing efforts may seem like a waste of time,
and for years I simply labeled their editing with check-plus, check,
check-minus. Noting students' end-of-semester complaints that peer editing
was busy work, and that peers' comments did not very much help them
revise, however, I began giving their editing more detailed, individual
feedback and assigning it letter grades. The grade book shows that editing
skills improved, and students' comments are positive: "We got graded
on how we evaluated other people's drafts, and so we wanted to do a
good job; we wanted to make comments that would really help them, so
we would get a good grade on that." (focus group transcript, 1998)
This student's frank avowal of the reciprocal effect of receiving a
"good grade" on her desire to do a "good job" to
help others is particularly telling given her stellar performance in
the course, 100% attendance, consistently thoughtful discussion comments,
and subsequent admission into the College honors program. Because most
students' ingrained concern about their grades cannot be denied, we
may as well use it to their advantage. The value of clear feedback and
well-founded grades on students' willingness to put forth the effort
they need to learn cannot be overestimated.
Teaching for Direct Student Engagement: A Variety of Techniques
with making our expectations clear, we need to teach in ways that directly
engage students in learning and explicitly show them that we, as well
as the other students, need and depend upon their ideas and work. Doing
so requires, of course, our recognizing different learning styles and
differing contributions. The following techniques are not meant to be
inclusive, but, rather, appropriate to foreign language and literature
courses, as well as representative of the wide range of active learning
techniques that promote students' engagement and responsibility (for
other suggestions, in a wide range of disciplines, see Bean, 1996; Bonwell
& Eison, 1991; Campbell & Smith, 1997; Kraft, 1990; Meyers &
Jones, 1993; Silberman, 1996).
learning (in some ways similar to collaborative learning, although considered
by experts to be different) has enjoyed wide support among specialists
in both K-12 education (for example, Kagan, 1988) and college education
(for example, Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991a; Millis & Cottell,
1998; Cooper, 1990; Bruffee, 1993). Sometimes misunderstood to mean
simply having students work in groups, cooperative learning is, in fact,
a highly structured approach to teaching that includes five basic elements
(Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991a, pp. 6-8):
interdependence: students' belief that they all sink or swim together;
promotive interaction: students' helping, encouraging, and supporting
each other's efforts to learn;
accountability: students' recognition that they are responsible for
their own learning and for that of group members because individuals'
learning represents that of the group;
skills necessary to group success, including leadership, decision-making,
trust-building, communicating, and managing conflict;
processing: activities that enable groups to determine how well they
are working together and what they can do to improve.
structured cooperative learning is one way to work consciously toward
building a class of students into a team that works together, taking
responsibility for their own and for others' learning. Cooperative learning
activities that influenced students' positive response to French 332
include team-building activities done at the beginning of the course
to help them meet each other, think-pair-share, student-initiated discussions,
peer editing, and group projects. Traditional lecturing can also prove
more engaging for students when it includes cooperative learning techniques,
and some are presented below.
you're working together, it helps to be in a group, because you can
learn from each other."
group transcript, 1998
Activities. Some of the earliest (and shortest) activities in French
332 have multiple objectives: to familiarize students with each other,
to promote group bonding, to establish cooperative groups, and to introduce
students to simple aspects of cooperative learning, such as the roles
of leader, notetaker/reporter, and encourager. Often, before giving
the class an assignment, such as clarifying what they expect to learn
in the course or comparing their answers to identifications of theatrical
terms, I rearrange them into groups of three or four. One can quickly
do this by asking students to count off from 1 to 6 (in a class of 20,
to arrange groups of 3 or 4); they then move to meet with others who
counted the same number, thus meeting people in a different part of
the room. I ask them to discover something interesting and not too personal
about everyone in the group: for example, "Find out one thing you
all like and one thing you dislike." "Find out who got up
the earliest this morning." "Find out who lives the farthest
away." In answering such simple questions, students get to know
each other and relax more. Students always appreciate this personal
connection, as summarized by one focus group comment (1998): "I
have discussion sections that are smaller than this, and I don't know
everybody's name. [Here] we all know each other. The first day of class,
or the first week, whatever, everyone learned each other's names."
Think-Pair-Share. The think-pair-share technique is a mainstay
of informal cooperative learning groups, in which students come together
briefly during class to accomplish a task (as opposed to formal cooperative
learning, in which students work on a larger project over a relatively
long period of time) (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991a, pp. 4:2,
5:10). Easy to set up and requiring as little as three minutes of class
time, this technique asks students to think individually, exchange ideas
with a partner, and share the results with the rest of the class and
the teacher. For example, when we begin the unit on poetry, I ask students
to spend thirty seconds thinking about how they would describe poetry
and then to compare and contrast their ideas with those of someone nearby
to see whether they can synthesize them together (a two-minute task).
When they indicate by a show of hands which pairs came to a synthesis,
I ask those to share first, knowing that people who agree have added
strength of conviction and willingness to speak up. Think-pair-share
activities give every student quiet thinking time followed by a relatively
safe, private opportunity to voice their ideas. Before announcing their
thoughts to everyone, they can explain and fine-tune them. More students
have ideas; more are willing to share them; ideas are generally better
for having been contemplated. Using think-pair-share to kick off discussions
may be one reason why French 332 students regularly cite them in answer
to the Teaching Analysis Poll question: "What most helps you learn
in this course?": "Discussion in class a plus." (1998)
"Class discussions are engaging." (1997) "Discussions."
(1996) "Class discussions are going really well." (1995)
Group Projects. Projects that students complete in groups can
be the best or the worst of a course, depending in great measure upon
how carefully and clearly we structure them. Learning how to structure
and grade them well pays off, however, in increased student motivation,
enthusiasm, and hard work, as these two students' focus group comments
about group poetry presentations (1998) indicate: "We made it fun,
but it was serious. Everybody had to read and just about everyone researched
their poem. It wasn't like a joke, but it wasn't 'another paper.'"
"You really got a better knowledge, having to present it and teach
the class." For a full explanation of the procedures used, see
the Poetry Presentation Guidelines. For a thorough
discussion of peer teaching, see Whitman, 1988.
Student-Initiated Discussion. Student-initiated discussion is
another productive discussion-starter that has its roots in cooperative
learning. Here is one student's focus group comment about this technique
the discussion just kind of took off wherever we wanted it to go, which
is kind of cool . . . . She would bring out certain things to stimulate
our thought or whatever, but she never made us talk about one thing
and only that thing. Like, if we had other ideas, we could go off on
first reading, this comment might sound as though discussions were disorganized
or somewhat sporadic. On the contrary, not only did I find student-initiated
discussions to follow logical threads of thought, students in courses
taught with this technique practically never complain that discussions
go off on tangents or are disorganized. In addition, over the years
I have found that students' serious questions about a text typically
lead to a discussion of topics similar to those I would have proposed
had I determined the direction of the discussion (for corroboration,
see Campbell & Smith, 1997, pp. v-vi). Of course, in order to prepare
for this more open-ended sort of discussion, we as teachers need to
prepare more carefully, thinking not only about what we find to be the
key discussion points but also imagining different ways to approach
them from the issues students raise.
student-initiated discussion also requires convincing students that
their questions about the assigned text are essential. Usually, I simply
ask them to bring two or three questions that they cannot answer or
that they find interesting, but we can also define the type of questions
we would like (for instance, comprehension questions, analytical questions,
questions the asker cannot answer, opinion questions, and so on). In
class, students work in cooperative groups of three or four to answer
as many of each other's questions as possible in 5-10 minutes. Of course,
I circulate among groups, getting an idea of what types of questions
they have raised, and on what topics. The questions that remain after
their discussion are often ones that no one in their group can answer.
next organize their remaining questions logically: for example, comprehension
questions vs. analytical questions, fact questions vs. opinion questions,
or questions that can be answered from the text vs. questions that require
additional information. I write the categories on the board and invite
a student from each group to write the most interesting questions of
each type for the class. Students remaining in the group begin thinking
about new questions as they appear on the board; I check to ensure accurate
question categorization. The number of questions from each group depends
on time available for this discussion.
8-10 questions are on the board, I decide in what order to take the
questions to create a logical discussion and number them. For example,
I often treat the simpler or more concrete questions first, then the
more analytical or complex. The discussion then evolves from students'
questions, as I ask students to clarify questions when necessary and
challenge them to answer them. I work to ensure that as many essential
ideas as possible are discussed critically and to weave students' questions
and comments into coherent discourse. Variations on this
technique are certainly possible.
really helped to have her input and their input, and then we had adequate
time to go back and do another draft; that was good."
group transcript, 1998
main focus of French 332 is composition, and students can constructively
edit their colleagues' essays by working in cooperative groups. In fact,
giving three-person peer-editing groups time to build group connections
may well avoid students' natural reluctance to criticize others' papers
(a reluctance noted by Diane Birckbichler, cited in Omaggio Hadley,
1993, p. 339). Both to symbolize our mutual team effort and to help
students write better, I edit all students' first drafts using peer-editing
guidelines; thus we all focus on helping writers make the best arguments
possible by commenting mainly on purpose, organization, and clarity.
Since students at this advanced-intermediate level often create as many
errors as they correct when asked to edit for grammar, I encourage editors
only to point out patterns of errors, and many do so accurately. I mark
and grade grammatical accuracy on the final draft, although I explain
how to handle complex structures that students include on first drafts.
with providing appropriately detailed peer-editing guidelines, we need
to give students models of good editing (gathered from previous classes
or from our own work) and a chance to practice editing at least once
in class. Spending class time on an activity clearly conveys its importance;
having students try out editing guidelines when we are there to answer
questions and track their progress saves false starts and wrong turns
when they later edit on their own. The day the first paper draft is
due, therefore, students spend thirty minutes in their peer-editing
groups reading and commenting on others' drafts. Two students work on
the third student's paper (who reads another's paper), which generates
comparative editorial comments when they voice main comments to the
writer. I randomly select which student's paper becomes the focus of
the group by having each group discover an arbitrary fact (for example,
who most recently saw a movie or who has the next birthday) and then
choosing the person to the left or right of that person. Students seem
to appreciate the fairness of such a random selection process. Listening
in on various groups, I gain a good sense of how well editors follow
the guidelines, how clearly they explain their reactions, and how willingly
students engage in the process. If necessary, I can review certain points
for individuals or, later, for the entire class.
the semester, when all drafts are submitted along with the final paper,
I grade individual students' editorial comments, taking into account
thoroughness, clarity, and tone. I make sure the editor's comments take
into account most of the points suggested on the Peer-Editing
Guidelines; I applaud particularly insightful and helpful comments;
I suggest ways to improve general or vague remarks. I also tell editors
when they need to be more critical in order to help writers improve
their papers. (For a more lengthy cooperative peer-editing structure,
see Johnson, Johnson, and Smith, 1991b, pp. 71-72.)
group question: "What have you learned in this course?" "How
to write." "You actually need to write your French papers
like your English papers, not just put a bunch of words down on the
page and not have them make sense."
students, focus group transcript, 1998
Students during Presentations
and civilization courses often require us to present a wealth of information
to students not only through readings but also through classroom presentations
and lectures. Since attention spans average no more than 15 minutes
and classes typically last at least 50 minutes, we need techniques to
re-engage students' attention. Used thoughtfully, such activities tell
students that their ideas matter and that they need to assimilate what
they are hearing and seeing. We can use questions and other activities
at the beginning and throughout a presentation to keep students intellectually
engaged (Sarkisian, 1994). Students' work with such questions may be
treated individually or cooperatively.
specific cooperative learning technique uses focused discussions as
bookends before and after the lecture, with pair discussions interspersed
throughout (Johnson, Johnson, and Smith, 1991a, pp. 5:10-12). As always,
it is important to make the task and instructions explicit and precise
and to require a specific product (such as a written answer). In summary,
this technique works as follows. Students next to each other first complete
a task designed to organize their thoughts about the upcoming lecture:
for instance, they might note and share answers to the question, "What
do you already know about the predominant religions in France?"
After a 10-15-minute lecture, paired students undertake a think-pair-share
task designed to involve them with the information they just heard.
In our example, they might compare what they had already known with
what has been presented and note new information. Or they might give
a reaction to the theory, concept, or information presented or relate
the new materials to past learning. After this three- or four-minute
discussion, two or three randomly selected students share their answers
with the class. This process repeats after each lecture segment. The
class ends with a four- to five-minute pair discussion to summarize
the material covered, a discussion that should result in students' integrating
new information into their existing conceptual frameworks, or schemata
(for a summary of schema theory as it applies to foreign language reading,
see Barnett, 1989). Students will develop skill in responding to lectures
thoughtfully if we give them opportunities to process these tasks by
asking questions such as, "How well prepared were you to complete
these discussion tasks?" and "How could you come even better
prepared tomorrow?" Various question types may
be used in the bookend lecture format.
Using Instructional Technology
technological innovations can help us give our students more responsibility,
help them engage more directly with the course and course material,
and help them recognize the importance of their work (see Warschauer,
1995, for practical ideas about implementing technology in courses).
Electronic mail is now easily accessible to most students, and some
teachers require e-mail discussions outside of class as part of their
participation, along with offering to answer students' questions via
e-mail. When they can quickly and regularly use e-mail to communicate,
students generally appreciate this closer contact with their teachers,
the fact that they can ask at any moment a question (even a so-called
"dumb question") and may well have an answer within 24 hours.
Some seem more willing to communicate through e-mail about how the course
is going for them and what else in their lives is affecting their ability
to succeed. In fact, e-mail can be so appealing that teachers with many
students may need to limit its use in order to avoid a flood of messages.
advantages of e-mail discussion, however, include our seeing deeper
analyses and more participation from students who are shy in person
and from those who write more easily than they speak. Kern (1995), for
instance, found that students exchange ideas more during class via computer
than via oral discussion, but with perhaps less coherence and less grammatical
accuracy. Students who have e-mailed
comments and questions about a text before coming to class--and
who have made the time to read others' remarks--are farther along in
their thinking than those who read the text at the last minute (Ramazani,
1994). As for community-building, teachers who set up course-wide lists
may find, as I did, that students use them to set up target-language
lunches and review sessions for the final exam; the list seems to make
them feel more a part of that particular group.
e-mail does take time for both teacher and students, we need to make
sure that our e-mail assignments are not overwhelming. If our syllabus
is already full, we must realize that writing and reading e-mail is
yet another requirement that should be added only in place of something
else. Students need to have easy, frequent access to e-mail; if they
do not, we must recognize the extra time needed to get to a terminal.
Finally, we need to grade e-mail participation
explicitly if we want students to engage in it as reliably as
in other assignments.
reality of the World-Wide Web offers another opportunity to show students
that their work really matters. Lee (1999) discusses using a web home
page and chat room to engage students with current events in the target-language
countries. Gaspar (1998) explains how foreign language students can
research through the web, as well as through traditional sources, to
create group projects. The web also offers the advantage that publication
there exposes "student writing to an outside readership who will
deliver real-world feedback and response straight to the author's e-mail
account" (Kirschenbaum, 1996). Thus students' presentations made
available on the web are real work for a real audience.3
Stepping Back to Take a Look
various ways, we need to involve our students throughout our course,
reminding them of their central role, of their goals, of their successes
and their potential. By invoking their metacognitive skills, their ability
to think about what they are doing and why, we can regularly help them
step back a moment to become aware of what they are learning, how they
are learning, and how well the course is working for them. They thus
learn more about how to learn and get to know themselves as learners,
which is a key element of their success (Rhem, 1995; Carrell, 1989).
We can do this subtly, or we can focus explicitly on metacognitive strategies,
using, for instance, scenarios or mini-case studies that illustrate
productive metacognitive strategies (Loring, 1997, writing of first
language reading at the K-12 levels). Several techniques that relate
to the various aspects of metacognition are detailed below.
What They're Learning
and Cross, in Classroom Assessment Techniques (1993), present
a plethora of techniques designed to engage students' metacognitive
awareness on several fronts: course-related knowledge and skills; learners'
attitudes, values, and self-awareness; learners' reactions to instruction.
Lavine (1999) discusses the philosophy and methodology of these techniques,
with a focus on student management teams. Two other Angelo and Cross
techniques particularly appropriate to foreign language and literature
courses are student-generated test questions (#25, pp. 240-43) and word
journals (#14, pp. 188-92). When students create possible test questions,
they show us what they consider the most important or memorable content,
what they understand as fair and useful test questions, and what answers
they give to questions they have posed. Thus, if we ask for these questions
at least three weeks before the test date, we know more about what to
teach and/or review, and we can also re-educate students who have unrealistic
expectations about tests (Angelo & Cross, 1993, p. 240).
Students very much appreciate, as well, the opportunity to discuss test
format and expectations ahead of time. To use this technique, we write
for students specifications about the kinds of questions we want. Students
need to know what they are to do, how their questions will be used,
what sort of feedback they will receive, and how this activity will
help them perform better (p. 242). To use the data they give us, we
can roughly tally the types of questions students propose. For example,
how many require only a knowledge of facts? How many require paraphrasing,
only, of a text read; how many require synthesis or analysis? We can
use some of their questions as examples in giving feedback and others
as review questions. It is important to state clearly at the beginning
of this process what will be done with students' questions, whether
any will actually appear on the test, for instance, in order to avoid
journals can help us assess students' ability to read carefully and
their skill and creativity at summarizing a short text in a single word,
as well as their proficiency in explaining and defending, in a paragraph
or two, why they chose that word (Angelo & Cross, 1993, p. 188).
Practicing this classroom assessment technique helps students become
more adept at writing highly condensed abstracts and at storing large
amounts of information in memory by "chunks." To use the word
journal process, we as teachers must make sure the exercise works with
a particular text by following our own proposed directions before giving
them to the students. We also need to tell our students that the choice
of a specific word is less important than the quality of their explanation,
and we need to give them some ideas about what their explanations should
contain (p. 190). By sharing with students several different good approaches
submitted, we can help them develop their range of responses to texts.
we offer students such thought-provoking exercises and tell them why,
we also give them the opportunity to learn more about how they are developing
skills and about why we teach as we do. Classroom assessment techniques
such as student-generated test questions and word journals are less
about finding out how well students have mastered the material and more
about discoveringfor both us and themhow they are grappling
with the material and skills of the course. By provoking metacognitive
thinking, they help us all understand better the learning process.
How They're Learning
are more likely to take responsibility for things under their control.
Thus helping students recognize that they have a great deal to say about
what and how they learnthat this is, in fact, more their province
than that of the teacherempowers them to take more initiative
to learn well (Wenden, 1999). As noted earlier, requesting students'
comments about the course should go beyond asking how well we are doing
as teachers to ask the students to contemplate their own contributions.
For courses that include a significant amount of discussion, asking
students what their colleagues can do to improve the level of discussion,
as well as what they can do individually, and then reporting their answers
back to them typically results in a noticeably increased quality in
preparation and participation (Loevinger, 1993). Similarly, asking students
to rate their preparation for lectures
shows them how essential their thinking is to their understanding
and remembering and gives them clear criteria by which to judge their
involvement and resulting success (McAllister, 1997). We can also help
students take more responsibility by directly giving them useful information
about strategies relevant to foreign-language learning in general (see,
for example, Oxford, 1990; Rubin & Thompson, 1994) or to specific
aspects of the course, for instance, memorizing and taking tests or
reading a foreign language (Phillips, 1984). For a discussion of elementary
school children's learning strategies and ways to integrate them into
the classroom, see Chamot in this volume.
How Well the Course is Working for Them
single thing we said in the evaluation [Teaching Analysis Poll]-and
we were, like, scraping to find bad things to say-she changed. They
weren't even like really bad things."
"She changed the room, she brought in a speaker, she changed her
final exam. I think those were the only things we ever mentioned that
we would kinda want to be changed."
students; focus group transcript, 1998
noted throughout this essay, we have many and varied ways to ask students
how well the course is helping them learn. By soliciting
and responding to students' comments about how well they are learning
in the course, we not only get new ideas (often quite good ones), we
also promote students' commitment to the course. By replacing the final
exam with a student-requested French tour of the University, for instance,
we reinvigorated our flagging end-of-semester energies in a demanding
composition course, discovered French connections at the University,
and produced an amusing and enlightening videotaped tour from students'
perspectives. At the same time, students wrote, edited, and revised
another paper, something they would not have accomplished with a final
balance, the mutual respect, novel ideas, hard thinking, and caring
engagement engendered by treating students as responsible adults more
than outweighs the value of any control we relinquish in acknowledging
that the course belongs to them as well as to us. In order to succeed
with this approach, we must make our attitude clear to our students,
leading them to recognize that our attitude is "not like, 'I'm
your teacher, and I can make you do this.' It's helpful." (student
comment during focus group transcript, 1998) People most often commit
themselves to endeavors in which they are interested and have a personal
stake. And, as Richard Light's work in assessment confirms, such a commitment
to academic work is productive and frequently leads to happiness in
students' college careers (1992). As teachers, we play a significant
role in determining how committed our students are to foreign language,
culture, literature, civilization, and history. And success partly comes
from a "strength" a student noted on the 1998 French 332 final
course evaluation: "caring about us, working with us."
French 332 (The Writing and Reading of Texts), a University of Virginia
French composition course that also serves as an introduction to the
study of literature, is prerequisite for nearly all succeeding courses,
required of majors and minors, and enrolls primarily first- and second-year
students (enrollment limited to 15). The course is designed to prepare
students to take higher-level courses on French and francophone literature,
civilization, and history while helping them improve their communication
skills. Specific goals include improving students' abilities to read
and discuss texts analytically (including understanding and interpreting
rhetorical figures of speech) and to write persuasive essays. Toward
these course-wide goals, I help my students work toward improving
their abilities to recognize what they do not understand and ask about
it, to ask and answer interpretative questions, to define, recognize
and then analyze figures of speech, and to read and comment judiciously
on others' writing.
come from students enrolled in French 332 (The Writing and Reading
of Texts). I developed the approach presented in this chapter over
four spring semesters, from 1995 through 1998. Students' comments
are solicited in a variety of ways: mid-semester questionnaires, specific
questions about class activities, Teaching Analysis Polls, end-of-semester
evaluations, end-of-semester focus group (quotations are unedited
transcriptions of students' oral remarks). Given my administrative
responsibilities in faculty development, I teach only one semester
are beyond the scope of this chapter, but sample student publications
are available at the following URLs:
and analyses of data about the American Civil War: http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/vshadow2/cwprojects.html
Soliciting Students' Comments
very much appreciate having an opportunity before the end of the semester
to comment on how well a course is working for them. Depending on their
comments, we can make reasonable changes in the course to accommodate
their needs, or we can explain again why we have assigned "such
difficult" readings, why there are "so many" quizzes,
why class participation counts. This appendix includes three methods
of gathering students' comments well before the course ends (Mid-Semester
Questionnaires, specific questions, Teaching Analysis Polls) and two
end-of-semester methods (evaluation forms and focus groups).
A-1: Mid-Semester Questionnaires
questionnaires can be as long or short, as general or specific, as we
like. Here are the questions I typically use for French 332, a course
taught almost entirely through discussion:
did the discussion go?
could the teacher do to improve class discussions?
could the other students do to improve discussions?
could you do to improve discussions?
answer such questions anonymously during five minutes at the end of
a class period before the middle of the semester. It is important to
summarize or itemize the comments and discuss them with the students
either during the next class or via an e-mail message to all students.
A-2: Specific Questions about Class Activities
times when we would like to know how students respond to a specific
activity, we can simply ask them. To keep this activity brief, I hand
out quarter-sheets of paper at the end of class and ask only one or
two questions. For instance, to discover students' perceptions about
the group poetry presentations, I have asked (in French), "What
do you think about the system we used to discuss poetry? (That is, you
chose the poems to study, you prepared them in groups, you gave oral
presentations, and you discussed together.)" In order to see how
well students were understanding readings and discussions, I have asked
(in French), "What was the most important point you learned from
the discussion today? What questions do you still have about the story
we read for today?" Similar to the one-minute paper and muddiest
point classroom assessment techniques (Angelo and Cross, 1993), these
questions elicit answers that give me insights I would otherwise rarely
get. I can then adjust my assignments and discussion-leading the next
class, reviewing if necessary.
A-3: Teaching Analysis Polls
Analysis Polls (TAPs) are offered by the Teaching Resource Center at
the University of Virginia and, under other titles, by faculty development
programs around the country. But a faculty developer is not necessary,
since colleagues can easily act as consultants to do TAPs for each other.
The process begins when the consultant visits the teacher's classroom
for 25-30 minutes to poll the students about their perceptions of the
course. (After introducing the consultant, the teacher leaves.)
consultant gives groups of four or five students five minutes to answer
most helps you learn in this class?
impedes your learning?
can improvements be made?
student in each group writes on the board the answers that all group
members agree about. The consultant monitors responses to verify that
a proposed solution accompanies any problem.
the whole class, the consultant reviews these comments, clarifying
ambiguities and keeping only those observations a majority of students
" The consultant thanks the students and reiterates that the
instructor will receive the summary of reactions remaining on the
the follow-up meeting, the consultant gives this information to the
instructor, and they discuss ways of responding to the comments. Here
some of the benefits:
TAP gives more details than do written evaluations because students
discuss the course in a confidential and interactive setting, while
the consultant monitors responses to eliminate vagueness.
learn from each other, as they debate their various perceptions of
appreciate having this chance to share their ideas about the course.
only responses that have been agreed upon by a majority vote are reported,
the teacher can focus on the main issues.
TAP requires no more than 30 minutes of class time, and an additional
half-hour outside of class to review the results.
is learned from a TAP, especially one done in the first six weeks
of the semester, helps both teacher and the students get more from
the course immediately.
evaluations at colleges and universities are frequently required and
are created either within individual departments or formulated and distributed
centrally. The U.Va. French Department form contains standard questions
about the course and instructor. I add specific questions focused on
activities pertinent to our course:
- What did
you learn in this course?
- How effective
were the following aspects of the course, and how could they be improved
in the future?
interactions and teacher-student interactions:
by the editor of this volume, in 1998 for the first time I asked my
students to spend about 45 minutes talking about the course with an
objective consultant trained to lead focus groups (my thanks to Jennifer
Chylack and Jennifer Secki, University of Virginia, for leading and
videotaping the focus group). Students did not object to having this
focus group videotaped, and I promised not to view the tape until after
submitting final grades. Of course, I was not present at the focus group,
which took place on our final exam day, after the students' tour of
the University Grounds (which was also videotaped). Like the Teaching
Analysis Poll, the focus group provided thoughtful, detailed, finely
tuned feedback about the course. Quotations attributed to "focus
group transcript" are unedited transcriptions of students' oral
comments during this focus group. Students not only responded to the
consultant's questions (see below) but also added comments about aspects
of the course important to them. Here are the focus group goals and
prompting questions that the consultants and I created:
learner reaction to:
which exercises were most helpful/effective in developing skills.
how engaged and connected to the course the students felt.
how responsible to the course the students felt.
the course activities:
What did you do in class?
types of exercises?
did you think of the student-generated questions about short stories?
did you think of the poetry presentations and tour?
kinds of interactions were there?
did you find to be the most helpful in learning how to think clearly
and express yourself well in French?
important did you think it was to attend class and participate?
What types of homework assignments did you have?
about the course:
you used the material / knowledge from this course in other areas
/ classes / places? Please specify.
did the workload in this course compare to that of other 300-level
you recommend this course to other students? Why or why not?
Appendix B: Participation Grading Guidelines
(Included on French 332 syllabus; Adapted from the work
of Edmund P. Russell, Department of Technology, Culture, & Communication,
School of Engineering and Applied Science, which was itself adapted
from the work of Martha L. Maznevski, McIntire School of Commerce, University
of Virginia. Used with their kind permission.)
stresses quality of participation, not quantity per se. The key to quality
is preparation before class or before writing on e-mail. I expect that
average participation will be in the B range. Before mid-semester, I
will let you know what your participation grade is so far, and how to
A: Shows excellent preparation. Analyzes readings and synthesizes
new information with other knowledge (from other readings, course
material, discussions, experiences, etc.) Makes original points. Synthesizes
pieces of discussion to develop new approaches that take the class
further. Responds thoughtfully to other students' comments. Builds
convincing arguments by working with what other students say, but
may question the majority view. Stays focused on topic. Volunteers
regularly in class and on e-mail but does not dominate.
B: Shows good preparation. Interprets and analyzes course material.
Volunteers regularly and participates on e-mail in a timely fashion.
Thinks through own points, responds to others' points, questions others
in constructive way, may question majority view, raises good questions
about readings. Stays on topic.
C: Shows adequate preparation. Understands readings but shows little
analysis. Responds moderately when called upon but rarely volunteers,
or talks without advancing the discussion. Writes short, non-analytical
D: Present. Shows little evidence of preparation or comprehension.
Responds when called on but offers little or distracts the discussion.
F: Absent, or non-responding via e-mail.
Appendix C: Poetry Presentation
(translated from French to English)
to Present a Poem to the Class
Read the poem, discuss it with your group, and explicate (analyze)
that it's very important to specify the principal theme or atmosphere
of the poem and to support your thesis statement. Depending on which
poem you analyze, you will find that different aspects of the poem are
more or less essential to your analysis; but don't forget to consider
scansion, rhythm, rhyme, images, narration (if any), atmosphere, emotions,
etc. Speak about the poet if necessary; but don't repeat the information
in the text, and don't give the poet's biography. Discuss the poem and
your ideas with your teammates; feel free to write the presentation
together or to write parts of it individually, as you prefer.
the work of the oral presentation.
- In your
group, decide who will present which part. Create as imaginative a presentation
as you like.
your presentation to be certain that it's clear.
- Your group
will have 30 minutes to present your analysis. Be sure not to read your
presentation to the class; remember that you're speaking to your colleagues.
- IN CLASS:
Before the beginning of class, write on the board the vocabulary
that you expect others won't know.
and explain these words before beginning your presentation.
- It's certainly
best to memorize the poem. In any case, you need to present the poem
in a way that immediately indicates your interpretation of it. You might
use music or pictures, for example. Use your analysis of the poem to
decide what changes of voice are necessary, and practice your poem presentation
out loud several times. I recommend that you record and analyze it before
doing it in class.
- Decide in
advance how you will orchestrate your presentation, and remember not
to read it.
- Be open
to questions and new interpretations that will help you improve your
final, written analysis.
- It's up
to you, as group presenters, to entertain questions and lead the discussion.
I'm part of the audience, as are the other students. We'll spend the
entire class discussing each poem.
How to React to Presentations
OUTSIDE OF CLASS:
First, study the poem before coming to class, and note your interpretation.
Remember that you are responsible for helping your colleagues perfect
this analysis before they write it in its final form.
during the presentation.
make sure that they support their thesis statement(s). Ask questions
to get more information if necessary.
- If you have
another interpretation that you still find logical after having heard
the presenters', offer it (with your supporting arguments). As a result,
we'll discuss other possibilities, and you'll give your colleagues new
Contribute to the discussion.
of contributions are very useful:
that oblige the presenters to think more deeply;
that offer a new interpretation or that support it. Questions of clarification
are often necessary, but less useful to the presenters. Be sure
to ask a probing question or offer a useful commentary.
These Exercises are Graded
grade will count as four individual class participation grades. Since
half the grade will be a grade for the entire group, it's worthwhile
helping your partners to prepare as well as possible; the other half of
the grade rates what you do as an individual. The two grades will depend
on your ability to explain and support your ideas and on the quality of
grade will count as a class participation grade and will depend on the
quality of your comments and questions. Work toward engaging in a true
Appendix D: Peer-Editing Guidelines
(Translated from French to English; Adapted from Valdés
et al. (1989). Composición: Proceso y síntesis
(2nd ed.). San Francisco: Random House.)
questions to analyze your colleagues' essays and to help them fine-tune
them. (In addition, you will learn how to ask yourself questions about
your own essays.) Take notes on another sheet of paper, or on each essay
itself, and save this handout.
is the thesis of this essay, the main point?
does the author support the thesis?
you convinced of the value and exactness of the arguments?
pleases you about this essay?
Are there places where...
need more information or more proof?
written adds nothing (or almost nothing) to the thesis or to the essay?
organization is not clear?
author should add more details?
language or tone is inappropriate to the purpose or to the readers?
language is . . .
the quotations well chosen to support the thesis? Are they well analyzed?
the essay achieve its purpose? Are you convinced by the arguments,
the examples, the reasoning?
could the author improve the essay? Where should the author work hardest
Appendix E: Participation Feedback Form
Your participation grade in class so far: ______
How can you improve this grade? Follow the suggestions checked below:
_____ Come to all the classes.
_____ Volunteer when you have a chance to.
_____ Show that you have well prepared the text or the lesson by offering
good questions or good comments.
_____ Push yourself a bit by trying to say something more difficult,
analytical, or imaginative than usual.
_____ Comment via e-mail in a more detailed and analytical way.
_____ Try to move the discussion forward by responding to your colleagues'
Appendix F- Variations on Student-Initiated
groups can present the most interesting question and their answer
to the entire class.
can ask student groups to synthesize and prioritize their remaining
getting comfortable with this activity by working in small groups,
students may prefer to raise their questions before the entire class.
can invite individual students to write their most interesting question
on the board before class begins. Of course, with this system, the
students who arrive early are most likely to have a chance to ask
can send their questions to classmates (and the teacher) over e-mail
ahead of the class meeting. This method is most suited to larger projects
with a longer time frame, since students need time to prepare their
questions, reach a networked computer and send them, read colleagues'
questions. Because of these multiple steps, fewer students may be
prepared for class than with the simpler method.
Appendix G: Engaging Students during
(Adapted with the kind permission of Ellen Sarkisian,
Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University, from
her adaptation of Participatory Lectures, 1994.)
with a question or questions that help you understand what your listeners
are thinking or what their relevant experiences are. For example:
What is the historical context of War and Peace? Why might
we be interested in the origins of Spanish? How many of you have traveled
outside the United States?
background reading or preparation has been assigned, ask questions
about it to review and integrate that information. For example: During
World War II, how was the French Underground formed? What were some
of the economic and sociological factors that contributed to the rise
a problem (perhaps at the beginning of your talk) and elicit several
answers or solutions. You can then explore and build on these. For
example: Why do you think it's so hard to develop a native accent?
Why might so many people from other countries have fought in the Spanish
students to raise their hands to answer, to vote, in effect. For example,:
What is the direction of the data? Who thinks it's increasing? decreasing?
questions with surprising answers or with answers that are counter-intuitive.
For example: What is the probability that two people in this room
have the same birthday? How many Muslims live in France?
thought-provoking questions and questions without a right answer.
For example: Do you think U.S. policy toward Haiti has become more
or less strict in the last twenty years? Which references could you
use to support your position?
making a major point, ask a question that allows listeners to apply
that information. If you have time and the information warrants it,
ask them to vote on the right answer, then turn to their neighbors
and persuade them of the answer within the space of two minutes. When
the time is up, ask them to vote again (you should get more correct
answers). (see Mazur's involvement of students in lectures on the
videotape "Thinking Together," 1992). For example: Now that
we've studied the effect of velocity on the driver of a car suddenly
stopped from 40 miles per hour, what do you think would happen to
the driver stopped while going backward? Would she feel pushed forward,
backward, or neither?
your listeners opportunities, when appropriate, to write down answers
before discussing them.
questions throughout the presentation, when appropriate, and at the
Appendix H: Self-Assessment Form
(Slightly adapted and used with the kind permission of
William B. McAllister, Teaching Resource Center, University of Virginia,
who adapted his from the work of Patrick Rael, Bowdoin College)
those items that are applicable to your work in this course so far this
--- BEFORE LECTURE ---
I read assignments before the corresponding lecture.
I re-read at least some assignments before the corresponding lecture.
I take notes while reading the assignments.
I try to make connections between the reading assignments, looking for
agreement, disagreement, and/or differing emphases.
I organize my thoughts about the material in advance of the corresponding
If I do not understand the material, I write out questions in order
to quiz myself or I ask questions in lecture.
--- DURING LECTURE ---
I have attended every lecture.
I have attended almost every lecture.
If I am unable to attend lecture, I secure class notes from a reliable
I have asked a question during lecture.
I have participated in large-group discussion, usually responding to
questions asked by the instructor.
I take notes regularly during lecture.
I always participate in the (sometimes offbeat) activities during lecture.
--- BEFORE DISCUSSION SECTION ---
I read assignments before the corresponding discussion section.
I re-read at least some assignments before the corresponding section.
I prepare a list of talking points I might wish to discuss during section.
I prepare a list of questions about material I do not understand or
about which I would like to have more information.
--- DURING DISCUSSION SECTION ---
I have attended every discussion section.
If I am unable to attend the section, I secure class notes from a reliable
I participate in discussion every week, either by raising an interesting
question, responding to a point made by someone else, or making some
other substantive contribution that facilitates learning for myself
and my colleagues (the other students).
--CONTACT, COMMUNICATIONS, AND CONTINUING TO THINK ABOUT THE COURSE--
I think about issues raised in this class at some time when I am not
dealing directly with work related to the class.
I have talked with others about issues raised by the course.
I read carefully the comments on my graded assignments.
I have sought out my TA or instructor (whether in person, during office
hours, by phone, or by e-mail) for some purpose other than to complain
or ask some routine question concerning course assignments.
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