Woolfork leading a discussion
in her "Trauma Theory and African
American Literature" course.
photo by Ana Lucia Escudero, Corks and Curls.
attacking the details of book ordering, scheduling, syllabus design, or
equipment reservation, you need to delineate the philosophy behind your
course. Begin with these questions and directions:
do you expect students to learn? What concepts and skills will they
acquire or extend? How will they better understand relationships among
concepts? You must define the course focus and the type of learning
you intend in order to select and sequence the content, reading, assignments,
and evaluation instruments.
- How will
you correlate what you expect students to learn with assignments and
evaluations of their work? If you want students to think critically,
for instance, you need to demonstrate critical thinking in your lectures
and class discussions, show them the types of thinking necessary to
read, comment, and write successfully in your course, and evaluate their
ability to demonstrate critical thinking.
knowledge and skills are prerequisite to success in your course?
If students enter your course with a preparation different from the
one you expect, neither you nor they can gain much. First, define your
expectations, preferably in writing. During the first week of the course,
spend a few minutes evaluating students current knowledge (see
also The First Day of Class). Here are a few pertinent classroom
assessment activities (Angelo and Cross, 1993):
What you learn
from these activities will suggest whether you need to schedule a few
introductory lectures or include a good introduction to assigned readings.
students to write a short paragraph, including their questions,
about your subject matter.
them list relevant courses previously taken (be sure you know the
content and objectives of prerequisite courses).
a short quiz on both information they should already know and facts
they should learn in your course.
- How will
you know whether students are learning throughout the course? Plan
regular assessments of students progress (see Evaluating
and Assessing Students Learning). In addition, listen
closely to students comments during discussions, talk with students
before and after class, and designate some office hours for individual
conferences. Just a few minutes conversation will tell you whether
a student is on the right track.
- How will
you vary your instruction? Novelty is intrinsically motivating.
By offering a variety of activities, you interest students more, keep
their attention better, and thus improve their learning. See Typical
Teaching Situations for ideas you can implement,
whatever your primary methodology.
- How will
your syllabus show students the focus of your course and indicate how
all assignments are connected to that focus? Students are more likely
to realize their potential in a course for which they have a clear map.
If they know your goals, they can compare their goals to yours. Share
your expectations explicitly through your syllabus and course introduction.
determining your course focus, consider the following practical questions
(with the help of an experienced instructor if you are teaching the course
for the first time):
- How many
students should you expect? Class size will influence how much in-class
time you need to devote to lectures or discussions. The larger the class,
too, the fewer papers and other graded assignments you can handle on
your own; if you have an especially large class, ask your department
to assign you one or more TAs and/or graders. (See below for guidelines
on working with TAs and graders.)
- Is this
course for majors and/or minors, or does it attract students from other
departments? Your students orientation to your discipline
will define in great
measure your expectations about students work, the need to explain
background material, and the tenor of class discussions. On the positive
side, you may find
discussions taking unexpectedand stimulatingdirections as
a student from the Architecture School, for example, approaches Shakespeares
plays or US history
without the mediating formulae majors have learned to employ.
- How much
work can you reasonably assign for each class? If you are a graduate
student yourself or have been recently teaching graduate courses, you
may need to review normal undergraduate requirements. Remember that
each student carries about 14 to 17 hours of course credit, probably
in diverse disciplines. The usual rule of thumb is two hours of study
outside of class for every credit hour carried; thus for a threecredit-hour
course, you can typically ask students to spend six hours a week studying
and completing assignments.
- How many
of your students will never have written a college-level paper?
Not all students take the first-year course in academic writing; of
those who do only half take it during their first semester. The first-year
writing course introduces students to academic writing but does not
teach them how to write in all disciplines. You may need to devote class
time or a series of individual conferences to explaining the conventions
of writing within your discipline.
- How will
you budget your time? Not surprisingly, both TAs and faculty members
face complex time management difficulties: simultaneously instructors
and scholars, advisors, and administrators (if simply of an exam committee
or study group), they split their days into myriad, often disparate
activities. Time is in fixed supply, but you can improve the situation
by examining how you spend your daily 24 hours and by looking at the
demands on your time. For help with time management, see Appendix III.