Many faculty have either sent students home with discussion questions to prepare for a future class period or posted discussion questions online only to receive answers that miss the mark or don’t elicit quite the response that was desired. Thanks to Jim Berger at WKU, I have learned a better way to write discussion questions that uses a “pilot tested” process for development and leads to stronger, more reflective questions that help my students to connect with course content.
When developing questions for students, most of us tend to simply write the questions that we think will gain us the answer we want and hope that students will dig deeper. The problem is that many students won’t do anything more than a question asks them to do: asking them to “list” gets us bullet points, or asking them to “describe” may only yield a sentence when we wanted a paragraph. The PEAR approach to develop better discussion questions encourages critical thinking skills and more in-depth answers. What is the PEAR approach?
The PEAR approach is built on the framework of Kolb’s experiential learning style theory. It helps students to better process and retain information via a four stage learning cycle (McLeod, 2013). PEAR questions ask students to analyze the concepts in the readings and make connections between theory or practice and their personal lives. They can have students experiment with the ideas in the readings, share what they would have done differently as a result of their reflections in light of their new knowledge, or argue the opposite of a classmate’s position.
Throughout this course, we have practiced varying skills that lead to the creation of a successful research project. First, list three types of writing we have covered this term, and then argue how each one will or will not be beneficial to you in your future career and everyday life._
Good PEAR questions incorporate action verbs that can be mapped to a skill level on Bloom’s taxonomy (see Resources for a good listing of such verbs) and are developed using a careful and deliberate process:
In an online course, PEAR questions should yield richer, more meaningful discussions on the discussion boards, in blogs, or however you choose to use them. In a face-to-face course, you can send your students home with PEAR questions to write out their answers and bring to class. These can be used as jump starters for a traditional discussion or as part of a “silent discussion” where students are paired or put in small groups to exchange papers and respond to one another’s (and subsequent) answers before coming back together as a class for a fuller discussion.
To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at email@example.com. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.
Wren Mills, Ph.D.
Distance Learning and English,
Western Kentucky University
Last week, NYIT faculty and staff members gathered – from Old Westbury, Manhattan, and Nanjing – to talk about effective strategies for teaching when you have a large number of students in your class who are not native English speakers. The conversation took place on the evening of Wednesday, February 11 (or the morning of the next day, for our Nanjing participant), and used Zoom videoconferencing to connect everyone. Participants exchanged ideas, strategies, and practical tips. Here are some of the highlights from the conversation.
How do you know your students understand what you’re saying in class?
Do you modify written assignments or required reading, and if so, how?
Sometimes the students who would benefit most from office hours don’t come to them. How can you encourage them to do so?
What strategies do you use to connect with your students, to help them engage with the topic and feel more comfortable asking for help?
Join the conversation!
If you are interested in delving deeper, please join your colleagues next week for an extended conversation on this topic. The Center for Teaching and Learning will be offering an online workshop on these and related topics. We will use VoiceThread, an asynchronous discussion tool that is also available to all faculty for use in their courses. To register, please complete the form at http://goo.gl/Mqj8ri.
We hope to see you there!
Students are notorious procrastinators. Assigning an annotated bibliography early in the term helps students structure their time. For example, if we expect students to cite primary sources in a literature review paper, students who delay locating sources might scramble to locate the required number of sources and cite sources of marginal relevance.
The annotated bibliography can encourage students to evaluate the quality of sources located in a database if we require students to locate a larger number of scholarly sources than we require the students to cite in the final paper. The annotated bibliography assignment might require each student to identify 2–3 sources they located in a database search that they thought would be useful but decided were not relevant or not useful. Ask students to explain in their annotations why a rejected source looked promising at first but was ultimately rejected.
When students identify and examine more materials than they are required to include in the final submission, they can break away from the habit of including every remotely relevant source they locate to meet minimum citation requirements for an assignment. Students can then begin to evaluate the merit of materials as cited sources. Students need practice making these decisions to build their information literacy skills in the analysis and evaluation of evidence.
If you are new to annotated bibliographies and want to try it as an assignment, NYIT librarians are available to work with you and your students. Customized information literacy sessions focused on the annotated bibliography can be scheduled at the Manhattan and Old Westbury Campuses, and Zoom sessions can be scheduled for online courses.
Can't make it to the library? No problem. Send your students for a one-on-one research consultation (http://nyit.edu/library/appointment), or request an online guide or video tutorial geared specifically to the requirements of your assignment.
To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact one of our librarians, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.
Claudia J. Stanny, Ph.D., Director
Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
University of West Florida
I wanted to be proactive in solving problems in my class that might occur during my semester. In addition, I wanted to know what my students were feeling about the course, what difficulties, if any, they were experiencing. - NYIT faculty member, School of Education
We generally don’t get any feedback from our students until the end of the semester, when they may or may not complete the student evaluations of teaching. At that point, we are busy looking ahead to the following semester and don’t always make time to reflect on what went well and what we might improve.
Why not ask the students early in the semester?
Early Semester Feedback is a simple way to solicit detailed information from your students about how your course is going. You can then use this information to make modifications to your course that will improve student learning. It has the added benefit of promoting student metacognition: reflecting on their learning process and how it might be improved.
There are many ways to gather this information. If you’d like assistance from the Center for Teaching and Learning, we can facilitate the process. (View the Early Semester Feedback questions.) CTL staff will assist you in setting up the survey, inviting the students to complete it, and analyzing the survey results to decide how to best respond to your students’ needs. Sometimes your response might include making a change to an aspect of the course. Sometimes your response might be a conversation with the students in which you explain the rationale you used in designing the course, and how they might engage better with it.
Introduce the idea of the survey to your students in advance. One reason for the low response rate on end-of-semester student evaluations of teaching is that students don’t believe their responses matter. Tell your students that you are doing this survey early in the semester specifically for the purpose of improving the course, and you will likely see high participation. (There’s an added benefit that students who participate in an early-semester feedback process are more likely to participate in end-of-semester evaluations - and generally rank their professors more favorably.)
I obtained a lot of useful information that I cannot get from the end-semester course evaluation … It’s only worth participating if you are actually willing to change what you’re doing based on the students’ responses. - NYIT faculty member, School of Engineering & Computing Sciences
Consider student responses carefully. Look at the positive responses first! It’s always good to see what we’re doing well. Then, look at their suggestions for improvement. Discard the outliers (e.g., this room is too hot!), and group the remainder into categories:
Respond quickly to student feedback and thank them for their input. Give students a summary of the most frequent responses, so they know what their peers said, also. Plan on sharing 3 - 5 items with them, and make them a mix of positive comments and suggestions for improvement. Tell them what you will change in response to their comments. If there are other aspects of the course that you will change in a subsequent semester, tell the students why those things have to wait. If students requested something that just isn’t feasible, explain why the structure you have developed is important to helping them learn. And finally, let students know what their classmates are doing that is helping them to learn, and encourage them to try something new as well.
I modified the course syllabus to address some of the issues raised by students. One example – more graded homework, fewer quizzes in class - NYIT faculty member, College of Arts and Sciences
Keep your tone positive. Thank the students for their comments and suggestions. Make it clear that you respect their role in making the course work, and invite them to be your partner in improving the course. For example, if students tell you that you talk too softly, ask them to remind you during class if your voice drops. It is important not to seem defensive, angry, or over-apologetic because these reactions can undermine students’ perceived value of future evaluations.
At NYIT we have a large number of international students, with differing levels of proficiency in English. In addition, they may not be familiar with aspects of US pop culture, and may have difficulty with idiomatic expressions. Here are some ways you can help them succeed in their courses.
Especially when they first arrive, international students may have difficulties segmenting the stream of sound from the mouths of native speakers into recognizable words. Thus, you can help by doing the following:
Enunciate carefully so that words are not run together.
Speak loudly enough for everyone to hear you easily.
When explaining a concept or assignment that students must understand:
– repeat it.
– slow down when saying the key words.
– write it on the board or provide a handout with the information in written form.
If you are using PowerPoint slides, give the slides to students as a handout. When a professor is lecturing from PowerPoint, the information goes by much more quickly than in the chalk-n-talk mode, and international students may have a difficult time processing information and getting it down in notes.
If you make reference to something from US pop culture (e.g., products, ads and slogans, TV shows, slang) to explain a concept the class should know, explain the concept in another way as well.
Give students an idea of what is to be covered in the next class so that students can be prepared for what they will hear.
Even the best international students may have an English vocabulary half that of an average native speaker of English. Thus, reading assignments take a good bit longer.
International students may find it easier to cope with shorter readings assigned more frequently (e.g. 10 pages over two days x 3 class meetings) as opposed to longer readings in larger chunks (e.g. 30 pages over a week).
If you are using a textbook, highlight for students the features that are particularly student-friendly (e.g. the glossary, chapter overview and review, headings, etc.).
When calling upon an international student, allow enough wait time for the student to collect his or her thoughts, formulate an answer in English, and summon the courage to respond.
Think creatively about ways of drawing upon international students’ special knowledge of their own culture and country, and elicit information from them that will be interesting and useful for the whole class. By valuing international students’ input, you are modeling important behavior for the American students.
Depending on their culture and level of English, international students may not be as vocal as some US students. For example, asking questions in class or volunteering comments may be viewed in their home culture as rude and disrespectful to the teacher. For these students, you may just have to accept that their level of participation will not be the same as that of US students.
International students will often be more comfortable participating in small group work than in front of the whole class. Some suggestions:
– Review with the whole class ways to make group work productive, such as including everyone in discussions, checking for understanding within the group, eliciting the opinions of those who have not spoken up, etc.
– Consider assigning roles to group members. Designate someone to record the main points of the conversation, and someone else to ensure that everyone in the group has a chance to speak.
– Make heterogeneous groups. If all international students are put in one group, they may feel marginalized and alienated from their American classmates.
When creating an exam, keep the following points in mind:
International students will probably read more slowly and write more slowly than US students because they are processing the information in a second language. Depending on the subject matter that you are testing and your own beliefs about fair testing, you may wish to:
Different cultures have very different ideas about appropriate citation and documentation of source material. In many cultures, helping a friend may be of higher value than avoiding cheating. Thus, what we would call cheating and plagiarism may occur when the international student has no real intention of being dishonest.
To avoid the heartbreak and hassle of dealing with cheating on an exam:
– Do not ask questions that can be answered with memorized chunks from the textbook.
– Do not seat international students who are good friends together during an exam.
– Do not put international students together in a separate room unsupervised for an exam.
Because of the importance of helping one’s friends in some cultures, many international students study together and may share homework. Be very explicit about how much help they are allowed to give each other and what is acceptable and unacceptable.
In some cultures, the good student is expected to cull “beautiful sentences” from the work of others and incorporate them without quotation or citation. To help students understand what is appropriate and inappropriate in US academic culture:
– Give explicit instruction and modeling of what is acceptable and unacceptable.
– Explain explicitly how bad “unacceptable” is, and make sure that students know where to go for help if they are not sure whether to document or cite.
If you suspect cheating or plagiarism from an international student—especially a new student—do not automatically assume an intent to be dishonest. Often, if you call the student (or students) into your office and ask about the process they went through in completing an assignment or doing an exam, they will honestly tell you (e.g. they collaborated or went online and found some “beautiful sentences”). That creates a teachable moment when you can explain that the practice is unacceptable in this culture. It is then up to you what penalties to impose, but a first offense committed out of ignorance of cultural conventions might be treated somewhat more leniently than cheating or plagiarism with dishonest intent. Remember to adhere to NYIT’s Academic Integrity Policy, which includes filing an Academic Dishonesty and Resolution Report. If you are not sure how to proceed, your campus dean is available to offer advice.
This weekly teaching note is adapted from a Teaching Tip written by Dr. J Rees-Miller, and is used with permission.
Janie Rees-Miller, PhD
Professor, Modern Languages and Director, ESL