Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Teaching Tip: The Benefits of Student Journals

by Leslie Johnson 

Deborah Starczewski, a child development instructor at Onondaga Community College, promotes the use of reflective journals in the October 2016 issue of The Teaching Professor. She considers them to be “one of the most valuable and least time-consuming assignments” that her students complete.

Starczewski structures the assignment very simply:

  •  Every other week, she poses a question based on the theories, studies, and classroom activities.
  • Students craft a 2-3 paragraph personal response to the question and submit it via their course management system.
  • She emphasizes that there is no right or wrong answer but that correct grammar and complete sentences are necessary.
  • Journals are private, and the instructor only responds if a student requests feedback.
The most important aspect of Starczewski’s system is that the students don’t lose points if they don’t submit a journal. Instead, 5 points are added to their final grade for each response they submit. In that way, participation is voluntary, but she notes students that still choose to participate and actually tell her how much they enjoyed the assignment. For Starczewski, she not only learns what students are thinking—especially those reluctant to participate in class discussion—she also learns how well they understand and can apply the course material.

Moreover, she explains that while some students are initially resistant to the idea of journaling, many actually enjoy the ability to express their thoughts about what they have learned. “It provides a forum via which students can personally respond without fear of being challenged or ridiculed for their ideas,” Starczewski explains. “If we tell students we are interested in their ideas, thoughts, and viewpoints, then we need to not only listen to those who express them in class but also read the responses of those who write,” Starczewski says. 

If you would like to read more classroom ideas, stop by the CTE during open hours and read the current or past issues of The Teaching Professor.

Reference: Starczewski, D.L. (2016). Encouraging students to think beyond the course material: the benefits of using reflective journals. The Teaching Professor, 30(8), 5.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Helping Students Develop Self-Regulated Study Skills

by Leslie Johnson
We know that many students arrive at college with insufficient and ineffective study skills; often they believe that what got them through high school will also get them through college. The October 2016 issue of The Teaching Professor reported how an “authentic” study skills assignment actually helped first-year students improve exam scores.

Students in a first-year experience course were not only taught college-level learning strategies, they were also given an assignment to actually utilize the strategies for an upcoming exam in a course other than the first-year experience. Students created a study game plan that included several parts:

  • Meeting with the instructor about the exam.
  • Using reading review activities.
  • Active note-taking strategies.
  • Implementing their choice of appropriate exam study strategies.
  • Predicting their grade after taking the exam.
  • Reflecting on their preparation and performance after receiving their exam grade.
Study author, H. H. Steiner noted that students need to be provided with such opportunities for “deliberate practice,” actual application of the study skills taught in a way that is meaningful to them. “In order for a person to achieve mastery levels, practice of the skill in an authentic context is necessary,” Steiner writes.

The reflections that the students wrote indicated the effectiveness of an assignment requiring them to use their new study skills. While many were initially reluctant to change their study habits, most students reported an increase in their exam grades. Forty-five percent of the students saw their exam grades improve by one letter grade; another 26 percent saw smaller gains in their grades. The few who reported declines cited “personal circumstances” as interfering with their success. One student even called the project “the most eye opening project of my entire semester.” Importantly, many students noted plans for permanent changes in their exam preparation.

Steiner explained that the project could be easily adapted to any mandatory introductory course students must take or an early course in a major where students need to learn how to study for particular content.

If you would like to read more instructional ideas from the current or past issues of The Teaching Professor, stop by the Center for Teaching Excellence during our open hours. You can even enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while you read!

Reference: Steiner, H.H. (2016). The strategy project: Promoting self-regulated learning through an authentic assignment. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 28(2), 271-282.