If you’ve taught for any length of time, you’ve likely expressed things that you wish your students could do, and if so, undoubtedly expressed them in frustration. While no amount of rubbing will make a teaching-wish genie ascend from that bottle of Frappucino on your desk, there is something you can do to increase the likelihood of your teaching wishes being granted. In a previous post, I outline the process for transforming teaching wishes into learning outcomes for your students and possibly teaching outcomes for yourself.* This process is an instructor-centered one, one that you may complete in the solitary confines of your office or possibly during an informal session with some of your colleagues. Either way, the process outlined in my previous post does not include a student role. So in keeping with the theme of this blog (the reciprocity of teacher and student roles in the classroom), let’s consider how you can give your students a role in this process of transforming your teaching wishes into outcomes.
Let’s transform this into a student-centered process!
On the first day of class, ask your students to list the academic skills and practices they wish they had or expect to gain in your class. Tip: If you plan to implement a healthy amount of group work during the semester, this gives you a great opportunity to set that active and collaborative tone for your class, thereby minimizing later resistance to such teaching methods (speaking from personal experience here). Next, identify the learning goals and outcomes you (or your department) have already established that speak to the students’ own wishes. If there are none. . .rejoice! You’ve learned something! Your students have wishes different from yours (or your department’s), so now you can tailor additional outcomes to needs they perceive for themselves. Work through this process with one or two common and course-appropriate student wishes as a way to add student-generated outcomes to your course.
As a result of engaging in this activity, you should have one or two (maybe three) outcomes in which students feel especially invested (relevance! relevance! relevance!), which will lead to better student engagement and learning but will also lead to a particularly insightful assessment and course evaluation scenario for you. You will also learn the limits of your (or your department’s) perspective and will gain a context for creating teaching outcomes for yourself.
Speaking of teaching outcomes. . .
Include yourself in this exercise. Ask students what they wish about you as their instructor and about the class.** Narrow the list to wishes that are appropriate and reasonable and to a reasonable number, and then work through the wish-to-outcome process again. If time is limited, do so with a wish that you know could quickly be transformed into a teaching outcome. Complete the process for the remainder of the list on your own or during the next class, either as a whole- or small-group assignment. If you complete the list all or in part on your own, then be sure to share your developed outcomes and how you plan to achieve them with your students. If time permits, however, I strongly encourage completing the process for at least one of the student wishes in class, and here’s why. . .
Many, many articles and blog posts tout the value of asking our students what they want and expect from us and our courses. This value is that our students perceive our care and concern for them as learners and individuals and may recognize our own desire to be better teachers. However, the value of this feedback is limited if we do not include students to some degree in the plan to grant their wishes. Once we ask students for such feedback, they recognize that their desires and expectations are important to us. Yet we inadvertently create a perspective of insincerity when we take control of them, thus causing our students to think we’ve forgotten about their wishes or find them insignificant. This happens when we tackle our students’ wishes alone in our offices and neglect to share our plan for fulfilling them. In doing so, we’ve turned what began as a student-centered activity into an instructor-centered one and, if we fail to share our plan, we’ve rendered a sincere gesture of concern insincere lip-service. Giving our students a role in the wish-to-outcome process not only establishes trust but also gives them an opportunity to unpack and discuss their wishes. To be sure, some awesome mind moves happen when students mentally whittle something into a fine point! What better way to practice this type of thinking than with ideas important and relevant to and generated by our students?
So now that you’ve decided to let your students help transform their wishes for you and the course into outcomes (will you permit me this assumption?), consider strongly implementing this activity as a small-group assignment. It may take an entire class period, but the benefits are worth it: immediate student-to-student interaction, active and collaborative tone set for the semester, and insightful results and discussion. To do this, give one wish to each group. Since you’ve already chosen the most common and appropriate wishes, you should have just a few. Depending on the size of your class, more than one group might be assigned the same wish, but this situation will only add to the value of this activity. For, regarding the latter benefit listed above, the various ways a single wish might be interpreted into an outcome will certainly be insightful and, time permitting, will bear quite fruitful class discussion.
I hope you can find room in the first day or two of your classes to build learning and teaching outcomes with your students. This activity can be a part of your course introduction on the first day, or, if you can spare an additional day, it would be a perfect follow up to your first-day discussion of your syllabus and course. If you absolutely cannot spare this time, consider doing this activity as a midsemester “check-up” to determine adjustments that need to be made to ensure the success of your teaching and your students’ learning. It can be done in place of or in conjunction with the midsemester evaluation.
I’m all for involving students as much as possible in the business of teaching. Including students in tasks that directly impact them but that we usually tackle on our own is such a valuable pedagogical change to embrace. But, yes, it is time-consuming. So if you’re interesting in beginning to blur that line between you and your students, to make your roles a bit more shared or reciprocal, then giving your students a role in developing their learning and your teaching outcomes–even just one–is a really effective place to start. For it sets a tone of mutual respect and establishes a mutually relevant foundation for teaching and learning.
What do you think? If you’ve done this, please share your experience!
*Being required to use departmental outcomes may limit this process some, but it doesn’t have to eliminate it. Indeed, your teaching wishes may not align with your departmentally-set course outcomes, so you may find room to create more, even if they must be unofficial outcomes.
**Here is an article that includes an excellent strategy (First-Day Graffiti) for getting this kind of feedback from students. Of course the questions can be changed to suit your needs.