Sunday, April 17, 2016

Skateboarding is not a crime.

This phrase was taught to me when I was in teacher training at the University of Iowa. The workshop leader meant that if students want to skateboard through college, that's their right. I've held on to that idea ever since, and it prevents me from getting too frustrated over students who aren't reading, aren't studying, and are writing their papers at the last minute.
Nick Robson catches some air
If this is how someone wants to spend their college years, I think that's their choice. A poor choice and a wasted opportunity, but a choice. 

But what I've been wondering lately is whether I should be less accepting of this attitude. What if students "skateboard" because they feel their success doesn't matter to anyone, and I could be the person it matters to? What if they just need some encouragement?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Flipping the Library

It isn't uncommon to change a course schedule to adapt to student needs. But sometimes it leads to surprising results.

Composition II at my institution focuses on research skills. When I'm teaching the unit on secondary sources, I usually don't take time to introduce the library--the library is supposed to be covered in Composition I.  The preparation level of our students has changed in recent years, however, leading to more first-semester students who already have credit for Composition I from elsewhere and hence have no library experience. I realized on the first day of the unit, as I was demonstrating the library databases, that they needed help finding books and navigating the library. So, I added a library day. 

Students began by completing a "pre-search" worksheet asking for basic information about their proposed topic for the research paper, some contextual information, keywords that could be used in a search, and the call number and title of a possible source. All the students had to do for that Wednesday was find me on the library's first floor, show me the completed worksheet, find the book, and then show me the book. 

Somehow I expected I would have a lot of time to myself, that they would find the book and be done with it, and that the day was really about them having more time to gather research. It turned out differently. I only had brief periods to myself. Some students needed help understanding the overall paper assignment. Some didn't have their worksheet completed. Others were prepared but needed help understanding call numbers, figuring out where the books were shelved, or locating the circulation desk. 

Simple as it was, the day was very useful and revealed areas where students had misunderstandings. In retrospect, I realize that this was a flipped class. Walking through the library and finding books are usually out-of-class tasks. Having them complete the activity during class time ensured, first, that they did it and, second, provided them with valuable guidance.