Instructional Methods

Teaching has been an exciting adventure for me. When I first entered the classroom, my undefined teaching philosophy centered on engaging my students in fun, interactive activities to improve their writing skills—and I succeeded. But as I began learning more about literary writing and teaching, I felt my philosophy shifting. I became determined to fill my students’ heads with as much useful information as possible. In some ways that shift was important because I needed to figure out how to use class time more effectively; but the harder I tried, the more it seemed like I had reduced excitement about learning without increasing learning. It was a classic case of moving from not knowing I knew nothing (unconscious incompetence) to knowing I knew nothing (conscious incompetence). By my third year, I was more relaxed and my students were opening up. I was moving toward conscious competence: I knew more and I could apply what I knew. I was having success with my students, giving them enjoyable and productive learning experiences. Now, halfway through my seventh year of teaching, I’m much closer to unconscious competence—being effective without overthinking every move—and my students are benefiting. I look forward to continuing this adventure, constantly learning new techniques and concepts and consistently using a variety of instructional methods to ensure coverage of all areas of cognitive learning.

Traditional Lectures: Often, the main thing students need is information presented clearly.

  • Here is a video recording of a traditional lecture I have given to explain one of the Canons of Rhetoric: Style.
  • This powerpoint presentation demonstrates how I have used the 4Mat Model to design a lecture on Logical Fallacies for a 3-hour class. Although the lecture begins with a clear explanation of what logical fallacies are (traditional), it quickly moves into activities that will help students to assimilate the information.

Linked Courses: In an effort to use the acclaimed Writing Across the Curriculum strategy, I worked with another professor to link my English Composition with her Introduction to Psychology. We had the same cohort of students, so we were able to choose a theme (disabilities) that lent itself to service-learning. I used the theme to teach writing concepts and she to teach psychology; we shared the volunteer activity, which was engaging the students in building relationships with mentally disabled adults.

In-Class Discussion: Student engagement with the material can often be accomplished via discussion. The secret to productive discussion is, first, to ensure that the students have read the material, which I accomplish by assigning reading responses (view sample assignment here, and sample response here) or by administering quizzes; and, second, to ask questions that build from understanding to evaluating per Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Student-led Lessons: When students are given the opportunity to teach new material, they are more likely to remember the concepts. For this reason, I will occasionally give assignments that require students to present material. View sample PPT presentation here.

Low-stakes Writing Assignments: If every writing assignment is for evaluation, students could miss out on the value of writing for discovery. To reduce their fear of performance, I often have students write in class—either practicing a structure or form of writing or simply freewriting to explore ideas—knowing they will not have to submit it for a grade. A wonderful example of how this has been effective comes from one of my students who did a freewriting assignment that prompted him to process what his own biases were about the marginalized group of people he was researching—veterans, a group he happened to be a part of. This email message he sent to me afterward demonstrates that the low-stakes writing assignment freed him to process his interaction with his project in a new way.

Games: Although gamification is still a relatively new concept for higher education, I have seen how effective it can be when used carefully. Besides enhancing enjoyment of the class, the interactive and competitive nature of a game can help some students to better apply the material. For example, I created a game for teaching documentation. Teams of two players are given whiteboards, dry-erase markers, and sample source material; then I display questions that prompt them to use their style guides to write various citations. Teams earn points for speed and accuracy.

Technology: Sprinkling technology into lectures and other classroom activities not only increases interest but can provide supplementary information. Some of the tools I regularly use are:

  • Powerpoint presentations
  • Videos (documentaries, shorts, humorous clips, educational videos made by myself, other professors, or organizations, etc.)
  • Plickers
  • Pollseverywhere.com
  • Google docs
  • Twitter
  • Podcasts
  • Kahoot

Creative Responses: Critical thinking requires the use of all parts of the brain, including our creativity; therefore I occasionally have students respond to course material creatively. For example, after reading “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and discussing how it makes us think about human life, my students work in groups to respond creatively. View the assignment here and a sample response here.

Collaborative Work: Most of the group work I assign happens in class and is not for a grade. Although it is important for them to practice working with others and to maximize their efforts by using a variety of strengths, I do not like to create scenarios where students are either doing the work for others or allowing others to do their work for them. (See sample peer critique form for an example of how collaboration might look in a class.)

Other: I have designed an entire service-learning course for others also to use (available in Canvas Commons), including syllabus, assignments, and lecture notes.