What Matters: Five Tips for Fostering Learning in the Classroom – Student Voices

treeKaren Spencer, Professor of Speech Communication and Education at Arizona Western College, recently asked her students to write a few summary comments at the end of one of her classes. She found several themes running through their comments, themes she distilled for the Teaching Professor Newsletter into five pieces of advice to foster student learning. None of these “Tips” are new; what makes them interesting is that they are student-generated.

  1. Build a community of learners. Professor Spencer’s students mentioned the word “family” in their comments. A sense of classroom community rarely develops without some orchestration from the faculty member. Some strategies for creating community are obvious – learn and use students’ names, involve students in group projects. But the thing that makes family functional is mutual respect. What does respect look like in your classroom, not just your respect for students and theirs for you, but their respect for each other? How do you help students differentiate between tolerance and respect?
  2. Make learning relevant. Early in the semester Spencer’s students write a course-related goal they want to achieve and then create a plan of action to realize that goal. Course assignments give students opportunities to work through their action plan and, ultimately, reach their goal. One student wrote “What I really loved is that we were talking about our goals in our speeches, stuff that actually mattered to us. It made us want to listen to each other ….” Other ideas for making learning relevant: incorporate a Service Learning assignment; arrange a field trip to a museum, historic site, or any off-campus location where students can experience course content in a different context.
  3. Let students know you care about them. This comes quite naturally to some, not so much for others. It’s not that you don’t care about your students; the challenge comes in how to authentically demonstrate that attitude. Here are some ideas (and we bet you’re already doing these!). Learn and use students’ names. Inject quick statements of affirmation into exchanges with students: “That’s an interesting insight John because ….” or “Terrific question Ellen; hang onto it until we get to … and ask it again” or “That’s a good question, one that I’ll bet several others have.” Know about Macomb’s resources and point students to those resources. For example, in the first or second class meeting, mention Student Life and Leadership, Tutoring Services, and the Food for Thought Student Food Pantry.
  4. Incorporate active involvement for all students, along with high expectations. “The one who does the work does the learning” Terry Doyle told us at a recent Faculty Development Day. This is a core concept of learner-centered teaching. By the way, the converse is true: the more work we as faculty members do, the more we diminish students’ learning. But what if your instructional strategy is primarily lecture … how can THAT be active? We’re glad you asked! Here are some ideas: Use visuals to illustrate your lecture points; after 15 minutes of lecture, involve the class in a brief and relevant class activity such as think-pair-share, or a Classroom Assessment Technique such as the one- minute paper or one-sentence summary.
  5. Make learning fun. “If you love what you do and think that it matters, what could be more fun!” writes Spencer. This fifth tip is the culmination of the previous four. When students are (1) part of a community of learners, (2) when they see the relevance of what they are learning to their own goals, (3) when students know that their professors are invested in their success, and (4) when they have to work to learn, the rigorous experiences you create for them make learning fun.

So here’s a parting question: how do Spencer’s Tips translate to online classes?

By the way, if you are a Macomb Community College employee and want to subscribe to this terrific newsletter, send an e-mail to Deborah Armstrong (armstrongde@macomb.edu).

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