Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How to Read Your Professor

Before teaching my Spanish & Entrepreneurship course yesterday, I went on-line to see what kind of grades my students got on their first quiz and to read their reflective essays.

I was surprised to see that several students hadn't taken the quiz or written their reflection. Furthermore, while some students had written really great reflections--really great--others had missed the mark. Some hadn't written the minimum of 250 words. Some hadn't used specific examples to prove their points. Some didn't really make much of a point beyond the obvious.

I know that all of my students are smart. My students amaze me all the time, so that's one thing that I'm sure of. I also know that these students know how to write reflections because they had to do it in their previous Spanish community service learning course.

So what happened?

  • I didn't stand in front of the class and say, "Y para el martes tienen que tomar la primera prueba in Compass." "For Tuesday you have to take the first Compass quiz."
  • I didn't stand in front of them and say, "Y las reglas para las reflexiones son un poco diferentes para esta clase que para SPAN 232." "The rules for this class's reflective essays are a little different than SPAN 232's rules."
  • But I did say this to them in our first class meetings: "No les voy a decir qué hacer para esta clase; está todo escrito." "I'm not going to tell you what to do for this class; it's all written down."
But while many people may say that, they end up sending reminders. Shouting out next week's assignment as students pack their backpacks. Allowing students to "steal" the first five minutes of class with questions that are answered in the syllabus. It's just that no one reads the syllabus because they quickly realize they don't have to: Profe will tell us if we just ask.

So, again, instead of telling them what to do, I said this:

Open up your syllabus and read the section on reflective essays and the grading rubric.

Then I handed them the reflective essays that they had turned in and asked them to give themselves a grade according to the information and rubric in the syllabus.

Finally, I concluded the class by raising an important point. "Successful entrepreneurs," I said, "are good at reading people. Successful students are good at reading their professors. What kind of professor do you think I am? What do you think I want from my students?" They got the point. Then I asked, "What specific messages have I given off that let you know what I expect from students?" Answers:
  • You tell people who arrive late not to do it again. In front of everybody.
  • Your very first e-mail to us had a lot of information that we were supposed to read and instructions for us to follow.
  • I added: the very first line of the very first message I wrote said, "If you don't have the prereqs for this course, you might as well stop reading right now and drop the course."

If a student was "reading me" she/he should get that I am serious, direct, and expect students to read and follow instructions on their own. I am other things as well (at least I think I am encouraging, engaged, interested in my students as people, etc.), but I was giving very clear messages about my expectations and my teaching style even before I met my students.

My students may not have appreciated being put through these passes. (Students: leave a comment--anonymously--if you want to say whether you hated or appreciated the activity!) But I think it just may have been one of the most important "lessons" about entrepreneurship that I will give them this whole semester. Not because I am important. Because being a good "people-reader" can get you far.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this post Ann!!! A LOT!!

    It is VERY important for students to "read" their Professors, and many fail to do so. I think we can count on the 80/20 figure to say 80% of questions by email throughout a semester come from that 20% of students who did not pay attention in class, did not "read" us the first day, or did not even read (literally) the class syllabus.

    I also think we need to "read" our students beyond their apparent performance in class. One thing I always try to "read" from them is: is that student shy and not just "asocial" or "lazy" when talking in front of the class? If so, I try to convey means in which those students feel comfortable enough to speak in small circles and later in front of the whole class.

    Every semester I like asking students on the first class in a week about their weekend adventures. Some might think it is because I am gossipy (some people go into details which could be spared...), but it is mainly to give those shy students the opportunity to talk about something trivial in Spanish the very first minutes in class, seeing how others reply to me as well informally...and then hopefully they'll get that initial push into the mood of more active participation throughout the class.