At my new school, University of South Carolina Upstate, the fourth week of classes is underway. For those readers familiar with semesters, you know what’s coming very soon–the first test. As the professor to my students, my responsibility at this time is to get them ready for the fast approaching first test.
Why the fifth week? In a 15 week semester, the fifth week is 1/3 of the way through. One traditional organization for an undergraduate course is to have three tests (1/3, 2/3 and final) and some projects and/or papers. If I am both traditional and on track, then it’s almost time.
First, some context. In American higher education, especially in business, a time honored approach is to have professors lecture on course content. Homework is assigned for students to work on outside of class. The homework often is designed to help students upload content from lecture notes (and textbook) into their working memory and to give students a few simple opportunities to learn application. Research has shown this to be ineffective.
My classes are flipped. I’ve written out my traditional lectures, augmented them a bit, and sent them out for students to study outside of class. During class time my students are engaged with the material so as to learn it deeply and to apply it. My classes are very engaged (at least compared to many other professors), and I focus on application (doing something with the material).
I interact with students throughout class. We work on a homework problem as a group of the whole (often with students presenting their work). Then I have students (individually or small groups) work on either a similar problem or an extension. As they work, I’m walking around, looking over each student’s shoulder. I can affirm their work (very, very important) and answer questions to help students learn on the spot. Consequently, I already have a rough idea how students are doing.
A test, however, puts pressure on students to have to complete their study. Studying for a test forces a student to work on transferring the material from working memory to a deeper recess that has the potential of being recalled and used over the longer run. It hardens a student’s skill. Without a test in my classes, student learning is like an unfinished project.
One of my responsibilities is to help students mentally prepare for the next week. I have always thought that I should help motivate students. And why not? I’m their coach and mentor. If students don’t get encouragement from me, then from where do they get it?
In my classes yesterday, I made three important statements. First, I expect perfect or very nearly perfect work on the test, and only such work earns the grade of A. Earning an A requires true mastery of the material. Second, my tests can be aced or flunked. Moreover, I think all the students are smart enough to ace the test. And that takes time for intent, planning and then study. Third, despite complicated, busy lives and difficult times, I wanted each to get an A. Not only can each student get an A, they should get an A if only they will. I’m there to cheer them on to victory.
So, what’s next. My students have much to do during the next week. Many work and have families. In other words, they have life responsibilities. During idle moments, they must resist the temptations of relaxation and distraction. And, many have other courses, each with a test to study for. Somehow, they are going to have to summon the will to want to do it.
Despite all the pressures and stress, I’m confident that many of my students will find the time and motivation needed to finish learning the material and the life management skill needed to show up next week and ace the test.
by David Albrecht