Last week I wrote about the results of my website poll for junior professors. With 17 more votes cast, the results are the same. A whopping 43% of the responders chose “Teaching takes up so much time” as the hardest part of being a junior faculty member. Here are some more hints to help you spend less time on teaching preparation.
Work in Brief, Regular Sessions
As is the case with writing, regular, daily (or almost daily) work makes the prep time for class less overwhelming. You will find that your are less tempted to postpone preparation, and will avoid the professorial equivalent of “all nighters.”
If you fear that you will be less creative if you schedule your work, the result of Robert Boyce’s research on professors will comfort you. He found that professors who were “forced” (or a check signed by them would be sent to a hated organization) to write daily had on average twice as many creative ideas as those who were allowed to write according to their regular habits. (See “Professors as Writers.”)
Divide Class Time Into Smaller Segments
These segments could include
- a small recap of the last class
- a period of lecture followed by discussion of the central point you just presented
- another small period of lecture followed by
- small group discussion and debriefing of the groups and
- a brief review of salient issues along with time for questions.
Studies show that students are more involved and retain more when the class time is broken up and there are a variety of activities.
Each segment, obviously, will be short. Seven or eight minutes is enough for most lecture segments. Not only will your students get more out of each class, but your preparation time for such a class will be much less than if you lectured the whole time. Studies show that students are more involved and retain more when the class time is broken up and there are a variety of activities.
Use Examples and Vignettes
Even if the examples you give are obvious, they give the students’ brains a rest. Studies have shown the most students stop taking in information after the first ten minutes of a non-stop lecture. Of course, you could also ask your students to think of examples. Use of visual aids also allows the more verbal side of the brain to rest.
Get the Students Involved
I’m sure that you are all aware of the importance of having students participate – it wakes them up, deepens the learning, and allows time for the information to sink in. But for new and harried professors it’s not always easy to think up ideas. Here are a few extremely simple ones.
- Pose a question at the start of the class. Near the end of the class, ask them to take a minute to write down the answer.
- Use what Peter Filene calls “Think—Pair—Share.” (See Book of the Week section in this newsletter for his book.) After they write their answers, ask them to discuss the answers with a partner, and then share with the class.
- As you pause to cover your second main point (and this should probably be your last main point) ask the class to take a minute or so to write down what the main point has been thus far.
- Remember the value of pauses. Filene quotes a study that showed that students who listened to a professor who paused for three two-minute periods in his lecture scored two letter grades higher after two weeks than the students who listened to the same lecture without pauses.
I will now pause, to let you digest this information, and to give your brain a rest.
© Gina Hiatt, PhD.
Gina is a dissertation and tenure coach. She helps academics, from grad students wondering about their dissertation topic to faculty members who want to maintain a high level of research and writing, to reach their goals more quickly and less painfully.