Since faculty rarely attend each other’s classes, we seldom have the chance to see what works well in each other’s teaching. On November 5, Associate Dean Lisa Dorr hosted a Teaching Happy Hour at the Mellow Mushroom for informal discussion about best practices. The price of admission was simple: write down one of your best teaching tips on an index card.

What followed was an evening of conversation across disciplines and classrooms about creating better learning environments for UA students.

Here are the excellent tips submitted by the attendees:

“To get useful student evaluation feedback, explicitly ask for it.” —Jeremy Bailin, physics & astronomy

“The ‘crumple sort’: Have students write anonymous answers to a contentious question, crumple, then throw them around the room. Students read others’ responses and discuss.” —Jo Weaver, anthropology

“Don’t ask questions to which you know the only answer. Don’t over-prepare, ever.” —Nathan Loewen, religious studies

“Don’t over-mark papers. Pick two or three issues to focus on.” —Deborah Keene, Blount/geological sciences

“It’s okay if not everyone in a large class (or small) doesn’t love your instruction style. Hey, would you like everyone you met in a group of 100?! The important thing is if your students are learning. Be confident and flexible.” —Jessica Allen, psychology

“Passion is contagious.” —Ana Corbalon, MLC

“Patience. Focus on the problem. Resist the temptation to provide the answer. Maintain the dialogue.” —Ian Brown, anthropology

“Thicken the content.” —Trudier Harris, English

“Creativity counts.” —Robert Hayes, Dean’s Office/New College

“Make every demo into a prediction clicker question.” —Murray Silverstone, physics & astronomy

“Less is more (for students).” — Lisa Dorr, Dean’s Office

“[Use] index cards to assess student reading (i.e., list salient points and bring to class to spur discussion).” — John Miller, New College

“Cream rises to the top.” —G. S. Morgan, submitted by Harold Selesky, history

“Leave your ego at the classroom door.” —Julie Olson, biology

“Arrive 5 min. early (at least) to class.” —Rachel Stephens, art & art history

“Err on the side of kindness, but don’t be a pushover!” —Tanja Jones, art & art history

“The one-minute wrap up at the end of lecture is a good way to allow unexpected group discussion on a topic to continue. It is okay to sacrifice a lecture if students are engaged by the material.” —Hilary Green, gender and race/American studies

“Relax.” —Jeff Melton, American studies

“Start well on day 1 and week 1.” —Bill Worden, MLC

“Whom do you teach?” —Jimmy Mixson, history

“It is not the will to succeed that matters. Everyone has that. It is the will to prepare that matters.” —Bear Bryant, submitted by Jimmy Mixson, history

“Transparency (rubrics, rubrics, rubrics).” —Regina Range, MLC/German

“Less is more.” —Vaia Touna, religious studies

“Think about what you want your students to be able to do. Then plan your lesson/assignment backwards from there.” —Sarah Praskievicz, geography

“Crumple surveys! Don’t use clickers. Go low-tech. Ask a question and have students write the answer on a sheet of paper without their name. Then tell them to crumple it up and throw it to someone else. Then throw the one you catch. Have everyone open their paper balls and use the responses for discussion. It is low stakes and gets people literally moving.” —Lesley Reid, criminal justice

“To keep students engaged even when material is hard to grasp, keep switching between the difficult and the accessible so that students remain focused and have the right posture to cross over the threshold of difficulty.”

“Way back in 1977, Bob Nichols, a tough-as-nails, no-nonsense math teacher, who was beloved by his students told me, when I asked him if there was something he did everyday to get ready for class, he said, ‘Bill, the last thing I do before I go into any class is to check and make sure my zipper is up.’ I thought that was still pretty good advice, and now, almost 40 years later, still follow it!” —Bill Teague, mathematics

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