I realized that I was repeating comments and corrections while grading a recent two dimensional design assignment. The students were instructed to make four designs total incorporating and illustrating the concepts of imbalance, asymmetrical balance, axial balance, and radial balance. It occurred to me that while many students made designs that incorporated these concepts, a large number simply executed descriptive diagrams, i.e. they understood the concept but did not apply it to the design process. I've come to the conclusion that my assignment was not clear enough at outlining the desired outcome in the first place. The solution is to accept error as a call for correction and to immediately adapt the assignment sheet for subsequent classes. I also plan on reflection periods after each assignment even if they seem to go well. In this way I hope to continuously improve my assignments.
I have started keeping the original assignment document open while I grade. I make changes in the assignment as they naturally occur to me during the grading process. For example I kept writing comments in a margin on one part of the assignment sheet. I solved this problem by adding spacing for comments in the body of the document.
I've started giving my students five to ten minutes after group critiques to reflect ruminate and write about what was said, learned and experienced. Critiques always bring to mind many thoughts and ideas that tend to disappear into the ether of the mind. I'd like them to formulate and synthesize their thoughts so they are less likely to forget their impressions. I was surprised at how diligently they responded to my writing request which was purely for their own benefit and not for credit. Reading their reflections is also a way for me to continue to self-evaluate my teaching approach. In one course I had several students write that they would have like to have known how other students were solving technical issues that they themselves were having. This gave me the opportunity to encourage friendship, collaboration, and use of chat rooms for group problem solving and information sharing. I'm hoping that I can transition the virtual classroom space (currently Vspace @ SVSU) into a much more vital and useful platform.
I use the six hat thinking method created by Edward de Bono as a structure for critique in my art and design courses. Normally when I ask the class to put on their "red hats" I don't get much of a response. Today was different. The red hat is an emotional, gut instinct type response to a problem or thought; no rationale is required or given. I tell my students, "this is your chance to say things like, 'I hated this torture' and 'it took up too much time,' etc." After about 3 or 4 minutes of responses like, "I thought this was difficult" one student said, "I felt inadequate and unintelligent because it seemed like all the students in the class got it except me." The floodgates opened and many other students expressed similar feelings. It was great because 1. students had the opportunity to relieve their tension and anxiety, and 2. students realized (I hope) that their experience was more common than they realized; that they projected a false reality of group understanding around them. The immediate student response gives me the opportunity to address learning problems now instead of hearing about them during course evaluations long after the course is over. I also came to the conclusion that simply asking students if they understand a problem or if they have questions doesn't necessarily yield any results. Answering "no" to a "do you understand?" type question might be too difficult for a student to swallow. My assessment of student understanding was based on a fallacy, namely that students would self-report if they did not understand the course content. I plan on being more active in assessment of student knowledge, by asking them what they are doing to solve the problems and why they are using one strategy over another and so forth. My gut feeling (red hat at work again here...) is that I will both help knowledgeable students better articulate their thought processes as well as discover students who are having trouble with the course content.
The idea of starting this teaching journal occurred to me after reflecting upon a poor answer I gave during a job interview. The question was, "Can you please tell us how you address students who are having a difficult time learning in your class?" I couldn't think of a good answer. I've had plenty of students who struggled and overcame their difficulties with my help but I drew a serious blank. I thought about it for a while after the interview and still had no luck thinking of any specific anecdotal evidence of such an event. I ran into a former student and asked him what I did when he had trouble. Basically he told me two things, #1 I am persistent, and #2 the third way I explained a certain drawing problem was better than the first two.
The question and subsequent student interview made me realize the importance of self-awareness in my teaching practice. This week I became aware of a deficiency in my approach to teaching. Like so many of my weaknesses this deficiency has its origin in one of my greatest strengths: having my blinders on. I tend to be hyper-focused, diving deeply into subject matter that I'm teaching. I cultivate my interest by research, following each strand or clue to the next bit of information. I find the pursuit of knowledge fun, beautiful and exhilarating. This last week I taught a unit on balance describing radial symmetry, reflection symmetry, asymmetrical balance, and imbalance. The students were to make designs illustrating each of these concepts. I found an essay on symmetry from Architect Greg Lynn, who basically posits a theory that symmetry is a system based on a lack of information reproducing itself in mirror, similar to what happens in teratology (study of birth defects) - think two headed snake. I found this a fascinating idea especially because I have always taken the more common approach to bilateral symmetry, one that expresses beauty and good genetic reproduction. I employed these concepts in explaining bilateral symmetry to my students with diagrams, a PowerPoint presentation etc.. In my newfound zeal for considering bilateral symmetry from a greater depth I failed to adequately address the concept of radial symmetry, leading to assignments that were not done as well as they could have been. My hyper-focus on the details of one topic limited my ability to address the assignment in a holistic way. I'm hoping that my newfound awareness will make it less likely that I repeat my mistake.