Graphic of person behind podium drawn in chalkLiz Homan is a doctoral candidate in the Joint Program in English and Education at The University of Michigan. This post is adapted from one she posted on her own blog in October 2013. You can find her on Twitter at @lizhoman or on her blog, Gone Digital.

Whether you teach in the STEM fields, train nurses or teachers, or lead great minds to make great arguments in an academic writing course, you’ve likely had moments when you’ve felt your teaching could use a fresh idea, a new approach, a facelift. As a former middle and high school teacher who has now taught multiple writing and teacher education courses at the post-secondary level, I know the feeling well. It usually sneaks up on me mid-semester, in that slump that occurs right about now, as winter is bearing down on us and midterms threaten to overtake the sanity of professors, graduate students, and undergraduates alike.

But fear not – the mid-semester slump can be conquered! Here at GradHacker, we talk often about how to integrate digital and other tools into your teaching—from innovative ways to integrate blogs to teaching with music, we’ve offered up a number of ways for teachers across disciplines to reimagine their approach to instruction. Here, I want to focus on the little things. The really tiny things you can do tomorrow! to reinvent your course and keep the mid-semester slump at bay.

  1. An icebreaker. No longer must these be relegated to the first day, when everyone expects them. No longer must these be (let’s face it, futile) attempts to get everyone to learn names. Tie your icebreaker to course content! My favorite is a “four corners” exercise where students strongly agree/agree/disagree/strongly disagree with a number of value statements tied to our course content (in my case this semester, professional writing). These get people moving around and discussing their opinions with one another.
  2. A social media feed. Choose a platform, create an account, invite your students, post interesting and relevant content. Many of us are tapped into the relevant social media feeds of our fields—why not share academic resources and content from our disciplines with the students we hope to inspire in those disciplines? Post one link per week to keep your students thinking about _____ (organic chemistry, underwater basketweaving, gender and politics, international law….).
  3. A jigsaw activity. Jigsaw activities require students to become the experts, and then share their newfound expertise with their classmates. Here’s a description of the jigsaw approach, which I’ll often turn to when I feel like I have a lot of content I want to cover but I’m struggling to find the time in my syllabus.
  4. A bit of modeling. Is there something your students just aren’t getting? Some process or skill that they’re really struggling to master? Take it from a teacher—modeling the process can work miracles! This teaching strategy can take some practice, but modeling basically involves thinking aloud through the process as you perform it for your students. Watching an expert walk through the thinking and doing process helps students see how they should think and do.
  5. A field trip! Who doesn’t love a field trip?! Remember when you were a kid and you couldn’t sleep the night before a field trip? While your undergrads might not hoot and holler with glee upon your announcement of a class field trip to the graduate library or the planetarium, mixing up the location of class with a visit to a campus site that is relevant to the course content can spark both interest and discussion.

If you can feel the mid-semester slump coming on in the quiet eyes of the tired undergraduates as they file into your classroom, consider one of these really tiny things that you could do tomorrow as a way to pique your students’ interest or help them connect with the course content.

What really tiny things have you done to help you reinvent your teaching mid-stride?

[Image by used and adapted under creative commons licensing.]


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