Using Senior Capstone Courses to Increase the Professionalization of Students

Male student in cap and gown, searching for jobsIn last week’s post,  I discussed how I met individually with each advisee and asked them approximately 250 questions. These questions focused on three broad career topics: types of jobs that sociology majors often accepted after graduating; types of people they would be interacting with while on the job; and types of working conditions (e.g., 24/7 on call; working from one’s car; an office job; etc.). The student had to respond “yes” or “no” or “maybe” to each question.

In this post, I want to describe how I constructed our major’s required senior capstone course. The first day we spent doing that same exercise I did with advisees because it was a springboard for the rest of the course. I altered it slightly so that I was not recording each student’s answers, but the student was. Then we had a class discussion about trends they saw in their own data and any surprises they saw. There were always surprises; there were some jobs that students did not know about and so I offered a description. Many were surprised to discover new jobs which interested them.

I constructed the capstone course around three broad themes: 1) each student would create a job search plan; 2) each student would create a plan for how to select a graduate school and graduate program and how best to apply; and 3) each student would spend time doing a self reflection about their life goals, how sociological skills supported those life goals, and how their financial and personal contexts would shape their future. These were broad themes and there were many smaller assignments which bolstered them.

Creation of a Job Search Plan

Laptop screen visible, showing the words "Job Search" and a search bar. Two hands ready to type also visible.Based on the jobs that students said “Yes” to on the first day of class, each student had to find a current ad for a job vacancy, in the city the student chose to live in post-graduation, for which the student was eligible and qualified. That job opening had to be approved by me (primarily for screening that it was a job a new graduate likely could land).

The first small assignment required students to create two resumes, using different styles we covered in class. They first submitted these as drafts and received my feedback and then finalized the two resumes as “resume templates.” Then the student had to apply for the job—that is to say, the student wrote a cover letter to the possible employer, tweaked one of the two template resumes to fit with this particular job—and submitted these for feedback and a grade. Then students used an Excel spreadsheet which I had created to analyze the city where they wanted to live. They had to find at least ten organizations which they could possibly join in order to professionally network and develop their skills. They had to find the goals of these organizations, a URL, and how often they met.

Diverse group of young professionals talkingSome examples were: Young Professionals organizations, specific career groups such as the local Social Workers association, or groups like Toastmasters, which could help them improve on a skill needed on the job. They also listed business and personal contacts they already might have in the city and had to analyze the strength of each of these social ties (i.e., “my current boss’ former boss of 12 year” is not a strong tie in helping to land a job). Another week students had to draft a letter to these social ties, explaining who they are, what kind of jobs they are seeking and why, etc. We talked at length about courtesy norms, how not to overly burden such individuals, etc., and I looked for those nuances in their letters

Creation of a Plan for Graduate School

The planning spanned the entire semester, again with several assignments due along the way. While obviously, not all students will choose graduate school (either immediately or eventually), but many did. In our sociology program, most students who did go on to graduate school chose social work or marriage and family therapy degree programs; fewer chose sociology degree programs. All students were required to do these assignments, in case later on in their career, they might choose graduate school. In the first week of class, they had to select a degree program and a school to use for the rest of the assignments and I had to approve (I nearly always did unless the whole class was applying to the same school/program, then we found similar programs elsewhere). Students had to download or screen capture the application and complete it. Since many but not all graduate programs required a goal statement and a writing sample, I required these from all students, in order to make the workload fair. The writing sample was to be a paper they had written in a college course that they felt showed their best analytical skills—but they could improve the paper from when they turned it in for a grade. We talked at length about how to self-edit the paper, using the professor’s comments. Some semesters we took a day and traded papers for peer review.

Another part of the requirement was that students had to create a list of potential academic references and to draft a short email they might send to those references. We spent time in class going over some “less than positive” ways to write such an email. The class came up with a template of best practices to use to ask former professors for this favor, such as reminding them of courses taken with them, grades received, and if they also were an advisee, etc. All of this was submitted as one application to me.

Plan for Self-Reflection: The Personal Is Professional

Students completed a self-assessment (graded done/not done) during the first week of class. They wrote about their strengths and weaknesses (personal and sociological). I would compare their sociological strengths from this assignment and what was listed on their draft resumes. Many would forget completely to highlight them! The self-assessments also asked about their work personality and some questions about their finances (student debt, if they were contributing support to other family members, did they have a monthly budget and if so, what was it, etc.). I kept this self-assessment completely confidential but I used it to guide discussion topics.

Sign on graduation cap: "Game of Loans"By the second time that I taught the course, one social fact surprised me—about 10% of my students had already declared bankruptcy. That worried me, and so in later terms, I made time for a one week module where we talked about “financial health.” I asked a speaker from the Financial Aid office to come talk about student loans and the legal ways to reduce their debt load, etc. The class and I spent a lot of time on the University of Georgia’s Peer Financial Counseling Program’s website (unfortunately this is no longer being updated). I have found that their downloadable resources were useful to students. During this week, students anonymously turned in financial questions they had. We spent the last day of this week finding answers. Some of their questions were, “What is a FICO score?,” “How do I start investing in retirement?,” and there were lots of questions about Social Security and its financial stability when they would retire.

Many students felt they were not strong interviewees, so I created a “mock interview for a job” assessment and had the Career Opportunities staff take the status of employer and give students feedback. Students felt they were “too brutally honest” but also told me they learned a lot about their “bad habits.”

All these out-of-class assignments were buttressed by sociological conversations in class. Students mapped our program and groups brainstormed concepts and theories they found useful from each class. They also mapped how they wished the program was and explained why. That helped students to see that yes, they had learned skills like statistical analysis, etc., that could become part of their resumes. We talked about the role transition from undergraduate to employee or from undergraduate to graduate student and what kinds of challenges they might experience during these transitions. We studied research on how to analyze their new work culture, and why seeing their new job as a site for “sociological analysis” might help their transition.

While there was an assignment due every week of the term, students stated that only after this class, did they feel ready to search for a job, know how to “read” the work culture of their new job, know how to negotiate for more salary (and when not to), understand how to figure out what graduate degrees they could attain, and how to think about their strengths and weaknesses effectively. They thanked me for pushing them academically—and pushing them to succeed in this next part of their journey.

Black text on white paper; "Its really" typed. Red pencil has circled "Its" as a grammar error.One more thing about the course. I showed students data which says that even one misspelling can mean that their resumes would be tossed. Each student received 100 writing and grammar points at the start of the semester. So I instituted this policy: for every writing error a student made, one point was deducted from the 100 points. We talked about how to use grammar and spelling checkers, etc., if they thought this was a weakness of theirs. Again, while this policy didn’t always make them happy in the moment, all stated that they appreciated it by the end of the term.

I recognize that this is but one way to help students realize the professional skills they have learned during their degree program. So readers, how do you socialize students into your profession?

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.

Helping Students Transition to the Labor Market

One learning outcome of many degree programs is to ensure that graduating students have the skills (hard and soft) needed for successful entry into the labor market, preferably using their degrees. One problem though, especially for majors like sociology, is that there are potentially hundreds if not thousands of entry-level jobs related to the major. Many juniors and seniors, though, consider only a narrow range of job possibilities (for example, many sociology students who want to “help” think they are limited to jobs at the Department of Family and Children’s Services). It is up to faculty and advisors to help them to see a much broader expanse of job and career options.

I want to talk about how, acting in my role as faculty advisor, I engaged with students, allowing them to consider over 100 jobs, types of people they could encounter in those jobs, and work environments—thereby giving them the possibility of matching their personal skill set, their sociological imagination, and the entry-level labor market. In a later post, I will expand on this and discuss how converted this exercise into a set of class activities when I taught our senior capstone course that largely was focused on sociological professionalization.

I had an advising load of from 25-40 students, nearly all of them were of junior or senior standing. I would invite each one individually to join me at Starbucks for some “coffee and career talk” during the last semester of their junior year or early in their senior year. We’d get coffee and a table for two. I’d ask them to put everything away and told them that I was there to ask questions and to write down their replies. I pulled out a notepad and divided it into three columns: “Yes the student could see self doing that job or working in that environment or working with that type of person;” or “Maybe I could see myself doing that/working there/working with that type of person;” or “No, I don’t think I could do that/work there/work with that type of person.” I promised the student that I would not judge their answers because these were deeply personal questions. I gave an example about how I could see myself teaching high school students but there is no way that I would ever teach middle grades (I feel it would be teaching more hormones than humans!). I did ask that they make quick decisions, because I have found their first response tended to be the more honest/less “think well of me, Dr. Lowney” kind of answers.

I would start by asking them about jobs that our graduates frequently took right out of college, such as domestic violence worker, sexual assault case worker, college admissions recruiter, police officer, pharmaceutical representative, social change activist, social media specialist, probation officer, gerontologist at senior center, etc. This list helped to break through their narrow list of possible jobs. Then I would ask about types of people they wanted to work with (e.g., persons with disabilities, well seniors, kids with cancer, adult learners, migrant workers, persons in jail/prison, etc.). I would end with some specific working environments that many of our program’s recent graduates had experienced.

Here is an example of what my notes for the student might look like:

Question Type

Yes Maybe

No

Type of Person Abused kids Kids involved in delinquency Sick kids
Domestic violence victims Domestic violence perpetrators Hospice patients
Job Title Crisis social worker Social worker in juvenile court system Case worker at hospital or specialty hospital
College admissions recruiter Pharmaceutical representative Statistician
Type of Working Environment 8AM-5PM office job Use own car regularly as part of job (e.g., intensive parole) Be tied to beeper on 2 weekends/month or called out 24/7 every other week
Primarily due with paperwork, not people Working in team Almost all dealing with people in crisis

Many students would be in shock by the end of our talk. When they sat down with me, they could barely think of 5 jobs that were real possibilities for their “next step.” An hour later, they left with a list of over 100 jobs and how they felt about them. Most students had about 60-70 jobs on the “yes” or “maybe” categories—which meant they had many more possibilities. And it wasn’t just the student who felt better; I had many parents send me “thank you e-mails” for taking time to do this with their child.

Faculty in our role as advisor, working with professional advisors, need to be able to share with students a wealth of career possibilities. Even with the same degree, our students have different personalities, different ways of being in the world, with different skills, so knowing the types of jobs a taciturn student might do well in versus a more out-going student, skilled at working in groups, and so on, have become a part of our faculty duties.

But knowing types of jobs students might want to apply for is not enough. Too few understand how to create a job search plan or understand all the steps needed to apply to graduate school. College staff—professional advisors, career counselors, and faculty—need to create opportunities for students to practice these professional skills before they must use them after graduation. In next week’s blog post, I’ll share how I constructed a senior capstone course centered around building these professionalization skills.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.

Editing Your First Draft: Tips Designed To Help Your Writing

grid journal with fountain pen on white close-up

Are you like me? After doing my “starting to write” ritual, I often enter into what I call a “flow moment.” Words seem to pour out of me, often leading to paths I hadn’t even consciously planned. Sometimes I can barely type fast enough to keep up with my brain’s output. All is good, in fact, often it is great!

But (there’s always a ‘but,’ isn’t there?) when I reread what I’ve written, be it the next day or the next week or the next month, it happens. You know, the crash, where those same words now seem awkward, not well-chosen, even horrible. I wonder, “How could I have ever thought this was good writing?”

That emotional roller-coaster is part and parcel of the writing process for most of us. What matters though, is how we process those low moments. Do we succumb to them, leading to procrastination or worse yet, abandoning the writing project totally? Or can we find healthy, productive ways to sift through our own words, so that our writing project comes to fruition? So let’s talk about some ways to edit your own writing.

Learn How to Work Around Your Issues

There are certain words that I consistently misspell when I am in the flow of writing. Individual becomes (inddividual) and sentence (sentnece)—those are just 2 of my common typos. When I would see them misspelled, it would irk me. So I began to use the “autocorrect” feature in Word. Now, even if I mistyped them, when I go to edit, they have been already fixed for me. For me, that helps my editing mood.

Consider using autocorrect for other tasks too, such as a text expander. When I wrote my book about television talk shows, I created two-letter codes for the names of each talk show host. That way, I could just type “PD” and the auto-correct would expand to “Phil Donahue.” It made writing just a bit easier. Are there discipline-specific terms for which you could create similar text expander codes? I want to share just a few cautions, though. Be sure you make codes which you can easily memorize—and for me, that also meant to keep the project-specific codes to a manageable number. I found that if I had to have a “cheat sheet” for all the codes, that I ended up wasting time looking up the code. So I just used it for the hosts’ names and the names of each talk show (I added an ‘S’ to the name code to designate the show’s name instead). I then had just ten codes to memorize, which was comfortable for me. I know people who use numerical codes for text expansion (1=specific term; 2=another term), but that just didn’t work as well for my writing process.

I primarily struggle with two grammar issues: when to use “that” versus “which” and when to use “affect” versus “effect” as a verb. So I use Grammerly (free version) and the grammar tool in Word to identify where I may need changes. Using these at the beginning of my editing session (before I print) can build my confidence.

Time Can Be Your Friend…Or Your Enemy

old fashioned alarm clock with 2 bells on topI have found that setting aside a manuscript for no more than 2 weeks and then revisiting it can help me to examine my writing more dispassionately. That amount of time is a gift; I can edit without having that rush of “it’s wonderful, don’t change a word of it” feeling. But, if I wait longer, my anxiety builds to such a point that it becomes easier to postpone the editing. Quickly two weeks becomes a month, becomes three months, and so on. What happens then, is I tend to start all over, confident that “this time” the writing will be better…only it rarely is.

What You Wrote v What You Think You Wrote

Has this happened to you? You know what you think you wrote, but that’s different than what is actually on the page? I have found that if I read my manuscript out loud, and listen for where I stumble on the words, that I can locate “clunky phrasing” or a skipped a word—errors I might have missed just by reading the text to myself. So find time to read your manuscript aloud, with a pen in hand to circle awkward phrases. [If you are reading from a screen instead of printing the document, select a highlighting color to use. Highlight and then keep on reading.] Then come back to those confusing spots after you are done.

Just Keep Writing

Remember, you need to tell a good story. What is the plot? Who are the cast of characters? What did they (or you, as the researcher) do and why? Even if the story you are telling is highly abstract and scientific, tell the story of what you (and perhaps your research team) did and why it was important. Begin to look at its structure – do the sections and paragraphs flow together or is there a better way to organize it?

No one’s first draft is great, so don’t feel greatness should be your goal! Rather, your responsibility to yourself is to keep writing. If you don’t have time right then to make the changes, write a memo to yourself that walks through your manuscript, explaining your analysis of each section, maybe even each sentence and changes you want to make. Make this more detailed than you might think you’ll need, because if you don’t touch the manuscript for a week or two, things might seem more fuzzy than they do right now.

Create A “Better First Draft”

See lines of typing, pen crossing out some of the textNow it’s time to get to work. Use all the changes you have been thinking about to strengthen your manuscript. Your goal is to create a better first draft (but still think about it as a first draft or a “work in progress”). Keep at it until you have made it through the entire manuscript. Change word order, reorganize paragraphs—whatever it takes to tell your story in a more coherent, captivating manner. When you’re done, save it and print a copy. It’s time to share it with someone else.

Use a “First Reader”

I first heard this term when I read On Writing, by Stephen King. He used the term primarily to refer to the first person he trusted to read a manuscript—his wife, Tabitha. This is a person whom you trust to tell you the truth—the good, the confusing, the completely awful, because you believe this first reader is as committed as you are to improving the manuscript.

My first reader is my husband, Frank. He is an academic, a physicist by training. He is far more taciturn than I am, and so is his discipline compared to mine (sociology). To this day, we joke about how, when I “hit a wall” writing my dissertation, he offered to edit the document. At the time, it was well over 200 pages in length. He was sure he could edit it to under 75 pages. Problem was—I was sure he could too! I also knew the document wouldn’t feel “mine” then. It would have lost the disciplinary and personal tone that matters to me, even now. We’ve also learned that I cannot be in the room when he’s editing my work. I’ll wonder what word he just lined through, etc. He’ll edit in his office and then bring it to me and we’ll go through it together. Frank is a fantastic editor—suggesting different words and asking a lot of “why” questions: Why do I think this sentence is needed? Why use this term rather than another one?, and so on.

I find that Frank is less adept at developmental editing my writing—helping me to see a different way of looking at the data or finding a better way to tell the story I want to tell. Primarily this is because he isn’t a sociologist. So if I still feel the “better first draft” isn’t flowing well, I’ll print out the manuscript and map out other ways of organizing the text. I don’t use mind mapping software, but I know many writers who do. I will also consider sending the manuscript out to one or two sociology friends for their thoughts about structure and organization. While I am waiting to hear back, I’ll work on creating tables and figures for this project or beginning to draft another manuscript.

So what are your techniques to get past those first raw “words on the page”? How do you move from that to a draft you could share with others?

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.

Additional Resources To Consider

Word’s autocorrect feature: https://www.dummies.com/software/microsoft-office/word/how-to-use-autocorrect-in-word-2016/

Word’s grammar checking feature: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/check-spelling-and-grammar-in-office-5cdeced7-d81d-47de-9096-efd0ee909227

Grammerly:  https://bit.ly/2Wqc7Zf

 

 

 

Last Class Ideas: Make It A Memorable Learning Experience

Black background; in foreground is a squirrel with fur standing up erratically; words say "Did someone say 'Last day of classes'?" It’s almost the end of the academic term. You and your students have just about made it. Congratulations! But how will you be sure that your last class is meaningful, as opposed to just one more class? Let’s talk about some ways to help students see their progress and cement their learning.

There may be a few “housekeeping” tasks which you need to accomplish, such as announcing the time/date/location of final exam (if you are giving one) or alternately, similar information about a paper or culminating assignment. And then it wouldn’t hurt to offer one last explanation of how final grades will be calculated. And depending on how your institution handles student evaluations/opinions on instruction, you might either take time out for students to complete it or to encourage them to do so online. I would also take time on the last day of class to thank the embedded peer tutor and graduate assistants who worked with me that term and usually gave them a card and small gift on behalf of myself and the class.

But hopefully, that still allows you plenty of time for a more meaningful ending to the class. You have several possible goals for this last class:

-To review for comprehensive final

-To review for a non-comprehensive final

-To learn what part of your course students feel were most meaningful to them and why

-To review key concepts students will need from your class to their next class (this occurs most frequently in sequential classes)

-Allow students a way to converse and say goodbye to each other

-To have some fun

-Or some combination of the above

Picture which states "The Most Important Thing"The Most Important Thing Learned

Ask students to think about what concept, theory, etc., will stay with them beyond this term. Then gather this data. Here are just some ways to do that:

-On a class blog or discussion board. Students could add their contribution in advance of the class and then the class could analyze the results. This could easily  transition into a live discussion of why individuals selected what they did. You might broadcast the results using a word cloud.

-As students enter class (face to face class), have them briefly write the 1 item on the blackboard before taking their seats. Then analyze the results together.

-If your class uses some sort of polling technology, you could pair up two concepts and ask students to select the one they feel is more important to learn about, until you have a “winning” concept.

-Set up “stations” in the classroom based on the major content sections of the course. Have sticky notes available for students to list concepts under those sections. You might ask them to write down the concept/theory in that section of the course which was:

-Hardest for them to understand

-Most meaningful

-Still most confusing at end of course

-And so on

Don’t forget that you could analyze the results of the “most important thing I learned” pedagogical strategy and use the data, for example, to write up a scholarship of teaching and learning research article or to strengthen your course for the next time.

Gamify the Review

This requires faculty to spend some preparation time in advance of the class period. You might also want to decide what the “winner” might receive, if anything. There are several games which could be used as a review strategy:

Blank "Jeopardy" blue game board-Jeopardy. There is software (see Resources section at end of this post) which allows faculty to write questions, write the answers, and even get the sounds which are a part of the television show

-A version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionnaire,” which allows the student who is playing to “Phone A Friend” to help answer the question correctly (works best in smaller classes)

-A version of the “Pyramid” game show

-You could even work this gamification into the structure of your class by requiring students to write questions and answers throughout the course, for credit. The instructor could then input them into the software throughout the term, in  preparation for the final day review

Think about if you will release all the presentation slides with questions, after class. What about the answer slides? Do you want students to be able to see that data or do you want them to seek the answers for themselves?

Use An Application or Case Study

Words "Case Study" on grey background; also has magnifying glassStudents want to know that what they learned can help them in future careers. So either create or use one of the many case studies available online or in textbooks. The learning objective for this application would be to have students identify how theories, concepts, skills, and course learning objectives they learned could relate to the application. You might want to share the application’s facts in advance, so that all students can think about those facts, how to use what they have learned and will come prepared to class. Depending on the size of the class, you might assign groups of students to be assigned roles or statuses in the case study. This can ensure that the content you hope for students to “see” in the case study is more likely to be noticed, if you can ensure that all parts of the case study will be studied.

Have Time for Goodbyes

Large group of students, celebrating. Some on ground, others standing up. All are happy.All of you have been together for many weeks. So leave time for students to talk about their future plans, etc. This is especially important if you are teaching seniors who are about to graduate. Let them celebrate their successes not just in your class, but in college.

Have Students Write a Letter to Future Students in This Class

What advice would they offer? Ask them to think about everything they have learned this semester. What concepts and theories were the most troublesome to master? Students will often have study ideas about how to learn difficult concepts and would be happy to share them with future students. For example, I have had music majors who created songs to remember the steps involved in Mead’s socialization theory and one of my first graduate assistants created an anagram—which I shared with students for the next decade—to help students learn the types of leaders versus styles of leadership. Remember, their tips don’t have to make sense to you, so long as they might help other students.

I used a version of this letter idea for 15 years in my Introduction to Sociology course. I asked students on the last day of class to take out a sheet of paper and write down “tips for success.” I promised to share them all (even ones that criticized me) with students who would enroll next term. I had a “Resources for Success” section in the course’s learning management system (it had lots of URLs about notetaking, how to read scholarly material, how to study with roommates who don’t study the same way, paper writing tips, etc.) and under that, a discussion board where I would put the tips from earlier semesters’ of students and then students could ask questions during the semester about them and post their own additional comments at the end of the term. The only changes to their tips I made, would be to correct any spelling as I typed them up. I agreed with probably 95% of the tips, including ones that said “Listen to Dr. L, if she said something would be on the test, believe her!” or “She’s fair, but keep up with the work or else you are doomed, and I mean doomed!”

So how do you make the last day of class be meaningful and pedagogically-oriented? Share in the comments.

Picture of lit candles in a row; all in wooden bowls. Word "de-stress" also in picture.And don’t forget…once you are done with grading and all the end-of-term bureaucratic tasks, rest and celebrate!

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.

Resources To Help:

For Jeopardy or Similar Games

https://sites.austincc.edu/fctl/fctl/playing-jeopardy-in-the-classroom/

http://inspect.georgetown.domains/uncategorized/what-is-the-best-way-to-turn-a-classroom-into-a-quiz-show/

https://www.playfactile.com/

https://www.iup.edu/teachingexcellence/reflective-practice/past-events/2008-09/sample-games-to-be-used-in-the-classroom/instructions-for-copying-files-for-instructional-games-with-powerpoint/

For Word Clouds

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=my1JRX84tyc

https://www.bettercloud.com/monitor/the-academy/how-to-create-a-word-cloud-in-google-docs/

https://m.wikihow.com/Create-a-Wordle

 

It’s Not Just About Them: Professors’ Pet Peeves

African American male teacher, surrounded by papers, head in handsBe honest—do some students sometimes exhibit certain behaviors that just push your buttons? My guess is, we all have had a few buttons pushed! As someone who, for nearly a decade, taught a class that usually enrolled 200+ students (with a maximum of 350 students), there were a few that really bothered me. So let’s talk about pet peeves and how to help students to avoid them – trust me, they’d rather not annoy us!

First, I’ll share mine, in reverse order:

Number 5: Ink Color Matters to Me

White desk with 12 brush markers, of various colorsI used to tell students that it didn’t matter to me what color ink they used on handwritten assignments or on tests written during class. But as I aged, I had to change that answer. If students used blue-green ink on lined notebook paper (the kind that has pale blue-greenish lines), I struggled to read their words. So I asked students never to use that color ink for the last fifteen years of my career.

Number 4:  Coming in Late and Interrupting Other Students to Get to “Your” Seat

Latecomers didn’t bother me—they didn’t interrupt my concentration or lecture flow. What bothered me was when a student came late, who normally sat in the middle of the auditorium, forces about 20 other students to stand up (which often meant briefly packing notebook, pen, “clicker”/audience response system) so that the late student could get to “that student’s” seat. I’ve read the literature that many students feel territorial about where they sit, usually by the 2nd  week of class, but since I didn’t assign seats, couldn’t consideration for others outweigh sitting in that favorite seat, for one class period?

Number 3:  Leaving Class Early (If Not An Emergency) Without Letting Me Know Before Class

I asked students, out of courtesy, to let me know in advance if they had to leave class early. I never forbade them from leaving, but it helped my concentration during class, if I saw someone exit the classroom and I knew about it in advance. If a student just got up and left, her exit would make me lose concentration. I’d wonder if I should send a graduate assistant to check on the student, in case he was sick, etc. But if I knew in advance, I could relax and stay focused on sharing class content and classroom dynamics.

Number 2:  Not Stapling Assignments, If Needed

Black staplerWith a large number of students, “stray parts of assignments” which were unstapled slowed down my grading process, as I would have to search to find its match. If it was handwritten, it was easier to find it than if was typed, because at least I could try to detect similar handwriting.

And by the way, for me, students who tried to skirt the “staple your assignments” rule Person has bent left top corner of several sheets of paper over in lieu of stapleby intricately folding pages over (sometimes by cutting and folding them) didn’t help. They didn’t realize that this technique didn’t work for “long” periods of time—like the amount of time it took to walk back to my office (!), let alone for several days of grading at home. It usually ended up that I had many single sheets, folded over many times, which got caught up in other students’ assignments. Not good.

And,

Number 1:  Not Putting Name on Assignments

Game of Throne meme, which states, "One does not simply turn in an assignment with no name"Every assignment there would be about five or so students who didn’t identify that the assignment was theirs, and I would have to send emails to the class to try to figure out to whom they belonged or take class time to make an announcement. For any one assignment, it wasn’t a big deal, but collectively, with written assignments every class period, my frustration would grow.

Numbers 1 and 2 wore on me so much, that I redesigned all major assignments to be turned in via our school’s learning management system. Names were displayed on all uploaded files and no need for staples so long as I graded them online. Win-win!!

I’ve had my “list” almost since I started teaching. But I remember clearly the day when it hit me, that I was a key part of the problem. I was out for lunch with friends who were also faculty and the conversation morphed into a “those (…) students” session. You know the kind, where everyone shared behaviors that stepped on our last nerve. But then I asked, to myself as much as to the others at the table, “Have you shared with students what bothers you?” And none of us really had, in an honest and straightforward way, me included. Something changed in me that day.

Every syllabus from that day forward had a section where I wrote about these behaviors and briefly explained why they were concerning to me. We talked about it during the first week of class and I posted a brief reminder in the directions of every assignment. And what happened? Every one of these rules were broken, but much less often. More than that, many students commented in student evaluations about how they appreciated knowing what behaviors bothered me (and why), so that they could do their best to avoid them.

So my students taught me that they understood that I was human too; that I could admit that to them, and ask for them to help me to be in the best possible frame of mind to grade their work. So readers, what would be on your list of irksome behaviors? I encourage you to share them with students.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.