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Fall 2016

Monday: April 24, 2017

Phew! I had only intro courses (cultural and physical), and I rocked it. There were ups and downs as always, but I was able to finally get a sense of what teaching looks like down the road: when you aren’t swamped by preparing for new classes at every turn but instead free to hone the courses you’ve already taught.

I updated all my lectures, but also modified them a little to include some teaching philosophy changes. For instance, at the end of every lecture I had a slide with “Before moving forward, be able to:” and a list of items like “compare and contrast gracile vs. robust australopiths” or “summarize the development of anthropological thought” – basically, the main theme for that day’s work.

I incorporated two-minute quizzes for pretty much each class day. This was a single question drawn from the previous day’s reading that was not covered in lecture (and they knew that). It forced them to read, and overall the student evaluations (and scores!) suggested it was a good idea. Students always appreciate “easy points” and some admitted they needed that incentive to do the homework.

In my cultural course, I included discussions regularly. I was a wee bit nervous at first, but I intentionally paired them together with someone different from themselves. I started it with the discussion on race, so before we went into that whole bit, I had everyone self-identify. While they watched a short video, I made a list to pair different races and did my best to also pair opposite sexes (though that is difficult at my university since almost all my students are female) as well as separate people who clearly knew each other. They kept this pairing for the rest of the semester, and if time allowed, I had them group up into larger groups after a short time in just pairs. The student evals spoke volumes on this: it was by far their favorite activity because they learned so much, and it became a reason many listed my course as their favorite. I know from walking around and checking in with each pair that their eyes were definitely getting opened to other people’s experiences and perspectives. To think I was nervous about that, ha!

In my human origins course, I went back to teaching like I did when I was a supplemental instruction leader as an undergrad: I focused on helping them learn how to learn rather than what to learn (that was given in lecture and reading materials, so my performance is what got shifted). I told them personal stories about how I learned (or failed to learn) as an undergrad in the same course, and hounded them about confirmation bias. In almost every lecture, I was able to tie in how confirmation bias is a nasty and devious little thing, and how it is constantly working against them. I pointed out the mishaps students have made in my experience over the last few years. I gave them rhyming and acronym tips, I gave them drawings of charts, I gave them silly jokes – all the things that I had used when I was taking the class, or that other students have shared with me. Again, my evals rolled in and students loved it – in just doing that, I really feel that I was able to add aid to the growing issues of critical thinking and media literacy (as in #fake_news and #alternative_facts).

Overall, I was no longer overwhelmed, and I decided that I could probably pursue the teaching thing. Remember, I never wanted to be a teacher, and I do still find it to be a cosmic joke – especially since I appear to be quite good at it. I was not sold on the idea (administrative issues, as well as super lame things like people who clearly plagiarize and then are quite upset that I fail them, et cetera), but I was no longer fighting against it. [That said, there will be more about my future in teaching coming up.]

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