Improve class discussions with Bloom’s Taxonomy

So many class discussions could become an improved learning experience for students with a little more guidance from the instructor.

That assessment is based on observing classes as a member of the University of Florida Graduate Student Teaching Awards Committee.

I’ve been listening to class discussions in a wide range of disciplines – psychology, educational technology, acting, kinesiology, history and microbiology to name just some.

Some instructors have led probing insightful discussions, but many discussions remained at a superficial level.

The instructor posed a good opening question that often results with a student providing a very concise “correct answer.” The instructor validates the student’s response but often moves on rather than digging deeper into that correct answer.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a good reference for designing questions to guide small-group or full-class discussions. The taxonomy originally was published in 1956 by a team of University of Chicago cognitive psychologists and named after Benjamin Bloom who was the committee’s chair.

Bloom’s Taxonomy provides a framework for moving students from the basic levels of learning to higher levels:

Remember – Recall facts and basic concepts

Understand – Explain ideas or concepts

Apply – Use information in new situations

Analyze – Draw connections among ideas

Evaluate – Justify a stand or decision

Create – Produce new or original work

Many classroom discussions are more of a Q&A session that remains at the Remember and Understand levels.

Using the verbs associated with each level (see the chart) can enable instructors to develop questions to guide students to a more in-depth discussion.

For instructors, this change in the kind of questions posed may require developing questions prior to class rather than just going with the flow of the discussion.

Another challenge for instructors with promoting in-depth discussion is that guiding students through those probing questions takes more time. So instructors need to plan for that.

A strategy for the instructor can be to share questions with the students to consider prior to class. That way students have time to think through more probing questions.

The results of these more profound discussions will be worth the extra effort for the students and the instructor.

Teach with Zoom breakout rooms

Zoom breakout rooms are a teaching tool being used more frequently as universities invest in the application and as instructors become more familiar in setting up and using the breakout rooms.

Zoom image

Having students work in breakout rooms can provide a change of pace in class and enable more students to engage actively in class.

As a member of the University of Florida’s Graduate Student Teaching Awards Committee, I have observed graduate students utilizing Zoom breakout rooms in a wide range of subject areas. Whereas instructors typically only make brief visits to breakout rooms during class, I have been able to observe the full time students are in a breakout room.

Based on my observations, I’m offering a few suggestions for using Zoom breakout rooms.

Develop an effective breakout room assignment.

Creating a good breakout room assignment is like creating a good small group discussion activity for face-to-face classes. Consider what a small group discussion will accomplish in a more productive way than a full-class discussion.

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Covid-19 and teaching advice

I’ve been part of the University of Florida’s orientation for new teaching assistants for a number of years. My topic has been advice for having a successful start to the school year.

Dr. Julie Dodd speaks at UF TA orientation 2019

This was what my presentation looked like at the 2019 orientation for new teaching assistants. Photo by Daniel Brotherton

Prior to this year, the 400 new teaching assistants would meet in a large auditorium for the orientation.

Due to Covid-19, this year’s orientation went online.

Over four days, part of the orientation was held live via Zoom, with about 100 different TAs attending each day.

Dr. Julie Dodd presents at UF TA orientation 2020

This is what my presentation looked like for the 2020 TA orientation. Click on the link at the end of the post to watch the video.

The other portion of the orientation, which included my presentation, were recorded videos. (At the end of this post you can click on a link to watch the video.)

In creating my presentation, I considered what would be helpful advice for starting a school year in a pandemic.

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University of Florida Graduate Student Teaching Award winners

Congratulations to the 20 graduate students selected as the University of Florida Graduate Student Teaching Award winnners for 2019-2020.

The graduate students were nominated by their departments and were evaluated by the Graduate Student Teaching Awards Committee.

Each student submitted a teaching portfolio, including teaching philosophy and teaching evaluations, and was observed by two members of the committee.

2019-2020 Winners

  • Akieba Allen – Theatre and Dance
  • Richard Brust – History
  • Tara Mercurio Counts – Family, Youth and Community Sciences
  • Lisa Emerson – Microbiology and Cell Science
  • Kaitlyn Erhardt – Psychology
  • Melissa Fenton – Family, Youth and Community Sciences
  • Scarlett Godinez – Chemistry
  • Ethan Kutlu – Linguistics
  • Joana Guerrero-Rodriguez – Spanish & Portuguese Studies
  • Keifer MacDonald – Theatre and Dance
  • Alicia McGrew – Natural Resources and Environment
  • Victoria McNeil – Psychology
  • Caroline Parks – Geography
  • Anthony Pastore – Chemistry
  • Moinul Rahat – Physics
  • Gerald Robinson – Applied Physiology and Kinesiology
  • John Streese – Mathematics
  • Ashley Watts – Mathematics

The top two graduate students received the Calvin A. VanderWerf Award:

  • Dina Benbrahim – Art and Art History
  • Kendall Craig – Chemistry

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Students who are tardy to class — What can you do?

If you’re a classroom instructor, you know that students who are tardy to class create a problem for you, their classmates and themselves.

Students who are late to class can become a distraction to you and their classmates, making noise in getting seated or letting the classroom door close loudly or making noise in getting seated.

The tardy students will have missed announcements or directions by being late and then may ask you or their classmates to explain what they have missed.

If a quiz or assignment is underway, the tardy students may ask for additional time to make up for the time they missed by being late.

What can you as a teacher do about students who are tardy to class, especially those students who are frequently tardy to class?

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Advice for new teachers for teaching success from UF’s orientation for teaching assistants

UF TA orientation - photo by Daniel Brotherton

Presenting in Carlton Auditorium is a challenge due to its size. My teaching strategies included moving out from behind the lectern, using easy-to-read slides, and getting the TAs involved. Photo by Daniel Brotherton

More than 400 new teaching assistants attended the University of Florida’s TA Orientation as they prepared to start their teaching assignments next week.

I was honored to be one of the presenters for the half-day program. My topic was Preparing for the First Week of Class, and I had 45 minutes to cover a lot of ground.

Here are some highlights of my advice to the TAs:

Get ready for the start of class

  • Meet with your course supervisor to determine your teaching duties, learn how you’ll be evaluated, obtain the course materials, and learn about the course and the students.
  • Find your classroom and try out the video projection unit and the chalkboard or whiteboard (to make sure you are writing large enough for it to be read by students sitting in the back of the class).
  • Plan your schedule with the courses you’ll take, the courses you’ll be teaching, your office hours, your meetings and deadlines…and remembering to include time for fitness activities, meals and sleep.
  • Review your online persona/avatar and make any needed adjustments to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, dating apps, etc.

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UF Orientation for Graduate Student Teachers, Aug. 13

College students working with partners in auditorium

In my session, I’ll include a Think-Pair-Share activity to demonstrate how active learning can be incorporated into class, even in large auditoriums. This is a photo from last year’s orientation. Photo by Ashleigh Kathryn

More than 400 new teaching assistants at the University of Florida will be attending the Orientation for Graduate Teaching Assistants on Aug. 13.

I’m honored to be one of the faculty on the program. The orientation always is an upbeat and exciting time as we help the teaching assistants begin their teaching at UF.

The half-day orientation includes presentations by veteran faculty and a panel discussion of outstanding teaching assistants and faculty who coordinate TAs.

The panel includes Falcon Restrepo-Ramos and Morgan Yacoe, who I had the opportunity to observe last year as a member of the Graduate Student Teacher Awards Committee.

UF TA Orientation promoHere’s the program:

8:30 am – 9:00 am       Check-in

9:00 am – 9:15 am       Welcome and Orientation Overview
Dr. R. Paul Duncan, Senior Associate Dean, Graduate School

9:15 am – 10:00 am     Planning for Learning
Dr. Elizabeth Bondy, Professor, School of Teaching & Learning

10:00 am – 10:15 am   Graduate Assistants United: Creating a Professional Working Environment at UF
GAU Representatives

10:15 am – 10:30 am   BREAK

10:30 am – 11:15 am   Preparing for the First Week of Class
Dr. Julie Dodd, Professor Emeritus, Journalism & Communications

11:15 am – 12:00 pm   Advice From Panel of Experts

  • Andrew Wolpert, Associate Professor, Classics, Director of IDS 1161: What is the Good Life and UF Quest 1                                 
  • E. Christine Davis, Senior Lecturer & Undergraduate Coordinator, Biology
  • Melanie K. Viege, Senior Lecturer, Director of General Chemistry
  • Falcon Restrepo-Ramos, Spanish & Portuguese Studies
  • Morgan Yacoe, Art and Art History
  • Ashley Erb, Chemistry
  • Chris Brewer, Chemistry

12:00 pm – 12:30 pm  Center for Teaching Excellence: Passport to Great Teaching: TA Edition
Jennifer K. Smith, Director
Alexandra Bitton-Bailey, Ph.D. Candidate, Academic Innovation Specialist

The program will be from 8:30 am to 12:30 in Carleton Auditorium.

Professional development for graduate teaching assistants

Falcon Restrepo-Ramos and EUS/SPN 4930 students

Falcon Restrepo-Ramos (front row in Gator blue shirt) with his students at the Student Symposium of Language policies in the multilingual European landscape (EUS/SPN 4930), Spring 2019.

by Falcon Restrepo-Ramos
Hispanic Linguistics, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies
University of Florida

Years in grad school might seem like a tremendous endeavor for anyone pursuing a graduate degree. Such experience entails years of courses, research, coffee, and, in my case and many others, teaching.

Precisely, the figure of graduate teaching assistant (GTA) in one of the biggest state universities in the country (Go Gators!) not only carries a great deal of work but also memorable moments and many opportunities for innovative teaching and professional development.

Aside from the many different responsibilities of GTAs, which at times feels overwhelming, there are also grants, awards, programs and funding support that can make the University of Florida GTA experience professionally rewarding.

Here I would like to list two main lines of teaching and professional development that helped me maximize my GTA experience at UF. As you will see below, this list follows incremental steps towards a set of goals.

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Effective teaching strategies demonstrated by top graduate student teachers

by Julie Dodd

Falcon Restrepo-Ramos receives the Calvin A. VanderWerf Award from Dean of the Graduate School Henry Frierson and Dr. Constance Shehan, chair of the selection committee. The VanderWerf Award is given to the top of the teaching award winners. Morgan Yacoe also received the VanderWerf Award. Photo by Julie Dodd

Promoting student involvement.

Connecting learning to important issues.

Assigning meaningful projects.

Establishing a supportive learning climate.

These were some of the effective teaching strategies employed by the graduate students who were selected to receive the University of Florida’s Graduate Student Teacher Awards for 2019.

As a member of the faculty committee that observes the graduate students nominated for this award, I could feel the energy of those really engaging instructors when I visited their classes. I admired the graduate students’ course design and class planning to create such good learning experiences for their students.

Structuring class activities to get students involved

In the classes I observed that were taught by award-winning graduate students, their students were actively involved. Here are three examples I observed.

The winners of the University of Florida’s Graduate Student Teaching Awards for 2019 and members of the selection committee. Photo by Eric Zamora

In a physiology lab, the students worked in teams to review the results of the physiology lab they had conducted independently online.

Talking with classmates in a small group helped them answer some of their own questions about the lab and prepared them to share their experiences and the questions they still had with the class. In addition, after talking in small groups, the students were more confident in speaking in class.

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Changing your course syllabus as you are teaching the course

by Julie Dodd

How much can I change the syllabus while the course is underway?

That’s a question that I’ve been asked when I lead workshops for teaching assistants and new faculty.

uf-syllabi-websiteEspecially when you are teaching a course for the first time, it’s difficult to know if you are creating the right course design.

  • Do the students have the academic background that you thought they would?
  • Have you allocated enough time for major assignments and projects?
  • Did you include enough time in class for you to present the key concepts and to provide time for students to engage in active learning activities?

You get weeks (or maybe just a few class sessions) into the course and realize that you would like to change the syllabus.

I’m a big advocate of syllabus assessment and redesign. However, I’d strongly recommend that during the term you are teaching the course, you should give careful consideration before making any significant changes to the course, such as eliminating a major assignment or test or adding an additional unit or project.

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