The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 65 Transcript
Jennifer Gonzalez, host
I’ve always been really bothered by the fact that at the college level, where students are often paying far more money for their education, the people who do the teaching have little to no training in teaching methodology. When it comes to hiring faculty, colleges and universities place a high premium on a person’s academic background in terms of knowing their subject area, having a specialty, and this is important, but by and large, they require no teaching experience and no formal preparation in pedagogy. Despite this, hundreds of thousands of people walk into college classrooms every day and teach.
This is a problem. Because knowledge of subject area is really just half of the equation. Teachers who haven’t learned some of the most basic principles of instruction are doomed to repeat the mistakes of those who came before them, delivering content with the driest, most ineffective methodology possible, then wondering why their students aren’t more excited to learn.
My guest today, Norman Eng, is attempting to solve this problem. In his book, Teaching College: The Ultimate Guide to Lecturing, Presenting, and Engaging Students, Dr. Eng shares the specific strategies college teachers can use to build relationships with students, energize their classrooms, and help students really learn the material. The book is a quick read, an enjoyable read, and it’s full of ideas you’re going to want to try right away. And I don’t think it’s just for college teachers: If you teach high school or even middle school, you’re going to find tons of ideas you can use as well. So today, Norman is going to share five of these tips with us.
Before I play the interview, two things.
First, this episode is brought to you by the Teacher’s Guide to Tech. I created this guide a few years ago after learning that one of teachers’ biggest struggles was keeping up with technology. What you told me is that you want to try new tech tools, you know it could probably make learning more powerful and your teaching more effective, but you don’t have the time to figure out which tools to use. The Teacher’s Guide to Tech is like an encyclopedia of over 150 tech tools, organized by function, so there’s a section on video creation tools, a section on assessment tools, and so on. Over 30 different categories. On each page, I feature a different tool, with a quick, simple explanation of what the tool does, a screenshot of the tool in action, a link to the website, AND a link to a video that shows you how the tool works. On top of this, you also get a glossary of over 80 tech terms and tons of helpful advice for implementing tech in the classroom. Keep a copy on your home computer, your work computer, your iPad, anywhere you might want to quickly look something up. The 2017 edition of the guide is ready for download right now at teachersguidetotech.com. And because you’re a podcast listener, you’ll get a 10 percent discount on a single-user license by entering the code LISTENER at checkout.
Also, I want to thank you so much for the reviews you’ve left for this podcast on iTunes. This really helps bring more listeners to the show, and I’m so grateful to every person who takes the time to do it. If you have been enjoying the show for a while and haven’t left a review yet, I would love for you to head over to iTunes and do so. Thanks so much.
Now here’s my interview with Norman Eng.
GONZALEZ: I’m so excited to talk about this, because I taught college for four years, and I’ve sort of witnessed first-hand … You and I have a very similar background in that we taught K-12 prior to teaching at the college level.
ENG: Wow, very good.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, and so you can kind of really see the difference between the training that a person who teaches seniors in high school gets versus somebody who teaches college freshmen.
ENG: Yeah. I mean that’s a big issue, because most times, let’s be honest, college professors aren’t being trained how to teach, so having that K-12 background like you and I have really makes a lot of sense.
GONZALEZ: It does, it does. So let’s start off by just telling people a little bit about who you are, what your background is and what the work is that you’re doing right now.
ENG: My name is Norman Eng, and I’m a Doctor of Education, and I actually teach for the City University of New York. I’ve written a book called “Teaching College,” which recently actually became an Amazon bestseller in four categories.
ENG: Thanks. Before that as we had talked about a little earlier, I did teach K-12. I actually taught in a Title I school, kind of a “poor school” in New York City public school system for about six years. Actually even before that, I was actually a career-changer. Before I was a K-12 teacher, I actually worked in the business world as an advertising executive doing advertising for insurance products and retail products and things like that, low-end and high-end. So that really kind of informed the way I kind of looked at teaching. I would say that marketing is probably one of the biggest things that I said kind of changed the way that I looked at teaching. That’s really my background. And I currently work on a blog, normaneng.org, which is focused specifically on helping new professors and instructors kind of confidently navigate that college classroom. Right now I’m also working on turning this book into a workshop and an online course to really help professors, so that’s what I’m doing right now.
GONZALEZ: That is great news. I’m really excited that you’re doing a workshop. I think that’s going to be really successful, because there’s a big need for it.
ENG: Yeah. I mean I talked to a lot of professors, and especially new instructors, especially those that are getting their PhD, or they’re looking to do some adjunct work. They have all these questions, but they don’t know where to turn to, because professors don’t have the kind of resources in terms of pedagogy, in terms of who you turn to when you taught. Most new professors when I ask them, they say, “Oh, I go online. I just Google it.” And there are a lot of resources online, but it’s kind of all over the place.
GONZALEZ: It is. And I think the thing that really is very, very unique about your approach, and I love the book. It’s funny, because I’ve got a customer service assistant who she started reading it first, and she actually teaches too at the college level, and she said, “I couldn’t put it down,” and I said, “Well let me look into this.” And same for me. It’s just very, very readable, very accessible. I love that you pull marketing in. I think that’s the thing that is so unique to your approach is that you’re not only giving pedagogically sound principles for instruction, things that K-12 teachers have known forever, but you’re pulling in this marketing aspect, which is so interesting. I’m going to let you explain that a little bit more in a little bit, but I just think that combination is really … it just really makes teaching seem a lot more fun, honestly. It’s going to be more fun for the students of the people that read this stuff.
ENG: Yeah. The big thing about marketing is that people have this kind of, if you don’t know a lot about marketing, or if you haven’t been in the industry, there’s this thing that, oh, if you’re marketing, you’re kind of being like a salesman, or it’s kind of sleazy. but the thing is, real marketing is about solving a need. That’s really what it is. It’s listening to your customers, it’s solving a need. Daniel Pink, who’s a best-selling author and a psychologist, he actually says that selling is what we’re all doing, especially in the 21st century. So no matter what we’re doing, whether it’s teaching, whether it’s marketing, whether it’s business, whether you’re a CEO, you’re marketing in some way. So in our case, as teachers, you could say that we’re marketing knowledge, we’re marketing inspiration, potential, whatever that is, but you’re trying to get someone, in this case students, to kind of see things differently. There’s no question that there’s some sort of marketing involved. I mean you can call it marketing, you can call it communication, whatever you want to call it. The idea is that you’re trying to get them to see something differently. That’s really kind of what I took away from the marketing industry is that every single day I was focused on how do you get a customer or a client or a patron to realize what their problem is, because sometimes they don’t even know what the problem is, and in the case of students, that’s certainly the case. They don’t always know what they want. So sometimes it’s up to the marketer to really listen to what the students are saying in terms of their needs, in terms of their frustrations, what are their [pain?] points, things like that, and try to design a solution to that problem. And that’s what teaching is about, whether it’s a problem, whether it’s some sort of dilemma or some sort of concept you’re trying to teach, and how do you help students really understand it? That’s what marketing is, and that’s why I think it’s so important that coming from that background, that was the one thing I knew I had to bring into this book.
GONZALEZ. Yeah, yeah. I want to add one little comment, just because I sometimes I can imagine the thinking behind somebody who might be listening and thinking, “Why do I have to do this? I’m just there to teach. This guy’s now telling me that I’ve got to, like, kind of sell my ideas … ” You know really, it’s not that you have to do it, it’s that it’s what works. And so what we want is to be able to reach our students, and if this is going to be more effective in teaching your content, then why not?
ENG: Jenn, you’re absolutely right. I think that there’s this notion, especially in higher ed among professors, and especially among maybe even established or tenured professors, that you know what? I am this expert. I have this content expertise. I kind of feel like I have to be the gatekeeper of my industry. They set very high standards, and this is what I’m teaching, it’s very kind of highfalutin, and it’s very complex kind of thing, and students, because they’re adults, if you want to get into this industry, you have to make sure to kind of rise above and kind of get to this and understand what I’m talking about. So you really bring that responsibility on the student, and I’m not saying that you don’t have high expectations. Of course you should. But sometimes that kind of thinking is like you’re not understanding where the students are coming from, and sometimes they don’t have enough background knowledge, and they come from all walks of life, and if you don’t understand that, and you’re expecting rigidly to get them to where you are, then you’re not understanding their needs. You do have to try to understand kind of the theories and the principles behind marketing, or at least communication, understanding where they come from. So it’s not that, “Oh, my job is just to come in and just teach.” The truth is, your job is to really get them to be a different person, to be a better person, and so that takes knowing the student. Because I’ve actually, exactly what you said, that they go, “Oh, now I have to be this marketer? Teaching isn’t about marketing. Students aren’t customers,” and things like that. But that’s looking at it the wrong way. I’m not trying to, you know, say that marketing or that teaching is the same thing, that we ought to treat students like customers, and that I’m trying to sell a product. No. The idea is understanding the customer’s needs. Understanding your target audience’s needs. That’s the most important thing, and if you do that, then you can help them achieve what they want. And honestly, nine times out of 10, they want to get a job, they want to do well in their industry when they graduate, so you’re trying to get them to that level, so it’s not about selling, per se. That’s what I’m saying, right? Sometimes marketing and selling gets kind of a bad rap.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. Is there anything else that we haven’t kind of covered? Because as soon as we’re done setting up what the problem is, we’re going to actually now start getting into five different things that college teachers can do to really improve and make a big difference in their classroom. And I would also add that this stuff that you’re going to share with us today, it applies to high school and middle school teachers I think just as much, because you’re dealing with some of the same problems that a college teacher deals with in a lot of ways. So anybody listening to this who teaches secondary, I’d keep listening, because there’s some stuff here that you probably haven’t heard before. So what is the problem in terms of what college teachers need?
1. Create a Student Avatar
ENG: So one of the first things that I talk about in my book is to create a student avatar, because, you know, instructors have to know who they’re teaching, right? We mentioned this before. And I don’t mean just like basic information, like, “Oh, I know that my students want to go into business,” or “My students want to go into journalism.” No. You know, instructors need to know what actually drives their students, what matters to them, right? And so the best way I found is to create a student profile or an avatar. In marketing, we call this an ideal client profile, the ICP. We do this all the time when we actually have a product, we think about who is our perfect target audience. And this perfect target audience isn’t like talking about a group of people. No. It’s actually talking about one person, this ideal client profile.
So, what is it? It actually describes the audience’s demographics like their gender, their age, things like that, as well as their psychographics, which is more like their attitudes and beliefs, things like that. And so this avatar will guide everything that you teach. And it doesn’t have to be long, just one paragraph. So why don’t I give you an example, right? In my book, I actually give a talk about one particular avatar or ideal client profile that I created for one of my education courses.
So here it is: Betty is a 20-year-old Latina from a working class family who commutes to college, lives with her parents, and works part time. She works hard but is often overwhelmed, because she takes five classes per semester to qualify for financial aid. She has one younger sibling and is concerned with passing the new, harder teacher certification and teacher performance assessments. Although she loves working with children, she’s not sure if she can handle the rigors of teaching in an urban public school classroom with its diverse student needs. So …
GONZALEZ: Very specific.
ENG. Yeah. It’s really specific, and you know, once you have this profile, this avatar, you’re going to be held accountable to this particular “person,” right? It’s going to influence how you plan your course and your lessons, because you’re asking questions like, “Oh. Will she understand my lesson if I plan it this way?” Or “What examples can I use so that she can identify with it?” So, you know, and it reminds me of how Stephen King writes, right? When he writes his book, he’s targeting one person, his wife. Like, he doesn’t write for anyone else, and when he writes for his wife, he knows that he’s accountable to her needs and the way that she reads. It’s the same way with teaching, so I encourage teachers, whether it’s professors or secondary teachers, to think about will you be able to just write a paragraph that describes your typical student? That’s a great way to figure out their needs.
GONZALEZ: Nice. And of course the idea being that if you’re targeting that one student, not all of your students are going to fit that profile, but targeting that one student is going to probably guarantee that you reach a whole lot more of the other students also.
ENG: Absolutely. The truth is that you will have students that range in terms of their socioeconomics, in terms of where they come from, in terms of their content knowledge. I mean I have students that are all over the place, but yes. You, more than anyone else, will have a better idea about the particular students that come into your class, and it’s much better to kind of target that. And this is a marketing principle. So, you know, understanding that one person will keep you laser focused in terms of addressing their problem.
Now, you bring up a good point about how you’re going to have many different students. Where you change things is by differentiating the lesson. So you can target your lesson to one specific student, but you can differentiate it by doing something slightly different to one student that has this need or another student that has a different need. So that’s how you do it. Like, if you have … if they’re going to write a story, they could write a story that’s particularly about their circumstances, and the student that comes from a different background might be able to write a story about their particular background, and so that’s how you can differentiate it, by giving them choices. Does that make sense?
GONZALEZ: Yes. And I’m thinking now, if I’m a professor who’s been teaching for 25 years, and I don’t generally hang out with 20-year-olds very much, how would you recommend that somebody … Because I could see somebody creating this student avatar based on their assumptions of what they think that their typical student is like. How do they actually make this avatar accurate?
ENG: Right. And so that’s a great question. This goes doubly true for those, let’s just say, who’ve never taught college before and kind of jumping into it and wondering. So there’s a couple of ways you can do it, right? If you’ve never taught before, I would say one good way, or if you’ve never taught a particular course before, one good way is to talk to your colleagues, your colleagues, especially if you have never taught before. Chances are the program head or the chair will give you the syllabus of the previous person that’s taught the course, or they may get to put you in touch with a professor that is teaching the same section as you. I would say definitely get in touch with that professor, with one of your colleagues that’s teaching that same course or even someone teaching within the same program and talk to them, talk about what is your typical student in terms of demographics. Chances are if you’re teaching at a college, you have some idea about the demographic makeup, or at least the socioeconomics and stuff like that. So that’s one way, talking with your colleagues.
An even more accurate way, I would say, is if you don’t know, just ask them, all right? So I literally, on the first day of class, especially if it’s a new course that I haven’t taught before, I will ask them, what is the most important thing that you want to get out of this class? What is the most important thing that you want to be able to get out of this program or this major? What are some of the obstacles that you face? What one thing do you wish all professors knew about the way you work? All right? So this gives me insight into how they work, what are some things that they get frustrated by from their professors, and in general, kind of their beliefs, their values, which is kind of what marketers call the psychographics. And then you take all that information and you kind of find the patterns. What are some of the things that they talk about in common? And then that’s how you can really create that avatar.
GONZALEZ: OK, so No. 1 is to create a student avatar. What is number 2?
2. Use Tent Cards to Remember Names
ENG: So another way that teachers or professors can really create this kind of environment, this kind of supportive environment, is to get to know students’ names. K-12 teachers, they know this very well. But the truth is that college teachers don’t always think of this, or they don’t think that they have to, because maybe they’re teaching a class of 200, 300, 400 students. So it’s certainly harder to do. But it honestly, it’s the first step in building relationships to get to know their names. You know, when you start to refer to each other by names, and I’m not talking about just one way, from teacher to student. I’m talking about both ways. I actually encourage my students to refer to each other by name, and it’s a two-way street, and what it does is that it starts to create this kind of environment, this kind of culture that’s a more accessible environment that has subtle but far-reaching impact, such as helping increase participation and student engagement and things like that. So like I said, even if you teach a large class, just even knowing some of the names and using them once in awhile will create that perception that you care, and that it’s an accessible environment. So that’s why I say, especially because I have professors that ask, “You know what? This is all great, but can it work in a large classroom?” So I’m not saying you know all 300 students’ names.
GONZALEZ: Right, right.
ENG: So anyway, in my experience, tent cards are probably the best way to accomplish this. So what you do is that you actually take a 5×8 index card, and you fold it in half so that it’s long, right? And what you do is that you put it on a table, it can actually sit on a desk, just like a tent, right? But you have to write the student’s name on both sides of the card with a marker. Sometimes I see it just written one side. You want to have it on both sides of the card, so that this way when students are talking, and their tent is on their table, students behind that person can actually see their names, all right? It’s much better … Think about it — when you have a sticker that says, “Hello my name is” whatever. So only if you’re in front of them and facing them do you see their names, but with a tent card, it doesn’t matter. That’s why I much prefer that you use a tent card to remember names. So I actually use it every single day, at least until I start getting to know my students and then by the middle of the semester, I don’t have to use it anymore, because I have probably about 30 students in my class. But it’s just a great way for you to use their names. I actually refer to my students by names. I encourage them every day to refer to each other by their names and with tent cards, it just makes it a lot easier.
GONZALEZ: Two things I want to highlight in what you just said. It’s making sure that people understand the back of that tent card. That’s really such an important difference.
GONZALEZ: And also the fact that as the person leading the classroom, you’re actually pushing those students to use each other’s names, because I think that’s one of those formalities that I think people, especially of college age, are going to feel a little awkward doing it unless they sort of “have to.”
GONZALEZ: But then it really is … then it’s good. Then you’ve really built your classroom culture. They probably wouldn’t do it on their own, and I mean it is so awkward sometimes. I’ve taught classes where, you know, we’ve all been together for six to eight weeks, and it’ll be a class of, I don’t know, 20 students, and I’ll have one of them refer to somebody else in the room and they’ll say, “You know, that woman there,” and then I’m like, really?
GONZALEZ: You still don’t know her name? And I’m thinking, well why would they know each other’s names? They don’t have to. And that’s such a real icky feeling. So I think having those to help the students in pushing them to do that, I think that’s fantastic. God, what a difference that would make.
ENG: Yeah, yeah. I mean it really starts from the very beginning, and you’re right, by the middle of the semester, you’re saying, “Oh, that person over there.” Listen, just put a tent card on your table.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, right.
ENG: And this way just makes it easier. And I literally, I’m serious about this, literally every class, before our discussions, I say, “Please. Refer to your classmates by their name.” And just kind of … and just like you said …
GONZALEZ: You have to be pushy a little bit, yeah.
ENG: Forcing it, you do. It’s kind of like … Because I teach childhood education, so sometimes, you know, like when you’re in fifth grade, you don’t want to use manipulatives, and you don’t want to use cubes and all these, because you think it’s baby. So I actually force, like back when I was teaching K-12, I actually forced the fifth-graders to actually use these materials, even though they think it’s baby. And the reason why is because you want to make sure that everyone uses it so that those who do really need to use it don’t have to feel bad. So it’s the same way with college.
ENG: You force everyone to use their names, and then all of a sudden they just start using it. And that’s a great feeling.
GONZALEZ: You’re teaching them how to be adults, for goodness’ sake.
GONZALEZ: I mean think about … we’re so tied now to social media and interacting through our phones that I’ve noticed with people that age in particular, when you get them face-to-face with each other, they don’t know what to do.
ENG: Yeah. Oh yeah. We have a whole class discussion about technology and the impact of it.
GONZALEZ: All right. Let’s move on to Number 3.
3. Implement “Cold Calling” and “No Opt Out”
ENG: So the next one is I have to say it’s a game changer, but for when I was teaching, at least in the early part, especially in K-12, I did not use this as much, and I had a lot of students … Basically, the problem is that what do you do when kids don’t know how to … when students aren’t participating all that much? That is such a common complaint, right? And so the technique is cold calling, right? And then another kind of related technique to that that I’ll talk about is called making sure that students don’t opt out even if they don’t know the answer. And cold calling is now a fairly widespread technique that’s been popularized, especially in charter schools, by Doug Lemov, who’s one of the founders of the Uncommon Charter School organization.
GONZALEZ: Yes. This is from “Teach Like a Champion,” right?
ENG: Right. That’s exactly right.
ENG: “Teach Like a Champion.” And so many of your K-12 listeners will definitely have heard of him and probably use his technique, but it’s not so well known at the higher ed level. And so the idea isn’t particularly earth shattering, if you haven’t heard it before. But when done right, it just really increases student engagement and focus. So basically when you ask a question to the class, right, you don’t call on students who raise their hand, or you don’t have to call on students who raise their hand. You call on them randomly, right? Regardless of whether or not they raise their hand. But, there are two important parts to this. First, you can’t use this technique to kind of catch students when they’re not focusing. You can’t say, “Oh, John, what’s the answer?” just because you saw that he was on his phone or whatever, right? Because the minute you do that, they’ll resent you for it.
ENG: Right? For calling them out. So you can’t do that. It has to be done genuinely, right? It has to be done in good faith. It has to give everyone a chance to “shine,” right? So that’s the first thing. The second thing is that you want to use cold calling consistently, meaning every single class, because if you don’t, students … they might feel like they can still kind of get away with not raising their hands sometimes, because they’ll rely on those who raise their hands, so that’s really the key. But what I also want to say was that, you know, what happens if you call on them and they don’t know the answer, right? Because if you’re randomly calling, sometimes students just don’t know the answer. And we all know what happens when … Students are trained to know that when, I say, “I don’t know,” that usually means that the teacher will probably call on someone else, and they can just keep saying, “I don’t know” and never have to participate.
ENG: Yep. So what do you do, right? So the other kind of technique that’s kind of part of this is called “no opting out,” right? Basically what you do is if a student says, “I don’t know,” you pose that same question to another student, and then you go back to the first student and ask him or her to repeat it or rephrase the response, right? So this holds that student accountable for listening. So if you say, “John, what are one of the causes of World War I?” or “World War II?” And John says, “I don’t know.” then you go to someone else, let’s just say Shana, and say, “Shana, can you help John out? What’s the answer?” and then she says whatever her answer is, and then you go back to John, and you say, “John, did that make sense? Can you repeat what Shana said? Or can you rephrase what Shana said?” or, my favorite is, “Can you add to that?” Right?
ENG: Because at the very basic level, if you’re not so confident in John’s abilities, you might just ask him to literally repeat what Shana said.
GONZALEZ: So he did answer the question, ultimately he does answer the question even if …
ENG: Right. I mean, so the point is, right, that’s exactly … He knows that he can’t just opt out.
ENG: He has to answer the question, and if he’s able to kind of do it in a more critical way, not just repeating or rephrasing, but maybe even just adding his own thoughts into it, that’s the best way.
ENG: So that’s … this way kind of really helps them to help them. There’s one other thing that I can maybe add, if you don’t mind.
ENG: Give us one other tip that I can add for your K-12 listeners, because I know that I certainly did this when I was a fifth-grade teacher. We used to use popsicle sticks, remember that? You know, you use popsicle sticks to kind of randomly call out students? So you draw one out with the student’s name on it, and you would say, “OK. Shana, what’s the answer?” There’s nothing wrong with it, per se. I love the fact that it’s very random. But the one issue with that is that, the one reason I like cold calling better is that you can be very strategic with cold calling. So you can decide to actually call on someone if their hand is up or you might decide to, you know, call on a student who has been having some issues not understanding the problem, and you want to call on them and maybe boost their confidence a little bit.
ENG: Or maybe a student has something worthwhile to say or has been waiting a long time with her hand up, and the problem is that popsicle sticks can just frustrate the heck out of the student, and sometimes even demotivate them. Cold calling is not purely random, but it’s much more strategic in the way that you can call students out.
GONZALEZ: Right, right. Yeah, and with the popsicle sticks, once your stick has been pulled, you can kind of just relax and check out, and I’m sure that …
ENG: You’re done.
GONZALEZ: … a lot of students have done that exact thing.
ENG: Absolutely. Yeah, there has to be that kind of randomness, that “Hey, just because you answered doesn’t mean that I won’t call on you again.”
GONZALEZ: Exactly. I’ll be right back.
ENG: Right, right.
GONZALEZ: I wanted to say one thing too about cold calling, because I have a personal story about this. I just … I guess the lesson that I learned is that it’s really important that you have that relationship piece with your students too that you know them and that they trust you, because I basically destroyed a relationship with one of my students, one of my college students using that technique.
GONZALEZ: I was teaching them about cold calling, and then I said, “We’re going to start using it,” and she was one of the first people I chose, and this was a non-traditional student, a returning adult student.
GONZALEZ: And she was … she had a lot of insecurities sort of about her ability to … She had kind of like had a teen pregnancy and left school young and was just starting to get back into college, so she was really doubting herself in terms of her abilities. So when I picked her first, basically, to cold call, and she didn’t have the answer, I mean she just … she just couldn’t stand me after that. She really felt like I had put her on the spot, and I thought, “Man … “
GONZALEZ: And she thought that technique was horrible.
ENG: Right, right.
GONZALEZ: And so it made me think about that technique a little bit more, that it’s still, I think, awesome, it’s just that it needs to be used in conjunction with a trusting relationship with your students so that they know that you’re not trying to embarrass them.
ENG: I agree. And that’s why you can’t use … that’s why it has to be done strategically. The truth is that I’m very conscious about using it. I know that there are certain students that have a lot of issues with being put on the spot and being very shy. I actually had a student who wrote to me and said that she was very shy, and that she just felt very uncomfortable talking in class. So the truth is is that I don’t call on her, OK? I don’t call on her. I actually had a conversation with her that, “If you feel like that you could write something to me, whether it’s via a back and forth email about the topic we’re discussing in class, I’m absolutely OK.” Because the truth is is that participation in terms of talking out loud in class and being called on, that’s just one way to participate. There’s actually many other ways, right? You can use your Blackboard or have an online discussion forum or emails or talk to me during office hours or things like that. So I use cold calling in conjunction with those other things, and I’m so glad that you brought that up, because you’re absolutely right. Like, if you don’t know your student, hey, we’re going back to knowing your target audience, right?
ENG: That’s what marketers have to do. But if you don’t know your students, then you’re right, cold calling will just seem like you’re imposing something that doesn’t take into consideration their needs, so that’s really … that’s such a good point that you brought up.
GONZALEZ: Thank you. Well good. I want to make sure that we have a nice well-rounded bit of advice there for people. So, OK. Let’s move onto No. 4, so we’re at … These last two you’re really kind of getting a little bit more into the instruction in terms of delivering the content.
4. Deploy the QQC Strategy for Readings
ENG: I’ve never heard a college instructor not complain about this, which is that students just they don’t read, they don’t do the readings. And I read somewhere a study said that at any given moment students … about 20 to 30 percent of your students do the readings on a given day, something like that.
GONZALEZ: Wow, yeah.
ENG: That’s not much. And there are many issues about why they may actually not be reading. Sometimes the text is not chosen correctly, maybe it’s too hard or too boring. So these are all important factors. But aside from that, there’s some things that we as instructors can do that can at least increase or at least help them come to class a little bit more prepared. And one of the things that I use is called questions, quotations and comments, or I just shorten it QQC, right? QQC. It’s not a particularly great word to use, great acronym to use, but it is what it is. But basically, students respond to the readings in a very short way, just by jotting down either a question that they want to ask in class or a question that they had about the reading, or a quotation that they found interesting from the reading, or even a comment or a reaction that they had to a particular section of their reading. And the key is to keep it short, because like I’ve … When I first started teaching college, I used to ask them, “OK. You have a text response paper that’s due.” And, you know, a text response paper is at least a page or sometimes two pages.
ENG: And I found, because I actually do surveys at the end of the semester, not like departmental official surveys, but my own surveys.
GONZALEZ: Your own … absolutely.
ENG: And I would ask them, what worked and what didn’t work? And I would say a majority of the students said that they loved the readings that I chose, but the problem was that these text responses were so onerous. They were like an extra thing they had to do on top of the reading, and it took away from their focus on the reading. And so I changed it, so that I kept it short, you know? In other words, it’s one of those things that you could literally write in the margins of your reading or for your handout or whatever. But they would just write a question, a quotation or a comment. Any one of those three things. Or, if you want, maybe all three of those. It depends on the teacher and it depends on what they’re reading. And the other key to this is to follow up in class, like cold calling in a way, meaning that you have to be consistent. So if you only talk … have students share these QQCs in class like once in awhile, then it won’t work. You have to have them share it every single class. If you could reserve maybe the last 15 minutes of class or the beginning 15 minutes of class to just kind of randomly ask students to share their questions, comments and quotations, then it will work. You have to set aside that time to make sure … And the truth is that because we have so many things that we want to get into class, you know, even I struggle to sometimes reserve that 15 minutes. So that’s important. And, you know, there are many other techniques to get students to read. Some teachers have found success with quizzes or you can preview the readings with focusing questions and all that kind of stuff, but I thought the QQC was one simple way that your listeners could use immediately and not have it be so burdensome for the students reading that.
GONZALEZ: Right. Do you give them points or a grade for having these? Is there some sort of accountability system for actually bringing those in?
ENG: So, yeah. That’s a good question. You know what? I found that it’s just too much work if I collect this every class. Like, I know one way is to ask students to bring 3×5 index cards and just write these little things and just bring it to class and then you collect it, so I used to actually do that as well, but I found it just took so much time. So I don’t do that. What I do now is that I ask students just to keep kind of a log in their notebooks or whatever, and then so … it’s not like they have to use a new piece of paper every time they do … Just keep a log so that they would just continue down the line. “Week No. 1: We do this reading, write down a question.” Week No. 2? Write underneath it, you know? And so, right.
GONZALEZ: Nice, yeah.
ENG: Right. And then what I do is that I actually collect it twice during the semester, all right? So this way, let’s just say there are 25 readings during the semester, or 15 readings during the semester. I would collect, like, the first half, readings, reading responses one through eight in the first half, in the middle of the semester. And then nine through 15 towards the end of the semester. And so there is that built-in accountability so that they do write their questions, comments, quotations, but it’s not so onerous for me, and they know that it’s being collected, because it’s in the syllabus.
ENG: So that’s one way, kind of hold them accountable.
GONZALEZ: Oh yeah. That sounds like a nice system. Nice and easy, and you’re still holding them accountable in class. I mean, they don’t want to show if they know that you’re going to be asking them …
GONZALEZ: There’s that right there, and then you’ve got the paper, great.
ENG: Yeah, yeah.
GONZALEZ: OK. I’m going to quickly review the four that we’ve already talked about so that people listening can kind of keep track. So the first one was creating a student avatar. The second was to use tent cards as a method for remembering student names and getting them to talk to each other. The third one is to implement cold calling and the no opt out strategy so that you can get students participating and talking more in class. And then No. 4 was to use the QQC strategy — questions, quotations or comments — as a response to reading.
GONZALEZ: So the fifth one, and you actually have a bonus, so this is actually not the last one, but the fifth one is what?
ENG: Well, so the fifth one, well … First of all, I need to figure out a better acronym for QQC, because it’s exactly what it is, but I need to find something …
GONZALEZ: Yeah. What about … I’m wondering about …
ENG: I don’t know, I don’t know.
GONZALEZ: I wonder if you replace “quotation” with “citation” … No. Because then it would be QCC. I don’t know either.
ENG: If your listeners have a better suggestion, I’m all ears.
GONZALEZ: OK, yeah.
ENG: All right? How about that? OK. All right.
5. Put the Lecture at the End
ENG: And so anyway, so this fifth technique is to … and this is something that, again, your listeners or just college instructors in general can implement as soon as possible. And basically it’s to put the lecture part of the lesson at the end as opposed to at the front.
GONZALEZ: I love this so much.
ENG: Yeah. So I mean … the deal is that sometimes we preview things for students. Like, we might say that, “Oh, these are the vocabularies that you should be aware of,” or “Let’s talk about this concept,” you know, “of what you read last night for this particular class.” Or “Let’s talk a little bit more about these theories to make sure that you understand the readings,” kind of thing.
The problem with doing this kind of lecture thing up front is that students don’t necessarily have a connection to these terms or these theories, especially in the beginning. True, they might have done some reading for it, but it doesn’t relate to them.
And so I’ll give an example, right? So on … what day is it? Tuesday of this past week, I had my students read about two philosophers, right? John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Right? Both of them were very important figures in education. And the idea is that both of them believe that children are shaped by their experiences, right? But the difference is that Locke believed that parents and teachers are more responsible for shaping their environment. In other words, they felt that parents played kind of a bigger role in making sure that you shape the environment the right way, the right structure, instilling habits and discipline. Whereas Rousseau was more about making sure that the environment is what shaped the child, not the environment, the nature is what shaped the environment. So in other words, let them feel things out, let them figure it on their own without parent intervention, without interference as much as possible.
The difference is that I didn’t start my lesson talking about John Locke and Rousseau, right? I didn’t even bring up their names. Instead, I actually asked my students, “How did you guys grow up?” You know? I wanted to kind of hear their experiences with discipline, with school work, you know, how parents raised them. And I found that, you know, this led into a rich discussion about different philosophies of parenting and teaching and that in turn just kind of led into the lecture on Locke and Rousseau.
GONZALEZ: Who doesn’t want to talk about that? I mean, well, maybe some people don’t …
GONZALEZ: But it’s so personal then, and it really … I mean … yeah. I love that intro.
ENG: I mean … isn’t that the idea, you know? There’s so much research in education right now that talks about how students won’t understand something unless they can place it within the context of their life. And so that’s what that is. If I can get students to understand, “Oh, how did you grow up?” All of a sudden, there is this connection to, “Oh, I can see. Locke’s philosophy was much more on this, and Rousseau’s was much more on this. And there is this … you can really kind of place them within the context of your own life. You know what? You can’t just start by talking about them. If you put it in the end, then students have that context to understand these philosophers. And that’s when you can talk about the terms and the vocabulary and things like that. So for your listeners or for college professors in general, my suggestion is to start off instead with some sort of a question or some sort of a scenario or dilemma.
GONZALEZ: Problem, or right, some sort of a challenge. There’s a lot of different … That’s the thing. I love this quick little flip, because it’s so easy. You can plug anything into that first half of class, basically, that’s going to grab their interest and get them thinking about whatever this thing is, and then you plug in all of the facts and the information that they need to know, and their minds are primed for it.
ENG: I love that. That’s the word I think I was searching for, is that they’re primed for this after they’ve done that. Think of the way … like K-12 teachers, right? When you’re teaching something as simple as, like, adding and subtracting, you don’t go, “Today we’re going to learn about addition. Let’s start by going over terms like ‘sum’ and ‘adding.’” No. Those are abstract terms that kids have no idea what that means. Instead, what do you do? You start by having children add onto different piles or give pencils to each other so that they can add five pencils and eight pencils together. You actually have them work it out on their own as opposed to talking about these abstract terms. And once they’ve done it, then you can talk about, “Oh, here’s how you add things” like that, right?
ENG: You know, you don’t talk about formulas until after they’ve played around with it, doesn’t that make sense, right?
GONZALEZ: I mean again, I just keep thinking, if 10 percent of the college professors out there started to do this, what a vastly different experience it would start to make college be for people.
ENG: And students would start listening. How about that?
GONZALEZ: Oh my gosh. They would really … yeah, they’d wake up for one thing. I know that students sleeping in class is a big problem in college.
ENG: That is another reason to start with an activity or dilemma, right? Because you want kids, you know, and I have a lot of students that are, like you said, nontraditional. They’re coming in … Like, I teach undergrad classes at 5 p.m. 5 p.m.?
GONZALEZ: Oh man.
ENG: They’ve done a whole work day, so they’re tired.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yep. So, what is your bonus tip?
Bonus: Design Meaningful Experiences
ENG: So yeah. I have five tips over here, and I thought that I’d add one other thing for college professors, which is less of something that you can … which will take awhile to do, so that’s why I kind of saved this for the end. It’s more of an approach, more of a shift in the mindset, and here it is. It’s to think of your role less as a “teacher,” kind of in the traditional sense of that word, and more as a designer of meaningful experiences or a creator or an engineer of meaningful experiences.
And what I mean by that is that, you know, lectures and class time is not about, like, going over what students read last night, right? Because I actually spend, like, 80 percent of my prep time designing ways to make sense of content, packaging it in readily digestible form. Actually, one of my students, and I told you before how I asked students to write about what their one big complaint about professors, and one student actually wrote that she wished that professors knew how to better organize their material in a way that made sense and made it interesting and easy to remember. So, you know, our job isn’t just to lecture, it’s to take it and make it into bite-sized pieces to make sense of it, and to actually create an experience that’ll make sense of this information.
What I’m saying is next time you’re planning a lesson, think about what experience can you create that’ll allow students to understand the content. Maybe it’s group collaboration, maybe it’s a debate, maybe it’s a demonstration or even a video or even a field trip, obviously. So forget about, like, trying to cover the content. We’re all trying to cover the curriculum, and you’ll never have—right?—you’ll never have enough time for that. Focus instead on creating meaningful experiences every single class, because that shift in mindset, I’m positive will put you kind of, like, in that elite status of instructors and professors.
GONZALEZ: Absolutely, absolutely. Thank you so much for all of this wisdom. I can just say to the people listening, this is really just a slice of what is in that book. The book is called “Teaching College.” I’m going to link to it on the website. And where can people find you again online?
ENG: They can find me at my own website, which is normaneng.org, which is where I maintain a blog that brings out some of these real issues that we talk about. You can also find a link to the book as well on Amazon.
GONZALEZ: Yes. And I would also recommend that people subscribe to your email list, which is something they’ll be prompted to do when they go over to your site, because you do, you’re sending out emails. I’ve been getting your emails, and they’ve been great also.
GONZALEZ: And if for no other reason, people should get your book to learn how to make better syllabi, because your stuff on writing a syllabus is just … it’s fantastic. It’s so … I want to go make one, and I don’t even have a class.
ENG: I appreciate that. One other thing I just want to bring up is that also, especially for your listeners who maybe prefer to read, like, a print version, because right now the book that I have is a Kindle format, it’s an e-format.
ENG: I’m actually coming out with the print version, a paperback version of the book, sometime, probably towards the end of March, so pretty soon.
GONZALEZ: Oh good.
ENG: As well as an audiobook. That’s actually in the works right now. It should be coming up within the next week or so, so look out for the print or audio, or of course you can get the ebook now if you go on Amazon and just type in “Teaching College.”
GONZALEZ: Thank you so much, Norman.
ENG: Thanks so much for having me here.
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