Spring 2014 Teaching Effectiveness Institute Focused on Creating Excitement in the Classroom

Todd ZakrajsekThe first day of the Spring 2014 Teaching Effectiveness Institute brought together over 60 NIU faculty, instructors, and teaching staff in two workshops presented by Todd Zakrajsek, Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.

Zakrajsek led two engaging half-day sessions: Critical Challenges in Teaching and Learning and How to Best Address those Challenges and Creating Excitement in the Classroom: Teaching for More Engaged Learning. In the morning, Zakrajsek discussed how to set a positive tone in the classroom and how to respond when problems arise. In the afternoon, he focused on how students learn and strategies faculty can use to increase student motivation and engagement to further student learning.

Participants practiced with Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) that are proven to facilitate meaningful teaching and learning. For example, faculty can ask students to write a one-minute paper at the end of the class period to further engage with content and check their understanding of material covered. Zakrajsek also stressed that expecting students to memorize content is not a particularly effective technique for moving content into long-term memory. Instead, he recommends helping students become more engaged with content through authentic and engaged learning activities. Examples of what he calls “significant learning” activities include students caring about and connecting with their feelings, interests, and values (as well as those of others); becoming self-directed learners (students taking responsibility of their own learning); and becoming life-long learners (where students develop an extrinsic sense of learning).

Zakrajsek further recommends building students’ self-esteem through real (substantive) feedback beyond using simple comments such as “good work” or “nice job.” In real life, he says, “everyone doesn’t get a trophy.” Real feedback should get students’ attention by offering them ways to improve and move forward. This type of feedback can help students realize that they shouldn’t focus on having lost but that they just haven’t won yet!

Many institute participants commented that the first-hand anecdotes and stories will help them implement more engaging and exciting classroom experiences, and they would have liked to have even more time at the institute in order to learn more strategies for creating an exciting classroom.

Dr. Todd Zakrajsek is an Associate Professor in the School of Medicine and the Department of Family Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill. He has published and presented widely on the topic of student learning, including workshops and conference keynote addresses in 42 states and 6 countries.

For further information on these topics and other teaching-related issues, contact Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at facdev@niu.edu or 815.753.0595.

 

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