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Center for Faculty Excellence
Tips for Teaching
Cadet Class Preparation
How can we improve it?
- Homework is necessary. From what we know about the human learning process, we know that real learning cannot happen unless students are actively engaged with the material to be learned in several settings. That is, "class presentation" alone will not make learning happen. Students need opportunities to encounter new ideas and/or problems, reflect on that information, practice and get feedback, etc. Therefore, in some form (depending on the discipline), class preparation by cadets is a necessity.
- Cadets don't know that homework is necessary. The learner will not appreciate the need for preparation unless the learning experience is structured to make that need essential. This is the role of the teacher.
- The way one structures the learning situation depends on the level of the student and the nature of the course material. For example, if I am teaching plebes in their first semester, and it is necessary for them to read 30 pages of information, I might provide a brief outline of the material and ask the cadets to annotate it with specifics as they read OR I might provide key questions for them to respond to briefly in writing. The key is to provide whatever "scaffolding" will help the learner get to the outcome we deem necessary. That is, if I want my cadets to understand a sonnet by Shakespeare, having them memorize it would not be the way to achieve my learning goal. However, if I annotate the sonnet for them (if the text does not provide the annotation for Elizabethan words) and ask that they write a 50-word gloss of the sonnet's meaning in contemporary English idiom, I would insure that they didn't just look at the words and come to class waiting for me to explain the sonnet to them.
- Sometimes one has to "push" to get compliance. Often faculty members believe that if they "force" students to work, the work will be substandard. That's not necessarily true. Students will always try to "set the bar" themselves rather than work at the level you stipulate. I had experience of this recently when I formed my EN302 cadets into teams of three and asked them to meet weekly to review course material and discuss their writing. A week went by, and I had not received any of the team reports I'd asked for, so I e-mailed the class a "forceful" message expressing my disappointment and reminding them of their duty. Not only did they immediately begin meeting, but in two AI sessions, cadet shared some "discoveries" they'd made from their teammates, and I knew that the groups were working very well. In fact, when I complimented the team leaders, one responded, "Since we realized we had to do this, we figured that we might as well make it productive."
- Ultimately, getting cadets to prepare for class is an issue of leadership. That is, can I get my cadets to prepare because I've made this course material important and valuable to them? Do they comply because they have confidence that what I've asked them to do is significant for learning and will help them succeed? Have I brought them into the vision of why this course is in the curriculum and helped them appropriate that value for themselves? Learning is their job, not mine, so I have to make them part of a cooperative enterprise rather than confining them to the role of "receiver of information."