teaching tips

Photo depicts a modern office work space with two tables and two white boards. Photo via Pixabay.

This article is reposted with edits from an original post made 3/11/2020

Erika Sanborne is a TSP Graduate Board member who has received various awards for teaching and often serves as a teaching & technology consultant for faculty and graduate instructors. Her research interests include the life course, race, and religion. Her favorite course to teach is statistics.

Many of us are a week or two into teaching a suddenly-online course that we had designed to teach in person. Having taught about 50 undergraduate class sections in person, and about 50 undergraduate class sections online, I am duly familiar with both options. To be clear, when I have taught the same subject online and on campus even during the same semester, they are very different courses. Yet here we are with this current situation, so let’s deal with it as best we can. In this write-up, I’m inviting you into “round 2” following all the big changes you have made in the past few weeks to get to this moment.

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Lit-up sign by the road that reads, US Border Patrol.
Photo by Jonathan McIntosh, Flickr CC

Teaching about immigration can be tough because students come to our classrooms with the battle lines already drawn and believing their minds are already made up. We know, for example, that “the border” occupies a large conceptual space in our collective minds and that certain racialized populations suffer from perceptions of illegality. I have successfully re-centered my classroom conversation in a more constructive direction by starting with something most students seem to have a complete lack of information about: how the U.S. immigration system actually works.

Below I share some resources and ideas for leading an hour long discussion on “everything you wanted to know about the immigration system but were afraid to ask.” The activity below would be a great fit for any course where you are going to spend several class days on migration in the United States: Global Sociology, Social Problems, Migration, Race & Ethnicity, or Crime & Deviance. This activity is intended to take advantage of the fact that a classroom is a special place designated for learning, where everyone (including the instructor) can always learn something new without feeling embarrassed of our ignorance.

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Photo of a sign marking the historical site of the Stewart Indian School (1890-1980). Photo by Ken Lund, Flickr CC

*~* “Teach with TSP” Contest Winner, 2018 *~*

One of the ways that The Society Pages can be really useful for teaching is for finding ways to connect recent events in the news to larger sociological conversations in the classroom. Today’s suggestion shows one way to use “There’s Research on That!” to do just that: without necessarily assigning any of the readings to the students, the instructor can find a topic of relevance and use the academic resources included in the TROTs post to quickly catch themselves up to speed on the recent sociological literature in order to facilitate a stronger class discussion. This is a great way to keep classes relevant and to keep ourselves current in the field.

Recently a Texas court ruled the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) unconstitutional. This topic would be of interest in a variety of sociology courses: Family, Law and Society, Race and Ethnicity, Social Problems, and Intro to Sociology units on institutions.

Materials:

You bring:

  • Projector/internet/resources to show a streaming film in class
  • Link to the documentary
  • Read the TROTs resources ahead of time
  • Prepare and print copies of a worksheet with some questions (suggestions below) connecting the ICWA with contemporary and historical experiences on Native people in the United States
  • Paper copies of a news article about the Texas court decision striking down the ICWA (unless you want to assign it in advance or have students read together in class)

Students bring:

  • Any reading you want to assign in advance

Instructions:

  1. Ask students to read a news article about the Texas court ruling that the ICWA is unconstitutional. You can either have everyone do this together at the start of class or assign this to be read in advance, but in all cases ask students to take written notes on anything they don’t understand or have further questions about.
  2. Ask students if they have any immediate comprehension questions about the news article. For example: if they didn’t understand a word or basic concept, then those questions should be answered. Otherwise, tell students to keep their questions in mind during the documentary. The questions should help the students connect the contemporary to the historical.
  3. Show the first 40 minutes of the PBS Documentary “Unspoken: America’s Native American Boarding Schools.” The documentary streams for free online. Its full length is 56 minutes but I don’t recommend the last 16 minutes for this activity as it is not focused on boarding schools and will probably distract class discussion. Ask the students to complete the worksheet while they watch the documentary, which will again help make broader sociological connections between the historical experience of boarding schools and contemporary foster care systems and schooling. Actively using the worksheet also teaches students to be more active watchers of content.
  4. Use the answers on the worksheet AND the questions students wrote on the news article to launch a discussion. A good prompt for starting a discussion after an emotional video like this one can sometimes be to first let students just react to the content (ex: “how did it make you feel?” or “what did you think?”) before trying to get them to think too analytically.

Worksheet Question Suggestions

  • Did the documentary answer any of the questions you wrote beforehand?
  • What is the Dawes Act?
  • List 3 dates you heard and what happened on those dates. (You as the instructor can use these to have students construct a timeline later for a more extensive activity if you want. These can be a really useful for active learning and to really have students visualize how long certain periods lasted in relation to how little time has passed since then.)
  • How long did American Indian boarding schools run? When were they closed?
  • Give one example of resilience from the documentary.
  • What surprised you?
  • What does assimilation mean? How does it relate to American Indian boarding schools? To the Indian Child Welfare Act?
  • There are more ideas for discussion on the PBS website of the documentary.

Additional Resources

 

 A special thank you to Bret Evered for her invaluable pedagogical knowledge and assistance with this activity.

Dr. Meghan Krausch studies race, gender, disability, and other forms of marginalization throughout the Americas and in particular how grassroots communities have developed ways to resist their own marginalization. Read more of Meg’s writing at The Rebel Professor or get in touch directly at meghan.krausch@gmail.com.

A scene from "The Road from Crime"
A scene from “The Road from Crime”

In our volume Crime and the Punished, we featured our interview with sociologist-filmmakers Shadd Maruna and Fergus McNeill. This activity builds from their film:

How and why people stop committing crime is an important question. “Discovering Desistance,” by Sarah Lageson and Sarah Shannon describes how two social scientists “co-created” “The Road from Crime,” a film about desistance from the perspective of former prisoners and the practitioners who work with them. Watch the 50-minute film as you consider these discussion questions:

  1. In what ways might the criminal justice system promote reoffending?
  2. According to the filmmakers, desistance is both an “internal” and an “external” process. Where do you see internal and external processes in the film.
  3. What punishment policies might be changed, added, or abandoned to better promote desistance?
  4. Most people who work in the criminal justice system have never been convicted of serious crimes. How might the system be different if it incorporated more input from people who had been punished under it?

After watching the film, imagine that you are a social worker in a community to which many ex-prisoners return. What resources do you think you’d need to address community needs and help former inmates desist from crime? What community leaders or organizations would you need to enlist for support? Discuss your thoughts in a group and draw up a list of the “stakeholders” whose voices are critical for designing your policy.

Trayvon Martin’s death has drawn a great deal of attention from people throughout the United States.  Our own Sociological Images has written about the tragedy in three distinct posts (all found here).

This event occurred while my introduction to sociology courses were discussing race.  My students, logically, brought up his murder when we were discussing racial formation and racial stereotypes.  This turned into the most engaged, energetic and lively discussion we had all semester.

Students were, as they should be, angered.  They were frustrated with a society that allowed such tragedies to happen and disappointed that more people were not demanding Zimmerman be prosecuted.  I’m willing to go on a limb, however, and suggest not all students will feel the same way.

Despite my students’ passion, they brought up a variety of questions I believe their peers (and broader society) will have:

1) If Zimmerman is latino, is the case still about race?

Absolutely.  This question led our class to have a great conversation about the internalization of racial stereotypes and the impact of institutional and interpersonal racism on individuals.  We watched “A Girl Like Me” and discussed Kenneth Clark‘s original doll experiment.  (A group of my students are even setting out to do the same activity with children who are not black.)

2) Why would Zimmerman suspect Trayvon of suspicious behavior at all?

This question led to a great conversation about the impact of stereotypes on the perceptions we have of one another.  Using labeling theory, our class was able to discuss the way in which society ascribes particular labels to people based on the variety of statuses we embody.  These labels affect the way that people perceive us and the ways in which they interpret our behavior (such as the wearing of a hoodie).   In order to lead a discussion on labeling by race and gender, we watched the following clips from my favorite teaching show, “What Would You Do“: the bike theft, and racism in America (parts one and two).  Students immediately connected the material to the Trayvon case and their own lives (I had them do an in class writing on how they have been effected by labeling).

3) Why isn’t Zimmerman being charged?

Students, particularly those from states that do not have “Stand Your Ground” laws, are particularly puzzled by the fact that Zimmerman was not arrested.  Teachers who wish to discuss this topic can explore the history of these laws here.  My students, generally, were appalled by the interpretation of these laws (as addressed in that article) and their expansion.  Many expressed personal fear, and others remarked that, had Zimmerman been black, he would have been arrested immediately.

I encourage you to have conversations about Trayvon Martin in your classroom – not to exploit his death but to make students aware of the prevalence of such cases.  Hopefully, our students will one day be in positions in which they make and enforce laws and policies that will treat all people equally.

Managing conflict with students in the classroom is something that many instructors struggle with. Both new teachers and those with years of experience often express anxiety and frustration about how to address some of these issues. The following tutorials are provided by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

Why is it important to address these issues?

Managing a classroom well–balancing your instructional authority with your students’ concerns–comes with experience. Sometimes painful experience! Small problems poorly handled can distract you from teaching well and cast a pall on the semester. And while many are ready to complain about situations, we don’t often engage in constructive talk about how to manage and minimize the troublesome issues when they arise.

These scenarios help instructors think about what to do when a student complains about a great, doesn’t think s/he will ever ‘get’ the concept, misses work because of a sick child, disputes classroom or assignment directions, or asks you to meet off campus.

How to use the tutorial:

Select a scene (see below) and you’ll have a chance to view an encounter between a student and an instructor.

Following the clip, you’ll likely want to think about how you might have handled the situation—there’s no single correct approach. After you’ve formulated an opinion, you can choose to listen to several teaching consultants to see how they might have worked with the student to resolve the conflict.

Transcripts of both the scene and the advice are available on every page and further resources can be found on the workshop’s resources page.

Take a look at the scenes below…

Scene 1 – Why Did You Take Points Off?
Scene 2 – I’ll Never Get It!
Scene 3 – Could You Talk to the Professor for Us?
Scene 4 – It’s a Zoo in Here!
Scene 5 – Let’s Meet for Coffee
Scene 6 – I Had to Go to a Funeral
Scene 7 – Sorry, but I Don’t Always Understand You
Scene 8 – Do the Problem for Me!
Scene 9 – I Had a Sick Child!
Scene 10 – You Never Told Us That!

Book stackThese resources for planning successful and effective lectures come from the University of Minnesota‘s Center for Teaching and Learning, a free source of great information about undergraduate instruction available to those within and beyond the University. They offer a number of resources on ‘Designing Smart Lectures,’ but today we’ll focus on lecture planning and delivery. 

3 important things to keep in mind when planning for the lecture:

  • Articulate the goals for every lecture to yourself, and plan to share those goals with your students at the beginning of your presentation
  • Determine which key points can be effectively developed during the class session
  • Develop an introduction, body, and conclusion to your lecture to meet those goals and to help your students follow your thoughts

Specific tips on lecture organization:

  • Stick to 3-4 main points in a 50-minute period
  • Vary your format of presenting every 15 minutes
  • Organize material in logical order:

Cause-Effect: Events are cited and explained (i.e., one can demonstrate how the continental revolutionary movements of the late 1700’s affected British politics at the turn of the century).

Time sequential: Lecture ideas are arranged chronologically (i.e., a lecturer explaining the steps in a clinical supervision model, talks about the first step to be undertaken, the second step, and so forth).

Topical (Compare and Contrast): Related elements of various selected topics are focused on successively (i.e., a professor lecturing about etiologies, typical histories, and predisposing factors of various diseases).

Problem-solution: The statement of a problem is followed by alternate solutions (i.e., a lecture on the Cuban missile crisis could begin with a statement of the foreign policy problem followed by a presentation of the alternative solutions available to President

Pro-Con: A two-sided discussion of agiven topic is presented (i.e., the lecture is organized around the advantages and disadvantages of using the lecture method of instruction)

Ascending-Descending: Lecture topics are arranged according to their importance familiarity, or complexity (i.e., in a lecture introducing students to animal diseases, the diseases of primary importance could be discussed first, the tertiary/less important ones last)

PowerPoint 12Many instructors are now using PowerPoint to present lecture material, integrate technology in the classroom, and project videos for their classes. Below you will find some useful tips and tricks compiled by University of Minnesota PhD candidate Jon Smajda, also the Web Editor of Contexts Magazine.

  1. Use the Dual Monitors mode in Powerpoint: Ever wished you could look at your own notes on your laptop screen while keeping the Powerpoint presentation up on the projector screen for your students? You can do this! You have to enable Dual Monitor mode on your laptop and Powerpoint and then you put the Powerpoint slide on one “monitor” (the projector screen) and have your own laptop monitor free to do whatever you want. Here are the instructions: http://www.onppt.com/ppt/article1026.html.
  2. Navigating to a specific slide: Say you’re on slide #12 and you want to go to your web browser to show the class a website or you want to bring up a Word document to show the class. When you go back to Powerpoint, you select View Show from the Slide Show menu and you’re right back at slide #1. Then you have to quickly cycle through each slide to get back to slide #12. There are three ways to avoid this. First, before you enter slideshow mode, instead of using the menu use the tiny “Slide Show” icon in the bottom left corner of your screen (its icon looks like a projector). If you click this, you’ll be taken straight to the slide displayed in your editing mode window, not the first slide. Second, while you’re in slideshow mode, if at any time you type a number and click return you’ll be taken to that slide: so “12 return” takes you to slide #12. Third, if you right-click anywhere on the screen while in slide show mode, and go to the “Go” menu you can go straight to any slide that way.
  3. Drawing on the screen: If you type control-p (or command-p on macs) while you’re in slideshow mode, you’ll get a pen icon. You can then draw on the screen. This is helpful if you’re looking at graphics or lots of text, for example, and want to draw attention to one element (or if you simply want to pretend you’re John Madden drawing out football plays on the telestrator). If you click “E” your drawings will be erased, and if you go to another slide and come back, they’ll also be erased.
  4. Blank screen: If you click “W” while in a slideshow, you’ll get a blank white screen. If you click “B” you’ll get a blank black screen. Just click W or B again to return to your slide. This is helpful if you want to move into a discussion portion of the class and don’t want everyone pretending to study your slides as a way to avoid making eye contact with you when you ask them questions.
  5. Other shortcuts: Microsoft has a table of other shortcuts like this available on their website: http://office.microsoft.com/en-gb/assistance/HP051953031033.aspx

Also, if you are looking for more detailed online tutorials and references, check out the links below…

Know of other great tricks for making the best use of PowerPoint in the classroom? Comment below!

For those of you unfamiliar with the Contexts Crawler, this blog provides summaries of sociological research in the news as it hits the presses (or the web). The site houses daily posts of news articles from national and international news sources and summarizes the key findings of social science research and highlights the relevant discussion by the media. The Contexts Crawler can be a valuable resource for instructors of sociology to bring current events into lectures and in-class activities. You can find up-to-date news stories on the topics you cover in the classroom, using newspaper articles as a way to help your students understand different sociological concepts with current and innovative research…

How to use the Crawler to find articles for your classes…

All of the posts in site are fully searchable, using the ‘Search’ function on the left-hand side of the site (about halfway down). Using this function, you can look for news stories on particular topics like race, gender, sexuality, youth, and work – among many others.

Another handy way to navigate the Crawler is to use the tag cloud on the left-hand side of the page. (See this for an explanation of a ‘tag cloud.’) This part of the site displays the number of posts on a particular topic by the size of the text. For example, the tag ‘culture’ is used more frequently than the tag ‘youth.’ Although stories are available for both of these topics.

Visit the Contexts Crawler at www.thesocietypages.org/crawler

For beginners: What is a blog?