A key to moving to more impactful teaching strategies is listening to students about their goals, needs, and strengths. What do students say works to engage them and help them make progress on their learning?
A panel of four college and university students addressed that question recently as part of REMOTE: The Connected Faculty Summit in Students Discuss the Most Impactful Teaching Strategies. REMOTE is an annual online conference, presented with support from Every Learner Everywhere, that brings together experts sharing actionable teaching and learning strategies. This year’s topics included equitable practices, engaging learners outside the classroom, and the effective use of adaptive learning.
The four presenters on the panel — Aajahne Seeney, Daniel Crisostomo, Zaire McMican, and Renee Restivo Rivera — were part of Every Learner’s 2022 student fellowship program.
1. Foster a comfortable and safe space for students
Seeney is studying elementary education and Spanish at Delaware State University. She says developing “norms” and setting expectations for the classroom environment is critical, and this will ensure that students feel safe enough to voice their opinions.
One key way professors can establish a comfortable class space is making sure they can correctly pronounce each student’s name — this was brought up by Crisostomo, a senior at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and McMican, a junior at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. McMican added that it’s important for teachers to implement equitable and inclusive practices, such as being willing to understand how to pronounce names properly, and it helps him stay engaged in class.
2. Be available
McMican has noticed a difference when teachers go out of their way to make sure he gets the help he needs. He shared an example of dealing with a technology issue, where his instructor immediately responded and connected him with the school’s IT staff.
The following day the teacher sent an email to the rest of the students outlining the possible technology problem that they might encounter, as well as potential solutions.
Related reading – Student Voice: Taking a Long-term Perspective on Equity Work
3. Use technology your students not only use, but also enjoy
Seeney described an impactful experience with one of her child development professors using a short TikTok video to introduce a new lesson.
In her online math class, Seeney’s professor customized videos for the students. “It was much more comfortable than pulling a video from the internet because we got to hear her voice,” says Seeney.
4. Notice if a student’s grade is slipping or if they have been absent a few times
Restivo Rivera, a mother of three with a full-time job attending Northwestern Connecticut Community College, says students need to feel that they are important to the instructor and that their education matters. She suggests having students fill out a Google form with information about themselves as a way for instructors to get to know them.
Restivo Rivera says instructors should be proactive if a student’s grade is slipping, or if they are missing class, to let the student know they are available for support: “It’s important for faculty to reach out to students before there’s a problem.”
Related reading – An Introduction to Equity-centered Assessment
5. Design the curriculum to be relatable
Crisostomo, who is studying music and finance, says “You never hear about a Latino classical composer. I realized that the music I sing and study was never meant for anybody who looks like me to sing.”
Crisostomo’s music history professor realized that this could be discouraging and took measures to introduce minoritized musicians, while also discussing the problems they faced and the way their feelings informed their music.
“After my professor showed us all types of composers, a Latino composer or a Black composer, it made my heart feel welcomed,” he explains. “Maybe I have the possibility to be as great as anybody else.”
Related reading: Curricula That Accounts For All Students
6. Use assessment to encourage learning
Restivo Rivera developed a strong bond with her medical ethics instructor and noticed that they put a lot of time into grading her work and would let students know if their work was on track or if it needed improvement.
“She had this amazing effect on everyone in that class,” says Restivo Rivera. “Not one person who started that class dropped out. Her compassion and empathy for students is impactful.”
7. Welcome feedback from students
Inviting feedback from students can strengthen their connection with instructors and work to keep them engaged in a subject. In McMican’s psychology class, his professor checked in with every student throughout the semester, asking what they could improve in their process as the instructor and how the student was progressing with their work.
Class surveys can also be an effective tool in engaging students. Letting the class know that there will be a survey at the end of the semester, and that each student’s feedback is valuable, creates an opening for students’ voices to be heard.
Seeney shares that students in one of her classes complete a survey at the end of the semester and have a chance to analyze the class. “It’s anonymous, so it does not feel awkward,” says Seeney. “I do feel like I am able to get anything off my chest at the end and am able to help the professor improve for the next semester.”
Related reading – 4 Tips for Assessing Students with Care to Remove Barriers to EquitySee more presentations from ASU Remote on the Every Learner Everywhere resource page