Sunday, March 06, 2005

Advice from Ms. Mentor and Mr. Trout

Some suggestions about improving student evaluations are sensible (of course, try to be less boring!) and some are bitter (why should handsome teachers get better evaluations than homely ones?); most lists go both ways. We want to be liked but resent pandering.

My teaching has been as a singing and fiddle teacher and as a choral director; in these roles it's crucial to be amusing and to project intense energy - to perform. If teaching is a kind of performance, then:
  • Be loud and speak clearly. Projection and good diction mean people will hear you. In concert people get bored when room acoustics are bad and they strain to hear the words.

  • Use the cadences of your voice to make your point. Language should be a song. A monotonous voice puts people to sleep.

  • Make sure to start and end with a bang of some kind. What happens in between doesn't matter so much.

  • Keep them off guard. If we do a few sad or somber songs, then we do a funny one, and vice versa. Don't let them be sure what's going to happen next.

  • An audience never applauds more loudly than when it is applauding for itself. We achieve that self-congratulatory applause with sing-alongs. And at the end of my non-singing class, I take the training wheels off and the adults who when they came in would not make a peep of sound sing every song we learned all term, by themselves, while I sit as their audience and beam approvingly. They leave flushed with triumph.

And now on to the somewhat tongue-in-cheek pointers about avoiding "harsh and demoralizing" student comments given by Ms. Mentor in The Torment of Teaching Evaluations:
  • Give higher grades.

  • Use more hand gestures, modulate your voice more, and walk while you talk.

  • Students give higher evaluations to teachers who are good-looking or very dramatic (from the Dr. Fox effect," named for a hired actor who purported to be "Dr. Fox" and who gave a nonsensical university lecture in a wildly entertaining style, and got outstanding student evaluations for his brilliance).

  • Study standup comics to learn how to open a class.

  • Make hip references to celebrities, moral issues, wacky current events.

She says that in one study, "those who saw just a 30-second soundless video of a teacher in action gave him virtually the same ratings as the students taking his course -- who'd spent a semester reading, writing, thinking, and talking with him."

And here are some Paul Trout tactics to improve ratings:
  • Enhance your "immediacy" effect (and get higher evaluations) by smiling, using gestures, being relaxed, moving among the students, and looking them in the eye. Students of such teacher "indicate that they enjoy the course more, feel more comfortable with the material, and intend to pursue the subject farther than do students with less immediate teachers" ...

  • Dress casually. If you dress down, students will find you more friendly, likeable, flexible, interesting, sympathetic, fair, approachable, and enthusiastic.

  • Use powerful words; do not use hedges, intensifiers, or "ah" and "uhm". A direct speech style will convince students that you are appealing and competent ...

  • Tell students you're warm and nurturing. ... To get tenure, Peter Sacks recounts in Generation X Goes to College how he became a "teaching teddy bear:"
    Students could do no wrong, and I did almost anything possible to keep all of them happy, all of the time, no matter how childish or rude their behavior, no matter how poorly they performed in the course, no matter how little effort they gave. If they wanted their hands held, I would hold them. If they wanted a stapler (or a Kleenex) and I didn't have one, I'd apologize.
  • Lastly, "never overtly confront students about their class attendance, indolence, apathy, or impertinent behavior. The entire class may turn against the professors, leading to a precipitous drop in one's ratings as a teacher."
I'd enjoy hearing your opinions and experiences... Also see Get yer student evaluations here....

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At 8:24 AM, Blogger Lynda said...

It's been so long since I've had a "real" teacher, but those I remember the most were those that expected more, did more, and held us ALL to a higher standard. And they did so with enthusiasm. I never had a "Jaime Escalante" but I had some that came close. I guess the thing that made me think highly of a teacher was having one that was fully engaged. Oh, and Michele sent me :-)

At 11:06 AM, Blogger Paula said...

I feel sorry for my daughter's HS biology teacher. He's brand-new and the kids all hate him. Last semester they had a woman who taught for many years, had everything memorized and maintained a casual, friendly manner. This guy reads off notecards--the horror!

At 12:54 PM, Blogger Badaunt said...

The question that always annoys me the most at one place where they ask the students if the teacher taught at the right level for their needs.

The only possible correct answer to that is 'no,' because we are given classes which include every level from beginner to advanced and told to use one textbook. I'm always amazed at how many students say yes, though. I think they just answer according to how they feel on the day the surveys are given.

At 9:03 AM, Blogger tafka PP said...

Your own performance/direction tips are fabulous and very helpful to me- thanks


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