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Slow Teaching

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

December 6, 2018

Students in classroomAt this point in the semester, things can be so frenzied that you feel like a chicken running around with its head cut off. Or maybe because you’re so tired, a chicken shuffling around with its head cut off. In any case, you might be wondering if there is a way to s-l-o-w things down to avoid the same end-of-semester frenzy in the future.

Take a SIP of this: Slow Teaching

Slow teaching is a movement based on the same principles as other “slow” movements. Slow movements shift attention away from speed and quantity and instead focus on quality and presence. Slow movements push back against the cultural pressure to always be doing more, faster.

Just as the Slow Food movement encourages us to sit down to a nice leisurely meal with a glass of wine and linger, the Slow Teaching movement suggests that we focus on deep learning of a few key concepts instead of attempting to cram a few more concepts or facts into each class meeting. Adopting a “slow” approach can help us and our students feel more present and focused, which can increase learning.

Slowing our teaching down means thinking more about the quality of what we do. Instead of giving students three examples of a particular concept, give them just one, but really develop that example by giving a short lecture about it, then showing a short video about it and finally having students engage in a debate about a problematic aspect of the concept. (Bonus: Approaching a concept in multiple ways is a Universal Design for Learning technique.) Or instead of assigning three articles on a particular concept, assign just one, but require students to annotate every paragraph of the article and then compare their annotations with a classmate’s and discuss differences.

Here are some ways to slow your teaching in the spring:

  1. Look over all the content you plan to cover in the semester. Now, compare the list of content with the course’s student learning outcomes (SLOs). Is there any content that doesn’t connect to at least one SLO? Cross it off the list. Now, you can put more energy into teaching the remaining content deeply and thoroughly. You probably feel better already.
  2. Look over the list of assignments you plan to give. Again, compare the list with the SLOs for the course. Is there any assignment that doesn’t connect to at least one SLO? Cross it off the list. Are there some SLOs that multiple assignments meet? If so, prioritize them in terms of most important to least important, and cross off the least important one. Now, students can focus their energies on the assignments that will enable the deepest, most significant learning.
  3. Imagine yourself in the spring, looking at a stack of assignments waiting to be graded. Imagine yourself reflecting on what you wanted students to learn from doing the assignments. Imagine yourself grading the assignments, making comments only on the top two most important concepts you wanted students to learn from the assignment. Now, make a note in your calendar on the date students will turn in that assignment in the spring, reminding yourself to make that imagined experience a reality.

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Slow Teaching:

Visit the Well for more great ideas and resources for Strong Instructional Practices in your higher-education classroom!