Teaching and Christian Practices
Members: Vicki De Vries (French), David Leugs (CAS), Olena Shkatulo (Spanish), Julie Walton (Kinesiology, leader)
We are reading Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning by David I. Smith and James K.A. Smith, eds. (2011) over the course of this academic year with hopes of conceiving ways to implement Christian practice-based pedagogical experiments in our own courses. The book introduces the reader to authors who incorporated practices like hospitality, prayer, testimony, and pilgrimage into their teaching to reshape an entire course or a course unit.
We have spent several hours discussing the implications of practices helping shape Christian higher education, and thinking of ways in which particular practices might fit well within our own disciplines, teaching styles, student expectations, and courses (e.g., core vs. upper level majors). But, to date, we have only tried a few exploratory things in hopes that the summer will provide us with the time and space for planning a project for next year.
Vicki DeVries, French: I am thinking of ways that Lectio Divina might be applied to the teaching and learning of French literature. One thing I found very helpful in the Smith & Smith text was David Smith’s practice of having students read a wide variety of poetry all from the same poet throughout the semester. I have found this useful as a teaching strategy, allowing students the time and space to become more familiar with one author, more attuned to what a particular author might “say” and “how” it might be expressed. In a way, students can grow comfortable with an author’s style in a way that helps them become more charitable and expectant readers as a semester progresses.
David Leugs, CAS: I thought about including an emphasis on prayer in my Introduction to Theater core course this semester, but decided to wait for implementation because of the interim/spring semester planning crunch. This course typically utilizes small group discussions which can grow somewhat heated as students consider theater, film, funding for the arts, and other contestable topics within the various arts genres. In about the third week of the course I observed some discussions becoming intense to the point of creating animosity amongst the students. As I pondered what to do about the apparent dislike arising between certain groups of students, I decided to ask each student to choose another student in the course to pray for anonymously every day each week. Each week the students choose a new prayer focus, and I remind them each class period to keep praying for their classmates. I have no measures, but the environment in the class and the civility of the discourse has palpably improved since we began praying.
Olena Shkatulo, Spanish: It has been my desire that students know one another better so that we can build a sense of friendship and community within our learning space in Spanish 202. In some ways, I had hoped this exercise would create a sense of hospitality, in that we would become better listeners, better neighbor-classmates, and better able to share a sense of the familiar all while practicing speaking in Spanish. As a result, I have experimented this semester with having one student use the first three-five minutes of each class to introduce him/herself and tell the rest of us one thing that is important to him/her in Spanish. The assignment is meant to be stress-free in that I am not grading grammar or vocabulary. I hope that they are listening to one another, but my sense is that some take it more superficially than others, because though they are encouraged to ask questions, few actually do.
Julie Walton, Kinesiology: I teach a 300-level 4-credit exercise physiology course in the spring semester which meets 11:30-12:20 MWF plus lab. Because ExPhys was originally called Work Physiology, and because I have been long been thinking about ways to find common ground between the reasons people struggle to keep regular appointments with their exercise and prayer intentions, I wanted students to think with me about the connections. Using Ken Bain’s What the Best College Students Do, Timothy Keller’s Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, and Phyllis Tickle’s Eastertide: Prayers for Lent through Easter from The Divine Hours, I have attempted to cobble together a themed semester in which we pray together, reflect on why and when we do our best work, and how rhythm and consistency and regular attention to our intentions helps us in the times when exercise and prayer seem like plain hard work. Students wrote a paper the first week about a time in their life when they did their best work. They are keeping an exercise journal. I am encouraging them to continue in daily prayer, and we spend the first five minutes of Wednesday classes praying aloud together the midday prayers throughout Lent (it is wonderful to hear these liturgical, rhythmic prayers!). Students have prayed in small groups, together as a large group, and individually. We just finished an in-class reflection on the polarity of sloth and vainglory regarding our attitude toward work, prayer and exercise. I am struck by how many of them deeply desire their prayer lives to be so much richer, how hard they are working to make this happen, but how few of them report a satisfying result, especially as the busy-ness of the semester ramps up. Time will tell if it has been useful to thematically weave such varied aspects of one’s work, prayer and exercise life together. Stay posted!
Members: Beth Byma (Nursing), Henry Luttikhuisen (Art History), Elisha Marr (Sociology and Social Work), Bert Polman (Music), Dwight Ten Huisen (Spanish), Gerry van Kooten (GGES), Dean Ward (English, leader), Jenny Williams (English)
Elisha: This group has taught and reinforced the idea that lecturing is not limited to professors orally communicating facts and data, but using multiple ways to encourage students to engage the content. Dedicating class time to writing reflections or small and full group discussions will help students to sort through what they understand and determine what questions remain. Additionally, multiple exposures to the concepts will increase the likelihood of future retention and recall.
Beth: As a new faculty member with very little experience in teaching I have learned the importance of structuring your lecture and class activities...before I thought it just kind of fell into place. It is hard work and takes time! It was very helpful for me to hear from experienced faculty how they developed classes. It was encouraging for me to hear about the struggles of other instructors re. lecturing and how they addressed these problems.
For my lecturing class in the fall I integrated some group activities into the class such as case studies. Also, I broke up power point slides with critical thinking questions for discussion to help the students apply the material.
Dean: I changed my organizational model for lecturing, which changes the way I prepare notes and move through a lecture. I used to move step by step to a conclusion that only I knew and controlled. I got to show off, and students appreciated going along for the ride. Now I give myself a one-page concept map—and put the map on the board before class starts. Students and I the work through relationships among the concepts and develop different routes to different conclusions about the literary works we’re studying. It puts more responsibility on students to think and work together with me, which, I hope results in better command and memory of the concepts.
Teaching with Technology
Members: Daniel Christian (IT, leader), Jack Du Mez (SAS), Herb Fynewever (Chemistry, leader), Dave Koetje (Biology), Mark Muyskens (Chemistry), Kaori Schau (German and Asian), Kara Sevensma (Education, leader), Peter Snyder (Business), Amy Wilsterman (Biology)
Technology for speaking/listening a second language (Kaori Schau)
On a new web-based program, students can view and listen to short video clips then record their responses. This technology makes both mechanical pattern drills and question/answer type communicative drills possible outside of the classroom.
Using wikis for lab reports (Mark Muyskens)
Replacing paper lab notebooks with wikis enables students to easily collaborate between lab groups and sections. It also facilitates grading anytime without limiting student access to revise their lab write-ups.
Using wikis for course management (Kara Sevensma)
Using wikis rather than course management tools (such as Moodle) has an advantage of preserving course structure from one semester to the next.
Adaptive technology for students with dyslexia (Jack DuMez)
A variety of apps and software are available for tablets that aid students with dyslexia in reading course materials.
Blackboard collaborate (Daniel Christian)
Blackboard Collaborate is a powerful suite of tools that facilitate web-based collaboration: videoconferencing, audio-conferencing, chat, polling, web tours, and application sharing.
Flipping the classroom (Herb Fynewever)
To flip the classroom, students view on YouTube some material that would traditionally be a lecture. This frees up some class time for active student learning.
What the Best College Teachers Do
Members: Herb Fynewever (Chemistry), Arleen Hoogewerf (Biology), Tracy Kuperus (International Development), Victor Norman (Computer Science, leader), Julie Yonker (Psychology)
Major Topics We Discussed
o Knowledge is constructed, not received. Students have to construct the
knowledge for themselves, leading to deep learning.
o Learning Objectives must drive the course. What should the students
learn to do? How can I help and encourage this learning? How can I
evaluate their learning? Does *every* activity and evaluation criteria
o Make a "promising syllabus": invite your students to participate in
learning, instead of commanding them to do activities. Seek commitments.
o Take a real interest in your students as people, within and outside the
o Create a Natural Critical Learning Environment
o Propose a "big question" to discussed -- a real, actual, natural
o Create an environment where students and teacher are discovering how to
answer the question. This leads to higher-level learning.
o Don't blame your students when your teaching is not working.
o Use cumulative exams, allowing students to redeem themselves and
understand that all they've worked on has long-term importance.
Examples of how we implemented these ideas on our classrooms:
I began structuring my class time around "big questions" and discovery
together of how to answer them.
I have added an Invitation section to my syllabi where I invite them to
join me in discovery of the learning outcomes. I also make a presentation
where I show what I promise to offer, and ask the students to promise to
engage with me during the course.
I changed all my exams to be cumulative, so that students know the all
knowledge from the first day to last day of class is important, and so that
students can redeem themselves by getting question correct that they got
wrong on a previous exam.
In many of my courses, I offer a 'meet-the-prof' informal visit about two
weeks into the semester. Students can sign up for a 15 minute time slot
where we chat about things like where they're from, why they came to
Calvin, what their passions are, etc.
I have become far more aware of 'deep learning' and a 'natural critical
environment' when creating classroom lectures, exercises, exams, etc. For
example, when constructing an exam question, I ask myself, "Does this
question foster 'deep learning' or is it merely rote or results-based
learning?" I try to steer things in the direction of the 'bigger
In one of the IDS courses entitled Theories of International Development,
the question driving the whole course is "Why do some states prosper and
others lag?" I also try to draw this macro-level question back to what
students might experience at the micro level when they're engaged in
international development work.
As I do my new course preps over the summer, I intend to spend a large
amount of time setting the learning objectives foundation before I do a lot
of nitty-gritty course planning.
For interim, on the first day of class, I asked students what they hoped to
get out of the course. In my upper level spring course, I asked students to
tell the class what info from the course objectives from the syllabus they
were most interested in. I then changed up a few things I had originally
planned and added some information that several students had mentioned. I
also tried throughout the interim/semester to bring up points by stating
"Some of you mentioned at the beginning of class that you were really
interested in X, here is some information that is directly related to X".
I always invite students to come talk to me about class, life, majors,
careers, etc. I mention this in class, but I will also make note in their
weekly Moodle (Observation, Application, Response) postings or their papers
if there is a specific item that would be helpful for us to meet
When presenting a topic that the students should have familiarity with from their own lives, I first ask them to individually list what they already know about the topic and what they would like to know. I ask some questions that I tell the students cannot be answered with the information given and then ask them what further information would be needed and how they would go about finding it. For each midterm I tell my students that 80% of the exam will focus on new things but that 20% will be from old stuff.
Testing and Test Effect
Members: Ken Bergwerff (GGES), Jim Jadrich (Physics, leader), Serita Nelesen (Computer Science), Karen Saupe (English), Kat Stahl (grad student), Don Tellinghuisen (Psychology, leader), Jennifer VanAntwerp (Engineering)
Topics: We studied the effect of multiple testing (memory retrieval) on students’ ability to remember information and content and to transfer that knowledge to different and novel contexts. Research in cognitive science strongly demonstrates that frequent testing of students leads to better long-term learning than does an equivalent amount of studying. Our guiding question has been how to integrate frequent testing into courses we teach at Calvin.
Going forward, we wish to consider how broadly we might define testing and how we might help students learn to do more self-testing as part of their study work.