Ken Bain Book Discussion

Thanks to all of you who came on Friday to talk about technology (and thanks to Steve Kerby – new post and links from his presentation coming soon!) as well as the Ken Bain book.

As you’ll remember, we did not get to question #6. I challenged you to answer it by leaving comments here on the CFE Blog (that is until perhaps I face my fear of Facebook – just kidding) so that we could continue our conversation. Even if you were not able to join us on Friday, feel free to leave a comment here.


6. Was there one thing you read in Ken Bain’s book that:
a. Resonated with what you already do?
b. Made you consider changing something (if so, what?)?
c. With which you flatly disagreed?

Comment away!


11 Responses to Ken Bain Book Discussion

  1. rarmstrong says:

    I enjoyed reading the Bain book, and was taken with one of the prime ways he discussed engaging students that sounded more like a language change than any content change. He suggests starting the class by discussing what opportunities they will have to learn rather than what assignments they will have to do.

    I was also intrigued by the list of things teachers do to prepare, and as i eventually ramp up for fall term and revise syllabi i think i’ll read that chapter again to see what I already do and what i might want to do that’s on his list – again, i think some changes will be more language than content, and it would be interesting to see how making some of those changes may impact the class dynamics.

    What I still wrestle with in a book like this – and in our small group on Friday we mentioned it briefly – is where does our responsibility end for the student’s engagement, and where does their responsibility for it begin? He talks about including every student, not just the ‘elite’ and i completely agree with this. How much effort, tho, do i put in to engage the students who seem very unengaged from the start? is it my responsibility to work hard to rope them in, or is it my responsibility to work hard to challenge the students who engage themselves? While i’d love to be able to say i have enough time and energy to do both, i wonder if it is realistic. I wonder if i sometimes spend so much energy engaging the students who are not taking that on themselves, and not give enough to those that work to be engaged?

  2. gretchenmckay says:

    I really do think we have to do both — work for the students who are engaged, but also try to get at the ones that don’t seem to be. I actually think there are many, many reasons why a student is not engaged. Sometimes the student is truly a dud and can not be moved. But more often, I have found, it’s because the student perhaps does not see the reason for taking the course. Last semester I noticed a student who seemed to be like a blob. He was just doodling away, not seeming to care about what I was saying (though I have learned that student doodling is not necessarily indicative of disengagement; with him there were other signs). But I talked with him. And asked him what was up. I told him what I thought from my perspective – that he was bored and didn’t care. He told me he never had a professor really ask him how he was feeling in class. I talked to him about why I was having them Do what they were doing. From that moment on, he did not become my best student, nor was he the most engaged student. But was he more engaged? Yes. To the point that he signed up for another of my classes. So, I reached him. That may be more the point.

    What do others think?

    • rarmstrong says:

      yes, ultimately both. Balance is continually a problem, not only in this but in most other aspects of teaching/life/etc…

      I like your idea of asking a student what’s up in a one-on-one even if there is no immediately impending doom; certainly seems to have had a great impact on this student if he has signed up for another class.

      I also know that students who may not seem engaged in class to us, are (for them) engaged. This past term i had a student who did not seem engaged- esp. at the beginning of the term – but by the end of the term was participating regularly and quite well in class discussions.

      I have a hard time remembering to tell them things about the class that *I* know and assume they know- like why we do certain things, what the importance of some activity or bit of information is. I’m often so focused on the thing itself, i forget to take the time with the students to talk about the process itself, but everytime i do, I think it helps.

  3. Marilyn Smith says:

    Three things – First, on Friday I did not mean that we shouldn’t be concerned or try to reach students who don’t come to class, look bored if they do, or do not turn in work. That is also important from a teaching standpoint; why are we not reaching them? I am just somewhat more interested in the students who do come and don’t get the material. Is it the way I teach, can I change something to help these students, or are they just not cut out for the subject and no teacher would be successful? Sorry if that didn’t come out right that day. It is hard to teach to every student in the class using one approach, so what to do???
    Second, I enjoyed the book a lot and found the comments about teachers who view the history of their subject as important in making good teachers.
    Third, I liked the part about posing a question to students, letting them write something down, talk to their neighbor and then enter into group discussions as helpful. I tried that this semester and it has been successful.

  4. Elizabeth van den Berg says:

    6. a.) Much of the book resonated with what I already do, which was both gratifying and affirming. However, the one thing that closely resonated was the idea of continually asking questions of students rather than providing answers. This is one approach that I try to use consistently in order to get students to think critically about their own work, and the work of others in the class. Being in the performing arts, much of what we do in class work is clearly visible to all involved, putting both our successes and failures on display. I always ask students in the audience: What was the story told? What worked in the telling of the story? What confused you? These questions not only help the students involved in the exercise, but also keep the rest of the class engaged – so that those in the audience don’t feel that “well, it’s not my scene, so I don’t care…”
    6b.)I like the idea of framing the course as a community learning project, and am considering restructuring my syllabi to reflect that. Rather than “the requirements are…”, to ” in order to achieve the stated goals of the course we will…”
    6c.) No deadlines. As I mentioned at the meeting, in theatre, when the curtain rises, the show has to be ready. And as Robin Armstrong stated, there’s the aspect of grades being due at a certain point in the semester.

    • gretchenmckay says:

      I have a problem with the no deadlines, too. (I think that I actually audibly gasped when I read that part of the book). But I have begun to think more about rewrites, which is not really the same as no deadline, but should a C on a paper be the end of the road? Did they learn anything if they keep getting C’s? But I do not want to set up a system that would appear that if you try hard enough – or enough times – you get an A. But I would like to see that students LEARN from assignments, rather than just doing them to check off the assignment box. “Done.” Other thoughts?

      • rarmstrong says:

        Some assignments are part of a snow ball, some are more stand alone. The first don’t work without deadlines, the second work better without deadlines (except the final one before grades are submitted).

        I always try to allow rewrites, and I schedule them in the semester frequently to allow time for rewrites. I find that if the students follow the suggestions for the rewrites they can learn a lot both about the topic and about the process of writing, and i don’t revise a grade unless the suggestions are implemented.

        fall 2008 I had a student revise every single paper turned into class (about one every two weeks in that class that term). a LOT of extra work for the student and of course some for me. but the quality of the paper improved greatly not only in the revision process but the first drafts at the end of the term were significantly better than the beginning of the term. Winter 2009 same student different class. Papers started at the improved point at the end of the previous semester. Revised some papers this term. Fall 2009 same student different class – papers were a billion times better than the year before.

        I did not have deadlines for the rewrites, but i did have deadlines for the first drafts. Would the student have been able to do the rewrites without the initial deadlines?

  5. Holly Chalk says:

    The part of the book that resonated with me was Bain’s discussion of students’ responsibility to the class. He states that it’s the student’s decision about whether to take the class, but once they enroll they have a responsibility to the community of learners. This is an idea that I’ve tried to use in my courses. Much of my syllabus relies on the concept of students’ responsibility to their peers (for being prepared, etc). I find this argument compelling, but I wonder how much students buy into it.

    I was also interested in the portion of Bain’s book that discussed shifting students’ attention from “making the grade” to thinking about personal development. While he proposed some strategies for doing this, I have not had very much success in this area. While I find that many students are excited about learning, it’s my experience that most are still primarily focused on making the grade. I wonder about how to combat this.

    • gretchenmckay says:

      I am doing that more and more also — talking about my class as a community. I tell them up front on Day One that one of my course goals is for them to know others’ names. I hate the fact that at a small college, in a small class, over the span of a semester some of them may not know other people in the class. I learn their names fast, and expect the same. I let them raise their hands the first two times I put them in groups. After that – they have to find each other by introducing themselves. They get used to it if you don’t act like it’s a big deal (at least I’ve found that).

  6. Jenny McKenzie says:

    I’ve found several of the ideas in the “Employing the craft of teaching in the classroom” section to work rather well. Think-pair-shares, one-minute papers, and other low stakes writing activities have immensely helped discussions in my classes. Story telling/warm language to keep interest up has worked well when presenting/explaining new ideas (and some of the really dull, fact-based aspects of nutrition). I’m not sure if language is just warm or cool though…

    I also disagree with the no deadlines idea. There are some activities and assignments that have to have deadlines. I wish I had something more insightful to add…

  7. Elizabeth van den Berg says:

    On the no-deadlines issue:
    There are some assignments that students do in my classes that the only real deadline is the end of the semester – and they get feedback & second chances all along the way. Journal writing – where students account their responses daily, and include specific written work related to scene research & study. Ultimately, however, if they haven’t completed the research prior to the performance, it is clearly evident in the work on stage. I’m not a fan of reinforcing procrastination…:)

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