Processing Mid-term and Final Exams

Just a reminder about exams:

Mid-terms are due in no later than 1 week prior to the writing date to allow for review, formatting, and printing.

Final exams are due in no later than 2 weeks prior to the writing date to allow for review, formatting and printing.

On completion of a course, both mid-terms and final exams, if used, are to be turned in to the PACE offices within 2 weeks of a course end for filing and retention.

Should Students Form their Own Groups?

For a look at a discussion on this frequent question, check out this article from Faculty Focus:


The Art of Saying No to Students

Inevitably, a student will ask for something from an instructor. From an extension, to the answer to an assignment, to a grade change, the list goes on; students will ask a lot from instructors.  Being able to say ‘no’ to those requests takes a bit of practice though.

Generally speaking, everyone likes to feel like they’ve been heard. Provide an opportunity for the student to ask their question.  This can be in person or by email, as instructors we always want to be open and allow students the option of asking questions or making requests.  Be prepared, and allow the student to ask.

Students then want to know that their request has been considered. Let the student know that you’ve received their request and you need to think about it.  Whether responding by email or in person, it’s easy to say I got your request, and I need to think about it, I’ll get back to you in 24 hours.  This lets the student know that you are thinking about it.  Responding right away with ‘no’ should be avoided; it gives the appearance that you aren’t even thinking about the request. Even though it may be obvious the answer is no, take the time to consider the student’s view, it usually doesn’t cost anything to press pause.

Respond by the time you’ve set, thank the student for their request, and then let them down with a reason. This lets the student know that you’ve thought about the request, that it’s okay to ask, and that you appreciate them.  Something like “Kelly, thanks for drawing my attention to the concern with the assignment due date.  After thinking about your concerns, I’m not able to grant your request.  I appreciate that you took the time to contact me; unfortunately your request was not submitted until past the due date.  PACE policy requires that, outside extreme circumstances, requests for extension be made 24 hours in advance.  It’s not fair to the rest of the class, who may also have had issues, to grant you an extension that is outside the rules.”

It’s easy to say ‘no’ right away to a request, but that usually doesn’t leave a good impression with students. Taking the time to say ‘no’ with some thought around the timing and the message leaves a better impression and helps manage student expectations and interactions.

Workshop Wednesdays

We’ve finished up our Workshop Wednesdays for this term. Thank you to everyone who came and took them in, I hope you found them of use.  For in house presentations, copies of the material have been posted to the Nexus Instructor Communication Portal (look under Content, then PD Sessions).

We will resume again in the fall. Save the date: Wednesday September 12 with a guest speaker coming in to talk about teaching international students and the challenges they face.

I know that’s not the first Wednesday of the month, we are making an exception for September, and will go back to the first Wednesday in October.

Be sure to mark your calendar, and look for an invite in August with further details.

Taking and Asking Questions

Question and answer time in a class is beneficial for both students and instructors.  For students, it provides clarification of any issues, provides confirmation of learning and understanding, and allows for repetition to reinforce teaching points.  For an instructor, questions serve as feedback to ensure that material is being received and understood, an opportunity to see if the lesson went well. Taking and posing questions takes a little bit of thought and practice though.

In taking questions from the class, everyone will have their own preference about timing.  Do you want to have questions at any time?  Or only when you ask?  Make it clear what your preference is to the class.   If you are going to take them at designated times, have that built into your lesson plan, even on the slide deck as a visual que.  When the time comes, ask for questions, and PAUSE.  Some students may need a moment to process where they are at, to think if there is anything that needs clarification.  Give time to think; I take a moment to have a sip of tea.

When someone asks a question, repeat it.  Make it loud enough for everyone to hear, and confirm that you heard the question correctly.  Ensuring that the whole room heard the question helps to keep the room engaged and brings into the conversation anyone else that may be struggling as well.

In answering the question, you may want to consider throwing it open to the whole class to respond.  This again ties into feedback and confirmation, you get that opportunity to confirm the message is being understood and a student gets to confirm their understanding.  For questions that are outside the scope of the course, this can be a way to bring in prior learning by others, helping to keep them engaged and validating their previous experiences.  When getting answers from students, be sure to reinforce the correct response after and provide confirmation of the point made.

In answering a question, be sure to look around the whole room.  Eye contact is important, and you want the entire class to stay engaged.  I always go back to the person who asked the question at the end, confirming that I answered their question.

Part of taking questions from the class is about knowing what not to answer.  If a topic is clearly outside the scope of the course, and time is pressing, it is okay to tell the student that you will address it at a break.  Similarly, if you don’t know the answer, it is better to table it, find the answer and come back to it later than to try and answer and get it wrong.

In posing questions to the class, be sure to give time for people to think about their answer,  Generally, I ask the question, pause, and then repeat the question again before calling on a student to answer.  As with a question from a student, repeat the answer so everyone can hear it.  Then confirm if the answer is correct.

More difficult to handle is when a student gives a wrong answer.  We don’t want to discourage students from speaking up, so I try hard to always find something to praise the student for in their response, then say that ‘it’s not quite there’ or ‘there’s more to the answer’.  It’s important to ensure students know the answer is incorrect, but doing so in a way that doesn’t discourage the student from answering other questions in the future.

From time to time it may be necessary to put a student on ‘hold’.  Sometimes you have a student that is always keen to answer, and is quick on the up take.  To give other students an opportunity it may be necessary to put the ‘quick answerer’ on hold.  I’ve had success by signaling them with my eyes or my hand that I know they have the answer, but want them to wait.    Since not all students are going to process information at the same speed, it’s important to ensure that you give a chance for someone else to answer from time to time.

Asking and taking questions is a key part of learning.  Instructors should ensure they build sections into their lesson plan to both confirm learning is taking place for the instructor, and giving students an opportunity to confirm understanding.