Sunday, June 22, 2014

Motivational Teaching

I was advising a BA thesis student. His topic concerns teachers’ motivation and its impact on student learning. He sent me this story he found particularly enlightening. It came from the book Teaching Well and Liking it: Motivating Faculty to Teach Effectively. This is the story as the student sent it to me. Since this has been published in the book above, I am leaving the names intact.

Dr. Ralph Connors and Dr. Carol Raynor have been colleagues for eleven years. They have adjoining offices in the modern science center of Eastern State University. Both teach introductory physics to undergraduates. They have much in common, but they are entirely different teachers. Among the undergraduates, Dr. Connors is known as “Dr. Snores.” As he lectures, Ralph has the curious habit of looking down at his weathered boots while constantly counting and recounting his pocket change. Occasionally his right hand emerges from the side of the podium to add emphasis to what is being said or to flip pages. But only his hand is animated. His speech is soft and slow. There is little life in what he says or in the way he says it. All the fraternities have copies of his notes, copies of copies that date from 1984. But he is popular with them because “Snores only gives two multiple-guess tests, and if you’ve got his notes, you can skate his class.”

Dr. Raynor has a different reputation on campus. Students call her Dr. Rap because in the spring of 1990 she invited to class a local group to rap about Ohm’s law. Midway through their performance she suddenly turned off the lights and told her two hundred students to join in: “The louder you sing, the brighter the lights will become.” Sing they did, much louder than she ever expected. The lights swiftly rose to glaring intensity and then flickered and began to fail. After their applause she said, “Now let’s talk about the role that resistance can play when circuits get overloaded.”

Dr. Raynor no longer needs the rap group; it has become a tradition for students to rap on their own on the day that Ohm’s law is scheduled. She constantly works on her teaching. She enjoys physics and shares her enthusiasm with students. When asked by a campus reporter about the best class she ever taught, she replied “Teaching is a work in progress; I’ve been pleased with some of my classes, but I have yet to teach my best class.””

On that note, I want to share my pride in all 9 of the students who I advised for their thesis this semester. For some I was their direct advisor and for others, they were part of my thesis writing class. Each and everyone of them received a grade of 5 (the highest possible) on their written thesis. So far, they each have received a 5 on their defense as well.

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