Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Making Sure They Remember Class Content a Year Later

I know most kids have been back at school for at least a week or two, but summer is just now coming to a close for me. Yakima Valley Community College has a week of convocation activities to get us back in the school mode and to introduce us to changes and initiatives for the new year. Next week fall classes commence.

glazing. the point at which I stopped for the weekend
I have spent this week watching enrollments in art department classes (apparently I find this more interesting than glazing) to make sure my new adjunct faculty have enough students registered for their classes. The art program has mostly full classes, though there is still plenty of room in our evening Art Appreciation class if you're looking for a few credits or an interesting class.

glazing. boring.
I am getting excited about welcoming new faculty to YVCC art. This fall we have a new full-time instructor and two new adjunct instructors. In fact, almost two thirds of our classes will be taught by faculty who have been at YVCC less than a year. These new faculty are coming to us from Seattle, Idaho and Tennessee and should bring new perspectives and new ideas to the program.

Palmer Martin Replacement building on Nob Hill Boulevard

I am also excited about the coming transition to the new Palmer-Martin replacement building.  The building, on the corner of 16th Ave and Nob Hill Boulevard, will be ready for us to begin moving in at soon as spring, though we don't plan to offer classes in the new spaces until fall of 2015. Already the view of campus coming from the East is markedly different than it was a year ago.

The entry of the new building
As usual at this time of year, my thoughts are beginning to shift from concerns and ideas about my personal work and my home studio to thoughts about my classes and that inevitably leads to thoughts about curriculum changes I might want to make. Typically I also have a few panic dreams around this time in which I have arrived at the first day of class with no syllabi, no idea what I am teaching or, in one case, no pottery wheels. In that last dream the students had to throw pottery on spinning dinner plates. I'm not sure how well that would work.

could we at least get one of these wheels?

While I lay awake at night, unable to sleep because of the fear of missing course materials and pottery wheels, I think about how I can better prepare my students to do well in my classes. The thing I probably worry about most (when I am awake) is how to keep a class interesting and fun while also making it rigorous and ensuring that students learn something or improve their skills.

I don't honestly worry much about pottery class. There the equation is rather simple. I tell my students every quarter: if you practice throwing pottery a lot, you will get a lot better at throwing. If you rarely practice, you won't improve much. I suppose the general idea isn't that much different in an Art Appreciation class, but studying effectively is harder to visualize than throwing pottery effectively. Your notes don't physically collapse when you make a mistake or miss an important concept like your clay does if you position your fingers incorrectly.

um. really, this is the best falling pot image I could find. I guess I'll have to take some pictures myself--without ghosts.

I believe many of my fellow educators worry about their classes and how to best challenge and support students. We have so many interrelated goals for a given class and want to squeeze all our excitement about the topic into just 10 weeks of lessons.

It is difficult, too, to know just how successful a class has been. One metric is the test scores and assignment grades. That tells me something about how well students understood and were able to explain the concepts of the class. There are instructor evaluations that sometimes tell me what students liked or didn't like in the class, but just as often tell me that students didn't like the parking options or filling in bubble surveys.

However, occasionally, I hear about my classes in another way. Last week I ran into a student who had taken my Art Appreciation class a year or two ago. We talked a little and the student told me that she found my class hard, harder than she expected, but that she still remembered a lot of what she learned in my class. Yep, that's basically my goal. My class should be challenging but you should learn stuff. So this week my short term goal is to make improvements in my classes that will encourage students to be challenged and learn stuff. Also I need to clean my office.

If you didn't get to the Larson Gallery on Saturday for the Many Waters (Artists from Walla Walla) opening, you missed this big pink guy. Sad for you.

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