Sunday, July 1, 2012

Starting to Reprogram Your Students

Before I start today, I want to wish everyone in the US a very happy July 4.   Politically, we all tend to fuss and fight way too much but I think we can all agree that we are so incredibly lucky to live in a country where we can celebrate our freedom, liberty, and independence.   For that reason, every day around here should be July 4.
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If you have ever been at one of my teaching presentations, you know that a main theme (obsession) of mine is that you have to reprogram your students to do what you want them to do. They have already been in school for many years and most have picked up sloppy habits and poor attitudes. Students are very much a product of the educational system; they are very well-trained, but often trained to be bad students. I believe it is the teacher’s job to start the reprograming process as quickly as possible.

For example, my first class in the fall is on August 27. I sent my students an email back in April suggesting some things they could do over the summer to make themselves smarter and better ready for this class in the fall. I also told them that I would be sending out emails over the summer and I expected them to be read. Luckily, I have a reputation at my school of “he means what he says so you better pay attention.” (Having the reputation you want is another incredibly important element of teaching.) I doubt the students jumped too quickly to do what I asked of them but I was really just starting the reprogramming process.

Yesterday, I sent another email to my students. This time it was the course outline giving the dates (and weights) of the tests, the textbook (Hoyle and Skender – of course), my rules, and other vital information. I told the students that I wanted them to read that outline and know how the class was set up before they arrived at the first session. I want them heading in the right direction before I even see them for the first time.

At the end of yesterday's email, I said something like “I want more A’s in the fall. You are all capable of making an A but you have to become efficient at the learning process. I have taught for a long-time. I have seen a lot of students do this class well. I have seen a lot of students do this class poorly. I think I know what it takes to do the class well. And, I want YOU to do it well.”

I am trying to get their attention before they become overwhelmed by the fall semester. I want my students to know that there is work to be done but they are capable and I actually want to give better grades.

I then gave them a list of advice on how to do well in my class. This is obviously the next step in the reprograming process. I know they will not follow all of this but if they just pay close attention to a couple of these things, they will do better. If some of this advice knocks around in their heads for the next two months, they will be moving toward being better students.

Here was the advice on the course outline that I have now given to my Financial Accounting students for the fall of 2012.

- Here is my number one piece of advice: the students who learn how to answer the questions correctly when called on in class are better able to answer the questions on the test. It seems so obvious—class is simply teaching you how to think about and answer questions and then the tests ask you related questions to see what you’ve learned.  Too many students tend to think “I won’t really try to figure out the answers to the questions before I come to class. Instead, I’ll listen to the answers and memorize them.” That is not learning to answer questions—that is learning to repeat answers that someone else has figured out for you. If you want to do well in this class, walk into class every day with a pretty good idea as to what the answers are.

- A lot of my students like to gather in the Atrium outside of our room about 30-45 minutes before class to discuss the assignments. Then, they walk into class ready to go to work. I think that is a great idea and would strongly encourage that. However, you really need to use that time to talk about the upcoming class and not about beer and pizza. And, do me a personal favor. If you are working with a group in the Atrium and you see a student from class, invite them to join you. Some students want to be part of the group but are shy. You are in this together – in my experience, the best classes are the ones that become a genuine group. Everyone you invite to join will add strength to the group.

- Be consistently good. If you are well prepared one day but weak the next, you wind up with holes in your knowledge and that leads to problems in learning. If students have one general weakness, it is the tendency to try hard on an irregular basis and then wonder why they don’t do well. A championship football or baseball team does NOT play well every other game. Instead, the real winners are prepared for every game and play well every time. Class is three times per week; you should really try to be good three times per week.

- One strong suggestion would be to take the class seriously from Day One. A lot of students don’t get their brains into gear until the 15th class but by then they have serious problems. If you get behind, catching up is tough. That’s like running the 100 yard dash and giving your competition a 40 yard head start.

- Be observant in class and try to figure out who really knows what is going on. Then, take them aside after a couple of weeks and ask them “you really seem to have good answers in class, how do you do it?” You can learn more about the process from good students than you can ever learn from a faculty member.

- Get excited about learning. The only people who benefit from this class are you, the students. If learning is not exciting to you, then you should change courses or get out of school (yeah, get out of school -- if learning is not fun, you shouldn't be here).  Making your mind better should be great fun - an experience that you cherish and value, one that will aid you for the rest of your life. It's the only brain you've got and it has to carry you through life - fill it up and it will serve you well. (Students sometimes complain about boring teachers – you should walk into class sometime and look out at 25 boring students. Now that is a horror. Don’t you be a boring student—get excited about learning.)

- Talk to the people who have been in my classes before (they are all over campus; they are easy to find) and ask them what the secret to success really is. If you can find a person who made an A in one of my classes, that person knows the key. Get them to share it with you.

- Realize that everything we cover in this introductory class (every single thing) is already known to virtually every business person in the real world. Nothing we do here is busy work; in an introductory class, I just want you to come up to the knowledge level of the average business person on the street so you won't be "the dumb one."    If you want to know more than the average business person, take Intermediate Accounting – it is a wonderful course. But remember that if you don’t learn something in this class, when you enter the business world, you start with a real disadvantage – everyone else knows more than you do and that is not a good idea on the path to success.

- Forget shortcuts. They only work in high school. Plan to spend roughly 2 hours of study between each class. I don't mean 6 hours on Monday night or 12 hours right before a test; I mean about 2 legitimate hours between every class. When students do poorly in this class, it is almost always caused by a failure to put in the time on a consistent basis. I have a formula for getting good grades that I believe is true: HOURS EQUAL POINTS. I wish there was a magic pill that I could give you that would allow you to learn a lot without doing any work but I've just never found that magic pill. There are no steroids for the brain – there is only hard work. Spend 70 percent of your study time preparing for the upcoming class. Spend the other 30 percent reviewing the previous class and making sure you have the knowledge organized in your brain before you get too far away from it.

- Realize that I have high expectations for you and I will push you. My class is not necessarily like other classes. Don’t be rigid. Be willing and able to adapt. That is good advice in the real world and good advice in my class. That is one of the great things about people your age: you are willing to adapt. Students who tell me “well, my strategy for class worked well for me when I was in the 6th grade” simply are never going to be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. A sign at the Jimmy Johns deli up the street says: “If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you have a boss.” Not a bad thing to keep in mind when I am pushing you along.

- Read each chapter one time but not more than once. Read one page at a time and write down (in one or two sentences) the basic idea of that page. For the illustrations, be sure to walk through the numbers and see where each one comes from. That takes time but time is just going to be necessary. If you don't understand something clearly at first, don't assume that (a) you are stupid or (b) it is stupid. Work to figure it out. If it were easy, we wouldn't cover it in college. In all honesty, the “figuring it out” part is all the fun.

- The attitude that you bring to this class (or that you bring to life, for that matter) is a truly important ingredient in your success. Play a mental game with yourself. Don't start out assuming that the class will be a pain or that you will do poorly. Instead, assume that you are really looking forward to adding this knowledge to your brain and that you are going to do the work and actually enjoy the learning and that because you do the work, you are going to make an A. Much of success and happiness is just getting into the right mindset.

- Never miss class. I make sure each class covers what I want (and expect) you to learn. Missing class is like losing the road map. Almost no one does well who misses many classes.

- Come by my office early and often and ask questions (or send me an e-mail). I can frequently resolve your problems or confusions in just a few seconds where you may waste hours trying to figure out a problem for yourself. Make good use of my office hours - I am here for your benefit. Even if I seem busy, I do not mind working with you at all. One of the things I have noted over the years: the A and B students come by often whereas the D and F students come by hardly at all (wouldn’t you expect it to be the other way around?)

- Realize that I do want you to do well. I want you to learn the material so that you can go out in the real world and compete with the sharks. Thus, if I beat on you, it is only because I want you to work hard and learn something of value.

- Don't build up excuses: "I'm not good at numbers." "I don't do well in hard classes." "I don't understand business." You are simply giving yourself permission to get a poor grade. Once you have permission, it becomes acceptable to you. I don't know of any talent or skill (other than hard work) that is really necessary for this class.

- Don't assume that because you have a certain average in school that you will maintain that in this class. Some students who have high GPAs just assume that they will get a good grade in this course. Likewise, some students believe, because they have low GPAs, that they are destined for C's. If you will put out the energy, everyone can get an A. Everyone!!!!

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