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Teaching Adult Students vs. 5th Graders — Is There Crossover?

Fri, Aug 29, 2014

Distance Learning, Uncategorized

By Clifton Harmon
Faculty Member, Management at American Military University

Every summer for the last several years, I have taken a month off from teaching in July to recharge my batteries. This schedule also works well for my wife, who is a 5th grade teacher. In July, we try not to put too much thought into academics or classroom management and use the time to unwind. As July starts to turn to August, we both start ramping up for the coming school year.

I am an online university teacher and I miss the face-to-face classroom interaction. However, after hearing some of my wife’s classroom stories, I’m happy to be online. It takes a brave sort to face a classroom of 11-year olds every day!

As a result of our conversations about classroom management, I have found some crossover between adult online learning and 5th grade face-to-face (F2F). Here are some common themes of classroom management practices.

Teacher Enthusiasm
The enthusiasm of the teacher is a huge factor in student success in the F2F classroom and online. Presenting information in a positive light and making it fun to know, rather than just another assignment, helps students to learn.

The method used to write and respond to students is also critical. If I am correcting an item, or making a suggestion, I use the good-bad -good method. An example, “Joan, I enjoyed reading you post, it was very original (good); however, there were some improvements needed with the grammar, and I did not see any citations to represent integration of the sources (bad). I know you want to give credit where it’s due and have your work represent you accurately. Please make sure you work to improve both of these items for the next assignment—I am confident that you have some great ideas/thoughts/opinions, and I want to read them! (Good).” Making the most of the limited time with online students is important for overall success in each class. Reflecting an upbeat attitude is conducive to the online learning atmosphere.

The First Day of Class
First impressions matter. For the F2F classroom, that happens the first time a student walks into a classroom; for the online learner it happens when they first check into the online classroom. What do they see? Is it well organized and laid out? Can all materials be found easily? Are the course expectations clear? Will they be able to understand your expectations of what is needed to succeed?

These are all areas that online educators can address to create a great first day of class. And, equally important, be available during those first critical days to guide students and answer any questions that pop up.

The Introduction
In both types of classrooms, teachers need to get to know their students. Where are you from? Do you have any children? What do you like to do when you are not in class? What are your short and long term education goals?

A technique that I also use throughout the semester is building a spreadsheet that lists my courses and students. I track student nicknames (or what they prefer to be called), where they are from, and who their employer is or background. As the course progresses and I am replying to each student in the forum, I refer to my spreadsheet and personalize the posts. I might mention that I saw their hometown, company, or any other event that relates to them.

Students generally have a very positive reaction when teachers remember something about them and read their posts and provide a personalized reply. I encourage students to do the same – to tie some nugget that they have learned about each other into their online discussions and replies to each other. This builds a great sense of community within the classroom.

Attitude
Teachers need to reflect a caring, engaged attitude. Student benefit when they know that, even if their teachers cannot help with a particular issue, they still care about the outcome and finding a solution. I try to end all correspondence to students with a “please let me know if this does not work or if there is anything else you need don’t hesitate to contact me.”

Feedback and Rubrics
Feedback should be timely and constructive. Feedback should also loop back to the rubrics provided for the assignment. This will make your feedback concise and lead to better student understanding. My wife introduces her 5th graders to the power of feedback and following rubrics during some of her first assignments. Some of the kids are amazed that their teacher will give them the answers on how to get a high score. I am amazed sometimes too on how many adult learners don’t read rubrics; it makes me want to send them back to 5th grade.

As you gear up for teaching this fall, whether F2F or online, look at your classes as an opportunity for a fresh start. Remember to use the core teaching principals that help all students to succeed.

About the Author
Cliff Harmon is a full time faculty at American Military University and has been teaching for six years. He has an MA in Human Resources and Management from Webster University, St Louis Mo and his Undergraduate is in Adult Education from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale Il. He currently resides in St Louis with his wife of 28 years. They have three children, one is married and is a nurse, and the other two are currently in college. They are in the process of restoring an 1897 Victorian home.

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