Implementing Instruction Practices to Reduce Student Stress

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ETAP 623 Spring 2009

Reducing Student Stress Through Instructional Practice (main page)

Unit 1: Causes and Consequences of Student Stress

Unit 2: Role of Instructional Practice in Student Stress

Unit 3: Implementing Instruction Practices to Reduce Student Stress

Unit 3 - Implementing Instruction Practices to Reduce Student Stress

- Students will employ these changes within the context of their current teaching environment and evaluate the changes in stress levels experience by their students in regards to their class through before/after online surveys and/or student performance levels by comparing before/after student grades on assessments.

- Students will reflect upon the experience, evaluate the level of success with the techniques, and compare these with other students (instructors) by engaging in an online discussion with other students taking the same course.

Helping Jackie and your students by changing simple instructional practices

There are limits to what instructos can do to limit student stress; in the modern world our stressors have more to do with our psychological perceptions and beliefs, than actual threatening events. In other words, what we perceive as threatening becomes a stressor, even if it's only an assignment for a math class which asks us to solve problems numbered 2-20, even's. As discussed in unit 1, one of the key components in the amount of stress an individual experiences, involves the amount of control one has over his/her environment combined with an individuals social standing and support. How can we give students a greater sense of control? How can we make them feel more equal in the unequal relationship of student teacher?

Jackie has obviously taken too much on, but his schedule is realistic for someone trying to enter top universities. Several things that could have helped Jackie:

Following a homework policy

Does your school have a homework policy? If yes, you can help reduce student stress by following it; if not, or if the policy allows for overburdening amounts of homework, create your own and make a promise to adhere to it.

Studies have shown that homework over 2 hours in middle school, and 3 hours for most students in high school, does not lead to improved learning of subject matter. Keep in mind, that's 3 hours in total, combining all classes in which a student may have homework. If a student has 6 classes during a day, a teacher in any one of those classes can reasonably assume that a student can do 30 minutes of homework for their class. If a school is on block scheduling and each student has only 3 classes, then a teacher can assume they can give 1hr maximum. Please try not to count a PE class, as homeowrk time that is up for grabs. If every teacher thinks the same way (and we often do..), a student could end up with an extra 2hrs or more HW! If Jackies school had one, he would have been able to get to sleep at reasonable hour.

Carefully consider the amount of time a particular assignment will take students to complete

Too often, instructors assign homework based mostly on their class objectives and the timeframe they have to cover a given amount of material. Too often, instructors only give brief thought to the amount of time it will take a student to complete an assignment, without carefully considering what an assignment actually entails. For example, how long does it take for a student to read 10 pages, take brief notes, and perhaps write the answers to a few short questions? It depends; do you expect them to actually read? Or, do you assume that they won't and will just skip to the questions? Do you try to create questions which require thorough understanding of the reading (certainly a good idea!); how long will that take to accomplish? Make sure to add in thinking time.

In order to provide a more accurate account, it may be necessary for you as an instructor to sit down with the assignment youself; then, imagine you are reading or studying the material for the first time. Since teachers are often advanced experienced learners, we tend towards overestimating students study abilities. If we use ourselves or a top ranking student for comparison, we will most likely misjudge how long it will take for most of the students in our classes. Choose an average student in the class, how long would it take him/her to complete the assignment to the desired outcome?

Jackie's English teacher most likely misjudged how long the assignment would take him to complete. This could have occurred because the English teacher knows most of "the Death of a Salesman" word for word; and thought, it would be easy for a student to identify a usable conversation that revolved around one of the major themes of the book. But, Jackie had to flip through the book and identify a few such conversations; then judge which one worked the best. Perhaps, Jackie's English teacher could have directed students to an appropriate passage to save students time; or, if searching was important to the lesson objectives, had the students complete the assignment in class, where she could provide help when needed.

Clarify directions and expectations for a well done assignment

How often have you corrected assignments that were poorly done, or didn't answer the question to the degree you had hoped? What did you then do, to correct this problem? A low grade for the student and a feeling of dissappointment for yourself? How often have you corrected assignments that were fantastically done; it appeared the student went overboard in terms of thought and preparation? Were you proud of the student and his/your accomplishment? Did the student complain how much time the assignment took? There is a very good chance that in both cases, the directions for the assignment, and expectations for the results, were not clearly communicated, resulting in large amounts of stress for the students while completing the assignment, and feelings of anger, worry, and inadequacy; even if the student achieved a satisfactory grade.

Homework assignments should receive as much care and attention as lessons themselves. In a carefully planned lesson, the instructor will consider the objectives, materials needed, and the activities, students will be engage to increase learning. Considering an instructor usually plans on being present and making adjustments as needed in a class lesson, how much more planning needs to go into, what amounts to a lesson delivered outside of the classroom, without the expert supervision of the instructor? Be sure to consistently model for students what a complete proper answer will look like; provide examplars of both excellently done assignments and poorly done assignments. Students who are high achievers will then not spend extra time doing unneccessary work (remember our committment to not overtaxing their time) and low achieving students will have a better idea of what a well done assignment looks like (remember that they most likely don't have much experience with these).

Jackie's English teacher should most likely have laid out some clearer expectations and guidelines for a well done assignement. Jackie is obviously a focused, intelligent hardworking student, that could/would have done what he needed to do, inorder to get a higher grade. Rubrics and guidelines don't need to be complex to be helpful.

Long-term assignments (any assignment which necessitates students to use more than 1 Homework period - the time between two classes)

One of the greatest sources of stress for students that walk into my guidance office are projects and papers. Students seem unable to effectively break long-term assignments down into managaible parts. Some teachers do an excellent job of this for the students; creating due dates for thesis questions, research, outlines, rough drafts, and the final paper. In my experience, the teachers who do this best are English teachers. Why? They see themselves as teaching process as well as content. In the English class, writing is about re-writing. In classes where content is king, often less thought is given to the construction process and time management.

In his attempt to manage an overwhelming schedule, Jackie left the US History essay for the last moment, misusing the week he was given to complete it. What could the histroy teacher done differently? Since this essay required research and all good essays should be outlined, the US History teacher could have made the research due on Tuesday, the outline on Wednesday, and the final essay on Friday; breaking down the assignment into managable parts. In an ideal world, the teacher would require a rough draft or allow students the ability to resubmit their essays. This would allow for the opportunity to provide feedback improving the students performance, a chance for a higher grade, and most importantly greater transfer of learning.

Bringing Awareness and Suggestions into Teaching Practices

Now comes the hard part; starting today, with your increased awareness of the burdens of student stress, its physiological and psychological consequences, and strategies to help reduce the number of stressors that students in your classes face, employ what you have learned from this mini-course within the classes you teach. To test the value of the interventions for the students and their performance in the class, please do the following:

1. Compare the students assessments and/or marks, before and after you implement the suggested changes.

2. Keep a short journal of the changes that you make and observed levels of student stress.

Unit 3 Discussion Questions

Talk:Implementing Instruction Practices to Reduce Student Stress

Organize the Discussion around the following questions:

In what instructional areas did you implement the most changes?

What was the effect of the changes?

Why do you feel these changes made/did not make a difference?

What else needs to be done to deal with the issue?

Further Resources for Improving Instructional Practice

Before moving onto the implementation phase, please peruse the resources below for additional information.

Key lessons: What research says about the value of homework

Homework and Practice (Focus on Effectiveness)

Teaching time management skills and instructional practices that help students manage their time

Teaching Time Management skills - this article is directed towards student with LD. However, it provides an excellent guide to teaching task anaysis skills, which in my experience even the best students lack.

How to write good questions that inspire learning