Last year during the middle of my first
semester of teaching our college success course, I noticed my students becoming
less motivated and demonstrating obvious signs of boredom and discontent.
Knowing that the half way point in a semester is a critical time when many
students lose their motivation and succumb to increased absenteeism, I
brainstormed with a fellow college success instructor to see if I could come up
with new activities to rekindle my students’ interest as we began a unit on
test taking strategies.
My colleague said that one activity she had
done was to have her students each prepare a poster illustrating some of the
information discussed in the text book. I decided to adapt this idea with my
students to stimulate motivation. I also anticipated that the activity might
foster team work and interdependence, as well as develop skills in creative and
critical thinking and oral communication.
Since one of the purposes of the college
success course is to encourage good habits for lifelong learning, I told
students that their professors practice lifelong learning when we attend
professional conferences. I told them about the practice of poster sessions as a
method of sharing information with a large number of people. I informed them
that we were going to hold our own poster sessions to teach each other about the
four major categories of test taking skills discussed in our textbook and in the
supplemental notes I provided.
Although I developed this activity to teach
successful test taking strategies, it can be adapted for use with any student
success skill, and academic instructors can use it to help students learn
virtually any course content. For example, algebra students could develop
posters to illustrate different problem solving methods, psychology students
could develop posters explaining various psychological theories, and chemistry
students could review different classes of chemical compounds and their
practical applications. This activity was so successful that I now do it each
For our test taking unit, I divide the assignment into four general categories of information: What to do before an exam, what to do during an exam, how to handle test anxiety, and how to take a math or science exam. Students use information from their text, class notes, and supplemental information from the internet or other sources.
I create teams of two students, inviting
each pair to decide which one of the four topics they will address with their
poster. I encourage students to choose so that all four topics will be
represented in the posters.
Here is the assignment I provide to
I allow one 75 minute class period and then
approximately another 30 minutes of a second class to finish the posters.
We wrap up the second class period with the teams’ oral presentations of the
Having students work on their posters in the
class allows them to work collaboratively, share ideas, and practice problem
solving, communication, team work, organization and human relations skills.
With the time constraints, they must be focused, manage their time and stay on
task. I observe each team to ensure that all members are participating in
the development of the poster, and I assist students who have difficulty finding
information or coming up with ideas.
I provide all materials used to make the
posters, including poster boards, colored markers, clip art, glue sticks and
even glitter. My department provides a small amount of money for such purchases,
but for instructors without similar funds, this activity can be implemented with
only a few materials brought in by students. The cost to students would be
minimal for a poster board and a pack of colored markers.
In my experience, most student posters are
creative and effective. For example, one poster addressing pre-test
strategies was titled “Blast Away with an A.” Featuring a construction paper
rocket, the poster used a space/astronaut theme to identify and explain four
test preparation strategies. Another poster featured Albert Einstein and his
mathematical theories as the backdrop to five successful strategies for taking
mathematics tests. Most posters are very colorful, eye catching, some
humorous, and all capture students’ interest as well as course content.
After the oral presentations, we have a
debriefing discussion to identify what students learned and felt while
completing the activity. It is important that they are able to identify
the specific skills they addressed with the activity and realize they did more
than simply spend a class period drawing and coloring. Debriefing questions
The benefits of this activity are numerous:
1. Students learn the academic
content. They actively engage in creating their own learning tools and then
use them to teach each other the course content. By explaining the
information to others, students enhance their own understanding and mastery of
the material. I assign a follow up writing assignment where students choose one
of their other college courses and explain how they use the four categories of
testing strategies when they take an exam in that course. Students
evaluate how useful the test taking strategies were for the exam and demonstrate
a mastery of the information through application.
2. Students practice positive
interdependence working in pairs. With many teams, there is a clear but
equal division of labor based upon individual talents and abilities. Many times
I observe students who are comfortable coming up with ideas for the posters but
uncomfortable with the drawing and designing portion, while their team mate is
more than willing to demonstrate his/her artistic talent by taking the idea and
making it come to life on paper.
3. Students practice creative
thinking. Many students have difficulty with creativity at first, perhaps
because in college many instructors give students specific criteria for projects
and students are used to following a rubric or check list when working on
projects. It takes awhile for some of them to become comfortable with
creative and independent thinking, but once they do, fun and creative learning
experiences result. One of the more creative posters featured a headline
of “Tackle Test Anxiety” and used small foam footballs labeled with four
methods to overcome test anxiety. The student presenters continued their
creative approach with their oral presentation by tossing to classmates foam
footballs with test anxiety questions written on them and having each student
answer the question and receive a reward for a correct answer.
4. Students practice and develop
oral communication skills. Many students fear public speaking and lack
confidence when making presentations. The safety in numbers philosophy is
present and students feel more comfortable when they present in pairs. Some of
my colleagues who teach public speaking report that their students have said
they are not quite so fearful of giving presentations in the speech class
because they have had some practice in their college success course.
5. Students develop a community of
learners. In one of my sections, when one team of students experienced stage
fright during their presentation, the other members of the class were genuinely
caring and supportive, waiting patiently for the presenters to regain composure
and come back to finish their presentation and show their poster.
6. A sixth and final benefit of
poster presentations is that students stop demonstrating signs of discontent and
boredom. They become empowered and more active in class discussions
and activities, and overall attendance has increased while incidences of
tardiness decreased. Several students have shared their appreciation for
learning in a way that enables them to use the information we cover, and seeing
the value of what they are learning helps them enjoy the class.
After the second time that I did this
activity, I collected the posters and taped them up in the classrooms where our
college success courses are taught. My college success students were
thrilled when they walked into classrooms around campus and saw their posters.
I told the students that their teaching tools were now teaching students all
over campus how to be successful test takers. This was tremendously
empowering to the students because at our institution, the majority of students
enrolled in the college success course are academically under prepared and
enrolled in developmental education courses. They now can see themselves as
successful students who are teaching others how to be academically successful.
As a result of seeing the posters, other
college success instructors have implemented this activity and the posters are
multiplying around campus. This is one activity that helps create a
culture of success at our campus.
--Jana Bernhardt, Faculty, Social
Sciences & Teacher Education and College Success Coordinator,
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