Society for the Teaching of Psychology: Division 2 of the American Psychological Association

Spring Schafer: I'm a member of STP, and This is How I Teach

20 May 2014 7:06 PM | Anonymous

School name: Delta College


Type of college/university: Community College


School locale: both rural and city locations


Classes I teach:

General Psychology (our version of Intro Psych) and Exploring Diversity in both traditional and online formats


What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?

The best advice I have received is to “set the tone” on the first day of class through both the class activities and the syllabus. The first day of class can often predict how the rest of the semester will turn out in terms of student engagement and participation as well as the level of respect students have for the instructor. It helps to be authentic.


What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher?

Most recently, I have been impacted greatly by Stephen Brookfield’s book, The Skillful Teacher. As a result of the book (and meeting Dr. Brookfield in person--what a wonderful guy!), I use a Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ) at the end of every class. Students answer 3 questions that help inform what will happen the next class period. The information I gather from students enables me to better meet their needs both in an outside of the classroom and demonstrates to them that I care deeply about their learning and their overall experience in class.


Tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  

My favorite lecture topic is Social Psychology as part of the General Psychology course. There are so many ways to demonstrate the social psychology concepts that make this topic one of my favorites. I enjoy getting to use activities and videos for social Psychology concepts that tend to get students “all fired up.” The best part about teaching this section is helping students become more aware of their own biases so that they might become more empathic toward others. I find that students become quite passionate and seem to want to take action toward reducing stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination.


Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.

One of my many favorite in-class activities demonstrates “shaping,” “superstitious behavior,” and other general operate conditioning concepts. I get 5 volunteers to serve as pigeons/rats. Then, groups of their classmates must train them to perform a somewhat complex task (e.g., “take off your left shoe”). The catch is that the trainers may only use the word “good” as positive reinforcement. This activity always evokes lots of laughter and silliness (especially when there are very creative pigeons), yet it enables me to demonstrate several concepts. It’s super fun!


What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

Variety works the best for me. I know my students don’t like to be bored, and I certainly don’t enjoy hearing myself talk for 2-4 hours at time. My students are expected to explore the textbook prior to coming to class, and they sometimes have a quiz over information they have gathered from the text (via an “optional” Chapter Prep guide). There are 4 in-class tests and 3 critical thinking assignments (writing assignments.) I give students opportunities to learn from their mistakes, such as allowing re-writes of papers for additional credit. In-class time is an interaction (as much as possible. I don’t lecture at my students; I provide them with information and dialogue with them as we go. I also incorporate as much group-work and small group discussion as possible, and there is typically a smattering of mini-demonstrations, short videos, and practice activities. Students in my classes are provided with a large number and variation of opportunities for learning in my effort to reach students with diverse learning preferences and strengths.


What’s your workspace like?

My workspace is organized chaos. It is also currently cluttered with stacks of books, magazines/journals, and boxes of odd things such as handwarmers, mittens, and mints. I serve in various roles outside of teaching, and my workspace is really highlighting this at the moment!


Three words that best describe your teaching style.

Dynamic, interactive, fair


What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

Be authentic and responsive, holding the bar high.


Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had.

One of my most recent embarrassing moments (I have had many) involved my first attempt at a mini experiment during teaching research methods. A colleague gave me the idea to do a JellyBelly taste test where the tasters would be blinded and would taste the same jellybeans with their noses plugged then open. I was very excited about the countless concepts I might demonstrate through this exercise, as well as the chance to have some fun with my students. Long story short, I realized in the middle of the experiment that I didn’t have enough jellybeans for all 4 of my participants. The experiment was ruined, for the most part. But, we had some great discussion about all of the problems with my experiment!


What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

When I was an undergraduate, I would shake uncontrollably, turn red, and start to tear up when attempting to give presentations. It was nothing like the confidence I display in the classroom as a teacher.


What are you currently reading for pleasure?

I don’t have much time to “read” for pleasure. So, I listen to books in CD while commuting. I won’t mention what I listen to as it might diminish my respectability in certain circles. ;-)


What tech tool could you not live without?

Just the internet. I have gadgets (which, of course, give me greater access to the Internet), but I rely so heavily on the Internet for quick research and communication.


What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?

It depends on who is in their office. I am in one office in a 4-person office nook. The other 3 offices are inhabited by some of my fantastic psychology colleagues. If “B” is in his office, we are likely chatting about teaching OR his love life. If “S” is in her office, we are likely chatting about kids or mommy blunders. If “D” is around, I stop in for personal or professional advice. 

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