The Teaching Tips series is a weekly e-mail message that describes an instructional strategy that faculty might find helpful in promoting active learning and student engagement. The tips are based on the scholarly literature on teaching and suggestions from faculty who have successfully used the strategy in their teaching.
Do you have an instructional strategy that improves student learning or promotes student engagement with your class? Send a description of your teaching tip to Claudia Stanny (email@example.com) at the Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment for posting in a future Teaching Tip mailing.
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March 4, 2014
Develop expertise in students by creating cognitive apprenticeships for students
Learning in a discipline involves more than acquisition of content knowledge. Development of expertise requires students to develop skills in reasoning and strategies for solving disciplinary problems or applying disciplinary models to real-world applications. Fields with the tradition of teaching through apprenticeships include trades and crafts dominated by skills and tasks that students can easily observe (e.g., building a cabinet, tailoring a piece of clothing). Academic disciplines present challenges because disciplinary strategies for reasoning and problem solving are cognitive strategies and are not readily observable. Nevertheless, students must acquire these skills to develop advanced skills in the discipline.
Collins, Brown, and Holum (1991) propose that instructors must find strategies to make their expert thinking and problem-solving skills explicit to create effective cognitive apprenticeships in academic disciplines. They propose the following components for an effective cognitive apprenticeship:
• Domain knowledge: the subject matter content usually addressed in textbooks and lectures
• Heuristic strategies: techniques used to accomplish common tasks in the discipline
• Control strategies: approaches experts use to guide their problem-solving processes
• Learning strategies: knowledge about how to learn new concepts, procedures and strategies
We have many strategies for transmitting domain knowledge (lectures, textbooks, etc.), but the remaining three components must be addressed in other ways. Colling, Brown, and Holum (1991) suggest the following strategies:
• Model a task so that students can observe all of the component steps: completing a heuristic strategy, thinking aloud to demonstrate how you guide your problem solving
• Coach students and provide feedback on their actions while they perform a task or solve a problem
• Scaffold tasks by breaking a complex task into simpler components that build on one another
• Encourage students to verbalize their thought processes while solving problems so you can observe and offer feedback to correct sub-optimal strategies
•Ask students to reflect on their performance and compare their strategies and outcomes to others
• Explore new problems; solving the same problems over and over encourages a plug-and-chug mentality that does not generalize well to the new problems students encounter
Pay attention to the sequence of learning activities to build skill.
• Begin with a conceptual model for the larger task. This model creates a road map that enables students to identify how component skills contribute to larger goals.
• Initial tasks should be relatively simple; later tasks should add complexity as students become more skilled. Create a series of assignments or projects that provide repeated practice with initial skills; later tasks include additional skills without becoming overwhelmingly complex, the final project should require the full set of skills.
• Introduce variations in how students apply skills to new tasks and assignments that add complexity. Students must then make decisions about when and how to apply a strategy they’ve practiced, which increases the likelihood that students will apply strategies to new situations appropriately.
Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Holum, A. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator, 15 (3), 6-11, 38-46.
February 25, 2014
Small changes can improve class community and student course evaluations
A well-organized, carefully planned course is critical for effective teaching, but attention to small details contributes to rapport with students and a classroom experience that supports effective learning. Corbett and LaFrance (2013) offer suggestions that improve the learning for students and the teaching experience for instructors.
• Arrive early and linger after the class meeting time. Make adjustments to lighting, set up your technology for the session, chat with students before and after class to learn about events outside of class that might influence their in-class learning and continue topic-related conversations while you walk back to your office.
• Create a positive attitude during class meetings. Leave your own life stresses at the door when you teach. We can’t always be our best selves every day. Life stresses and department politics can intrude on our thoughts. But try to protect class time from these worries. Similarly, do not allow sullenness in students to ruin your enthusiasm. Your enthusiasm and attitude can be contagious, although the effect will not be immediate.
• Respond promptly to student email messages. You need not respond immediately. Tell your students when they can expect a response (on the first day of class, in your syllabus) and honor this promise.
• Surrender control of the class occasionally. Choose your battles for control. Some activities and rules for class management are not negotiable. But if you can allow students to determine how some things work, you create a sense of community and shared responsibility for classroom learning. Identify class policies that you feel comfortable allowing students to determine what is acceptable. Explain why other activities or course policies cannot be altered. (See tips on mid-semester feedback for how to elicit feedback about course procedures from students and making mid-course revisions.)
• Remember to tell students when they are doing well. Students need feedback to correct errors, but they also need feedback to let them know when they are on track. Remember to recognize progress and successes.
When we adopt one or more of these small changes, teaching becomes a more pleasant and rewarding activity, and our students become more engaged and motivated with the class.
Corbett, S. J., & LaFrance, M. (September 9, 2013). It’s the little things that count in teaching. Chronicle of Higher Education. [Retrieved 9-10-2013: http://www.Chronicle.com/article/Its-the-Little-Things-That/141489/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en]
February 18, 2014
Encourage students to make wise academic choices through effective advising
Students seek academic advising from many individuals across the UWF campus. Faculty members should be knowledgeable about degree requirements for programs in their disciplines and be prepared to advise and mentor students on professional and career choices related to the discipline.
Although academic and professional decisions are ultimately the student’s responsibility, a faculty adviser or mentor can help students learn to plan their academic work, make practical decisions about selection of courses, and discover academic options and co-curricular activities that help them make progress toward achieving their goals. A wise adviser will help students learn to think through the consequences of their choices. An adviser who is well-informed about services available to students can refer a student to campus resources on campus that can assist students with specific issues (tutoring, health and wellness, personal issues, or career counseling and resume development). A list of helpful campus resources appears on the CUTLA web site, Where to Send Students for Help.
On a practical side, the State of Florida is now directing increased attention to students who require many years to complete a degree and who graduate with excess hours and has developed regulations that impose an Excess Hour Surcharge on these students. Careful advising will provide students with the information they need to make wise decisions when selecting classes and creating plans to complete a degree without incurring problems associated with excess hours.
February 11, 2014
Share feedback with students while complying with FERPA
Students are more likely to improve their work when they receive frequent, diagnostic feedback from their instructors. Federal regulations govern and restrict the way we share information about students and their academic records and present challenges for how and to whom instructors release information about students.
The most common challenge instructors face concerns how we can return graded material (exams and papers) to students quickly. Never leave graded exams and papers in a public location for students to pick up or post grades with names or any part of student ID numbers in a public location.
The eLearning system is an ideal tool for informing students of grades and providing feedback about their work. The system is convenient: students can access eLearning system at any time and from a computer at any location. The eLearning system is password-protected; when students log onto eLearning and view materials for your course, they see only their own grades in the grade book and comments on the work they submit to the drop box. The drop box has a second advantage: You no longer have to worry about losing track of a paper a student submits as an email attachment in your email queue. The submissions get stored in an organized way in eLearning, including a date stamp for when the student submitted the work.
If you use eLearning for no other aspects of course management, use eLearning to quickly share information with students about their academic performance. Post grades for exams and other assignments in the eLearning grade book. Use the drop box for secure submission of papers, student-created Power Point presentations, and other electronic documents. Similarly, instructors can leave comments on written work in the dropbox feedback section and/or post a marked-up electronic copy of a paper submitted through the drop box.
Instructors should take care to protect personal information (student ID numbers) in class. If you circulate an attendance sheet in class, the sheet should list only student names. Do not include other personal identifiers.
For additional details about FERPA compliance, see the CUTLA resource page, Understanding FERPA. The Office of the Registrar created an on-demand online course summarizing the key points of FERPA and providing information needed to comply with access to student information. All faculty who will access student data in Banner must complete this course (FERP01 - FERPA Training for UWF Employees). Sign up for the course through the Nautical Reservation Desk or contact the Office of Human Resources (x. 2694) to enroll.
February 4, 2014
Request feedback from your students about your course during the term
Model the use of formative feedback for your students and reinforce the credibility of the end-of-term course evaluations. Introduce the topic of the value of formative feedback by discussing the value of formative feedback on your teaching. Point out that evaluative feedback from students at the end of the term does nothing to benefit the students who are currently enrolled in the course. Faculty simply can’t correct a problem that they don’t know about. If they learn about a problem only after the term ends, the problem might be corrected in the following term but it can’t possibly be resolved for students during the term.Consider conducting a mid-course evaluation.
Participate in the Teaching Partners program. Teaching Partners conduct classroom observation visits and provide one another formative feedback about their teaching.
Not all suggestions or comments can be acted on (or should be acted on). But instructors can draw attention to changes they make based on student suggestions and explain why some suggestions cannot be changed (dispensing with exams, ending an evening class half an hour early). The fact that you take the comments seriously and responded to those that you could reasonably implement will strengthen students’ belief that course evaluations are taken seriously.
This tip is based in part on a tip submitted by Michael Dabney, Director, Teaching and Learning Center Hawaii Pacific University.
January 27, 2014
Encourage students to evaluate the quality of information sources
Students are notorious procrastinators. Assigning an annotated bibliography early in the term helps students structure their time. For example, if we expect students to cite primary sources in a literature review paper, students who delay locating sources might scramble to locate the required number of sources and cite sources of marginal relevance.
The annotated bibliography can encourage students to evaluate the quality of sources located in a data base if we require students to locate a larger number of scholarly sources than we require the students to cite in the final paper. The annotated bibliography assignment might require each student to identify 2-3 sources they located in a data base search that they thought would be useful but decided were not relevant or not useful. Ask students to explain in their annotations why a rejected source looked promising at first but was ultimately rejected.
When students identify and examine more materials than they are required to include in the final submission, they can break away from the habit of including every remotely relevant source they locate to meet minimum citation requirements for an assignment. Students can then begin to evaluate the merit of materials as cited sources. Students need practice making these decisions to build their information literacy skills in the analysis and evaluation of evidence.
January 21, 2014
Provide timely and explicit feedback to students to improve learning
Grades and scores provide students with some information on the degree to which students’ performance met an instructor’s expectations and criteria, grades do not explain which aspects did or did not meet the criteria and how (Ambrose, et al., 2010, pp. 139-140). Feedback improves learning more effectively when it identifies particular aspects of performance students must improve rather than providing a generic evaluation of performance (such as a grade) or abstract praise or discouragement.
Similarly, too much feedback is not always effective feedback. When we make too many comments or marginal notes, students may be overwhelmed by the quantity of feedback and fail to respond to any of it. Alternatively, when students see many detailed comments, they might limit their revisions and change only the easy-to-fix elements. Essentially, students may accept instructor copy editing and ignore feedback about conceptual or structural changes (Ambrose, et al., p. 140).
When is feedback effective?
• Students receive specific directions and guidance for subsequent practice.
• The class includes one or more assignments that give students an opportunity to apply the feedback and improve future work.
• Feedback is given early enough to allow students to benefit on subsequent work.
• Feedback is given often enough for students to notice that their work is improving.
Evidence-based strategies for using feedback
• Use a rubric to specify and communicate performance criteria. When students do not know what the performance criteria are, they are less likely to practice skills appropriately, and they do not accurately monitor their progress. Communicate performance criteria through a rubric—a scoring tool that explicitly represents the performance expectations for a given assignment. A rubric divides the assigned work into component parts and provides clear descriptions of the characteristics of high-, medium-, and low-quality work associated with each component (see the CUTLA resource page on how to create a rubric).
• Create multiple opportunities for practice. Learning accumulates gradually with practice. Multiple short assignments with specific, well-defined learning goals produce more learning than a single major assignment with a larger scope. Create multiple assignments that become increasingly complex to build skills over time. When these assignments build on one another, they enable students to use early feedback to improve later work. A single opportunity to practice a skill in one assignment is unlikely to develop the relevant set of skills and gives students no opportunity to use your feedback.
• Set expectations about practice. Students underestimate the amount of time an assignment requires. Provide guidelines about the amount of time students need and the amount and type of practice they should perform to master the knowledge or skills and meet your expectations.
• Give examples or models of target performance. Share examples of past student work to illustrate how your criteria can be met in an actual assignment. These examples are even more powerful when you either highlight or annotate key features of the sample that illustrate why the work meets your criteria.
• Give examples of common errors to illustrate what you do not want. Examples that illustrate common student errors or misinterpretations or explain why some types of work will not meet your assignment expectations help students distinguish between high- and low-quality work. You can give students additional practice to evaluate their own work (or the work of a peer), applying the criteria in the grading rubric.
• Provide feedback at the group level. If you do not have time to make feedback notations on all student papers, identify the most common errors students committed, create a list of these problems, and discuss how students can correct these errors if they appear in their own work.
• Require students to describe how they used feedback in subsequent work. Students often do not see the connection between assignments. When students must describe how they used feedback on an early assignment to modify their work on a later assignment, the connection between assignments becomes more transparent. Some instructors assign multiple drafts of a paper and require students to describe how they used prior feedback to improve the current submission. Other instructors create multiple milestone assignments that clearly contribute to a large, integrated, final project.
Ambrose, S. A., et al. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
This tip is based on teaching strategy submitted by Kathy Watson, Associate Dean, Faculty Development, Eckerd College to the Western Kentucky University Teaching Issues Writing Consortium.
January 14, 2014
Use a rubric to evaluate class participation
George Kuh (2008) and Carol Twigg (2003) note that “students don’t do optional.” If we know an activity or study strategy is effective, they propose that we should encourage students to use it by making the activity mandatory. Unfortunately for us, this usually means we must grade the activity in some way.
Students who prepare for class and actively participate in discussion are more engaged and learn more, but grading participation can be a challenge. Many instructors include class participation as a graded element but have difficulty evaluating student participation. Simply recording attendance or counting how often students contribute to discussion or ask a question during class feels superficial. Worse, this system can misfire and create unintended problems. If we reward all contributions without evaluating whether contributions advance the discussion, the quality of discussion might degrade because students attempt to earn points for “participation” by asking trivial questions or making uninformed or off-topic comments.
A rubric that describes appropriate preparation and participation behavior provides clear guidelines to students about participation expectations. Provide periodic feedback based on the rubric during the term (once every 3 or 4 weeks works well). The feedback tells students you take meaningful class participation seriously, and students can use the feedback to improve their in-class contributions. Finally, participation rubric scores serve as an unambiguous method for determining a participation grade.
An example of a rubric (PDF) that I developed and used in a small seminar is posted to the CUTLA web. The rubric includes evaluation of the quality of the student’s preparation for class discussion, the substance of contributions made to discussion, and aspects of general class citizenship (listening skills, responding to other students with respect, promoting on-topic discussion). I share this rubric with students during the first week of the class and provide feedback to them about once a month during the term, with a final evaluation at the end of the term. The rubric allows me to give students regular feedback based on a period of observation I can recall accurately. The first time I provide feedback on class discussion, the students initiate a useful discussion about my expectations for participation. I note an improvement in the quality of discussion following this initial feedback that persists through the remainder of the term. Students appreciate the opportunity to improve the quality of their participation across the term. Since using this rubric, students in my class now initiate actions to keep discussions on track and will refer to the rubric when they respond to another student whose off-topic comments threaten to send the discussion off the rails (yes, the rubric rewards students for contributions that keep the discussion focused).
Examples of rubrics, including my rubric for class participation, are posted on the CUTLA web site.
Kuh, G. (2008).What matters to student success: Lessons from high performing institutions. (PDF) Workshop on Assessing Student and Institutional Performance, University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL.
Twigg, C. A. (2003, July). Build it, but will they come? Learning Market Space. Electronic newsletter published by the National Center for Academic Transformation.
January 7, 2014
Managing conflict in the classroom
Facilitating difficult conversations on controversial topics is a common practice among instructors from almost all disciplinary backgrounds. When instructors incorporate proactive and reactive strategies for conflict communication into course content and modeling constructive ways of handling conflict, they can prepare students to learn to manage conflict associated with a variety of aspects of difference that sometimes arise in the classroom.
Conflict is stressful. Many faculty might wish to avoid experiencing conflict in their classes. When managed well, conflict can be an important learning opportunity for students. They learn how to manage conflict in appropriate ways. What is the best way to manage conflict in the classroom?
Prepare students to engage in discussions about conflicts in a professional and civil manner
Ask students to identify their approach to conflict and their conflict style (Wilmot & Hocker 2011). In this activity, students read through the following statements and identify which statement aligns with their views on conflict. Students gain valuable insights into their preferred communication mode— competing, avoiding, compromising, collaborating, and/or accommodating (Thomas & Kilmann, 1974):
• I love peace and harmony and will go to great lengths to avoid conflict.
• I sometimes will willingly engage in conflict, but only if I can see no other good choice
• I like the give-and-take of a good verbal conflict and am not particularly wary of getting involved.
• I enjoy constructive conflict. My adrenaline gets going, and I like to see what can come of it. I even seek out conflict at times.
• I count on conflict to help clear the air, solve problems, and get us to a “different place.”
Ask students to identify constructive and destructive approaches to managing conflict
Ask students to think of a recent conflict they have had with a peer, superior, or subordinate. They should write down what the conflict was about and list several ways they might have handled this conflict. Finally, students identify how they actually handled the conflict and describe why this strategy worked or did not work. (This activity is based on Masters & Albright, 2002.)
Practice managing conflict in a role-play activity
A role-play activity is an effective method for generating helpful proactive and reactive strategies for engaging in appropriate communication during conflicts. Role-plays help students experience “stressful, unfamiliar, complex, or controversial situations,” explore and practice effective communication styles (Bonwell & Eison,1991). Students should reflect on the words and actions of each character in a role-play and evaluate whether the communication style used was effective in managing the conflict in their role-play scenario.
Bonwell, C C., & Eison, J. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1.
Masters, M. F., &.Albright, R. R. (2002). The complete guide to conflict resolution in the workplace. New York: American Management Association.
Thomas, K. W., &.Kilmann, R. H. (1974). Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode instrument. Tuxedo, NY: Xicom, Inc,
Wilmot, W., & Hocker, J. (2011). Interpersonal conflict (8th ed). McGraw-Hill.
This tip is based on teaching strategy submitted by Dr. Amanda G. McKendree, Assistant Director, Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Notre Dame to the Western Kentucky University Teaching Issues Writing Consortium.
December 3, 2013
Identify and develop the skills and knowledge students need to succeed in your class
What assumptions do you make about the students who enroll in your course? Instructors with a learning-centered focus consider aspects of the learning environment that will have an impact on student learning, including the characteristics of the student learners who will enroll in the course.
What the Best College Teachers Do (Bain, 2004) describes the practices of a group of exemplary faculty. Bain reports that the best college teachers continually reflect on their teaching. They try a teaching strategy (sometimes one that fails), receive feedback, and then refine the strategy to improve student learning.
One way in which we can reflect on our teaching is to identify the skills the students in our course actually have and determine which skills our students still need to work on to succeed in the course.
The following activity enables instructors to identify the assumptions they make about the skills students bring (or should bring) to their class, learn about the actual characteristics of the students who enroll in their courses, and identify strategies to help students overcome any gaps between their current skills and the skills they need to succeed in the course.
Describe the characteristics of an ideal student for your course
• Describe the background knowledge students should have when they enroll to succeed in your course.
• Describe the cognitive and learning skills (reading, writing, study habits, organizational skills, mathematical skills, library skills, etc.) students should have when they enroll to succeed in your course.
• Describe the attitude (expectations, interests, motivation to work, willingness to use feedback to improve work, etc.) students should have when they enroll to succeed in your course.
Describe the characteristics of the students who enroll in your course
• Describe the background knowledge students actually possess when they enroll.
• Describe the cognitive and learning skills students actually possess when they enroll.
• Describe the attitudes students actually possess when they enroll.
How can you learn about the characteristics of your current students?
Talk to other faculty who teach this course. Talk with your students or distribute a questionnaire that asks them to self-report their knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Ask them to be honest – brutally so. If you have time and resources to do so, administer skills pre-tests in the first few days of the course.
Evaluate the similarities and differences in knowledge, skills, and attitudes described for the ideal and the real students
Unfortunately, we seldom get to teach our ideal students; we teach our real students. Consider the effect of mismatches between the ideal student and real students and the impact of these differences on student learning.
• Identify resources on campus that can help your students develop the skills you identify in your ideal student. Refer your students to these resources. Make student use of these resources a class requirement if these skills are essential to student success in the course.
• Consider creating supplemental materials and assignments that will help students acquire necessary background knowledge or skills. These activities can be assigned as homework assignments or included as preliminary assignments for major course assignments.
Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Harvard University Press.
This tip is based on teaching strategy submitted by Ken Sagendorf, Ph.D., Director, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), Regis University, to the Western Kentucky University Teaching Issues Writing Consortium.
November 19, 2013
End-of-term reflection and feedback about student learning from course assignment
Gather information from current students about how well course assignments support student learning, especially if you plan to teach the same course the next term.
An end-of-term reflection and feedback activity for course assignments has two immediate benefits:
• The instructor gains information about how students perceived the assignments and can use this feedback when planning and revising assignments or instructions for assignments the next time the course is taught.
• The class discussion focuses attention on the relation between assignments and intended learning goals. Instructors can reemphasize intended course outcomes, explain how assignments support those goals, rearticulate connections between disciplinary concepts and course activities, and create an opportunity to review course material.
How to elicit end-of-term feedback about course assignments
Long-term observation journal
Small group discussions on differentiation
Collect the sheets so that you can read all of the comments. Instructors can use the comments and new descriptions of assignments to describe how they used student feedback to refine and improve assignments based on feedback and document how student learning and student perceptions of the assignments improved over time.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy submitted by Rebecca Clemente, Director for the Center of Teaching and Learning, North Central College, Naperville, Illinois to the Western Kentucky University Teaching Issues Writing Consortium.
November 12, 2013
Align course SLOs with learning activities and assessments in courses
Chickering & Gamson (1987) identify seven principles that contribute to learning activities that produce deep, enduring learning:
• Learning activities encourage interaction between students and teachers (other than students passively listening to teachers profess)
• Activities encourage cooperation among students
• Activities require active participation and engagement with the material (active learning) instead of passive listening
• Instructors include prompt feedback on student work that suggests ways students can improve their work (not just evaluation of quality)
• Activities emphasize time on task (require students to invest time and energy to complete the task)
• Instructors communicate high expectations for the quality of student products
• Activities demonstrate respect for diverse talents and ways of learning
Construct a course design matrix to describe how course SLOs, planned learning activities (readings, class activities, projects, etc.), and course assessments (exam questions, written work, presentation, etc.) relate to one another. A course design matrix helps instructors determine whether planned learning activities engage students in appropriate types of practice and develop the skills intended as learning outcomes for the course. Describe learning activities, assignments, and assessments in terms of the level of skill described in the learning outcomes, using the Anderson and Kathwohl (2001) revision of Bloom’s taxonomy.
Level of Cognitive Skill (Bloom’s Taxonomy)
Common SLO language (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001)
Aligned Assignment / Assessment
Retrieve relevant knowledge from long-term memory
Interpret, Summarize, Compare, Explain, Classify
Construct meaning from course discussions (readings, lectures, class discussions, etc.) in a written, oral, or graphic product
Execute, Implement, Apply
Carry out a disciplinary skill or procedure in a relevant situation
Differentiate, Organize, Analyze
Identify component parts of course material (models, theories, etc.) and explain how these relate to one another and/or to a larger structure or purpose
Check, Critique, Evaluate
Make judgments based on disciplinary criteria and standards learned in class
Generate, Plan, Produce, Create
Use course content and skill to create a research project, artistic performance, scholarly paper (combine elements together to form a coherent, functional whole; reorganize elements into new patterns)
For example, a course design matrix might align several student learning outcomes with assignments, class activities, and assessments as follows:
Course student learning outcomes
Activities and assignments
Identify, recognize, and articulate disciplinary content
Class lectures & discussion
Performance on fact-based exam questions
Analyze and use evidence in disciplinary-appropriate ways
Performance on application and analysis questions on exams; evaluation of analysis in in-class writing, papers, and essay questions
Produce written work that adheres to appropriate disciplinary writing conventions
Evaluation of writing skill in papers and essay questions
Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39, 3-7.
Whetten, D. A. (2007). Principles of effective course design: What I wish I had known about learning-centered teaching 30 years ago. Journal of Management Education, 31, 339-357. DOI: 10.1177/1052562906298445
November 5, 2013
Thinking like an expert: Develop student skill with disciplinary approaches to reading
When I settle into my hammock with a new novel, I read differently than when I read an article in a scholarly journal or review a manuscript submission for a journal editor. Regardless of how skilled students may be with basic reading, they may need guidance in how to read scholarly materials, which requires students to adopt disciplinary habits of mind and approaches to thinking about problems and evaluating evidence.
Below are some suggestions for reading assignments from faculty at Wilfrid Laurier University. These assignments require students to read disciplinary materials and practice disciplinary approaches to thinking and reading.
Talk about what it means to be a professional in your discipline (e.g., geographer, biologist, social worker, or historian). How does a historian think about history, solve historical problems, read the historical literature, write about history, and so on? What questions do they ask themselves when they begin to read a particular text? What are the conventions for discourse in the discipline? Describe disciplinary thinking skills explicitly to students and, if possible, model them as you think aloud about an assigned reading to make these skills transparent and accessible to students.
Develop an activity associated with assigned reading(s) that supports classroom discussion or completion of a course assignment. For example, instructors in the Wilfrid Laurier first year course, Religion and Culture (Evil and Its Symbols), ask students to identify a short passage or identify a quote from the reading that is salient to them, write a short paragraph describing why the passage spoke to them, and explain how the passage connects to topics discussed in class. Students submit their work 24 hours before class. The written assignment supports discussion in the next class meeting. The students' total grade should be based in part on the quality of these submissions.
Model critical reading in the classroom. Professor Shelagh Crooks of St. Mary's University (Canada) provides students with a short reading (it could be a reading from the list of assigned readings). Students work in groups to answer the following questions.
• What is the topic under discussion?
• What is the issue at hand?
• What position does the author take?
• What evidence does the author provide?
• How credible is the evidence?
Student groups prepare and submit a collective answer to the questions.
When this activity is repeated several times over a number of class meetings, students develop increased skill and confidence in their ability to read disciplinary material with a more critical eye.
Create a worksheet and pose questions to structure reading and reflection on the content. The worksheet can structure either individual reading assignments and reflective writing or in-class group discussions of the reading. The completed worksheet can document the quality of reading or completeness of the group discussion. Instructors in different disciplines might include questions on the worksheet to reflect specific reading and thinking skills that characterize the discipline or the area of research.
Arrange a class visit from a disciplinary expert Bring a reading to life by inviting the author of an assigned reading into the classroom. Authors located in distant locations can visit the class via Skype or web-based conferencing technology.
Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom (John Bean, 2011)
This tip is based on teaching strategy submitted by Jeanette McDonald and Anna Barichello, Wilfrid Laurier University (Canada) to the Western Kentucky University Teaching Issues Writing Consortium.
October 29, 2013
Promote critical thinking with questions that tap specific thinking skills
Paul and Elder (2002, p. 15) define critical thinking as self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. Critical thinking requires effective communication and problem-solving abilities. A well-cultivated critical thinker will
• raise vital questions and problems and formulate them clearly and precisely;
• gather and assess relevant information, and interpret information correctly;
• come to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions and test conclusions and solutions against relevant criteria and standards;
• think open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, identify assumptions and assess the implications and practical consequences of these assumptions; and
• communicate effectively with others when developing solutions to complex problems.
Promote critical thinking by structuring course activities and assignments so that students must use specific critical thinking skills. Consider the kinds of questions you ask students to answer. Assignment prompts should require students to engage in one or more of the behaviors that Paul and Elder describe as characteristics of a critical thinker:
Critical Thinking Behavior
Prompt for a related critical thinking assignment or activity
Can you elaborate further?
Can you describe a specific example?
How could we find out if that is true?
How could we verify or test that?
Can you give me more details about . . . ?
Could you be more exact?
How does that relate to the problem?
How does that help us with the issue under discussion?
What factors make this a difficult problem?
What are some of the complexities associated with this question?
Can we describe this from another perspective?
Do we need to consider another point of view?
Does all of this make sense together?
How does the evidence support this assertion?
What is the central idea that we should focus on?
Which of these facts is most important?
Do I have a vested interest in this issue?
Have I sympathetically represented the viewpoints of others in my discussion?
Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2006). The miniature guide to critical thinking: Concepts and tools. Foundation for Critical Thinking.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy submitted by Valerie Lopes, Ph.D., Seneca College, Canada, Professor, Centre for Academic Excellence, to the Western Kentucky University Teaching Issues Writing Consortium.
October 22, 2013
Require students to process and respond to feedback
Have you ever wondered whether your students actually read your comments, feedback, and corrections on their work? Here is a way to ensure your students take your feedback seriously. After you return a first draft of a paper, a final draft, or project, have students do a follow-up writing assignment in which they paraphrase your comments. The follow-up assignment produces several good consequences. First, students read all your feedback carefully and do their best to understand it. Second, when you read this assignment, you discover how students interpret your comments—in particular, you learn whether students understand your comments in the way you intended. If you discover that students misinterpret your comments, you can correct these misunderstandings. Third, because students now read the comments and try to make sense of your feedback, they are more likely to use your feedback to produce better work in the future.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy submitted by Linda B. Nilson, Ph.D., Director, Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation, Clemson University, to the Western Kentucky University Teaching Issues Writing Consortium.
October 15, 2013
What is Universal Design of Instruction?
Universal Design of Instruction (UDI) is an approach to teaching that consists of a proactive design and use of inclusive instructional strategies that benefit a broad range of learners including students with disabilities.
The seven principles of UDI provide a framework for faculty to use when designing or revising instruction to be responsive to diverse student learners and to minimize the need for "special" accommodations and retrofitted changes to the learning environment. UDI operates on the premise that the planning and delivery of instruction as well as the evaluation of learning can incorporate inclusive attributes that embrace diversity in learners without compromising academic standards.
Seven Principles of UDI
Equitable Use. The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. For example, a website that is designed so that it is accessible to everyone, including students who are blind and using text-to-speech software, employs this principle.
Flexibility in Use. The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. An example is a museum that allows a visitor to choose to read or listen to the description of the contents of a display case.
Simple and Intuitive. Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. Science lab equipment with control buttons that are clear and intuitive is a good example of an application of this principle.
Perceptible Information. The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities. An example of this principle being employed is when multimedia projected in a noisy academic conference exhibit includes captioning.
Tolerance for Error. The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. An example of a product applying this principle is educational software that provides guidance when the student makes an inappropriate selection.
Low Physical Effort. The design can be used efficiently and comfortably, with a minimum of fatigue. Doors that are easy to open by people with a wide variety of physical characteristics demonstrate the application of this principle.
Size and Space for Approach and Use. Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user's body size, posture, or mobility. A science lab work area designed for use by students with a wide variety of physical characteristics and abilities is an example of employing this principle.
Bubb, D., K., Schraw, G., James, D. E., Brents, B. G., Kaalberg, K. F., Marchand, G. C., Amy, P., & Cammett, A. (2013, May-June). Making the case for formative assessment: How it improves student engagement and faculty summative course evaluations. Assessment Update, 25 (3), 8-9, 12
Information about UDI is from the University of Washington DO-IT program.
The guidelines are from The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina University.
Thanks to Vannee Cao-Nguyen, Ed.D., Assistant Director of the UWF Student Disability Resource Center for this teaching tip.
October 8, 2013
Use student mid-course feedback to improve teaching and end-of-term evaluations
Request formative feedback on teaching and assignments to identify areas where you might improve your course design or teaching strategies. Faculty can use mid-course feedback to modify assignments, refine course structure, and adjust their approaches to interacting with students to improve student learning in their current course. If an instructor seeks feedback from students through a mid-course evaluation, students enrolled that term can benefit from improvements the instructor implements during the term. Moreover, instructors frequently discover that student comments and numerical ratings on end-of-course evaluations improve when they include a mid-course feedback activity (Bubb, et al., 2013). Five instructors, ranging in experience from recent Ph.D. through full Professor, implemented a variety of mid-course evaluations, using anonymous feedback through index cards, minute questions, on-line surveys, or focus groups facilitated by teaching center staff. These instructors describe the changes they introduced to their classes based on student feedback, describe the improvements they observed in student learning on assessments administered in the second half of the term, and describe significant improvements in numerical ratings they received on end-of-term course evaluations and corroborated in the written comments from students. Instructors who use mid-course formative feedback from students report that students frequently express their gratitude for the instructor’s interest in their thoughts about class structure and class activities on end-of course evaluations.
CUTLA supports several types of formative feedback on teaching. Instructors can join Teaching Partners and obtain meaningful feedback from a faculty peer. Teaching Partners learn strategies for conducting effective classroom observations before they visit one another’s classes. Faculty can request a classroom observation or Small Group Instructional Diagnostic (focus group of students) by the CUTLA Director. CUTLA provides resources to help faculty design and administer anonymous surveys (either paper-based or electronically) and elicit formative mid-term feedback from students.
Bubb, D., K., Schraw, G., James, D. E., Brents, B. G., Kaalberg, K. F., Marchand, G. C., Amy, P., & Cammett, A. (2013, May-June). Making the case for formative assessment: How it improves student engagement and faculty summative course evaluations. Assessment Update, 25 (3), 8-9, 12
October 1, 2013
Use feedback to motivate students to persist and improve
The motivational approach to feedback assumes that when we inform people about the quality of their performance on a task, the feedback acts as an incentive and motivates people to exert greater effort in the future (Dempsey & Sales, 1993). Learners tend to range from ego-involved (they have a performance orientation) to task-involved (they have a learning orientation). Learners who are ego-involved are motivated to demonstrate and display their abilities. Learners who are task-involved are motivated to learn, gain skills, and improve their level of mastery. When learners receive no cues or feedback to direct them to a specific goal orientation, they act according to their existing disposition to orient to either performance or learning (Dempsey & Sales, 1993; Hattie and Timperley, 2007).
Appropriate feedback can direct learners to adopt a learning orientation and increase their motivation to perform (Hoska, 1993; White & Weight, 2000).
Feedback strategies that can produce a learning-focused orientation include
• Feedback that emphasizes the role of effort and practice encourages students to adopt a growth mindset, a belief that students can improve their skills and abilities through effort and guided practice (Dweck, 2007).
• Structure assignments to direct student attention on learning goals (skill development) rather than on achieving rewards (e.g., grades).
• Create opportunities to reward effort and improvement by assigning greater weight to later assignments that students can improve if they use and learn from feedback on earlier assignments.
• Provide prompt feedback, which improves motivation and effort more than delayed feedback. Prompt feedback becomes even more important as a motivator when students need timely delivery of feedback to improve performance on subsequent work.
• Use formative feedback to improve motivation. When we give formative feedback on a low-stakes assignment (such as comments for how to improve a first draft of an assignment), feedback will motivate students to exert more effort on follow-up assignments. In contrast, summative feedback on a high-stakes assignment at the end of the term (feedback that accompanies the final grade) arrives too late to have any impact on subsequent student effort.
• Feedback should describe specific behaviors and the quality of performance rather than characteristics of the student. Feedback should focus on actions and quality of work rather than the person.
• Direct feedback toward behavior the student can change.
Dempsey, J.V. & Sales, G.C. (1993). Interactive instruction and feedback. Englewood Cliff, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
Dweck, C. S. (2007). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research. 77(1). 81-112. London: Sage Publications. doi: 10.3102/003465430298487
Hoska, D.M. (1993). Motivating learners through CBI feedback: Developing a positive learner perspective. In Dempsey, J.V. & Sales, G.C. (Eds.), Interactive instruction and feedback (pp. 105-132). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
White, K. W. & Weight, B. H. (2000). The online teaching guide: A handbook of attitudes, strategies and techniques for the virtual classroom. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
This tip is based on teaching strategy submitted by Julie Frese, Ph.D., University of the Rockies (Julie.Frese@faculty.rockies.edu) to the Western Kentucky University Teaching Issues Writing Consortium.
September 24, 2013
Assign graded work early in the term to alert students to problems with their learning
The first exam or major graded assignment in the term delivers a loud message to a certain number of students in a course: You are not performing well enough to succeed in this course. What can faculty do to help students who are “on the edge” pull back from the brink of disaster and succeed in the course?
• Alert students to problems early in the term with concrete feedback to give students time to make necessary corrections. Students need feedback early enough in the term to locate sources of assistance and make use of opportunities to improve (forming study groups, obtaining tutoring, increasing participation in class, consulting with the writing center or other campus support services).
• Structure the grading system for the course so that an early failure still leaves some hope for recovery. When the final grade in a course is determined by one or two major exams or projects, an early stumble might not be recoverable. When courses include multiple opportunities for graded work or when grades for later assignments are weighted more heavily than early assignments, students can realistically expect that significant improvements in their work will offset an early stumble.
• Contact students who are at risk of failing following the first graded assignment or exam. Email students who receive a D or F and request that they come to speak to you during office hours. This gesture can provide the encouragement to students who get off to a bad start but are otherwise capable, especially if you use the meeting time to direct the student to campus resources for additional help. Some instructors use their graduate teaching assistants or recruit honors students in the class to serve as mentors to students who are struggling. Both students can benefit from this experience.
• Advise students about the consequences of decisions and choices they make. Students increasingly have unrealistic expectations that they can manage a full-time job, a complex family life, and a full load of university course work. Although students must accept responsibility for decisions that impair their ability to succeed in a course, a heart-to-heart discussion with their advisor or course instructor about the impact of their choices might motivate them to choose more wisely. Discussions that occur early in the term (before withdrawal deadlines) allow students to save themselves from poor decisions and back out of unrealistic course loads or reduce other demands on their time.
September 17, 2013
Include high-impact teaching practices in courses
The AAC&U identifies five “high-impact practices” that promote substantial benefits for student learning and student persistence, increased student engagement, and improved retention and graduation rates. High impact practices share common characteristics that make them effective strategies for teaching and learning:
• Students must invest time and effort in a purposeful task.
• Students interact with faculty and peers about substantive matters.
• Students receive frequent feedback about their work and guidance about how they can make improvements.
• Students connect disciplinary content with real-world experience when they apply knowledge and skills from the discipline to a real-world problem.
• Students discover connections between the curriculum, their learning, and personal experience though a reflective writing component.
Although research on high-impact practices (undergraduate research, learning communities, capstone courses, study abroad, internships and service learning) documents the association between HIPs and many desirable learning outcomes, few students participate in these activities. NSSE data indicate that only about 25% of seniors participated in one high-impact practice during their time in college.
High-impact practices demand time and resources to implement. However, we can sometimes achieve the benefits of HIPs when we include small-scale high-impact pedagogies in individual courses. High-impact pedagogies include features that make HIPs effective. These activities reap the benefits of larger-scale high-impact activities and can be included in the courses we require students to take to meet degree requirements. While engaged in these small-scale activities, students can learn about the large-scale activities, discover how their learning improves when they participate in these activities, and discover how they can access the resources needed to engage in a large-scale activity during their undergraduate career.
Examples of small-scale high-impact pedagogies for individual classes include:
• Require students to make a short presentation during class.
• Revise a writing assignment to require students to prepare two or more drafts and use feedback on early drafts to improve their final submission. Design a peer review assignment for early drafts to minimize your grading burden.
• Create a community-based assignment that illustrates how course content connects to a practical problem.
• Connect students to relevant academic support resources: Require students to use the writing center, create study groups, or consult with peer tutors.
• Create a mini-HIPs for the class: Case studies, a small research project directed at a new and relevant problem or question (not a canned laboratory exercise), a service learning project, or a short-distance excursion in which students observe and experience practical use of course content in the field.
• Assign a low-stakes assignment during the first three weeks of the term to provide feedback to students. Identify relevant academic support resources and refer students to these services when needed.
AAC&U (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, DC: AAC&U.
Kinzie, J. (2013).High impact practices and engaged student learning: Teaching practices that matter. Workshop presented at the University of West Florida.
September 9, 2013
Short video guides for students on effective study strategies
College students frequently waste time using ineffective study strategies because they are unaware of which strategies are effective or don’t retain the suggestions for effective study provided by their instructors. Stephen Chew, a cognitive psychologist at Samford University, created a series of 5 short YouTube videos that describe effective study strategies and explain why these strategies produce learning that lasts.
In each video, Chew provides context and defines terms so that an instructor can direct students to an individual video for good advice on studying. However, because each video builds on concepts explained in detail in earlier videos, the greatest benefit will be gained by asking students to view all of the videos in sequence. The following annotated guide to the five videos is based on descriptions provided by Stephen Chew.
Video Guide: How to Study Long and Hard and Still Fail…or How to Get the Most Out of Studying
The overall theme of the videos communicates two important ideas. First, students who use ineffective or inefficient ways of studying will discover that they study long and hard and still fail. Second, students who use effective strategies will get the most learning out of their study time and will be more likely to succeed.
Video 1: Beliefs That Make You Fail…Or Succeed
Chew examines common mistaken beliefs students often possess that undermine their learning. The video tries to correct those misconceptions with accurate beliefs about learning.
Video 2: What Students Should Understand About How People Learn
Chew introduces a simple but powerful theory of memory, Levels of Processing, that explains why some strategies are more beneficial than others for learning. Application of the Levels of Processing model when selecting study strategies can help students improve their study.
Video 3: Cognitive Principles for Optimizing Learning
Chew operationalizes the concept of level of processing into four principles that students can use to develop effective study strategies.
Video 4: Putting the Principles for Optimizing Learning into Practice
Chew applies the principles of deep processing to common study situations. Chew describes the conditions in which the student’s method for taking notes in class or highlighting text while reading corresponds to either shallow or deep processing, with predictable consequences for quality of learning.
Video 5: I Blew the Exam, Now What?
Chew addresses what students should and should not do when they earn a bad grade on an exam.
The first four videos are based on a presentation Stephen Chew makes to freshmen at Samford, which he described in a publication of the Association for Psychological Science Observer (2010).
September 3, 2013
Experiment with low-tech “clickers”
Have you considered trying “clickers” but are reluctant to tie your class sessions to Power Point so you can present clicker questions? Perhaps you want to be confident you will like using clickers before you decide to require your students to purchase a clicker.
Try a low-tech version of clickers to experiment with clicker questions first and assess whether small group discussions based on clicker questions works well as a learning activity in your class.
You can create low-tech paper-based clickers in several ways:
Print a page of response forms. Create a table with two columns and two rows, setting the columns to 3.5 inches and the rows to 4 inches, and print the letters A, B, C, D in 230 point font in each cell. Students print the PDF file and cut out the cells of the table to create four response cards. The letters should be large enough for you to see when students raise their response card.
Purchase index cards in four different colors to create color-coded response forms. Give each student a set containing one card of each color, with one color (e.g., yellow) representing the A response, a difference color (e.g., blue) representing B, and so on.
Want color coding and printed responses? Create multiple versions of the PDF file (one for each response type) and print a set of response cards on brightly colored paper. This option gives you a broader range of color choices but requires more assembly effort to create the packets.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy suggested by Wren Mills, PhD, Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching, Western Kentucky University.
August 27, 2013
Use a student reflection activity as an ice-breaker at the beginning of class and an assessment at the end of the term
Although we articulate student learning outcomes for course syllabi that describe what our students should be able to know and do by the end of the term, we often focus on disciplinary content and overlook learning outcomes related to the intellectual development of our students. Many courses include explicit learning outcomes related to personal growth, intercultural competence, or diversity skills. These learning outcomes can be made more explicit (and assessed) by including reflective assignments at the beginning and end of the term.Standpoint Statement ice-breaker activity
The Standpoint Statement (Brookfield and Preskill, 2005, p. 158-159) activity is a short, in-class written reflection. Give students a few minutes at the beginning of class to reflect on and describe how their personal and social identities might influence their perspectives on course topics. The written reflections should include the following elements
Follow-up small group discussion
Ask students to gather in small groups to discuss their reflective essays. The discussion serves as an ice-breaker and helps students get to know one another. The group discussion helps establish a classroom climate in which students can share personal perspectives in a safe, respectful, and civil environment. When faculty permit and encourage student to discuss personal experience in combination with more theoretical disciplinary perspectives, they enable students “to claim a knowledge base from which they can speak” (hooks, 1994, p. 148). This experience can be particularly important for creating an inclusive community in the classroom for students who may otherwise feel alienated from the norms of traditional academic culture (such as first generation students, students of color, etc.).
Final reflective paper (close-of-term assessment)
Consider using a closing assignment that encourages students to articulate how they have changed and grown as a result of their experiences in your course. Ask students to reflect on their experiences and self-assess their personal development in the course. Assign a Minute Paper (Angelo & Cross, 1993) or ask students to write a letter to themselves that you will collect and mail to them in a specified number of weeks or months after the term ends.
If you used the Standpoint Statement activity at the beginning of the semester, you can encourage students to think specifically about how their identities influenced their reception of course material. You might also ask students to describe any changes in their perspectives that were connected to their learning and experiences in the course (see Mezirow (1981) for more commentary on perspective transformation).
Bookending your course with reflective activities that prompt students to think about who they are and how their personal characteristics are related to your course can transform a mere content-laden class into a personal growth experience. These tasks can help students articulate how their identities and personal histories shaped their perception of course content at the beginning of the semester and, in turn, how their perceptions may have become more refined, deepened, or broadened through their learning experiences in the course.
Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (2005). Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Duffy, D. K., & Jones, J. W. (1995). Teaching Within the Rhythms of the Semester. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
hooks, b. (1994 ). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.
Mezirow, J. (1981). A Critical Theory of Adult Learning and Education. Adult Education Quarterly, 32, 3-24.
Updated 02/18/14 lrg
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