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Teaching and Learning Activities

Tips marked with an * indicates that the tip is consistent with learnng-centered teaching

Higher Levels of Learning



Higher Levels of Learning

*How to produce big gains in your student learning

While preparing to teach, or throughout the semester, ask yourself what am I doing to encourage my students to:

  • learn how to learn
  • be motivated
  • help them change their values
  • learn how to interact better with other people
  • integrate concepts that they are learning with other concepts, other courses, their lives, future careers, etc.
  • apply their skills to new situations, as well as develop their knowledge

Remember developing knowledge is not the only aspect of getting a university degree
(Taken from Fink's Taxonomy of Higher Learning)

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*Helping student to accept that there is more than one right answer

I have heard many faculty say that our students have difficulty accepting that there might be more than one right answer or no right answer. Here's an in-class way to help them:

    1. Ask students for more answers after one has been given, when several possibilities exist
    2. When you ask a question say, I am looking for three or more possible answers, meanings, results, interpretations, etc.

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*Enhancing Learning

Learning is enhanced if students are asked to do the following:

    1. Use their own words to restate material they learned
    2. generate their own examples
    3. recognize it in different contexts and formats
    4. make connections between what they just learned and other facts or ideas previously learned
    5. apply it in different ways
    6. anticipate some of its consequences
    7. state it in its opposite or converse

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Planning Lectures

  1. First consider what you are trying to accomplish. Lectures are best for the following:

    - to pique student curiosity, motivate to learn if instructor's style is very expressive
    - to model an approach to solving problems or thinking style
    - to give background knowledge/summary that might not be available or as integrated
    - to help students learn very sophisticated material for which resources are not available at their level
    - to present an organization, structure to help learn material
    - to add personal viewpoint, insights into material
    - to present up-to date material that is not available elsewhere

  2. If your purpose is > 1 of the above, then consider giving a lecture. If not, consider other student-active teaching formats. If you are planning to cover material in the textbook or other course materials, lecturing may not improve the students' understanding. Once students learn that you are duplicating what is in the textbook they will choose to do either come to class or read the book few will choose to do both.
  3. If you decide to lecture - follow these steps:
    1. prepare class objectives
    2. whenever possible limit class of 50 minutes to 1 major topic
    3. plan an overview of the lecture - time content schedule
    4. try to avoid the 2 most common mistakes of lectures - covering too much material and delivering the material too fast
    5. divide the major topics into 10-15 minute chunks
      plan student-active activities between the lecture chunks
    6. plan the internal organization of the lecture:
      the body
      the conclusion
    7. develop appropriate visuals
    8. think about illustrating abstract concept and relations and examples

      prepare easy to follow at a glance lecture notes, graphic notes may be fine
      notes should be sketchy as you know the material
      key concepts to cover do not write out notes
      put directions to yourself in notes - ask students to do ___, write on board ____,etc.

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*Increasing your student's understanding

A goal of higher education is to increase our student's deep learning. Deep learning is learning for understanding and not just memory. Deep approaches to learning are involve integrative processes where students actively synthesize and connect material to existing knowledge:

Four key ways to increase deep learning are:

  1. Assignments should motivate students to learn
  2. Teaching and learning activities should build on a carefully structured, integrated knowledge base
  3. Use active student learning and involvement as much as possible
  4. Maximize the learning interactions among students

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*Making lectures more meaningful learning experiences

To make your lectures more meaningful learning experience for your students:

  1. Let students know about the objectives that you are trying to achieve
  2. Have an attention-gathering introduction
  3. Divide your lecturing into mini-lectures of 15-18 minutes each
  4. Give the students something to do in between the mini-lectures-a review of what was covered or a problem to solve
  5. Conclude with a 2-5 minute time to let the students recap of the most important points in the lecture either through a classroom assessment technique or an oral summary
  6. Encourage students to take their own lecture notes
  7. Provide effective handouts.

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*Helping students to learn more

If you want your students to learn more, then develop opportunities for your students to discuss, examine, challenge, and look at their learning from different perspectives. This allows the students it improve upon their learning before they internalize it.

The converse is also true-learning is least useful and perhaps may be inaccurate, if it is private and hidden. If students study alone, without have a venues to share and enlarge upon their learning, and only have 1 opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, their learning may be reduced. Lee Shulman Change editorial 2000.

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Helping students to understand a difficult concept

If your students are having trouble understanding a concept that you want them to learn, try to give them an analogy in a completely different field, perhaps even in an non-academic field. For example, if your students do not write introductions and bridges in their papers, show them that TV shows and movies have a set beginning (title, main characters are identified, etc.) and specific ways to help the viewer know that the scene is changing (fades outs, etc.).

This tip came from a discussion among the participants at the TableTalk on creating dynamic videos on Monday, February 19, 2002.

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*Are your students realizing that learning in your subject should not end when the course does

As the weeks roll on through the semester are your students coming to realize that their learning in your subject should continue after the course ends? What are you doing to help students continue learning when the course is over? Think about trying to do some of the following. Here are a few ideas to foster the idea that learning this discipline can continue after the formal class ends:

  • Are you showing how interesting the subject is and how much you still enjoy learning about it?
  • Have you made it clear that you will still be accessible to the students as they continue to learn?
  • Have you fostered intellectual curiosity in this subject matter?
  • Have you helped students to develop these learning to learn skills in this discipline:
    • ability to ask good questions in this discipline
    • knowledge of print, electronic, human resources that are available to them
    • ability to evaluate the appropriateness of these resources for their continue learning
    • ability to read the primary or secondary literature on this topic

If we can get our students to achieve this lifelong learning in a subject, we and they will have succeeded.

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*Why the type of assessments used lead to the type of student learning

Assessment systems need to really reflect the level of understanding you want your students to achieve. If students feel that they only need to reproduce information, rather than make sense out of it and apply it to new problems, the students will assume their learning should have short-range aims and outcomes. If you want students to achieve critical thinking and problem solving, the students need to perceive that you require these skills of them.

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*Planning for the functions of content coverage in your courses

Currently many faculty see the function of content is to build strong knowledge foundations. While we all agree this is important, the more comprehensive functions of content should be to develop learning skills and learner self-awareness as well as to build knowledge. As you are planning your specific teaching and learning transactions for next semester (this is not just what you will cover, but how you will get the students to learn the content) think of approaches that do not separate learning strategies from content. The implication of this is that teachers cover less, but student learn more.

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*Encouraging students to read current professional or relevant popular literature

If you want your students to read current professional (better for upper level courses) or relevant popular literature (such as Scientific American for lower level classes), you want to say that students can get few points each week for bringing in extra credit or points to count toward the class participation component of their grade
The pharmacy faculty who have implemented this idea find that few students take advantage of this way of bettering their grade so you will not be increasing too many grades.

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*Helping students to read the research or clinical literature

Faculty often say that students have trouble organizing or summarizing the primary, or secondary literature a discipline. Students often want the literature to flow without disagreements, yet we know this is not the case. If you are having the students review literature ask the students to classify each article, web site or reference they read into

  1. standing on the shoulders of the previous generation - the writer sees the field as a steady progression of his/her work building on previous ones
  2. major shift - the writer is proposing a new theory, paradigm or sending the field in another direction
  3. warring camps - the writer is responding to warring camps. This might be a good way to help them organize their paper or reviews.

This idea is adapted from Walvoord and Anderson, Effective Grading, Jossey-Bass, 1998.

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*Getting students to effectively read and use their textbooks

To get students to do their reading assignment, begin every or some (unannounced in advance) with a short 3-4 item quiz on their reading. From these quizzes, students earn a maximum of 10 bonus points towards their final total number of points earned (not the average). While the total number of points earned is very small, it will not really effect their grade, it will motivate the students to do the assigned reading.

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Transmitting information electronically

Experience has taught us that all of us do not read detailed information from our computers, but we down-load it and print it.

Students have limited numbers of copies they can print from the computer. It is far cheaper and more efficient to photocopy multiple copies of your handouts, syllabi, outlines of your lectures, etc. therefore if you think the students will be printing what you put it on-line, photocopy it for the students, or give a paper copy to the library for reserve.

Further, when students print dark slides, they are using up much printer ink, wasting much toner. Before you put your slides of lectures on ERes or the Web or other electronic means, convert them to white backgrounds

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*Getting your students to read with more meaning

Students read with more meaning if you give them a handout to guide their reading. For example, you might ask students in lower level courses to explain or diagram concepts and tell them what is especially relevant or important to study. In higher level courses, your reading guide does not have to hand-hold the students as much. Depending on the material, you might ask students to answer or think about answering application questions. You might ask student to relate what is covered in this chapter or reading to what has been previously covered. Reading guides are especially helpful when the material is complex, confusing or very new to the student.

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*Helping students to master the content and study

We spend most of our time covering content. As content experts we forget how it felt to learn this content in the beginning. We need to help our students learn how to learn this content. We might model how to organize the material, i.e., hierarchical or do over-arching concepts tie everything together. We can help students develop an effective approach to studying this discipline (e.g., solve many problems, ask the big picture questions, or what are the consequences of impacts of an event or idea) since the disciplines have different skill requirements and a different type of logic.

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*Getting students to write better reflective journals

More faculty are asking their students to write reflective journals, which is a good thing. However, some student have no idea what you mean by reflection (except perhaps what light does to a surface). You need to give them very specific directions or guidance as to what type of reflections you want. Generally you want students to reflect on 4 what's : What happened, so what, now what and what does it mean?

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*Getting students to question the written word, even textbooks

When you are planning your reading for your next course you might consider trying a few assignments like this to get students to see that textbooks differ in how they give the "facts". Do not assign a particular text instead put many different textbooks on reserve for the class and assign each student to use the comparable chapter in at least two of them in order to complete the assignments for each week or a few weeks. This exercise is intended to get students to understand that the written word, even textbooks, are works of individual authorship and not TRUTH.

Gene Weimer from Bates College posted this to a librarian listserv and Mignon Adams forwarded it to me and we hope that it is good enough to share with all of you.

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*Getting your advanced students to become lifelong readers in your discipline

Competent professionals need to remain current in their fields. Students may not know what journals they should be reading on a regular basis once they are no longer assigned readings. Therefore, spend some time telling students what journals they should be reading, how they can access them once they are no longer USP students (like memberships to organizations that come with quality journals, publishers, etc). Even more important show them how to read these journals as continuing education. You might want to bring in a copy and spend a seminar or journal club meeting showing what you do with a new journal issue.

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*Getting your students to reflect on what they should be learning in increase understanding

Ask your students to do a learning journal that you will collect (and if time allows offer individual feedback on) a few times during the semester. To make the students take this assignment seriously, have it count a significant amount of the final grade. In the learning journal ask the students to record either weekly or more often their reactions or responses to classes, readings, assignments commentary or critique on reading or lectures reflection on how understanding the subject matter changed during the course how they can apply what they learned to other courses, their career further questions or areas they want to learn about coming from the content, assignment, etc. other topics that relate to their learning.

This should give you feedback as to if the students are learning what you wanted them to learn, should increase their engagement with the reading and classes.

This idea comes from Park and was written about in the Jan. 2004 issue of the Teaching Professor.

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*Does the amount of content taught influence how well students understand the material?

Thirty years of research strongly indicates that the more content taught in a course, the more students rely on memorization and the less they learn with understanding or acquire deep learning in the discipline. Decide what is the essential content that you need for the students to learn, and cut the rest out of your course. Then work with students to learn to use the content and not for you to cover the content.

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*Helping students to become self-directed learners

All of us strive toward having students who are self-directed in their learning. Yet many of us are at a loss as to how to help our students achieve this goal. We must plan our courses so that the student participate in repeated, systematically designed learning experiences to explore and facilitate learner developed self-directed learning capacities. This means building in specific activities designed to teach students how to learn. It means spending a lot of time modeling these self directed behaviors yourself and giving students opportunities to practice them in low risk environments.

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*Getting students to participate more in class

To get more student involved in class participation, assign each student to facilitate a class discussion. The student should prepare the readings very well, develop focused questions, and be prepared to answer questions raised by other students. A few days prior to the class, the facilitator-student should meet with the instructor to be sure the student is on the same wave length and well prepared. After the class that student or another student should prepare a summary of the class discussion, which after approved by the instructor, can be posted on the Blackboard site for the class. At the beginning of the class, the instructor needs to explicitly model and discuss good facilitation skills. Some times students will participate more for fellow students than they do for faculty. The work done as a facilitator and summarizer should count as part of the class participation grade.

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Getting a quick read on how students are doing while checking for who is enrolled

Once the add-drop period ends, the registrar's office always verify student enrollment of each individual. Instead of taking roll in class or checking if all students have handed in at least one assignment, give the students a very brief formative assessment (i.e., 1 question on the major idea they have learned so far in the class, or their most confusing aspect of the content thus far), ask the question in several venues and request that each student complete the activity once with their name on their work. You can first give them a few minutes in class to complete the assessment, you can post it on your Blackboard site for your class and email your students (can be done quickly from your Blackboard page, if you created one) the same assessment assignment. You can also tell your students to tell their friends to complete the assignment if they still want to be considered enrolled in the class. A complete record from all your students will give you the information requested by the registrar's office and some insights as to how much the students are learning or how confused they are.

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Helping students to see flaws in their reasoning or correcting improper conclusions

Some times students fail to see why their logic or reasoning flawed or they bring in extraneous facts which they think leads them to a conclusion. Other times students draw cause and effect conclusions that may not even be related or at best correlation. This can be a serious problem particularly with advanced or graduate students working on their research. Faculty may have a hard time trying to get these students see their flaws in reasoning. Try asking the students to graphically represent their reasoning either through a flow chart, concept map, time line relationship, cascade cycle, numerical graph of the relationship, etc. By forcing them to move from the verbal to a graphic they may better see what is wrong because they cannot use their arguments in the same way.

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Planning your course so that students will come prepared to class

If your goal is to have students come prepared to class to engage in, discuss or apply the content, then you need to plan the course so that students will come prepared. Usually assigning 15% of the total grade for pre-class preparation should be enough to motivate the students. Use a variety of preparation activities to keep the interest high and to address different learning styles and goals. Some possibilities for preparation assignments might be:
  • Turn in index cards with notes from the chapter that will be returned to the individual students for use during an exam
  • Choose 1 sentence from the reading that you found the most relevant or confusing and discuss why
  • Develop questions for discussion, and ask students to lead the discussion from their questions
  • Create chapter study guides
  • Generate questions on the content that they did not understand

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Getting your students to read before class and engage more during the class through use of a communication form

Here is an idea to help students come to class having read the assignment and engage in the material. Develop a single sheet template for the students to copy and use for each class. The form has 4 parts. In the first part students put their contact information and a photo of themselves. The form with this part completed should then be copied to be used repeatedly. In the second part the students list the readings and their reflections of the readings and should be done before class. The third part focuses on the class meeting. It can contain questions such as, "What new information did you gain from today's class? How did it help you? What did the instructor do particularly well today? Use questions that fit what your are doing. The fourth part is for the students to ask questions, clarifications or comments. Students should use the last five minutes of each class to complete parts 3 and 4; this serves as a good review. You should try to read these forms or a sample of these forms right after class so that you can respond to questions or concerns the next class.

This idea come from Suzanne L. Medina and was published in the October 2004 Teaching Professor newsletter.

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Helping your students to take notes that are worthwhile and foster learning

Many students are not good note takers. Even good note takers often have a hard time keeping up with faculty lectures or discussions when words are unfamiliar to them. You might suggest that students leave a large space in their notes whenever they feel they have not gotten all the information they wanted in their notes. Then they can easily find the gaps later. You can encourage students to ask a peer for help or check their textbooks for the missing information first and then if they still have a question or need clarification then they can come to your office during office hours or email you for some help. If you see the student is having repeated problems taking notes you might suggest that they read and outline the textbook before coming to class. If the problem persists, you might think of other possible causes of this problems such as English difficulty, information processing problems perhaps needing some accommodations or non-academic problems interfering with his/her ability to concentrate in class.

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Modeling your thoughts and problem solving skills for the students

Many of us believe that we need to show a perfectly solved problem for the students. Yet research shows that students learn more if you overtly show your problem solving processes to the students. A perfectly solved problem does not show your thought processes because you already did the problem. Therefore, as you plan your classes, show the students the perfectly solved problem as an illustration, but also work through a problem that you have not solved before. Talk aloud about what your are thinking as you solve the problem. Be explicit about the strategies you are using and why you think this strategy might work. Allow the students to see how you make mistakes, but more important how you correct your mistakes. It will take practice for you to be able to model your thinking by talking about the intermediate steps that you skip. You may want to spend the extra time on the process of problem solving, but it is time well spent in terms of student learning.

This idea is part of the model of cognitive apprenticeship and is backed up by lots of good research.

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Helping students to answer questions or out of class assignments that involve research

When you are assigning students to answer questions involving research or outside reading, always be sure they are headed in the right direction in their search strategy to avoid the students from going off into a wild chase for information but not finding the answer. Cathy Poon suggests that before you send the student off, especially clinical rotation students, to research something that you ask the student for 3 possible places to look for the answers. If the student is right on at least 1 of them, there is a good chance the student will find the answer. If all three sources will probably not yield the right answer, you might want to suggest some specific resources or to talk to a librarian so that the student will have a worthwhile learning experience.

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Helping students to understand a topic

If the first time you explain a topic, the students look confused or ask questions for clarification, don't just repeat what you said the second time. Try to explain the concept differently, using different words. Try using metaphors, common usage examples of this concept, or analogies to explain it differently.

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*Helping students to use text and other readings more effectively

Beginning students and some more advanced students consider the purpose of reading texts or other materials is to take information from the text. However, faculty consider the purpose of such readings is to make meaning out of the information contained in the reading. Ways to help students make this transition include:

  1. Ask the students to answer specific questions about the reading that are not just factual recall
  2. Direct students to a more analytical approach to the concepts that requires them to reflect, synthesize or evaluate the text

These ideas are adapted from an article by Blackman, Gandolfo, and Kowalski, "Linking composition and chemistry" that appeared in the Journal of Student Centered Learning, 2005, 2:145-152. This article will be discussed in an upcoming journal club on the scholarship of teaching and learning.

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Planning your course to help students acquire the thinking skills of the discipline

The nature of the discipline, the process of critical thinking in a discipline is just as important as the material and concepts in your discipline. However, we often tend to give these skills and processes less emphasis in our day to day teaching. So now that you are planning or revising your courses, plan time within the schedule to go over how you think in this discipline. Role model what you do by thinking out loud as you solve problems. Students don't get the thinking process naturally if they just hear about the content or see experts solving problems easily; however, once they understand the thinking process within the discipline, the content will come much easier to them. this emphasis on role modeling critical thinking skills applies at all levels of courses as the critical thinking skills required varies with the complexity of the material.

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Assessing if students can read the figures, graphs or diagrams in your discipline

Early in the semester give students a quick, in class assignment to see if they can read, interpret and explain the non-text aspects of your discipline. Textbooks, professional articles, etc. are full of graphs, figures and diagrams that contain essential information. Students may skip over them because they may not see them as important or they may not be able to understand and use them. Then give students feedback on their ability to interpret a diagram, etc. You might want to explicitly teach how to read and explain them if the class as a whole has trouble with it.

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*How to keep your teaching of the same material fresh

After teaching the same courses over time, the material can become a little stale for you. Here are a few suggestions to keep the material fresh:

  1. Each year vary the readings, create new assignments, rearrange the classroom, design new tests/projects, and so forth. Be challenged by finding new and exciting ways to help the students learn.
  2. Instead of lecturing on the topic, turn it into a small group assignment, a discussion or a question and answer session. Students will always think of new ideas or perspectives, even if you do not agree with them, and that can stimulate your own thinking about the content.

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Helping students to use different kinds of resources for papers

We have all observed that students only read what they can find on the World Wide Web, sometimes often what they can goggle and not going to more scholarly data bases. Students lose by not reading different types of resources. Therefore, for term paper or library type assignments require students to cite from 3 different types of sources including books, reference materials found in the library, like specialized encyclopedias, digital or Web based resources, journals, etc. If you require different types of resources, give students guidance in how to use these resources, the types of information they are likely to encounter in each type and how to critically evaluate the information obtained. As we know, but students have not yet learned, using a wide variety of resources can lead to a better quality paper.

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Engaging students in the course and the subject matter on the first day of class

Prepare a game show, trivia quiz, bingo or other fun activity for the first day of class. You can ask 2 different types of questions about your course, the syllabus, your expectations and course requirements, and about the subject matter to be studied. The subject matter questions might be about general terminology and well known concepts. Try to ask some questions that students will know to help them connect what they previously know to what they will be learning. Both types of questions are great stimuli to get students discussing, thinking about this course and asking you further questions.

This idea comes from Christine Flanagan.

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Making your (large) lecture classes much more interactive

One of the problems with large lecture classes is that it is very difficult to hear from most students, either to assess their knowledge or determine what they do not know on an immediate and on-going basis. However,we now have a technology that can overcome these problems. Just like on TV and at large professional meetings, we now have an audience response system at USP. The hardware has been wired into all of our large lecture halls. We have 45 clickers for you to borrow to see how they work (you can ask groups of students to respond). If you use PowerPoint, you can easily learn how to incorporate interactive questions and get students' answers to respond). If you plan to use clickers on a regular basis and want to record the students' individual responses for participation grades, the students need to purchase their own clickers that are available from the bookstore.

Bernie Brunner has pioneered the use of this technology on this campus and as usual is willing to share his knowledge and experience.

Bernie Brunner has graciously agreed to let faculty observe him when he uses the clickers with his students. Bernie requests that you let him know in advance if you will be coming.

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Personal reflective annotations for reading assignments: A writing-to-learn assignment

Here is a different way to get students to actively read an assignment and be ready to come to class to discuss it.

  • In addition to the regular highlighting or underlining that student's do, they need to add meaningful margin notes interacting with the reading. The notes do not have to be very long or too many per assignment.
  • The instructor should give a sample of appropriate annotations and explain them such as including challenges to the reading, further examples, references to other sources, personal experiences that relate to the reading, ideas on applications, personal reactions to the reading, compare or contrast with similar concepts.
  • The assignment requires that students hand in their copies of their book containing their annotations on a reading. Students need to put their name across the front cover of the book and an identifying mark (such as part of their student identification number) inside to confirm that it is their property
  • These assignments should be completed prior to the class discussion of the reading.
  • The grading can be done quickly and globally by preparing a checklist of comments and indicating which ones apply to each of the students' work
  • This type of assignment works best for prose or essay type of readings and probably not for textbooks. Russ Moulds, the author of this idea, recommends only using this annotations assignment for readings that the instructor has enduring value for the students and not on a routine basis.

This idea comes form Russ Moulds, and was published in the Best of the Teaching Professor, Magna Publication, 2005

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Helping students to contribute more to class discussions based upon out of class assignments

If you want students to contribute more meaningfully to class discussions based on out of class assignments, they need to remember more about the assignment. Such assignments might be a reading, answering questions, or reporting on research they did. To help refresh the students' memory of the assignment and help them change gears from their previous class, give the students a few minutes at the beginning of class to review the assignment. You might even want to direct their review in some way.

This tip came out of the TableTalk on using films and was suggested by Claudia Parvanta and Bill Reinsmith

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Adding energy to a class when the students are dragging

If you have to teach a boring topic right around school break, you may find that the students' energy is dragging. You can get the students more engaged in the topic and the class by using a game show format to make things livelier. Plan what you want to do several class periods before the day you plan to use it. Tell the students in advance of your plans, tell them to come prepared, and enlist their help. They may help you write the questions to be used for a quiz show, or the answers for jeopardy, or any other format. People who use games find that the students learn the material better that day, but there are other nice consequences also. Students tend to bond with those on their team and class discussion goes up even after the games session is over.

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Good questions for reflection

We often want our students to be more reflective about the course or the content. However, asking good reflection questions can be difficult.

Here are a few suggestions:

Why would I have you read/write about this?
Why do you think we just did that exercise?
What about what we just covered is applicable to other subjects, to your life, to your career?
What is the bottom line message in what we did/read?

Thanks to Bruce Rosenthal for suggesting some of these.

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Helping your students to do better presentations

If you are asking your students to do a presentation, give them a template for the presentation. Also meet with the students 1:1 in advance to help them to make a better presentation, correct any mistakes in advance and avoid the student from being embarrassed in class.

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Another idea for a topic for a class discussion

Select a number of quotes that summarize your discipline or are written by famous people in your discipline. Put each quote on a separate piece of paper, and spread them out written side down for students to select them one at a time. After student has a little time to compose his/her thoughts, ask the student to speak for 1 minute on the quote. The remarks can come from their own personal experience, course material, news, etc. depending on the discipline and the quote. Then you can ask other students to respond to what the student said.

If you have a large number of students in your class, you can make a few sets of quotes and divide the students into separate groups.

This idea comes from Christine Staley, 50 ways to leave your lecture. Thompson, 2003

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Having students share some of their learning from doing a review of the literature

If you require students to work on individual topics and do a review of the literature, either as part of another project or as a term paper, then you should ask the students to share what they learned. You can ask the students to make a simple poster (using PowerPoint slides) summarizing the literature they read about. Then you can devote 1 class to a poster session. You can also ask the students to develop a website summarizing the material or electronically send each other their summaries, if you do not want to spend class time. Then you can give the students a short assessment on the literature summarized so you know they read each other's work seriously. You can even make it open-notes, as long as the answers cannot come directly from the material share.

Virginia Anderson of Towson University suggested some of these ideas.

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Being more explicit than, "Do you understand"?

Many faculty do a quick comprehension check in their classes by asking the students, "Do you understand"? In most cases the responses are nods. Everyone thinks they understand. Some students may not know to what level or what detail they should understand. To help the students see if they really comprehend the material ask very explicit questions such as:

  • Identify___________________ (the consequences, causes, etc)?
  • Calculate the ______________
  • Evaluate the effects of ____________
  • Compare and contrast _____ with _____
  • Determine the reasons why ______

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Helping students to learn how to do good summaries

Give your students a very short lecture or have them read a short article. Ask them to develop a summary of the lecture or reading. Then give them your own summary. Ask them to describe in writing how and why your summary was different from theirs. Also ask them to describe what they learned from doing this activity. Collect their comparison and the reflection on their learning, but not their summary. This exercise should be enlightening for the students.

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Getting students to value the importance of and develop abilities to interpret non-prose text

Early in the semester, copy a complicated table, graph, figure, flow sheet, diagram, etc. from something the students will read during the semester. Ask the students to explain what it means, and what they learn from it. Tell the students to try to complete the exercise, but it will not count toward their grade. Then go over the graphic with the students. This exercise should illustrate the importance of non-prose materials in their readings.

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Giving students advise on how to do better in their course

When students ask how they can do better in your course, ask them if you can inspect their notes from your lectures. (You might tell them to bring their notes in advance or when you are scheduling the appointment and tell them that you are not looking for neatness, and will not grade them on these notes). By looking at their notes of what you said, you can determine many things including: are they able to see the big picture, are they getting enough detail, do they seem to wonder off and not listen to you during parts (especially the middle) of the lecture, can they identify the concept and see how something is an example of that concept or do they only write the concepts or only the examples, etc. You might show them how to take better notes with a small section of their notes and ask them to come back again after the next class with their notes from that class.

If you see patterns in their note taking, you might want to explicitly talk about ways of taking notes in your class at the beginning of the next semester or might even see ways that you can improve your lectures, slides or handouts for them.

Some of this idea come from Thomas Berg a professor at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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A way to encourage class participation

Prior to class post thought provoking questions or questions for which there may be many alternative answers on news print or white boards around the room. As students come in, ask them to go around the room and read the questions and write responses to at least several of them. After about 10 minutes, ask the students to pick the 1 question they want to discuss further and go to that question. After the groups form around the questions, ask the students to summarize the major points in the answers and correct any misconceptions as a group. Then call upon groups for reports on the questions.

This idea probably works best for classes of less than 60 students and where there is room for students to move around the room especially by the walls.

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Helping students to know which details or examples they need to know and what is given for the purpose of explanation

A good teaching tool that many faculty use is to include examples of a concept. However, some students may have a hard time distinguishing between an example that is given for the purpose of an illustration and one which they need to know the details of. This often leads to students who cannot see the forest for the trees and spend too much time memorizing tiny details of an example without understanding what the example illustrates. If you use many examples you might tell the students explicitly what the purpose of the examples are (as an illustration or important to know the details about).

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Checking to see that students read resources and write their papers

When you ask students to write a paper using other resources or references, ask the students to write a few sentences for each reference cited on how this resource related to the topic of the paper or some other commentary about the resource. You can also ask them to write something in class about their most useful resources.

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Asking good questions to stimulate students' reflection

Most of us realize the value of getting students to reflect on what they are learning or doing. Reflections are especially important for service-learning, field experiences, laboratories and clinical rotations. Yet directing students to write insightful reflections is difficult. Asking students appropriate questions often improves the quality of their answer.

Carol Maritz has used the following types of questions with good results:

  • What did you learn?
  • In what ways were you pleased/frustrated with how things went?
  • What will you do differently next time?
  • What were you thinking as you arrived as XXX? How did your thoughts change during the encounter and what were you thinking about as you left?
  • Give an example of an encounter that you had with XX (a patient, someone in the community, etc.). Did it go as you expected or anticipated that it would?
  • What have you discovered about yourself as a learner over the past several weeks? Describe how you will use this new found insight.

Use a different combination of these types of questions for every reflection.

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Assessing if students can read the figures, graphs or diagrams in your discipline

Early in the semester give students a quick, in class assignment to see if they can read, interpret and explain the non-text aspects of your discipline. Textbooks, professional articles, etc. are full of graphs, figures and diagrams that contain essential information. Students may skip over them because they may not see them as important or they may not be able to understand and use them. Then give students feedback on their ability to interpret a diagram, etc. You might want to explicitly teach how to read and explain them if the class as a whole has trouble with it.

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Helping students to do better peer teaching

If you are asking your students to do peer teaching or presenting of material to the class, give your students a template of what you expect them to cover, how to organize the material or a guide to follow.

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Helping students to solve problems better or have better reasoning

Here are 2 suggestions to help you teach students how to solve problems better or use more effective reasoning to be used in different venues.

  1. In class go over the correct way to solve problems and also go over common mistakes that students make and how students can avoid these mistakes.
  2. When you are meeting with students 1:1 to go over content or how they did on an exam, explain what the student did correctly and also specifically show them how their logic or problem solving process was flawed. Then explain how to change their reasoning or problem solving techniques in the future.

Concentrating on both the positive and negative gives a balanced view and real ways to improve.

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Having more meaningful discussions

Before you have discussions in class or online, set out the goals of the discussion and identify the student learning needs and learning outcomes. Then as the discussion transpires, periodically check that you and the class are meeting these goals. If you have to, make some mid-course corrections to make the discussion meet its objectives.

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*Helping our students to come closer to being an experts in our discipline

A goal of higher education is to transform novices to beginning experts in their chosen field of study. Research shows that experts and novices approach problems and learn within the field very differently. Our job is to help our students to make this transition. Ways we can help students to make this transition include helping students realize that the discipline has knowledge that is organized and integrated and not just a collection of isolated facts. We can help students to organize information by using different encoding strategies in class and through their assignments. We can ask students to compare and contrast information, to make concept maps or organizing schemes, etc. When we explain information we should try to use analogies, visualizations and metaphors that make sense in the discipline.

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*Planning on spending time to help students confront misconceptions

Research shows that unless students confront their misconceptions and really see the faults in their ideas, they never learn the new material properly. Therefore, you need to plan assignments that will force students to see their own misconceptions about your discipline. This might be in-class or outside of class. You might ask students to do something alone as homework and then work in groups to go over it or take the concept to the next level together. These activities could force you to change your plans for the course, alter the rate that you cover some topics, etc. Taking this time is worth it for the students to really learn your discipline beyond passing a test in your course.

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Helping students to really understand and benefit from your course

Student need to overcome common misconceptions or stereotypes in your discipline to leave your course with a real understanding of your discipline. This is especially true in the sciences. To help students overcome this common misconceptions, you need to give students several opportunities to see why these misconceptions are wrong as part of learning activities. In addition, questions on assessments at the end of the semester should ask students to explain why these misconceptions are wrong or to correct the concept. You might give an example and ask students to explain the concept.

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A role model student in your class

If you have a TA, an instructional supplement assistant or can ask a superior advanced student, have that individual come to your class a few days toward the beginning of the class, but once you have gained a nice stride in the class, ask the assistant to be a model student in terms of note taking, participation, asking questions or whatever else your students are not doing as well as you would like. Tell your students you asked this person to come to class to be a role model student. You might want to spend a few minutes at the end of the class debriefing on what the role model student did to further show the class the behaviors you are seeking in them.

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Helping students to solve problems better

When you assign students to solve problems either in class, as homework or on a test, ask the students to write their rationale or how they came to solve the problems or the process they arrived at in their thinking on a few of the problems. Ask them to write on a problem they think they solved well and a problem that they had difficulty with or are not sure they solved correctly. Their insights will be very helpful in seeing how they think. You will be able to help them solve problems better both collectively and individually when you have a better understanding of their thought process. When you teach how to solve these types of problems, say that you got insight from them.

If you ask students to write out their rationales, assign fewer problems as this takes a lot of time. Also, if this is a graded assignment, give students credit for writing their thought processes. You might give everyone points for showing their thoughts and more points for more explanation. You should not give fewer points for reasoning that is not correct as they probably are losing points for the answer itself.

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Helping students to really understand and benefit from your course

Students need to overcome common misconceptions or stereotypes in your discipline to leave your course with a real understanding of your discipline. This is especially true in the sciences. To help students overcome this common misconceptions, you need to give students several opportunities to see why these misconceptions are wrong as part of learning activities. In addition, questions on assessments at the end of the semester should ask students to explain why these misconceptions are wrong or to correct the concept. You might give an example and ask students to explain the concept.

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Helping students conceptualize the relationships among concept to be explained in a big project or paper

Early in the time the students have to work on a big project, such as a term paper, an independent study or research project, ask the students to draw a concept map or a flow sheet or other graphic representation of the concepts. This will help them see the relationships among the concepts more clearly than asking them to outline the topics to be covered.

Virginia Anderson of Townsend University suggested this idea.

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Helping students learn how to solve problems or write effectively in your class

Students can learn how to solve problems or how to write more effectively in your course after they have tried to solve problems or have written something for your class. Prior to these attempts, your instruction is too abstract for many students to want to try to make sense of it. After an unsuccessful attempt, students are ready and willing to listen to suggestions and ways to improve their skills.

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Assessing students and working with a smaller group within a larger class

Here is a way to assess students preparation for class or understanding of content covered before and then work with a smaller group of students from a larger class.

Tell students to be prepared for a quiz in class. Give a short quiz for about 15-20 minutes, collect their papers and then go over the answers. Announce that if you got an 80% (you set the level where you want it-high or low) on the quiz, you are excused from the rest of class if you want to leave. Now you should have a smaller number of students in the room. You can work with these students to go over the questions they did not understand, help these students with this material, solve problems, work in small groups, etc. The possibilities are endless in terms of what you want to cover-mastery of simple concepts, solve problems, etc.

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Helping students solve problems

Especially when students are novices in your discipline, they have a hard time knowing how to solve problems that you might assign them to do. You want to be as explicit as you can be when you model your thoughts and actions. Further, you might develop an algorithm or list of suggestions to help them solve problems. This algorithm or suggestion list will vary with the discipline. Some things that you may include are:

    • Understanding the problem and the data is essential to solving it
    • Once the problem is understood, the student needs to devise a plan to solve it
    • With quantitative problems, successful problem solving always involves analysis and not just computing
      • Analysis involves restating the problem in your own words, thinking about what can be done with the data you have
    • Drawing pictures or graphs often helps solve problems
    • Resist the temptation to consult the answer key before finishing solving the problem as this gives the learner a false sense of understanding
    • Check your work, show your thought processes

Some of these suggestion come from Barnett and Hodges (2008), Teaching Learning Processes to Students and Teachers. To Improve the Academy, 27: 401-423

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Developing metacognition (or thinking about one's learning)skills

One of the essential characteristic of self-directed, lifelong learners is that they think about their own learning and think about how they can continue to learn. Here is a way to plan for this to happen in your course. This should be the final assignment of the course, due the last day of class, but given to the students at the beginning of the semester. This short paper should also count toward their grade. Answers to these questions may be helpful for you to think about how to improve your course or to use in scholarship of teaching and learning.

Jennifer Lerner of Northern VA Community College recommends you ask the following questions, but you can adapt it to what you want.

  1. What are the most important things you learned in this course?
  2. In what ways was the course what you expected, and what ways was it different from what you expected?
  3. What aspects of the course helped your learning, and why? What aspects did you find unhelpful and why?
  4. What did you do this semester that improved your learning?
  5. What do you think you will remember from this course in a few years?
  6. How will your experiences in this course affect you as a student?
  7. How will your experiences in this course affect your everyday life?

These questions were published in College Teaching in 2007


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Keys to increasing student learning and performance

At the last two TableTalks, Pam Kearney, Alison Mostrom and Andrew Peterson formulated some critical points on how to increase student learning and performance
These include:

    • Give students your grading rubrics when you give the assignment
    • Require students to meaningfully engage in self-assessment of their own work
    • Give students worthwhile and timely formative assessment to help them to improve
    • Help students to engage in metacognition or thinking about their own learning
    • When you give students more ownership over their learning or their assignments, they will be more motivated, engaged and will do better.

Think about how you can incorporate more of these points into your teaching.

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Helping students do well in courses that require judgment

I read an interesting article published in AMSTAT news from September 2008 that called, "Math is Music, Statistics is literature" given to me by the statistics folks here. It pointed out why students have difficulty learning and doing well in statistics. I started thinking what many other faculty in other disciplines can learn from how to teach statistic. Many of our students have trouble with courses that require more than just memorizing or plugging in formulas. If we want our students to employ good judgment, we must help them to know how to challenge the creditability of data and they must be encouraged to look for bias in information or reading. We need to give students a model or models of how to do the above things and we especially need to give them practice actually doing them prior to testing them on their mastery of these skills.

Comment made by Dr. Ralph Turner

Your comments caused me to link the issue you were discussing to previous discussions you have generated on Bloom's hierarchical taxonomy for categorizing cognitive operations. It strikes me that a related theme is that our students do well in acquiring knowledge and a fair amount of comprehension and that for many courses this is also whet is emphasized. That teaching research design and statistics requires is also Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. It does not seem like they get much practice in doing this and they find it challenging when they run into a course that requires it. I find that I am constantly having to help them accept that they are up to the challenge of doing this kind of thinking.

Thanks so much for the posting.

Mac Turner

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Blogging about applications of material in your courses can improve student attitudes toward your subject

You can create blogs about applications of the subject matter you cover in courses. The blogs can be told like stories or accounts of research. Then encourage students to read further about these topics, and they can continue the discussion from your blog.

Duda and Garrett found that students' attitudes toward physics increased when the students read and responded to the blogs compared to when they did not read and respond to the blogs. This article was published in American Journal of Physics, Nov. 2008, 76: 1054-1065

For more information about how to create blogs see the attachment or contact Amy Christopher 215.596.8730 or a.christopher@usp.edu

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Getting students to engage in their reading

Faculty across all disciplines complain that students do not learn from reading textbooks or other assigned readings. Most students highlight their books which is a rather passive activity and does not require really thinking about their reading. Asking students to keep a journal is a good way to get them more involved in their reading. You want them to have cognitive and affective reactions to what they are reading. Possible questions for students to answer in their reading include:

What do you think about the key points in the reading?
What is the impact of X on Y?
Choose the 5 most important phrases in the section. Why are they so important?
Predict the next steps.
How does this apply to me, to my culture, my patients, to the world, etc?
Rewrite a figure, table or image in your own words.

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Helping students to think about their learning

When people think about what they are doing or what they are thinking about, they tend to have more insight into what they are doing. Psychologists call this process meta-cognition. Educators are now emphasizing the importance of meta-cognition in the education process. Here are a few ways that you can incorporate meta-cognition into your courses:

  • Ask students to write a justification for their work. This is like showing the work in mathematics
  • Ask students to keep a learning journal that records their questions or lack of understanding as they study or read assignments. These questions can be addressed to the teacher in class or during reviews.
  • Ask students to assess how confident they are in their ability to solve problems in your discipline or to learn new material.

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Requiring students to reflect on their learning helps them to learn more

Students may be overwhelmed with the complexity of the objective, but requiring them to reflect on their learning process or meta-cognitive knowledge might help them to be less overwhelmed. If you ask students meta-cognitive knowledge questions throughout the course, the students think about their learning, and are able to assess how much progress they are making toward achieving the learning outcomes for the course. For example, you might ask students to develop questions they do not understand as they read the required assignments. When students raise these questions in class or on an online discussion board, you know what concepts need to be further clarified.

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Remembering September 11th in your teaching, Teaching and Learning List of Web Resources

As we approach the first anniversary of September 11, 2001, you may want to incorporate some topic relevant to that date in your teaching for that week. There are many possible connections for many different disciplines. The professional listserv that I belong to has accumulated various web resources that have educational material relating to September 11th. I am passing this collection on to you. Thomas Friedman's columns in the New York Times on this topic won him a Pulitzer Prize and also has been made into a book. One or more of them may be an excellent stimulus for discussion.

Even if you do not actually discuss the events, be aware that some of your students may be finding the week particularly difficult. First anniversaries of sad events are always very hard for people.

from: Karen Gustavson
Subject: Teaching and Learning List of Web Resources: September 11th.

Keep in mind that there are many more useful sites than what we have listed.

Teaching and Learning List of Web Resources: September 11.

Listed below are various web sites that one can use to develop discussions and assignments for the classroom that promote deeper learning about the impact of September 11th in the US and around the world. The sites range from remembrances of the 9/11 victims to learning about other cultures as well as how to discuss emotional topics with students. Descriptions are direct quotes from those websites.

Education and September 11: an Introductio
Nadine Dolby, Nicholas C. Burbules |2002
"An introduction and overview of the TCR special issue on the response of educators to the September 11th attack on America."

Teaching & Learning in a Time of Crisis
A resource prepared by The Center for Teaching & Learning at Western Kentucky University


Introduction: Teaching and Learning about the Current Crisis and Beyond
by Ted Hovet, CTL Faculty Associate/Department of English II

An International Perspective: Tips and Comments
by Larry Caillouet, Director of the International CenterIII

Dealing with Sensitive Issues in the Classroom: Tips and Comments
by Retta Poe,Professor of Psychology IV

An Approach to Building Understanding and Cooperation: Tips and Comments
by Johnston Njoku, Professor of Modern Languages and Intercultural Studies V

Nurturing Values and Understanding Behavior:Tips and Comments
by Richard Greer, Director of the Counseling and Testing Center VI

Additional Resources


Perspectives from the Social Sciences
"Terrorist attacks on and since September 11th have stimulated public sold-searching, military and diplomatic responses, and efforts to reform public policy. Both the attacks and responses to them have raised a host of questions about social organization, basic social institutions, how people mobilize amid crises, and how differences of culture and politics shape conflict and cooperation."

Facing History and Ourselves

Reading and Connections from Facing History-- New readings with themes pertinent to the events of September 11th and to your class work already planned for the year.

Ideas from the Classroom - Read how some Facing History teachers have been using our materials and strategies in their classrooms.

Resources -- A list of relevant links to other websites that may be helpful in the classroom and in your preparation of lessons.

Reflections from the Facing History Community -- Scholars, classroom teachers, students, resource speakers and others who are a part of the Facing History community offer their reflections on September 22th and related events."

Einaudi Center's Dept. 11 Web Site Aims for Global Understanding
By Linda Myers
"To find out how people beyond U.S. borders view the war in Afghanistan, the hunt for Osama bin Laden or the latest bioterrorist threats, download this web page: www.einaudi.cornell.edu/9-11/index.asp

The web site "Terrorism and War: Context and Aftermath of September 11th" aims for greater global understanding. Launched in late October by Cornell's Einaudi Center for International Studies, it includes links to major online newspapers around the globe, many available in English, such as Cairo's Al-Ahram, Tel Aviv's Ha'aretz and Jedda's Arab News.

"Our main perspective is international, and that includes an effort to grasp how people outside the United States understand the current world crisis," said David Lelyveld, the historian of South Asia who is executive director of the Einaudi Center. "We've pulled together a range of information and commentary to guide people to an understanding of the background and implications of the attacks and their aftermath -- the nature of international terrorism, including bioterrorism, as well as the war in Afghanistan."

Collisions of Religion and Violence: Redux
"The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have brought to the focal point of public consciousness a topic that was featured in the Summer issue of CrossCurrents: namely, the relationship between religion and violence."

Center for Applied Linguistics on the World Wide Web
"CAL is a private, non-profit organization: a group of scholars and educators who use the findings of linguistics and related sciences in identifying and addressing language-related problems. In an effort to share this knowledge, CAL has put together a list of resources that can help improve understanding of the languages and cultures of groups of people living in the United States."

C-SPAN in the Classroom
"This C-SPAN in the Classroom series offers sets of materials designed to foster critical thinking and learning about the aftermath of September 11th. The materials offer:

  • focused topics of inquiry
  • direct access to current information via C-SPAN
  • a variety of viewpoints

Each set of topic materials is comprised of three components: description, C-SPAN video and discussion questions. Topics may be added or deleted as current events demand. Components may also be revised or updated. C-SPAN in the Classroom offers a sample of programs on each topic and students and teachers can explore other programs in the Complete Archives. All programs are achieved in their entirety and can be viewed online with RealPlayer. It is possible, using RealPlayer, to fast forward, pause, or rewind the programs."

Covering the Attack
Poynter.org's Terrorism Archive,with front pages, stories, and resources

The September 11 Digital Achieve: Saving the Histories of September 11, 2001
"The September 11 Digital Archive uses electronic media to collect, preserve and present the history of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania and public response to them. The Archive working with the Smithsonian Institutions' National Museum of American History, Behring Center; Museum of the city of New York; New York Historical Society; City Lore; and other local and national institution

One Year Later: Remembering September 11, 2001: Suggestions for Educators and Other Care gives
Stephen E. Brock, Ph.D., NCSP, California State University, Sacramento and Shane R. Jimerson, Ph.D., NCSP, University of California, Santa Barbara "Coping with the loss, death,and grief associated with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, is a process, not an event.

National Association of School Psychologists, 2001 a; Pfohl, Jimerson, & Lazarus, 2002; Wolfelt, 2002). Thus, it is critically important for professional educators working with acutely traumatized students to continually consider how to help youth deal with lingering reactions to these national tragedies."

September Suite
"NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamberg talks with poet Lucille Clifton about her sequence of seven poems that she wrote in the week after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. She call the series, September Suite. The poems are part of a new anthology called September 11, 2001 - American Writers Respond.(7:00 min)"

To find out more about the book.

Understanding September 11
Edited by Craig Calhoun, Paul Price and Ashley Timmer

"The first volume is entitled Understanding September 11. Essays in the volume are written by leading social scientists who examine the political, social and economic factors underlying the attacks, and the implications of terrorism and America's response for a number of issues facing concerned citizens at the beginning of the twenty-first century."

Critical Views of September 11: Analyses from Around the World
Edited by Eric Hershberg and Kevin W. Moore

"The second volume, Critical Views of September 11: Analyses from Around the World, provides deep perspective on the changing world order in the wake of the attacks and the war in Afghanistan. An array of scholars from around the world offer candid views of the international order and America's role in the world from the vantage points of Africa, Europe, South Asia, East Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America".

Thanks to

Karen Gustavson, Director
Center for Teaching and Learning
Garden City Community College
801 Campus Drive
Garden City, KS 68746
email: karen.gustavson@gcccks.edu

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Guidance in discussing war with students, in class

Many of us are very concerned about the war in Iraq and some faculty want to bring it into their classroom discussions. A professional colleague of mine, Matt Kaplan and his associates at the University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and teaching prepared a most useful website that offers guidance for discussing a war. It can be accessed at www.crlt.umich.edu/wariniraqdiscussion.html
I hope you find this useful. Best to everyone in these difficult times.

Student Assignments

*Helping students to prepare papers, presentations, lab write-up, etc.

Sometimes collaborative brainstorming can help students prepare for a written assignment such as a report on research, patient work-up, term paper, or an oral assignment such as a large presentation, etc. Here's a way to structure such a collaboration:

Have students work in groups of 4-5, and have everyone put their name on a sheet of paper. Then each student writes to title of their assignment and passes the paper to the next person. Each of the next person within a group will write 1 sentence on 1 of the major topics of the paper/presentation. Everyone will work on helping each other's paper. For example, each person might write an introduction point for the title they just received, then pass it to the next person. On the third time, each student will write the statement of purpose for the paper they just received. Then pass on the next person who writes on the methods. The fifth time the papers are passed, the students each write on the results. The last time the students write on the conclusion or the interpretation for that piece of paper. By using this exchange of papers, students can see how others are thinking and learn from each other, as well as stimulate further thought or research This works best if the assignments are similar such as a research write-up or a patient presentation. By the end of the session, the student will have offered suggestions to each other in an efficient way. Students might also make suggestions on what has been previous written. At the end of the session, each person collects his/her original paper full of suggestions for sections of the paper. (Patricia Delwiche Quick Fix - Passing Notes in class College teaching, 1998, 46,100.)

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*Writing to learn

Most writing students do is "high stakes" in that it is graded and needs to be a finished product. We need to allow students opportunities for feedback on their "low stakes" writing. This kind of writing allows students to sort out their thoughts. Give students a few short writing to learn assignments just to get experience writing or thinking in this discipline. These writing to learn assignments work best if they count very little toward their grade, but good feedback is given to the students.

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*Ways to help students master the material, acquire skills

If you want students to master the material or become skillful at doing something, you might try the following:

  1. Ask students to redo assignments to improve their skills or understanding. You might have to reduce the number of required assignments.
  2. Give students on-line multiple choice questions before class, expect the students to do the assignments before coming to class, including answering the questions
  3. Ask students to develop test items themselves, good ones might be selected for the actual exam.

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*Reviews for finals

How about making the review for the final fun? You could develop a quiz show type of approach even award small prizes (a few points on the final, candy, etc.). If you are willing to try a quiz show approach you might want to ask the students to develop questions in advance. If their question is used, they become the expert on the topic, so they will need to bring resources with them. Give them at least 1 week's notice to develop the questions, so it is best to prepare early. You could take a few tips from some popular shows; teams or individuals could consult with someone else (promoting cooperative learning), or asking all participants to show their answer at once moves the game along quicker and keeps everyone involved all the time.

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*Helping student to do well on assessments that require critical thinking

Elisha Nixon of Kean University has found that students get especially anxious when you announce that the next test will require critical thinking or problem solving. This fear can be largely overcome if you let the students know the kinds of questions they might encounter or the kind of responses you are expecting.

Therefore, if your final exam will be somewhat different from your previous tests because you are expecting the students to integrate more material, or demonstrate greater critical thinking, you might consider helping the students overcome their anxiety by:

  • sharing exam logistics - e.g., number of questions, question types
  • giving a practice quiz before the real one
  • going over a typical question and model the answer you would like to see

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Giving Assignments to Meet your goals

When designing student assignments or tests, keep in mind what kinds of learning you are trying to measure. Then ask students to do what is important to demonstrate their learning. Design the assignment around these objectives. This may change your description

Naming the assignment is important. For example, you may want the students to integrate literature. Then call the assignment a review of the literature and not a term paper.

Not all big assignment need to be in prose. Consider asking the students to do a concept map, an annotated bibliography and a list of questions to be addressed.

These ideas were adapted from Walvoord and Anderson, Effective grading, Jossey-Bass, 1998, available in our resource collection.

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*Having examples of excellent work to motivate students

Several times this past week I heard different faculty tell me they had graded some very outstanding work. All of them commented that when these were shared with other students, the bar was raised for the rest of the class. For example student did a fabulous job on a presentation. All presentations after this one were much better.

As faculty we want to be able to preserve these outstanding examples. Therefore, when you are grading an outstanding project or paper, get permission to keep a copy of it to show to your students in the future. Next year when you are discussing a similar project or paper, show this outstanding example to that class. When your students do an excellent presentation, try to keep what you can for others to see. For example, ask if they would email you a copy of their Powerpoint presentation, or keep their hand outs. Perhaps you could even ask them if they would re-do the presentation so it can be videotaped.

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Giving effective presentation and helping students to do the same

Here is a website on giving effective presentation. If you want your student to make presentation, you might pass this information on to them: Jeff Radel OT,PhD at Kansas University Medical Center excellent site with references and links www.kumc.edu/SAH/OTEd/jradel/effective.html Thanks to Micki Cohen for passing this source on to us.

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*Helping students to see the application of a concept

Many of us agree that our students are excellent memorizes. Some of our students have more trouble seeing the application of a concept to their future careers to the real world, or to other disciplines to be studied. To help student to see applications ask students to develop applications of concepts that are emphasized in the course. For example, you might do a brief classroom assessment technique at the end of class on a small sheet of paper, where you ask students to list 2 applications of a concept (1 in 2 different areas). Or you might also ask students to develop a more fully developed idea of an application on a homework assignment or part of a quiz. After you read the students' answers, you might post the best applications, or the most diverse (but plausible) applications on your course web page, announcements section on your Blackboard site, or email it to the class through the class listserv.

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*Giving more effective group assignments

A good assignment for groups or teams is one that accomplishes several purposes simultaneously. According to Dee Fink (who came here a few years ago) and his colleague Larry Michaelson, group assignments should promote high individual effort by all members of the group, promote social cohesiveness within the group (i.e., the opposite of "social loafing"). and result in significant learning for the students.

To accomplish these several goals, the assignment should be constructed to meet five important characteristics:

  1. Ensure individual accountability
  2. Promote close physical proximity
  3. Promote high level discussion among team members
  4. Provide teams with meaningful feedback
  5. Reward group success

To find out more about how you can create assignments that meet these characteristics, open the attached documents by Fink and Michaelson. It is a part of a wonderful book that we will obtain as soon as it is published. I have lots more information by them if you want more.

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*Helping to do better on open-ended assignments

Are you assigning any short open-ended assignments such as asking students to develop the thesis statement for a term paper, a hypothesis or prediction statement for lab or research, or a PICO question (population intervention comparison outcome) for research courses, an abstract for a paper, etc.? If so, use this assignment as a way to get peers to offer immediate feedback and help students to improve this short assignment. On the day that the assignment is due, prior to handing in the assignment, ask the students to work in pairs to review their developed answer. Have them draw a line under what they prepared for class and write what the pair agreed would be a better statement. If students come unprepared with the assignment they can work alone on the assignment and suffer the consequence of not having time to get feedback and improve their answer prior to handing it in. The amount of time devoted to this exercise will vary with the complexity and length of the assignment.

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Helping your students to write better essays and papers

If you want your students to write better essays and papers ask them to address the following three questions in every essay and paper:

  1. What are you trying to accomplish?
  2. Who is your audience?
  3. What do you need to do to convince your audience (what evidence do you need to present and how to do it?)

You may want to set some parameters for these questions such as telling them the level of evidence necessary or the intended audience.

Justin Everett went over this material in his workshop this past week and would be happy to explain more.

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Helping students learn how to and to value making revisions to their writing or to their projects

Students often write 1 draft of their work and never revise anything. Yet the revision process is an essential part of learning and improving. To help students learn to revise their work and value this part of the learning process,tell students that you will save a small percentage of their grade on a project or paper if they do significant revisions. There are several ways of doing this:

  • Students could use track changes and submit their final product along with earlier drafts to show how they changed it.
  • They can make these revisions to occur after you, their peers or other assessors evaluate it.
  • Students can write a few paragraphs of the revised work
  • Students can write a reflection on how they would revise the product

Shelley Reid from George Mason University suggested these ideas on how to get students to revise their work.

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Involving more students in a fun way to review for a test

This is a slight variation on the quiz show review idea.

  • Ask students to prepare short answer or multiple choice questions on the material that will be on an exam and bring them to the review class.
  • Determine which students have brought questions and distribute them across the groups. You could even assign the groups in advance and ask them as a group to make up questions or to review each other's questions prior to class.
  • Divide the students into teams of 3-5 students per teams
  • Decide which team will ask each question. However, prior to them reading the question, ask another teams to be the judge. The judging team has to decide if it is a fair and appropriate question once it is asked. After they rule that the question is good, then call on another group to answer the question. The judging team has to determine if the answer is correct. This gets 3 groups involved for every question. If the answer is wrong, then call on another team to answer.

Keep account of which role each of the groups have played and try to insure even or almost even participation.

You can comment or elaborate on the concept after the question has been answered.

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A possibility for an extra credit assignment for weaker students

Many instructors ask their students to write journals reflective on their learning in a course. I read a study that shows that these journals are more effective for helping weaker students than for stronger students. (Cisero, College Teaching, Spring, 2006).

So if you are looking for a possible additional assignment to give weaker students, you might ask them to keep a reflective journal on their reading from the textbook or other assigned reading. This should help them engage with the content more.

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Keeping students more engaged with guest lectures or student presenters

Sometimes when someone beside the instructor of record for the course presents, including guest lecturers or students, the rest of the class does not pay as much attention. To keep students engaged with these other speakers, you can ask the students to complete a double entry journal on the presentation. On left side of the page the students should list the main points of the presentation. On the right side of the page the students should list a response, a reaction, or an example for each main point. Asking students very specific assessment questions, (not general ones like was this a good presentation) also helps students to focus on the presentation more.

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Helping the weaker students through self-monitoring and meta-cognition

Students who fail or do poorly frequently:

  • do not monitor their learning
  • do not self-assess
  • in their studying they concentrate on what they know and not focus on what they do not

They are often unaware of these differences between them and better students, who do monitor their learning, engage in self-assessments, think about how they are learning and focus their study on learning what they do not already know.

Diane Morel uses clicker questions to ask students about study practices, self-monitoring and meta-cognition. The weaker students hear about better practices by seeing how other students prepare for exams and how they spend their time. After the polling, the instructor can give examples or further elaborate on the more effective strategies.

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Getting students to think about what they are learning

Thinking about thinking and learning is called meta-cognition. Meta-cognition is like asking students to show their work when they do math problems. When students are asked to verbalize what they are thinking or learning, they will become more engaged in their learning, thus leading to deeper and more meaningful learning and long term retention. However, much of our teaching neglects developing this meaningful learning and longer term retention. However, much of our teaching neglects developing this important skill. Further, our assessments should also include more meta-cognitive skills.

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Helping students to pay attention more, and become more aware when they are not comprehending through meta-cognition

When students effectively use meta-cognitive skills, they reflect on their learning or thinking. Meta-cognition results in them use learning strategies more effectively. Faculty should model their own thinking as much as possible explicitly with their students. This can be done by thinking aloud or describing their own thought process as they solve a problem or face a challenging dilemma. However, it is even more effective when good students are asked to model their thinking processes and talk about their meta-cognition.

This finding about the effectiveness of student modeling is based on research done by Schraw published in Instructional Science in 1998.

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Long term impact of using learning-centered teaching


I have been advocating for all of us to use learning-centered teaching for about ten years. Critics of this approach have asked me for good evidence that it works or that is it superior to traditional methods. Most studies compare short term effects such as exam performance prior to implementation of learning-centered teaching with students in learning-centered courses. Unfortunately the research does not often show significant differences in performance. There can be many reasons for this lack of significant

differences including students generally doing well on the exams, small number of items that were the same, etc. However, it may be that there are not short term differences in mastery of content. A recent, well designed study compared biology majors who had participated in two introductory level learning centered, inquiry based courses with biology majors who took traditional introductory courses both as the courses were ending and then as seniors. The rest of the biology courses did not change. While there were significant and interesting differences as seniors. As seniors those who took the learning-centered courses did significantly better on the ETS standardized exam of biological content, were at higher levels of critical reasoning in biology and understood the scientific process better than those who took the traditional courses.

So perhaps we need to look for long term impact on our teaching. We also need to gather data that are very relevant to the approach used and not just reply on standard content mastery assessments.

Reference: Derting, TL & Ebert-May, D. (2010). Learner-centered inquiry in undergraduate Biology: Positive relationships with long-term student achievement. CBE Life Sciences Education, 9(4), 462-472.

The full article is available online from the library or you can ask me to send you a paper copy.

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Using concept maps as a teaching/learning and assessment tool

A concept map is a graphic representation of knowledge. It forces students to show relationships, hierarchies, consequences of concepts or events. They can be created by hand or using various computer tools, including easy to use or free software. Concepts maps can be used as an efficient study and elaboration tool, a collaborative learning activity, or an assessment of learning. If they are used as an assessment tool, students think and learn while being assessing. you are employing one of the principles of learning-centered teaching. Try to include at least one concept map exercise in your course.

Many faculty (especially those in Samson College and Alison Mostrom) use concept maps effectively in their courses.

Recent research (Karpicke and Blunt, 2011, Science Vol. 331: Feb. 11, 2011,pp772-775) indicates that asking students to develop concept maps as a study technique is more effective than various other elaborate study techniques.

Mazeske (2007), Beyond Tests and Quizzes, Jossey-Bass) suggests the following criteria to be graded on a scoring rubric.

  • Clear theme
  • Logical connections are obvious and plentiful
  • Clear justifications for connections
  • Uses content accurately
  • Visual appeal, clarity, neatness

You can adapt and modify these criteria to fit your concept map assessments.

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Giving in to students' preferences or meeting our responsibilities as teachers in higher education?

Professor at the University of Buffalo wrote the following reflection which makes me question if our students are doing right by us.

"I learned from talking with students that some see the place and value of what we do as follows:

  • first they like professors' lectures to give the highlights and the main points in the assigned readings (so they don't have to do the assigned reading, think, evaluate, underline and take notes)
  • Next they like professors' lectures not to go beyond the reading and they like the lectures notes to be posted on a course Web site (so they don't have to attend class).
    If my behaviors merely encourage and support student attitudes and behaviors such as these,
    I have lost sight of my primary goal and responsibility as professor. which should be to enable me to pose questions that engage my students, spark their curiosity and push them to think critically and, ultimately, to learn."

(I changed some of the wording a bit and my changes that are not his words are in italics.)

Are we helping students take responsibility for their learning or develop life-long learning skills or just allowing the students to pass without really expanding their capacity to think or learn?

Meacham, James. (Fall 2006). Questioning the lest learning technology, Peer Review. 8(4):30.

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