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Teaching tips email responses
From: "Joseph A Marolla/AC/VCU" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I have a technique that I am sure many other people use but over the past three years I
have made some modifications which makes it work much better.
In my Sport and Society course the class participates in a discussion forum (based on
questions that I generated before the beginning of the class) each week. The rules are
the first three postings may be independent but every posting after the third one must be
a response to someone else. Before doing this I would get 25 independent postings with
no one reading anyone else's ideas. However, now that everyone reads everyone else's
ideas about mid-week there is not much new to say. At that point, the class is given the
option of changing or updating the discussion to include some newsworthy event that
relates to the topic. Students email me questions or short news articles and we start
anew for the rest of the week. In the area of Sport this works very well since there is
almost always news for them to read and they like searching for it on the web. Five
years ago when I started this I did not think it was worth my time to be reading all the
innane comments being made in the forum. Today, as I read through the forum I am
almost always impressed with the level of the discussion and the effort that many of the
students put into their comments. This is a great way to get them writing each week and
to get them thinking about critical issues in the field. Finally, it is also a neat way to
allow them to see and hear from each other.
Like I said nothing earth shattering just some small modifications that work very well.
Dr. Joseph Marolla
Center for Teaching Excellence
Virginia Commonwealth University
James Branch Cabell Library
901 Park Avenue, 3rd Floor, 301C
From: "Wayne Wilson" <email@example.com>
Here's a writing activity I use with my students quite successfully. I just call it a "Timed
Writing" but I do believe it is student centred, collaborative and effective. I also enjoy
finding challenging photos and quotations as topics that are out of the ordinary and have
nothing to do with their program field of study.
For your consideration.
Wayne Wilson School of Business Algonquin College Ottawa Canada
I designed this learning activity to provide adult learners with the opportunity to write, listen to, edit and rewrite a piece of their own writing. It has worked very well for over fifteen years at the College level and does lead to improved writing skills. I look forward to reading your best extemporaneous writing and hearing your comments about the assignment.
1. Write a minimum of 250 words on the assigned topic within the allotted time, usually 20-30 minutes. Double space your writing and “no fat writing”.
Before writing make a brief outline of what you want to say and how you intend to organize the topic.
2. Upon completion of your first draft, I will divide you into dyads (2) to continue the process.
3. Retreat to a quiet corner and swap draft papers. Now read your partner’s paper to him/her out loud. OUT LOUD! This is a critically important part of the assignment. Reading out loud gives both of you the opportunity to hear what has been written.
4. As you read out loud, make any corrections you can in grammar, spelling, punctuation and point out any sentences or sentence fragments that you have difficulty understanding.
5. Repeat this process for each partner.
6. Each partner prints his/her FULL NAME on the other partner’s writing as EDITOR. This part of the assignment should take about 15-20 minutes.
7. Return to class and rewrite your piece of writing making the necessary corrections and any other changes you think will improve it. Again, double space your work.
8. At the end of the class period, staple and hand in both your final copy and your first draft together, make sure your full name and Section number are printed on the top of your final copy.
N.B. Watch your handwriting.
All writing will be evaluated for content, organization, style and overall impression.
All timed writings will be used to determine your final course evaluation.
Remember, this is an in-class writing assignment and must be handed in within the class period to be evaluated.
From: Melissa Marks <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I use cooperative learning and encourage my pre-service teachers to do the same.
The biggest issue that my pre-service teachers have with cooperative learning is that
students get off task, enjoying socializing more than learning. Some cooperating
teachers even forbid cooperative learning because they don't see the learning
occurring. However, in my 10 years teaching 7th and 8th graders, I found
cooperative learning to be an invaluable instructional method. The key is in the
planning. Serious planning must be executed for it to work. First, each student must
have a role to play and a job to do that does not take 12 seconds and then end.
Instead, each must have a role in the group AND a task to complete. Also, individual
accountability is key; it is easy to let others do the work.
For example, in my American history class, I wanted the students to understand the
complexity of the compromises in the Constitution. To this end, students were put into
groups of 4. Each group had a representative from a small southern state, a large
southern state, a large northern state and a small northern state. Each student was
given a full sheet of paper explaining his or her position on the issues of slavery,
representation in the legislature, and taxation. Then the group was given a list of issues
that they must resolve. Of course, for every issue, the vote was tied two to two. In
order for them to resolve anything, they had to be very creative and compromise.
Although very frustrated at times and very loud, the students stayed on task because
they each had a focus and a job. To keep them motivated despite the frustration,
they were given a carrot and a whip: If any person got everything they wanted, they
received commendations (aka bonus points). Any person who gave up everything had
to return to their constituency and explain themselves. What the students finally
realized is that if they compromised, everyone in their group won.
Likewise, when discussing court cases, the students were broken into groups and
charged with being Supreme Court Justices. They had to read the case out loud and
used a round-robin technique to list the sides of the case. (On large paper marked
split into "For" and "Against," each student wrote one comment and then passed the
paper to the right. In this way, every student was responsible for contributing).
For new teachers or teachers who are just learning how to do cooperative learning, I
would make two suggestions in addition to the planning. First, explain to your students
exactly what is expected in cooperative learning. If you just jump into it by putting
them into groups, their response is to socialize. If you explain the roles first and how
cooperative learning works, it is much easier for everyone. Second, if it doesn't work
the first time, don't write it off. Reflect on what didn't work and why -- even ask the
students what happened. Don't give up this invaluable teaching tool because it didn't
work the first time!
From: "Mike Theall" <email@example.com>
Here's a quick outline of something I'm doing in my
Teaching and technology" class this semester.
Though this on-campus course includes emphasis on skill development with
several technologies, its underlying focus is on the process of
instructional design. In that respect, I want students to think the
process through, and to help them do this, I include (among other
things) three relatively short assignments.
First, I have them read a paper that describes and ID project and I ask
them to extract from it, information about aspects of ID (e.g., context
description, student information, curricular issues, content issues,
objectives, assessment, etc.) that I have described previously in
general terms. In effect, students are simply asked to report what they
find in the paper. This assignment is a group effort requiring dialogue
and consensus in a private group area, and I use Web CT (BlackBoard or
other conferencing software would be fine too) to create student groups.
The group presents a short report of its discussions and its consensus
about ID issues found in the paper in question. The group receives
points primarily for completion of the assignment (i.e., not much
emphasis on qualitative aspects of the report the first time around),
and the individuals receive additional points for their contributions to
the discussion (all archived by the conferencing system). Thus, they
develop some group interdependence under low threat conditions, but
their individual work is also recognized.
The second project involves viewing a videotape that can be used in any
one of several instructional situations. Again, I ask for an ID-focused
project, but this time, the ID information isn't immediately available
and they can't extract it. Instead, they have to decide within their
groups, how, why, where, and with whom they would use the video. They
have to develop a similar ID outline based on their group's consensus
about context, students, objectives, etc. And again, the group receives
a grade and the individuals also receive grades. This time, there is
more qualitative emphasis on the report, thus the need for the group to
be accurate and complete becomes stronger.
The first two projects are designed to provide experience in the
analysis of instructional situations and in the application of an ID
model. The use of groups makes the work more low-threat and allows for
the exchange of ideas that individual work could not provide as
effectively. Working with groups also promotes the development of
community. Without the first two exercises and the support provided by
collaboration, the third project would be much more difficult and much
The third project is individual and it involves each student's
development of an instructional idea that incorporates technology in
some form. The idea is to be described using the same ID aspects as in
the previous projects. By this time, students are comfortable enough
with their group members that I strongly urge (though I do not require)
them to share their ideas with their groups for feedback. While the
grade for this project is entirely individual, the group support and
interdependence established in the first two exercises provide a forum
that wouldn't exist otherwise, and that helps students to refine their
ideas and to make revisions along the way.
This is not a sophisticated collaborative exercise in the sense of being
tightly structured with assigned roles and responsibilities. It is more
an application of collaborative principles designed to help students
grasp concepts and process in a supportive and low-threat way, so that
they can then feel more capable of successfully carrying out their
From: "Seese, Lillian" <LSeese@stlcc.edu>
Among other things, I expect students to read the textbook before coming to
class, so that they will be ready to learn.
as they come in the door, they hand me "section summaries" of the section we
will be working on that day. They must summarize the material in any way
that they choose (make an outline, work out some examples, list the
important concepts and vocabulary words, etc.). I encourage them to put a
star at the point where they got lost, or to highlight any concepts that
leave them clueless.
I collect these as they come in, and look them over as I collect them. I
have a perfect 50 minute "lecture" prepared, and after I look over their
summaries, I determine how much of that 50 minute "lecture" I will actually
need to use. Sometimes, they all understand everything, and we go directly
to group practice. Other times, they are so puzzled that I have to explain
and demonstrate for almost the whole class time- with very little time left
for group practice. Usually, I answer questions from last night's homework,
then "explain" for about 15 - 20 minutes, then they do group practice which
includes easy problems, medium problems, and hard problems like their
The result is
- they come in to class knowing what we will do that day, and ready with
questions about new materials.
- instead of saying "I don't get it" they say "Where did the 2 go in line 5
on page 214?"
- they don't ever complain about having to buy a textbook - and they have
great comments on how "readable" or "non-readable" the text is
- My favorite comment: "I really like doing section summaries. It is
amazing how it helps to look over the material before coming to class - and
they are great to have on hand when I study for tests."
From: "Crouse-Powers, Amy" <CROUSEA@oneonta.edu>
In my Intro. to Literature course, I began my semester by having
students explore what they already know about discussing literature. To
demonstrate that discussing literature was familiar to them, I had them
watch a movie, participate in small group discussions about it, and then
write a review of the movie as though the movie were a piece of
literature. We transferred those skills to short stories by continuing
these practices. Each week, in pairs, they wrote dialogic journals
about a story that they chose with their partners. Finally, they
collaboratively produced story reviews, which I posted on a class
After a few weeks, I had them, in pairs, read the reviews that we had
amassed and choose which ones could serve as exemplars. I asked them to
determine together what made the good ones good and what made the
not-so-good ones not-so-good. We made a list of criteria for grading
the reviews that they subsequently produced (all reviews up until then
received full credit simply for having been done).
By having students choose their readings and work with a partner to
explore the texts' meanings, I have been able to cede my position as
all-knowing instructor. Happily, I feel I am now a facilitator for the
learning process they go through.
From: Ronald Brill <rbrill@EARTHLINK.NET>
I am an emotional health educator and have found experiential learning games to be an effective way to engage students in discussions that normalize "hurt feelings". Info about the game I'm using with 4th and 5th grades follows:
New Game Teaches Fourth and Fifth Graders First Aid for Hurt Feelings
Most 9, 10 and 11-year-old elementary school students study lizards as part of
science, but in Novato, California Olive School fourth and fifth grade classes learn
emotional health skills from playing a feelings game based on reptilian behavior.
Olive School principal Suzanne Ericson, along with teachers Anna Lopez, fifth
grade, and Fran Rozoff, fourth grade, observed a growing number of sad and angry
students upset with themselves and others. The school decided to become a
demonstration site for a new classroom game developed by emotional health educator
Ronald Brill to help elementary school students learn skills for dealing with hurt
feelings. Novato resident Brill previously focused on self-acceptance and emotional
resiliency development for middle and high school adolescents in his book, "Emotional
Honesty & Self-Acceptance: Education Strategies for Preventing Violence, "
published in 2000.
For younger students, Brill adapted concepts from his book into “Lizards: The
Feeling Game.” Lizards’ reptilian brains lack the essential human emotional
capabilities to understand why they either hide or attack when threatened. Humans
have options, rather than either hiding or attacking others when painful emotional
wounds trigger feelings that cause fear, sadness and anger. Students playing the
board game land on squares and draw random “Hurt Cards” each describing a
specific common wounding situations such as a close friend moving away or the
player is called “bad” names by other kids. The game helps students develop both
self-awareness to heal rather than harbor hurt feelings that can fuel harmful behavior
toward peers and themselves. “Healing Help” cards give them practice in healthy
ways of dealing with emotional pain.
The experiential learning game, part of the Emotional Health Education Project
which Brill directs, uses role playing and student story-telling to learn why hurt humans
sometimes “act” like an angry alligator, fierce dragon, shy chameleon, or sad lizard.
Brill says pre-teens who learn safe, healthy ways of dealing with their hurt feelings are
more self-accepting and capable of empathy about others’ feelings as they
simultaneously transition into the challenging period of middle school and
adolescence. This game is also the basis for a one-week "Middle School Teen
Transition Academy" developed as an intensive summer program for students just
graduated from fifth grade. For further information, Brill may be contacted via email:
From: Michael Lamport Commons commons@TIAC.NET
The simplest pedagogical rule is to call on the person who has spoken the
least if at all. This has multiple positive effects. 1. It balances
participation. 2. It increases the likelihood that the person who rarely
speaks will speak more often (assuming that being called upon is a form of
attention that is reinforcing to that person). After a while, almost
everyone in a class will engage in open discussion. Once awhile, one might
call on a person who has never spoken to ask if they have a comment. Students
with this system feel they are listened to and their comments are valued.
Michael Lamport Commons, Ph.D. Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
Program in Psychiatry and the Law, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
Massachusetts Mental Health Center, 74 Fenwood Road, Boston, MA 02115-6113
From: "James L. Bess" <Jlbess1@AOL.COM>
In my course at NYU on the application of organizational theory to college
and university administration, I used a variation on lecturing and discussion
groups that may be of interest to your readers. I lectured on alternate weeks
and made my lecture notes electronically available to my students. At the end
of the lecture, I distributed a set of 15 multiple-choice questions based on
the lecture. Each of the four possible answers in each question referred to
one of the theories explained in the lecture. The questions were not merely
factual, but were "mini-cases" in themselves that called for the use of a
particular theory. Thus, in order to answer the question, the students had
not only to select the "right" answer, but to reject the other three. To do
so, of course, required in-depth exploration and thus mastery of all the
For the discussion week, I divided the class into groups of no more than five
persons. I found that the usual "discussion section" in which the whole class
participated resulted in "discussions" among me and, usually, the three or
four strongest students, despite all efforts to encourage others to
participate. Five-person student groups allow each student to admit
ignorance, express doubts, and raise questions that they otherwise might not
in a full classroom setting (not, incidentally because of fear of the
instructor [I hope], but due to normal ego worries about peer opinion). Any
and all materials and resources were legitimately to be utilized by the
groups in their own discussions.
My role during the discussion week was to circulate among the groups, mostly
leaving them alone, but making myself available on call when the students
either did not understand a question or theory or and were in disagreement
about the answer. I never "gave" them the answer, however. I encouraged them
to think about the alternatives so that they could come to some consensus. I
found that the students usually were well prepared (indeed, often had met
either in person or on the internet to compare possible answers), partly, I
believe, because peer pressure required them to make substantive
contributions to their student groups and not simply to steal answers from
other more conscientious, better-prepared colleagues.
In the last ten minutes of the class, the students answered four of the
questions that I selected rather randomly by selecting the correct answer
among the multiple choices, then writing a brief paragraph explaining their
choice and the rejection of others. Again, books and materials were
permitted. I found that students learned a great deal during this "crunch"
time. I evaluated the quiz answers during the week and returned them with my
written comments at the end of the following class.
I have a wonderful tip for older students to learn their
multiplication facts. I taught K for four years and then went part time
after having children teaching remedial math to students. Students who
needed the most help in math were those struggling with facts, +, -, and X
and div. The basic facts are what so much of math in grades 4,5, and 6 are
based on, if younger students can master these and gain self esteem, they
will have better confidence when dealing with fractions, decimals, and area,
among other topics.
Math 21 is a formula where the times tables 0-10 are dummied down to 21
facts. How? Take out the "easy" ones, the 0's, 1's, 2's, 5's, and 10's.
Using the communicative property, there are only 21 facts left! Make
flashcards for these 21 facts and the early learner of multiplication facts
(usually grade 3) will realize these facts can be mastered! It works, and I
suggest having students make a X chart and then cross out the "easy" ones
and they will discover for themselves the 21 facts that are left. Email me
if you want these facts listed.
from: "Dr. Walter Bradley" <wbradley@1QUESTLEARNING.COM>
I recently developed a wonderful method for getting students to fully buy in
to whatever I'm teaching. I've successfully used this method with
third-graders, college students, elementary school teachers, and even school
First, I group students together into teams of 3 to 5. Each group has an
oversized sheet of poster paper and several colored markers. I have the
students list a problem or topic in the center of the paper. Radiating out
from that central problem the team members list consequences or implications
of the problem or subject. Then student groups share their poster with the
large group. Let me give two examples.
First, in teaching a lesson to college students on taking more effective
notes, it is important for them to see the full implications poor note
taking can have on their daily lives. In the center of their papers each
group writes something like "poor note taking." They then brainstorm
implications using a web-type diagram (some call it mind-mapping).
Immediate implications radiate from the central theme, secondary
implications spring from these, and implication follows implication along a
chain of causes and effects.
A chain of implications off the "poor note taking" topic might read
something like; poor note taking-->more studying-->less free time-->more
stress-->decreased immunity-->more sick days-->miss out on parties.
Another chain might read something like; poor notes-->missed test
questions-->failing class grade-->poor GPA-->difficulty getting good
job-->night-stocker at WalMart. This exercise, especially when shared in a
group setting, has the effect of making poor notes a MAJOR problem that
students are desperate to fix NOW--always a good learning environment!
The second example deals with teaching third graders about earthquakes.
Nine and ten year olds tend to think only of huge cracks swallowing people
up and buildings collapsing. However, when doing this exercise (and usually
I would facilitate by drawing it on the board for the whole class rather
than having them draw their own posters) they more fully explore the
consequences of earthquakes.
A chain of implications might read; earthquake-->buildings fall-->water
pipes break-->flooding-->not enough water to drink-->I am/my mom is/my dog
is thirsty. Suddenly, the problem becomes real to the student and loses
it's two-dimensional, Hollywood veneer.
As I said, I've had tremendous success with this method in many different
age groups and with many different subjects. Feel free to contact me if you
would like further clarification or more methods I've found particularly
From: Deni Harding <dharding@SOLANO.CC.CA.US>
Subject: Student-centered community building
Dear Anna and Everyone:
This is a wonderful ice-breaker-cum-listening exercise that permits
increasing self-disclosure and allows for mutual affirmations at the end.
It grew from the "Values Clarification" era -- 60's? 70's? But it is
extremely relevant for breaking barriers, encouraging gentle introspection,
and building community.
In groups of 4, students decide who will speak first, second, etc.
The Teacher-as-timer keeps a healthy distance (not eavesdropping or
otherwise participating) except to introduce the question, model an answer
if necessary, track the time, and call "Change" after two minutes.
Rules: Absolutely no talking except by the person whose turn it is.
Maintain eye contact with the speaker.
No questions allowed!!!
The speaker has two full minutes only. If you run out of things to say, you must not start the next turn early.
Timing: Be consistent. It should take 8 minutes for four people to answer each question.
Questions: These are the ones I use. You can create your own. I
recommend moving from impersonal to personal in the nature of the
questions. I usually model each question for about a minute, since I work
with ESL students. After the first question, I ask people to evaluate how
well they are following the rules (no talking, maintain eye-contact) and
how well they think they are listening. Then I encourage them to listen
better and follow the rules more closely the next time. The teacher gives
only one question at a time, so students never know what is coming. After
you annouce the question, give a few seconds of thinking time before you
start to model the answer, or before the first student begins.
(1) Who influenced you? Choose one person and tell about him/her.
(2) Finish this sentence as many different ways as you can in two minutes:
"I am a ______." If you run out of ideas, continue with "I want to be a_______."
(3) Describe the place you like to go when you want to be alone.
(4) Tell about either the happiest day in your life so far, or the
funniest thing that ever happened to you.
(5) *Finish this sentence as many times as you can in two minutes: "If I
were to die tomorrow, the world would lose _____________."
(6) Five years in the future from today, what will your life be like?
(7) *Describe your most recent brush with your own death.
* I rarely get to either of these because the community I need is pretty
well built without them. It's probably best to know your audience before
using them. I don't recommend using them cold, either. Each one takes
more modeling than just one minute. When I have used them, they have
proven to be the most compelling for the listeners.
For question # 2, be creative: I'm a mother, wife, daughter, sister,
cousin, sister-in-law, early-riser, reader, musician, pianist who loves to
play Gershwin, question-asker, writer, shower-taker (as opposed to
bath-taker), daily shampooer, swimmer, cake-eater, ice-cream-lover, admirer
of the essays of Joan Didion and Annie Dillard, world-traveler who prefers
to spend time in France, gardener who especially prizes irises,
Saturday-morning-lazy-person; I'm NOT a dishwasher, window washer,
Process: (1) Before you start, and before anyone has heard the first
question, elicit agreement from everyone that we all need to improve our
listening skills, and we all need to develop the ability to perform "on the
spot". Because this is a risk-taking exercise, depending on the nature of
your group and goals, you may want to have the group decide whether or not
to grant an "out": Can a person "pass"? Should only one "pass" be allowed
per question? Per exercise? What the group decides by consensus becomes
important as the questions continue. The ideal experience is that little
by little the students overcome their fears just by close listening to
their peers, which makes the rules -- and the boundaries-- dissolve.
(2) To run all the questions will take at least 56 minutes, excluding
modeling time. Another 20 to 30 minutes are needed for the affirmations.
So the one-shot deal would take almost two hours. A break with
refreshments at the end of this would be ideal. The essential thing is to
leave adequate time for the affirmations, and NEVER OMIT AFFIRMATIONS!
Affirmations: Have these posted around the room so that everyone can see
them without effort. They are frames giving ways for students to connect
their experience as listeners to the speakers in their small group. They
don't have to be used verbatim, but whatever is used MUST have the "because
(1) I understand how you feel about _____________ because I ____________.
(2) When you were telling us about _____________, I remembered ___________.
(3) Your story about ____________ reminded me of when I ___________.
(4) I want you to know how much I appreciate ___________ especially
(5) You really went through a hard time when you ___________. I know
because I ____.
(6) I'm grateful that you shared about ___________ because I _________.
(7) I was touched when you told about __ . Something similar happened to
me when I___.
(8) Your story about ______ was moving. I was especially struck by _____
because I ____.
Directions for using affirmations follow the same as for the exercise: two
minutes per speaker. But the logistics differ. Speakers should not try to
crowd in affirmations for everyone in the group; rather, each speaker
should choose one member of the group to address with an affirmation.
After each speaker has had a two-minute turn, the teacher suggests that
others in the group can make and receive affirmations as well, but without
a time limit. Also, as the group will have two listeners as the
affirmations are given and received, the "No Talking" rule can be
re-instated (although by this time that rule may have bit the dust -- a
true rule-made-to-break if ever there was one!)
Finally, I don't often do this all in one shot. Rather, I use one or two
questions followed by affirmations over a period of about two weeks while I
am "breaking in" a new class. In this case, I think it's best to keep the
groups the same until at least four questions have been used. By then,
everyone is pretty comfortable with the format, so changing groups happens
because it suits our classroom needs.
I know it sounds complex, but it is definitely worth doing.
Deni Harding, ESL Instructor
Solano Community College, Fairfield, CA
Here is a site that has few that might be new to you:
Maggi Miller, Senior Consultant, College Survival, Houghton Mifflin Company
Each student has pencil and paper and draws a map of how they got “here”.
“Here” can be the class, the college, the state, the United States, or any other interpretation appropriate to your setting that the student chooses. (I first encountered this in a service-learning environment, but I’ve adapted it to other groups).
Give students about 15 minutes to draw their maps.
Encourage students to be brief! It’s easy to put a lot of detail into early events and then run out of time, so they should try to concentrate on major milestones.
Students can then use their map to write about their journey, or simply share out loud in small groups or with the whole class. The instructor might pick up on a few themes in students’ maps, which can then be used for future writing assignments or readings.
Coat of Arms
Students fold a piece of paper into four squares, and draw the following:
Top left square: Something that represents your life now
Top right square: Something that represents your past
Bottom left square: Something that represents an accomplishment of yours
Bottom right square: Something that represents your future
They can either choose one square to write about, or the instructor can assign one. Students then share their coat of arms and their writing piece with a partner or in a small group. Their reflection can be the start of a longer writing piece, part of an autobiography project, or as a way to break the ice with small group participants—or adapted for another assignment as you see fit!
You will need:
Ideally, large (11 by 17) piece of construction paper, but white paper works too.
A pen or pencil
A ruler or some other straight edge
Students draw a horizontal line about an inch and a half from the bottom of the page, and a vertical line an inch and a half from the left side of the page.
They label the horizontal line with evenly spaced lines or dots, with each one being either an age or a grade, in chronological order from left to right.
They label the vertical line with evenly spaced lines or dots, with each one being a “life indicator”. It could be numbered, like 1-5, 1 being bad and 5 being good, or from “horrible” to “great”, or whatever measurement the student comes up with.
Now, each student draws a line graph that shows the ups and downs in their life so far. Had bad grades their last years in high school? The line dips down. Moved away to college and had fun freshman year? Line goes up. As they record their high points and low points, they should label them with brief phrases.
Students choose either their highest point or their lowest point, or an event of their choice, and write about it. They can then discuss their writing with a partner or in a small group. Again, this writing piece can be part of a larger project or used as a way to introduce a class theme. Graphs can be saved for future writing ideas, also.
Gael Grossman, PhD
Director of English, Languages, and Philosphy
Jamestown Community College 525 Falconer St. Jamestown, NY 14701
A Literature and Time Period Research Activity for 2nd Semester Composition Students
In my second semester composition class, students spend the semester writing about literature. One of the most difficult tasks I have is getting students to attempt different types of literary interpretations and understandings. While my students are willing to utilize reader-response theory to give their own impressions of a text, they become disconcerted when asked to write about author intention or the impact of the time period on the text. They also don’t regard this as anything useful to them personally, and have an air of “humoring the teacher.” This is not something I want to instill in my students; instead, I aim to get them involved in learning, researching, and responding to something of interest to them. Once they learn how to do this, they can carry it forward in a variety of areas. In order to accomplish this, I have created a literary research assignment to move my students away from purely reader-response writings. Students are able to choose and research a period of interest to them via the medium of popular music.
The first writing with primary and secondary sources that I ask my students to do utilizes the day of their birth. They are asked to look up a top ten chart of songs from the week of their birth and choose several of the songs from that week. The librarians and I then work with my students to show them the variety of primary and secondary sources that can be found for a three-year period before the song hit the top ten charts. We utilize print, on-line, and other electronic sources. They use these sources to research what was occurring during that time period: the social and political events, the economy, and the trends to name a few.
Students then retrieve the lyrics to these songs and write a 3-5 page paper discussing how the lyrics reflect the time period and song writer. The choice of the individual song is up to students from their original list. In the past, my students have dealt with the rise of the yuppies, the response to the Vietnam War, concern about promiscuity, empowering of minorities and women, STDs, gangs, and other issues. Giving students the opportunity to choose which song they wish to use from a restricted list enables them to develop skills in focusing and discernment. They examine the lyrics and decide which one will best suit the task they are attempting.
Students may also choose to incorporate the songwriter’s background into this paper, this enables students to examine the idea that an author’s background is directly connected to his or her writing.
By the end of this project, students have been reminded of research strategies they learned in their first semester writing course, and they have worked with connecting a text to its time period. Most importantly, they are more comfortable with the idea of examining a text in a variety of ways. This is a good starting point for students so that they have several different perspectives with which to explore a piece of literature.
Charles A. Walker, PhD; Kathleen Baldwin, PhD
Who are we?
Our faculty colleagues consider us classroom innovators. Together we possess over thirty years of teaching experience at the college or university levels. We are active members of professional and service organizations. We co-administer a state-funded grant to provide online graduate education to nurses in rural Texas. As teachers of a professional practice discipline (nursing), we embrace liberal education models and experimental pedagogies.
Emerging instructional technologies are prompting educators to re-evaluate traditional course delivery. Advantages of online delivery include: (a) the ability to link students with “just-in-time” resources, (b) the likelihood of enhanced communication between students and faculty and among students themselves, and (c) a learner-centered approach that emphasizes guided learning versus knowledge transmittal1-2.
Our parent institution aggressively markets a “brand-name” undergraduate experience, which includes face-to-face, on-campus instruction by seasoned faculty. Consequently, less than 25% of an undergraduate’s coursework can be completed online, including traditional classes with online enhancements. First-hand experience with online instruction, however, convinced us that benefits of online learning could be transferred to the classroom. Our imaginative solution is a teacher-less environment©.
Although a current theme in higher education explores how to translate traditional coursework into an online mode of instructional delivery3, the teacher-less environment brings benefits of online learning into undergraduate classrooms. A teacher-less environment highlights students’ active learning, rather than the teacher’s content expertise. As the name implies, the teacher is a less active agent in the classroom. Surrendering the familiar role as trusted Pied Piper who leads innocents into unknown territory, the teacher becomes an encourager-in-the-shadows, who creates a milieu for student leadership in the learning process and the evaluation of learning outcomes.
University faculty who deftly summarize and clarify what students say, add tidbits of expert information, and model logical reasoning skills are sorely needed in nursing education4-5. Dispensing “content” is frequently a comfort zone for nursing faculty, but it is seldom a main teaching goal. In fact, content often serves as a mere vehicle for fostering critical reflection6. This may seem an odd statement for faculty claiming to profess an evidence-based, practice discipline, like nursing. But it is not. Because the technical “content” of nursing changes rapidly, our graduates must learn how to access the latest information, decipher its meaning, logically integrate new knowledge with what’s already known, and apply it in practice settings, which are also in flux.
The teacher-less environment is an experimental pedagogy that relies on strong student leadership and flourishes best once a trusting relationship is established between faculty and students. The teacher-less environment isn’t an abrogation of teaching responsibility; rather, a teacher-less environment focuses on the learner.
Creating a Teacher-less Environment
In a teacher-less environment, nursing professors supply students with case histories, compact disc recordings of popular music, discussion questions, feature film vignettes, online resources, research articles, etc. Students process these materials in small groups or as a whole class. Although professors may offer occasional prompts, correct factual errors, and clarify misunderstandings, this pedagogy is not a “lecture in disguise.” Instead, professors hold in abeyance their entrenched views and jaded opinions. Students become interlocutors and directors of classroom activities.
We position ourselves in the back of the classroom ostensibly preoccupied with another task, such as grading homework. Student leaders—who are appointed by the faculty or peers—frequently solicit information from their less confident coursemates better than if we were “holding court” at the front of the room. Discussions typically have greater range because academically strong students become confederates, who aren’t compelled to perform just for us. This strategy works well if the student cohort is small.
In addition to evaluating this experimental pedagogy in truncated course sections and summer electives where it was introduced in prior semesters, we plan to implement and evaluate the teacher-less environment in a junior-level class, which all students in the nursing major must take. With this design, self-selection is not a validity threat, and sample sizes (N > 40) will be large enough to show differences in quantitative outcomes, such as exam scores. Because one of the authors has taught this course for several consecutive semesters, quantitative data from previous semesters will be used to make comparisons. This work will be conducted during the 2003-04 academic year.
The course used for this investigation is taught during each long semester. It is a two-hour class in gerontological nursing that convenes once per week. Measures will be taken to address different learning styles; however, classroom exercises characteristic of the teacher-less environment© will be employed at least 50% of the time. Assignments that require reading, writing, and problem-solving skills will be included in each module.
In addition to the influence of a teacher-less environment on exam scores and class performance, learning outcomes will be assessed from (a) summaries of small group work, (b) standard course evaluations, and (c) focus groups that involve a convenient sample of students in each class. Focus groups will held at the semester’s beginning and end. These groups will explore students’ experience of learning in a teacher-less environment, their affinity for active engagement with other learners, and their willingness to assume a high level of responsibility for what is learned.
We do not have all the answers at this time. For instance, we don’t know the challenges that a teacher-less environment might present to students of diverse abilities in a medium-sized class (N > 40). Because evaluation heretofore has been anecdotal, we don’t completely understand the benefits and liabilities of this experimental pedagogy. We suspect, but aren’t certain, that more sensitive outcome measures will be required to demonstrate efficacy of the teacher-less environment. We believe that dialogue with like-minded educators from other disciplines and institutions will bring greater focus and meaning to the proposed work. We are optimistic that this summary of our experience with the teacher-less environment will excite such dialogue.
1. Dringus, L. (2000). Toward active online learning: A dramatic shift in perspective
for learners. Internet and Higher Education, 2(4), 189-195.
2. Northrup, P.T. (2002). Online learners’ preferences for interaction. Quarterly
Review of Distance Education, 3(2), 219-226.
3. Brewer, E.W.; DeJonge, J.O.; & Stout, V.J. (2001). Moving to online: Making the
transition from traditional instruction and communication strategies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press (Sage).
4. Ethell, R.G. (2000). Unlocking the knowledge in action of an expert practitioner.
Journal of Teacher Education, 5(2), 87-101.
5. Sternberg, R.J.; & Horvath, J.A. (1995). A prototype view of expert teaching.
Educational Researcher, 24(6), 9-17.
6. Alfaro-LeFevre, R. (2001). Teaching strategies: Thinking critically about your
teaching. Nurse Educator, 26(1), 15-16.
From: Karla Phillips <karlap@HAWAII.EDU>
> On Saturday our campus hosted our inaugural Innovation Institute and the
> afternoon session was devoted to Great Ideas for Teaching Students (GIFTS).
> During this session, faculty members presented 5 minute activities that they
> have found successful in their classrooms.Here are some of the ideas that
> were shared.
> FOCUS activities to get students awake, focused, ready to learn. One way is
> to have them all stand up and turn to those students near them to introduce
> themselves and say something really brief (20 second exercise). Another
> activity is to have them push their hands up above their heads and then down
> 3 times and yell FOCUS. In Australia classrooms, the instructor calls out
> OZZIE and the students call back OOIE as a means to bring or regain focus.
> ICEBREAKER/THE BIG PICTURE. Bring 20 small random items placed in an open
> box. Students come up in small groups and have a limited amount of time to
> view what's in the box and then to return to their seat and write a list of
> what they saw. Once everyone has a list, they compare it with their
> neighbors to try and compile a more complete list. Point is made that when
> they collaborated with another student that had a bigger picture and more
> complete understanding of what was in the box.
> HORRIBLE D'S. This works as an icebreaker as well as an introduction to a
> topic. In this example, instructor of religion class used this as first day
> activity teach a concept equated to suffering. Students are asked to each
> give one word that starts with a D that is something they would not like to
> have happen to them or anyone they love. Words such as death, disease, dumb,
> defiled, etc come forth. After 50 such words have been expressed, the
> instructor then reveals the concept and word in Buddhism that this relates
> to. Another instructor gave a similar example in which he taught the
> concept of humanistic teamwork by asking for words beginning with C. Words
> such as coalition, conformity, communion, communicative, compassionate,
> culture, etc come from the students are mapped on a diagram.
> QUIZZES, daily or weekly were used as a strategy by several instructors to
> increase focus, attendance, and the number of students who complete their
> reading assignments. During the first 5 minutes of class a quiz is given
> that covers material from either/or reading assignment, lecture, video, etc.
> Answers are gone over immediately after quiz is turned in and points are
> added to either final exam or final grade.
> SUGGESTION BOX was introduced as a way to get student evaluations early into
> the semester when they can make a difference. About one third into the
> semester students are asked to submit 3 things they like or would like to
> keep in the course and 3 things they don't like or would like to see
> changed. A suggestion box is kept in the class at all times and students
> are encouraged to submit other ideas at any time. All suggestions are read
> aloud to class with a response as to what will or will not be changed and
> why. The instructor said that 40-60% of what he does in the classroom is
> based on student ideas from this process.
> Karla Phillips, Acting SI Coordinator, Leeward Community College
> 96-045 Ala Ike, Pearl City, HI 96782
Ed Nuhfer > firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is a fairly extensive activity I use to help students to understand how ideas develop and where they come from.
It is good anywhere for any topic where the development of ideas is important. I tend t use it in introductory geology classes.
It helps if there are a few theatre students!
> The Development of Plate Tectonics Cooperative Role Playing
> The Scene
> A very successful seance is taking place wherein each of these famous
> figures returns through a medium (you!). Each announces his or her name, a
> bit about himself or herself, and, in the first person, provides their major
> views of the earth they held at the time they made their contribution. The
> medium can translate the personage for only five minutes. This means that as
> a medium you have only four (4!) minutes to convey your information and a
> maximum of one (1!) minute to answer questions or converse with one other
> figure. The medium must adhere as closely as possible to the knowledge
> characterizing the time and views of the character. "Background for mediums"
> for each respective character may be found in the cited references after
> each respective character. The references are currently at the reserve desk
> at the library.
> The Cast
> 1) Aristotle (384 - 322 B.C.) on the origin of rocks and fossils (Adams,
> 1938, pp. 12-16 & 80 - 84) Questioned by Baron Georges Cuvier.
> 2) Baron Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) on the nature of fossils and
> catastrophes (Adams, 1938, pp. 263-268; Geikie, 1905, p. 373) Questioned by
> James Hutton.
> 3) James Hutton (work of 1795) on uniformitarianism (Berry, 1968, pp. 20 -
> 23; Eicher, pp. 5 & 6). Questioned by John Joly.
> 4) John Joly (work of 1908) on the age of the earth (Eicher, 1968 pp. 13 &
> 14; Wood, 1985 pp. 89-91) Questioned by Charles Darwin.
> 5) Charles Darwin (work of 1859) on evolution and the age of the earth
> (Eicher, pp. 10 - 12). Questioned by Lord Kelvin
> 6) William Thomson (Lord Kelvin - work in 1897) on age of the earth and on
> Lyell's Principles of Geology (Wood, 1985, pp. 24 - 27; Hallam, 1973, p.
> 110). Questioned by Thomas Chamberlin.
> 7) Thomas Chamberlin (work of 1899 - 1909) on origin of the earth and
> possible heat sources. Questioned by Madame Curie. (Wood, 1985, pp. 30 - 32)
> 8) Madame Curie (1903) on discovery of radioactivity and its implications
> for geologists - (Eicher, 1968, p. 17 and any history of science/physics
> reference. Highly recommended is her Nobel Award detailed in Nobel
> Foundation, Nobel Lectures Including Presentation Speeches and Laureates'
> Biographies - Physics, 1901 - 1921.) Questioned by American Chemist Bertram
> B. Boltwood
> 9) Bertram B. Boltwood (work 1905 - 1909) on age of the earth (Dott and
> Batten, pp. 82) Questioned by Alfred Wegener
> 10) Alfred Wegener (work in 1912 - 1924) on continental drift and the
> response his proposal received (use quotes if possible) (Wood, 1985, pp. 61
> - 87) Questioned by Harry Hess
> This goes on up through other characters up to the modern views of
> punctuated change with Stephen Jay Gould.
> The outcomes are usually quite incredible. I'm getting ready to do this
> again in mid-April with some different references, but you get the idea
> right away, I'm sure. Letting the characters come to life surely reveals
> more than lecturing about them.
> Ed Nuhfer, Director, Center for Teaching and Learning
> Museum Building 434, Campus Box 8010, Idaho State University,
> Pocatello, ID 83209-8010
Lori Schroeder wrote:
> 1. At Metropolitan State University, I teach all levels of public
> speaking courses: Public Speaking for the Highly Anxious, Public
> Speaking for Non-native English Speakers, Public Speaking, Persuasive
> Speaking, and Advanced Public Speaking. In all but the Advanced Public
> Speaking, at mid-semester, I meet with all students for thirty minutes
> to review their first major speech that is captured on video-tape.
> During this session, I ask students to share their perceptions regarding
> how well (or not so well) they organized, developed and delivered their
> speech. I offer my perspective as well along with sharing my evaluation
> form that provides considerable written feedback and a letter grade.
> Also, during this time, I ask them if they have concerns or questions,
> if they are working on the next major assignment and check in to see how
> that is going. Lastly, I ask them to identify what three things they
> could do in their next speech. By identifying those things they did
> well and those areas that they could refine, they acknowledge to me (the
> instructor) and to themselves their work. They have "buy in" and
> ownership with their learning and renew their commitment to their work.
> And in a public speaking class, that is a big accomplishment! It is a
> time when a huge shift occurs in the semester and the work that is
> produced with eager, positive "carpe diem" attitudes is common.
> 2. A new strategy I've been employing in all of my basic public
> speaking classes is on the first day I ask, "What do you have to do to
> succeed as a student in the university classroom?" They spend some time
> thinking about it and then I ask for their responses and I write them on
> the board. Even though it may seem obvious that it is important to come
> to class, come to class on time, and stay for the entire session, it is
> important for them to speak those things. I write all their suggestions
> on the board, acknowledge as very important, and add my two cents.
> Then I share all the things I am willing to do. We have our cards on
> the table in terms of who is responsible for what and know consciously
> that we are on the same team. That if I do my job and they do the things
> that they've itemized, then they can't help but succeed. I see a
> definite difference in student attitude and behavior these past couple
> of years, especially for first-year students.
> Lori Schroeder
> Faculty Development Coordinator
> MnSCU Center for Teaching and Learning
> 1450 Energy Park Drive, Suite 300
> St. Paul, Minnesota 55108
> URL: http://www.ctl.mnscu.edu