View Action Plan Teaching Strategies
Download as PDF (Introduction and
Action Plan Teaching Strategies)
The suggestions described below may be helpful in addressing your students’ learning if
student ratings reflect the following types of concerns:
- The course was not challenging for the students.
- The students indicated that they did not learn much in the course.
- The students did not develop an understanding of major course concepts.
- The students’ critical thinking skills were not further developed.
- Time spent in class was not worthwhile to the students.
- The students’ interest in the subject area was not enhanced.
Faculty members indicate that many courses are taught using the
traditional lecture approach when other strategies may be more effective. “Traditional
lecturing methods are often used by default, in situations where the possibility of more
effective alternatives either have not been considered, appear to be ‘too uncomfortable,’ or
involve too much time and effort to establish,” reports an Education professor.
While it is important to be comfortable with your teaching
strategy, it is also necessary to consider potential advantages in terms of the quality of
student learning. Research indicates that student engagement often results in a deeper
understanding of the course concepts. Learning is enhanced when students are actively “doing
something” to learn rather than passively listening to the professor. “A lot of careful
planning goes into developing an appropriate activity,” a professor of Finance concedes,
“but the enhanced student learning is a great payoff!”
See also suggestion #6 of the Organization and Preparation section and suggestion
the Communication section.
2. Hold high but realistic expectations for your students.
Research has shown that a professor’s expectations have a powerful effect on student
performance. If you convey to your students that you expect them to be motivated,
hardworking, and engaged in the course, they are more likely to be so. Set realistic
expectations that are high enough to motivate students to do their best work, but not so
high that students will inevitably be frustrated in trying to meet those expectations. To
develop the drive to achieve, students need to believe that achievement is possible.
Have students summarize or paraphrase what has been discussed in class. “Asking your
students if they understand gets you only so far,” a History professor explains. “Asking Ms.
Jones to summarize the main things to remember about X, and then asking other students to
help out if she is having difficulty is a far better check on your students’ understanding.”
A Religion professor uses five minutes at the beginning of the class period to have students
summarize in writing the main ideas from the reading assignment for the day. She then uses
this “as a springboard for class discussion.”
Ask students to list key concepts or main ideas. Near the end of class, ask students to
write down three or four key concepts or main ideas about the topic just discussed. A
Philosophy professor explains, “I use the students’ lists in a variety of ways. Sometimes I
simply collect them to get an understanding of what the students are getting from class.
Other times I will have them share them in a small group of two or three individuals so they
can check for themselves on how they are doing. Occasionally, I will have the students use
them at the beginning of the next class in a quick review discussion.”
An Engineering professor makes use of role-playing to encourage his students to develop
the broad range of skills necessary for their careers. “I give my students copies of an
Engineering report, for example. Then one half of the class is asked to assume the role of
the authors of that report and prepare an oral presentation for the client or funding
agency. The other half of the class is assigned to act as representatives of the client or
funding agency and to prepare questions to be asked of the engineers,” he explains.
A History professor reports that she used to give rather standard writing assignments,
“compare author X and Y’s views on A,” where the two authors tended to be professional
historians. “Most undergraduates, however, find the arguments of current historians somewhat
arcane,” she claims. “Therefore, most recently I have asked my students to read a collection
of the 18th century speeches on why Louis XVI should be killed and assigned them the task of
writing their own speech as if they had been living during the French Revolution.
Undergraduates really are enthusiastic about this kind of assignment and do an incredibly
good job. It helps them to identify with the issues of the time; in fact many of my students
went to great lengths to research the authenticity of their own empathic interpretations. I
intend to take this assignment a step further by dividing my students into small groups and
having them deliver their speeches to the group.” By giving her students assignments that
put them in the role of another, she is helping them to view a situation from a different
A Chemistry professor emphasizes conceptual understanding by challenging his students
with apparent paradoxes. “Several times each semester,” he explains, “I set up a
demonstration to give a visual result that is at variance with what is described in the
textbook. My students then explain the paradox by applying a variety of problem solving
techniques. This kind of demonstration really gets my students thinking,” he says.
“Furthermore, many of my students tell me that they learn more from seeing than from
reading. It gives them another way of understanding and helps them gain self-confidence that
they do in fact understand.”
A Forestry professor uses weekly problems that are typical of those faced by
professionals in the field. After describing a scenario, he will ask his students, “What is
killing that tree?,” rather than, “Name six factors which can kill trees." Using real-life
problems to encourage thoughtful reflection and discussion helps students apply their
knowledge and realize how course content will transfer to their professional careers.
Use case studies to introduce your students to real-life scenarios. A professor of
Anthropology prepares case studies to provide her students with exposure to primary research
techniques and strategies. Her students are presented with a collection of photos, maps, and
narrative information which depict a site as an archaeologist would see it. This serves as
the basis for class discussion and an ensuing group project. She notes, “I ask students to
address questions that an
on-site anthropologist would consider. For example, what changes in eating habits can you
infer from the artifacts found at two different levels?”
An Engineering professor also presents his students with problems based on real cases.
“For example, my students are told that a ball bearing failure has occurred in an airplane.
They are asked to outline the steps they would take in determining the cause and correcting
it. They tell me what tests they would perform and using simulation techniques, I tell them
what the results of those tests would be and ask what they would do next. This continues
until my students have either solved the problem or are stumped. Their results are then
compared with those from the actual case study. The value of this approach is to give my
students experience solving the type of practical problems they will encounter as
professionals,” he explains. “Also, because the problems are based on actual cases, it gives
my students a chance to compare their own problem-solving skills with those of practicing
Assign projects that provide your students with experiential learning. A Political
Science professor always includes at least one experiential assignment in his courses. For
example, he recently required his students to interview a local politician, as well as his
or her spouse, children, staff members, and several constituents, in order to get a better
understanding of the daily life of a politician and the issues and problems he or she faces.
“My students were then asked to tell the class about their experiences so that
generalizations could be drawn. They compared their own conclusions with those presented by
both the theoretical and the popular conceptions of politicians represented in their reading
assignments. My students are so experience-poor and theory-rich,” he explains, “that I find
as many ways as possible to get them to use the local area as a laboratory for enriching
their understanding of course concepts and theories.”
A Mathematics professor has students share applications for course concepts. Near the end
of class, she gives each student a brief questionnaire asking the following:
- As I understand it, the main idea (concept or point) of today’s class was …
- A good example of an application of this idea is …
- In my mind, the main point of today’s class is most closely related to the following
concepts, ideas, people, places, processes, events, or things …
She uses these responses “to check on my students’ understanding, but also to focus my
next class. If necessary, I correct any misunderstandings and then discuss some of the
suggested applications with the class. Students so often have very good ideas that go
unrecognized. This gives me an opportunity to share some of those with the class, and it
really helps those students who have trouble looking beyond the book.”
Encourage your students to conduct research and write reports for specific “real world”
clients. Some professors select a current problem in the field and have their students
design a research project, gather the relevant data, and write up the results in a form
appropriate for the “client.” Other faculty find actual clients who are willing to work with
the students. For example, a professor of Natural Resources has his students participate in
all phases of the research, report writing, and oral presentation to client agencies for
environmental impact studies. Similarly, a Social Work professor has her students help local
agencies define their needs and write grant proposals for submission to foundations and
federal agencies. An Education professor frequently has his students meet with top-level
university administrators to define current evaluation or informational needs on campus.
Each student then designs and conducts a small-scale evaluation project and writes a report
for the client-administrator. He notes, “You get better results from your students if they
feel there is a real audience for their ideas.”
Help students apply abstract concepts to new situational experiences. A Political Science
professor uses the concept of licensing to guide his students through the steps involved in
creating a regulatory commission to license prostitution. “What would such a commission look
like?,” he asks. “Who would want to serve on it? What problems would it encounter? I force
my students to apply abstract concepts and principles from their readings to new
situations,” he explains. Later in the semester, his students actually simulate the workings
of a particular regulatory commission and engage in debates on the pros and cons of
particular policy solutions.
Challenge students to develop their analytical skills. A professor of English assigns the
work of a literary critic and then asks his students to write an essay taking an adversary
position. “If my assignments are provocative,” he indicates, “I get better results. They
should enjoy doing the paper; it should provide them with a personal learning experience.” A
professor of Business Administration shares, “The quality of the papers I get often depends
on the quality of the assignment I give.” For example, in a recent assignment he asked his
students to respond to the question, “If you were working in a company that illegally
pollutes the environment, what would you do and why?” A Psychology professor asks his
students to critically review a paper written by a professional psychologist. “The process
of analysis and evaluation captures what I am trying to do in the course,” he explains.
Ease course barriers by using an interdisciplinary approach and encouraging your students
to integrate knowledge from their major area of study with the new information they are
learning in your course. A professor of English encourages his students to make use of
knowledge and skills developed in other courses in combination with those emphasized in his
course. “I strongly encourage my students to write papers on interdisciplinary topics,” he
states. Recent student papers include: “Shakespeare and Plants” by a Botany student, “Folk
Tales in King Lear” by an Anthropology major, and an analysis of the connection between the
paintings of Watteau and imagery in Pope's “Rape of the Lock” by an Art major. “If you can
get your students to realize that they each bring different kinds of talent and expertise to
the course and encourage them to apply these, that goes a long way towards integration of
knowledge,” he notes.
Students often report having their best educational encounters and achieving their
greatest understandings of diversity as side effects of naturally occurring meaningful
educational experiences. Consider students’ opportunities for group projects in which three
to five students complete a specific task during and/or outside of class. Collaborative
learning can also be as simple as randomly grouping two or three students in class to solve
a particular problem or to answer a specific question.
Help your students to reflect on their learning experience by keeping a journal
throughout the course. A journal can be a very effective way to facilitate students’
reflection on their own learning and lead to a greater understanding and appreciation of the
subject. It is important, however, to ensure that students are familiar with the process of
journal writing and the benefits they can expect. A Writing professor keeps her own journal
along with her students. “I share my entries at the beginning of each class for the first
few weeks of the semester, so students can get a better understanding of the type of journal
entries that are most beneficial to the goals of the assignment,” she indicates. Some
faculty require reflective journals as a component of the course grade, while others simply
recommend them as effective preparation for class discussions, presentations, reflective
papers, and essay exams.
The suggestions described below may be helpful in addressing your level of organization
and preparation if student ratings reflect the following types of concerns:
- The course objectives were unclear to the students.
- It was difficult for students to follow the syllabus and/or you did not follow the
- The students’ responsibilities for the course were vague.
- The students found you unprepared for class.
- The course lacked structure from the students’ perspective.
- Your lectures, discussions, etc. appeared to be disorganized to the students.
- The students were unable to understand the relationship between various aspects of the
Many faculty members state the objectives of their course in a syllabus. Some include
major themes for each class session, how they are incorporated into the activities and
assignments, and the ways student learning will be assessed. A professor of Physics states,
“I like to lay out the course in some detail for my students. I think it helps students feel
“My syllabus usually runs about 15 pages,” notes a professor of Education. “It is
organized by class session and each section consists of a major topic with four to eight
important study questions or issues my students are expected to understand or be prepared to
discuss. Required reading and recommended supplemental readings are included. The syllabus
also describes assignments, grading procedures, and competencies my students are expected to
have (i.e., things they are expected to be able to do) by the end of the course.”
Faculty agree that the more information you provide to students in writing, the fewer
issues you may encounter during the semester. If you must deviate from the syllabus, make it
clear to students how and why the changes are being made. “I have been reworking my syllabus
for several semesters based on my experiences in the classroom. The number of organizational
and process problems that I have to address has greatly decreased. It is all explained in
the syllabus,” reports a Biology professor.
Some faculty indicate that it is more helpful for students when the course objectives are
stated as observable skills or attainable knowledge, rather than as broad generalizations.
See also suggestion #1 of the Grading section.
2. Communicate the objectives for each class session to your students.
Preparing for each class session enables you to have a clear idea of what is supposed to
happen. Keep in mind that no matter how organized you are, it does not help unless you
communicate it to your students. A key organizational strategy is to tell students what you
expect to accomplish during the class and how that will be accomplished. What will you be
doing? What will they be doing? Many faculty list their objectives on the board, overhead
projector, or PowerPoint slide.
A Geology professor believes that, “A beginning statement of objectives or directions is
one of the most important aspects of teaching. Students need to know where you are going, so
that they can understand where they are going.”
A professor of History explains, “I come to class a few minutes early and write three to
five objectives on the board. As class begins I present my objectives for that day to the
class. During my presentation I make specific references to my objectives as I go along.”
Other professors modify this technique slightly by having their first PowerPoint slide
include the objectives for the day. This slide is projected onto the screen as students
arrive to class.
An Engineering professor refers to this as his battle plan. “At the beginning of the
hour, I give my students a battle plan so they know where the discussion is going and can
follow it more easily,” he says. “For example, I tell my students that I’m going to discuss
such-and-such a topic for the first twenty minutes, show them how to use it in the next
twenty minutes, and then take questions in the last ten minutes. By laying out exactly what
I am going to do, I eliminate a lot of student confusion.”
A Psychology professor indicates, “I share with my students at the beginning of the class
the activities we are going to engage in that day. I explain not only what we will be doing
or discussing, but also why we are looking at the topic in this particular way, and how it
relates to other topics within the unit and the course as a whole. I don’t want them just
going through the motions, but would rather have them actually understand how and why we are
3. Create a sense of order for your students.
Many faculty recommend giving students a conceptual framework on which to hang major
ideas and factual information. Jumping from one topic to another makes it difficult for
students to assimilate and retain the material. To understand the relationship among
concepts, students need a framework – a basic theory, a theme, a conceptual typology, or a
controversial issue – rather than simply memorizing dozens of discrete points. A professor
of Physiology notes, “To the uninitiated, our field looks like a mass of facts; by
establishing a conceptual framework, I minimize the amount of rote memorization my students
have to do.”
Examples of course organizational patterns include:
- Topical – A Psychology course examines how four groups of theorists approach human
behavior: social learning theorists, developmental theorists, psychoanalytic theorists,
and cognitive theorists.
- Causal – An Economics course explores various factors that affect the distribution of
wealth: the labor market, tax policy, investment policy, and social mobility.
- Sequential – A course on Education in the United States covers the school system from
preschool to elementary school, secondary school, college, and graduate school.
- Structural – An Anatomy and Physiology course approaches the anatomical systems in a
consistent format: the organs, the functions of the organs, how the organs are regulated,
and the relationship of the system to other systems.
- Problem-solution – An Engineering course looks at a series of structural failures in
various types of buildings.
A number of faculty begin each class period with a brief summary of the main points
covered in the last meeting and then ask for students’ questions. The advantage of
summarizing and asking questions at the beginning of a class period is that, “students are
fresher and after a brief recapitulation, they are more likely to realize and acknowledge if
they have any problems,” a Design professor claims. A variation on this technique is to
summarize and ask for questions whenever there is a major transition from one topic to
another within the class period.
In written texts, organization is indicated by paragraphs and headings. In lectures,
verbal cues help convey the organizational structure. An Education professor shares the
following suggestions. Forecast what you will be discussing – “Today I want to discuss three
reasons why states are mandating assessments of student learning in higher education.”
Indicate where you are in the development of your ideas – “The first reason, then, is the
decline of funds available for social and educational programs. Let’s look at the second
reason: old-fashioned politics.” Restate main ideas – “We’ve looked at the three pressures
on colleges and universities to institute assessment procedures: the legislature’s desire to
get maximum effectiveness for limited dollars, the appeal of campaign slogans such as
‘better education,’ and public disenchantment with education in general. We’ve also explored
two possible responses by colleges and universities: compliance and confrontation.”
A professor of History suggests structuring the class as you would a journal article.
“Each lecture should have a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end,” she notes. A
Computer Science professor concurs, indicating that he prepares his class presentations so
that they have the oral equivalents of an introduction, headings, subheadings, summary, and
conclusion. “Orally highlighting the structure of a lecture serves the same communication
functions as using paragraphs and different type faces in a journal article,” he says. “It
tells the audience what the topic is, why it is important, what its chief components and
their relationships are, and what conclusions we can draw. I firmly believe in sharing the
structure and reasoning of my lectures with the students,” he explains. “I begin each
lecture by stating my objectives. For example, “Today we are going to discuss X and its
effects on Y and Z. I make frequent transitional phrases and I leave time to summarize the
major points at the end of the hour.”
Research indicates that students generally remember facts and principles better if they
are presented first with general statements, which are then followed by specific examples,
illustrations, or applications. To present a difficult or abstract idea, experienced faculty
recommend first providing students an easy example that illustrates the principle, then
offering a more complex example or illustration.
4. Use various organizational strategies during class.
Many faculty suggest organizational strategies that include putting an outline on the
board or on a PowerPoint slide at the beginning of class, outlining the development of ideas
as they occur, developing a concept map or chart, or giving students a handout of the major
points or topics. Outlines help students focus on the progression of the material and also
help them take better notes. You do not want students spending the hour wondering, “Why is
the professor talking about that?” or “Where does this fit in?” If their attention does
wander, students can more readily catch up with the lecture if they have an outline in front
of them. Refer to the outline to alert students to transitions and to the relationships
A professor of Physiology uses a technique he learned from a colleague when they were
team-teaching several years ago. “I put the outline of my lecture in a corner of the
blackboard when I first come into class,” he says. “That way students can tell at a glance
when I’ve shifted topics and where we are in the day’s discussion. I also make frequent
reference to the outline to alert students to transitions and the relationships between
Many professors prepare lecture outlines, group activity projects, lecture notes,
definitions of new terms, complex equations, discussion questions, illustrations, etc. as
handouts for students or have them available for students to download from the course’s
website. “My handouts include the essential points of my lecture, including definitions,
notations, important formulas and derivations,” says one professor of Business
Administration. “Students could not cut class and rely solely on the notes, however, because
they are not self-explanatory. They are designed to help students follow the main structure
of my lecture and to keep them from getting bogged down in copying details.”
Not everyone favors handouts, however. “Analytic material can’t be learned by watching
and reading alone,” claims an Engineering professor. “It must be learned by doing; by
writing it out.” He prefers to write important material on the board, discuss the steps, and
analyze them as he lectures. This approach helps students to understand the process and not
just memorize the steps.
A Biology professor reports that she outlines her lectures on the board as she goes
along, using colored chalk to differentiate major and subordinate points and to diagram
relationships. On a separate section of the blackboard she also lists technical terms. “The
outline serves to reinforce visually what I am saying,” she explains. “Furthermore, it makes
clear to everyone where we have been and where we are going.” Other faculty substitute
PowerPoint slides for the chalkboard.
Some faculty give students a list of questions which cover topics to be addressed during
class. One History professor does this routinely. “By outlining my lecture as a series of
questions, I hope to stimulate students to think actively during the presentation. The
questions are designed to give them a conceptual framework and guide, so they can identify
where we are and where we are going in the overall discussion. I realize that it is
difficult for students to listen attentively for a full hour. Providing them with an outline
of the lecture in question format allows them to pick up the thread of the discussion more
quickly as their attention fades in and out,” she explains.
5. Provide closure for your students.
Although it may appear to be an oversimplification, many professors cite the old adage,
“tell’em what you’re going to tell’em; tell’em; then tell’em what you told’em.” A History
professor finds it helpful to place his watch in full view on the desk or lectern. “I watch
the clock carefully to be sure that there is time to summarize the day’s discussion. Then,
at the beginning of the next class session, I sum up the previous lecture once more before
moving on to a new topic.”
“Students crave both continuity and sense of closure,” a Reading professor explains.
“They do not like unfinished presentations. At the same time, because none of us likes
repetition, I try hard to use different words and examples in each summary. The best way I
have found to avoid redundancy is to note on an index card the exact words I have used at
the end of a lecture, so that I am reminded to vary them in the brief recapitulation I give
at the beginning of the next class meeting.”
A professor of Business Administration also uses this technique. “Because each concept in
this course builds upon what has gone before, it is important for students to see how each
new topic relates to what they have already learned, as well as to what they will be
learning in the coming weeks. I find the most effective way of doing this is to begin with a
brief summary of what came before, followed by a brief preview of what will come next.”
Drawing conclusions helps students see that a purpose has been served and something has
been gained during the class session. A well-planned conclusion rounds out the presentation,
ties up loose ends, suggests ways for students to follow up on the lecture, and provides a
sense of closure.
Placing the concept in the larger context of the course gives students a sense of
continuity and meaning. A brief summary can help the students see the relevance of the new
concept and its relationship to the course’s main themes. It can also inform students as to
their progress towards achieving the course goals. An Education professor notes, “I relate
the topic we are addressing to the overall goals of the course, as well as the profession.”
Although the lecture approach is commonly used, attempt to develop activities that lead
students to an understanding of the concepts or issues in the class. Several outstanding
lecturers found that issues become more clearly understood when students are actively “doing
something” to learn rather than being told or shown by the professor. A Special Education
professor has her students use wheelchairs for a day to develop a better appreciation of the
experience of being disabled. “It can take a lot of thoughtful planning to devise a suitable
activity, especially given the restrictions of a lecture session,” an Economics professor
concedes, “but the resulting improvement in learning is well worth it.”
Instead of asking, “What am I going to do in each class session?,” focus on, “What are
students going to do?” Identify topics that lend themselves to classroom activities and
select one or more instructional methods for each class session: lectures, small group
discussions, independent work, simulations, debates, case studies, role playing,
demonstrations, experiential learning activities, instructional technologies, collaborative
learning work, etc. For each topic, decide how you will prepare the class instruction (e.g.,
review, preview), present the new concepts (e.g., lectures, demonstrations, discussions),
have students apply what they have learned (e.g., discussion, in-class writing activities,
collaborative work), and assess whether students can put into practice what they have
learned (e.g., testing, discussion, problem solving).
When possible, demonstrate a concept rather than simply describing it. “For example,
don’t tell students how to present a logical argument; present a logical argument and help
them to analyze it. Don’t describe how to solve a problem; demonstrate how to solve it, and
label and describe the steps and your reasons for them as you go,” suggests a Chemistry
Some faculty regularly make use of visual imagery. Taking examples from everyday
experiences, even if they cannot be demonstrated in class, will help students to visualize
them and reinforce their learning. The use of metaphors and analogies that give students a
mental image to draw upon can help reinforce their understanding and recall. Additionally,
professors often make use of slides, maps, tape recordings, live or filmed dramatizations,
charts, diagrams, videos, DVDs, websites, demonstrations, and actual cultural artifacts to
illustrate the subject matter.
See also suggestions #1 and #3 of the Student Learning section and suggestion
#5 of the
7. Become a reflective practitioner.
A History professor has found it very effective to keep a brief journal or diary for each
course. “After each lecture, I jot down a few notes about how the class went: explanations
and examples that worked well and those that didn’t, students’ difficulties with the text,
techniques for generating discussions, and so forth. If something went very badly, I correct
it at the next meeting. For the most part, however, I keep the journal to help me improve
the course next time.” Although a journal of this type could be beneficial to any teacher,
its value is greatest for new instructors or for faculty teaching a new course or a course
taught only every few years.
“I make notes to myself about what went well in the course and what didn’t as it goes
along,” an Interior Design professor shares. “For example, I might make a note saying ‘Don’t
forget to emphasize this point before that point.’ Executing these suggestions the very next
semester reinforces my own learning.”
By looking back at journal entries, an Economics professor is able to incorporate his
reflective ideas the next time he teaches the course. “It’s important to completely redo my
notes each time I teach the course,” he shares. “It helps me rethink the material so that
the ideas seem fresh and new to me as well as to my students. This increases my enthusiasm
for the subject matter which I think is communicated to my students.”
Some professors keep separate files for each course objective, theme, or topic. “To these
I add research articles, newspaper clippings, cartoons, ideas for assignments or exam
questions, and notes to myself for improving the lecture or discussion,” reports a professor
of English. This approach makes it much easier to incorporate more effective examples,
assignments, explanations, activities, group projects, teaching approaches, assessment
strategies, etc. the next time the course is taught.
The suggestions described below may be helpful in addressing your communication skills if
student ratings reflect the following types of concerns:
- Your lectures, discussions, labs, studio work, etc. were not clear to the students.
- You appeared to be unenthusiastic or bored.
- The examples used in class did not help students to understand the course concepts.
- Practical applications of the course concepts were not provided for the students.
- Important points were not emphasized for the students.
- Students indicated that main ideas were not summarized.
1. Capture your students’ attention at the beginning of class.
An attention getter does not have to be “gung-ho” or “whiz-bang.” Carefully planned
questions or statements that are provocative, controversial, or paradoxical can also be
quite effective in developing the curiosity necessary to get students’ attention.
A professor of History reports that he often begins class by reading aloud a short
passage from a primary source or a story to illustrate his major theme or point for the day.
“For example, I start out by stating that the Wizard of Oz is a parable for progressivism
and read passages from it to illustrate my major thesis. I then get my students to help
identify the different characters and what they represent.”
“The opening should secure students’ attention and give them the desired mental set. Have
some form of attention-getter - a gadget or piece of hardware whose operation depends upon
the principles of the day’s lesson usually excites attention,” shares an Engineering
2. Emphasize important information for your students.
Faculty members in several disciplines stress the need to call students’ attention to the
most important ideas being presented. Some professors announce the importance of an idea
before presenting it. “This is really important, so you have to be alert.” Others emphasize
the most important ideas when summarizing, saying “The most important thing to remember here
is...” “This is so important that everyone of you should have it engraved on a gold plaque
and hung over your bed!,” states a professor of Computer Science. “I began to emphasize the
main points about ten years ago,” indicates a Political Science professor, “when I
discovered that you can’t rely on undergraduates to intuitively know what the most important
points are. You have to tell them.”
Since no single explanation will be clear to all students, it is important to rephrase
explanations of major points several times. “Repetition leads to learning,” a Chemistry
professor claims. “I repeat major points several times from a different direction or in
different words.” “No single explanation will be clear to all students,” points out a
professor of Business Administration. “By using different language or different examples, I
maximize the chances that every student will eventually understand.” A Political Science
professor also consciously alters the words he uses. “I have a tendency to say things twice;
first, formally and then colloquially.” An Engineering professor reports that he develops
the same point in two or three different modes (e.g., verbally, mathematically, and
Several faculty define technical terms and review key terms from previous lectures. A
professor of Biology points out that you cannot assume that students know or remember
concepts and terms from previous courses. “If I use a word for the first time, I write it on
the board and define it. I do this even if it is a concept or term that students have
presumably learned in introductory biology and chemistry courses.” Another faculty member
underscores the importance of giving students a clear definition of terms. “If the term is
not defined or is poorly defined in their textbook, I point that out and then give them the
clearest definition I have been able to find.” He frequently looks at three or four
introductory texts to find the clearest definition of a term.
Dramatic pauses are another way to highlight important ideas. A History professor used to
tell her students, “The main point is...,” in a matter-of-fact manner, almost as an aside.
“I discovered that many of my students did not get the message,” she explains. “Now I
indicate a main point by pausing to get my students’ full attention and then saying
emphatically, ‘This is the really important consideration!’ Then I pause again to be sure
they are prepared to write it down. If not, I restate the importance of what is to follow.”
Several faculty report that they cue their students’ attention to the significance of an
idea by showing the role it plays within the course content and appropriate applications. “I
think it is crucial for students to know why a concept is important,” explains a Physiology
professor. “Just saying that it is important is not enough. You need to put the concept in
some perspective, to show why it is important. Explaining why an idea is important not only
gets your students’ attention, it gives them a framework on which to hang the idea.” An
Engineering professor concurs. “I follow the introduction of a major concept with lots of
specific examples, including anecdotes which show applications of the concept in current
professional practice. You must show your students why it is important to know a particular
concept if you expect them to master it,” he explains.
3. Use relevant examples.
Using specific and familiar examples will enhance your students’ understanding of the
course topics. A repertoire of examples that link ideas and images can be quite beneficial.
Develop examples that do the following:
- Draw upon your students’ experiences or are relevant to their lives. To explain
depreciation, a professor of Business uses the drop in price of new versus used textbooks.
- Represent the same phenomena. To explain aerodynamic oscillation, an Engineering
professor cites a scarf held out a window of a moving car, a thin piece of paper placed
near an air conditioner, and a suspension bridge battered by gale winds.
- Dramatize concepts. In defining a particular body organ, a Biology professor compares
its size or texture to familiar objects, such as a walnut or grapefruit. An Economics
professor defines a trillion by stating, “It takes 31,700 years to count a trillion
Many faculty agree that the choice of examples is very important, favoring those that are
anecdotal, personal, relevant, or humorous as students tend to remember them best.
An Economics professor places great importance on using examples that are relevant for
her students. “I use specific examples whenever I can. In talking about inflation and price
controls, I’ll use an MP3 player or palm pilot rather than apples or a general product.” A
Forestry professor uses the same strategy. “In talking about acre-feet of water, first I
define it formally and then I give several examples which will help them appreciate the
amount of water represented, such as ‘equivalent to 77,000,000 ice cubes.’ Students tend to
remember examples like that,” he explains.
Do not assume that all students will recognize cultural, literary, or historical
references familiar to you. As the diversity of the student and faculty populations
increases, you may find that you and your students have fewer shared cultural experiences,
literary allusions, historical references, metaphors, and analogies.
4. Consider various perspectives.
Ideally, a college curriculum should reflect the perspectives and experiences of a
pluralistic society. At a minimum, creating an inclusive curriculum involves using texts and
readings that reflect new scholarship and research about previously underrepresented groups,
discussing the contributions made to your field by women and various ethnic groups, and
describing how recent scholarship about gender, race, and class is modifying your field of
A professor of Education makes a point of inviting guest speakers whose viewpoints differ
from his, enabling his students to be exposed to a variety of perspectives. “I want them to
understand what the different points of view are,” he claims, “and one of the best ways I
have found to do this is to invite a colleague or practitioner whom I know to be an adherent
of each view to make a presentation to the class.”
Several faculty assign multiple readings that represent a variety of viewpoints. “Because
the most controversial issues covered in a course are ones on which my students have strong
opinions but little information, I try to expose them to diametrically opposite positions or
theories,” says one professor of Political Science.
Assigning readings directed toward revealing the reasons behind differing points of view
raises the students’ level of understanding. A professor of Business Administration shares,
“I use a semi-Socratic technique to lead my students through an analysis and critique of
each theorist’s position. The focus is not on opinions but on the reasons behind them.” A
Psychology professor comments that, “Sometimes it is not possible to find a reading which
gets at the basis for a particular point of view. However, any reading that presents a clear
statement of the features of the theory is useful. Students can be directed to a lively
discussion of reasons that are tenable. It gives them experience in learning the criteria of
a good argument.”
Several faculty draw upon the diverse backgrounds and experiences of their students in
order to introduce different points of view. At the beginning of the semester, a professor
of Business Administration asks his students to give written answers to questions about
their backgrounds and reasons for taking the course. He asks students to focus particularly
on experiences that might give them a particular viewpoint on the social, political, and
economic issues to be covered in the course. As these various issues are discussed
throughout the semester, he is able to draw on varying experiences and interests of his
students. In this way a full range of views is introduced in the course. “Often, with little
or no effort, I am able to get students debating between themselves. In fact, I rarely give
my own point of view until there has been a full discussion of the different points of view
within the class itself,” he explains. This technique has an additional advantage since
introducing personal experiences and opinions makes the discussion more realistic and
A professor of Economics explicitly states that there are alternative points of view. “I
indicate the polar principles which guide much of the research in the social sciences. In
doing so, I point out that they should be mindful that there may be good reasons to believe
the opposite of what I say; that they should analyze all arguments in terms of their
opposites,” he explains.
One of the primary goals of education is to show students different points of view and
encourage them to evaluate their own beliefs. Thus, many faculty emphasize the importance of
considering different approaches and viewpoints. They help students begin to appreciate the
number of situations that can be understood only by comparing several interpretations and
how one’s premises, observations, and interpretations are influenced by social identity and
As appropriate to your field, develop paper topics or group projects that encourage
students to explore the roles, status, contributions, and experiences of groups
traditionally underrepresented in scholarly research studies or in academia. For example, a
Nursing professor teaching a course on medical and health training offers students a variety
of topics for their group project, including one on alternative healing belief systems. A
Marketing professor gives students an assignment asking them to compare female-only,
male-only, and male-female work groups.
Students tend to be more attentive when exposed to a variety of learning experiences.
Using various teaching strategies, therefore, helps to keep students intellectually engaged
and enhances learning.
A Family Studies professor conducts each class meeting differently “to keep my students
off balance. Students always know what topic will be covered in a given session, but they
don’t always know how it will be handled,” he indicates.
An English professor believes that his wide variety of teaching strategies accounts for
his high ratings on interesting style of presentation. “I read whatever I can find on
teaching in my discipline, and I borrow shamelessly from other instructors when it comes to
pedagogical strategies,” he admits. By engaging students in active learning strategies
(e.g., discussions, debates, group work, team projects), he requires them to address the
content in greater depth.
See also suggestions #1 and #3 of the Student Learning section and suggestion
#6 of the
Organization and Preparation section.
6. Expose your students to outside enrichment sources.
A number of faculty include current journal articles, periodicals, newspapers, and
websites in their curricula. “It’s important for my students to be exposed to
state-of-the-art ideas even in a lower division course,” notes one Political Science
professor. “I try to make sure that my reading list contains at least a few recent journal
articles.” A professor of Biology also believes strongly in making use of articles from
current periodicals. “I keep my eyes open for stories on recent developments which have
become part of the ‘current events’ literature,” he explains. A professor of Economics
assigns the Tuesday editorials of the Wall Street Journal each week. She uses them as a
basis for discussion and has students relate them to course content.
A professor of Education shares his professional “junk mail” with his students. He
routinely shares program announcements for local conferences, program proceedings, and
advertisements for new books and journals in the field. “In this way I inform my students
about professional activities and recent developments of which they might not otherwise be
aware,” he says. “I also encourage my students to attend professional meetings and
conferences and to request papers on topics of interest to them. It’s simply another way to
socialize them to the profession.”
Several faculty share local events with their students in an effort to expand and enrich
their understanding of the subject matter. “Every Monday I distribute a calendar announcing
course-related events not only on the campus but in the area,” a History professor shares.
"The events include dance troupes, plays, lectures, poetry readings, demonstrations and so
forth. In this way the content of my course is expanded far beyond what I can actually cover
in class. I also encourage my students to use these local resources in their research and
A Language professor shares copies of newsletters, newspaper clippings, and announcements
of French movies, plays, or other cultural events in the area. “My students are often amazed
and delighted to learn that there are so many opportunities to strengthen their language
skills and to expand their understanding and enjoyment of French culture,” she explains.
7. Involve students in your research and scholarly activities.
Whenever you allow students to see or contribute to your own work, you are not only
teaching them about your field’s methodology and procedures, but also helping them to
understand the dimensions of faculty life and feel more a part of the college community.
Consider sponsoring students in an independent study, arranging internships, and providing
opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research.
The suggestions described below may be helpful in addressing your interactions with
students if your ratings reflect the following types of concerns:
- The students felt that you did not get to know them as individuals.
- The students indicated that you were rude or disrespectful.
- The students felt that you treated them unfairly.
- The classroom environment was seen as uncomfortable by the students.
- Diverse perspectives were not welcomed in the class.
- Many of the students’ questions were answered unsatisfactorily.
- Successful student learning did not appear to be a priority for you.
- Your sensitivity to the difficulty of some course content was not apparent to the
- The students reported that you were not readily available to them outside of class.
1. Get to know your students.
Knowing your students is important for a number of reasons. Several faculty members
stress that new learning must begin from what students are already familiar with. “Otherwise
they quickly become confused, disinterested or anxious,” an Education professor explains.
“Students will also open up more in class discussion if they feel a comfortable rapport with
Learning your students’ names helps to create a comfortable classroom environment that
will encourage student interaction. It also tells students that you are interested in them
as individuals. A variety of strategies for learning students’ names include:
- Photographs: Consider grouping students for pictures during the first or second day of
class. The act of posing for a picture breaks the ice and creates an informal, relaxed
environment. Circulate the photographs and have students write their name underneath their
picture. Place these photos on students’ information sheets or introduction cards.
- Name cards: For a seminar class, use the United Nations model of place cards in front
of each student. In a studio or lab course, post students’ names above their workstations.
- Seating chart: Ask students to sit in the same seats for the first few weeks and
prepare a seating chart. Try to memorize four or five names at each class session.
- Name game: In small classes, ask the first person to give her name. The second person
gives the name of the first person and his own name, and the third person gives the names
of the first two people followed by her own name. The chain continues until it returns to
the first person, with the instructor preferably near the end.
- Introductions: For large lecture classes ask six or eight students to introduce
themselves at the beginning of each class period.
Try to consciously use your students’ names whenever possible. “I call roll several times
during the beginning of the term to connect faces and names as soon as possible,” a
professor of English reports. A professor of Entomology admits, “in a class of 100, there
are always three or four names that I don’t seem to be able to learn. Nevertheless, my
students greatly appreciate the effort.” A Religion professor walks around the class while
his students work on a project, quiz, or problem and tries to match faces with names. He
then goes back to his desk and tries to write everyone’s name down. “This really reinforces
my memory,” he claims.
A professor of Writing stresses the importance of knowing and treating students as
people. “This is central to making the material relevant, opening up discussion, and
generally meeting their learning needs,” she reports.
A Statistics professor requires each of his students to sign up for an individual
ten-minute appointment. “I found that this was a real ice-breaker,” he explains. “Even
though most of our discussions are mainly chit-chat, some of my students use the opportunity
to indicate problems they are having in the course or to make suggestions about course
improvements. Perhaps the greatest benefit is that it gives me an opportunity to get to know
my students. As a result, they seem to feel more comfortable asking and answering questions
Even in large lecture classes, it is possible to make personal contact with many of your
students. A Physiology professor, for example, meets a few of her students for lunch each
week. “In that way I get to know at least 30 of my students in the class fairly well,” she
notes. “Knowing these students helps me to better understand the interests and abilities of
students in my class.” A Business Administration faculty member uses a similar technique. “I
set aside three luncheon dates during the semester and invite my students who would like to
meet with me informally for lunch at the Faculty Club to sign up. Each semester 15 to 20 of
my students avail themselves of this opportunity,” she reports.
2. Establish a comfortable learning environment for your students.
Students are more likely to participate in class if they feel they are among friends
rather than strangers. At the beginning of the semester, ask students to introduce
themselves and describe their primary interests or background in the subject. One faculty
member asks students to form groups of three to five and introduce themselves to each other.
Another professor groups students by residence halls, living groups, or learning communities
so that they can identify nearby classmates to study with. Ask students to also address
questions, such as, “What’s the one thing you really want to learn from this course?” or
“What aspect of the course seems most appealing to you?” A professor of English has students
pair up for a few minutes to interview each other about their backgrounds, literary
interests, and expectations from the course. He then asks members of each pair to introduce
each other to the group as a whole. “I think this approach helps students feel free to
talk,” he notes. “It also helps set a pattern for discussion in which students are expected
to listen to one another and to address their comments and questions as much toward one
another as toward me.”
Allowing each student an opportunity to talk in class during the first two or three weeks
encourages all students to participate in class discussion. The longer a student goes
without speaking in class, the more difficult it will be for him or her to contribute. You
may want to have students initially work in small groups, as this may make it easier for
them to later contribute in a larger group setting. During the first weeks of the term, you
can prevent any one group of students from monopolizing the discussion by actively
soliciting alternate viewpoints.
Students need to feel free to voice an opinion and empowered to defend it. Try not to
allow your own difference of opinion to prevent communication and debate. Step in if some
students seem to be ignoring the viewpoints of others. For example, if male students tend to
ignore comments made by female students, acknowledge the overlooked comments. A professor of
Engineering shares, “Thank you, Steve. Karen also raised the issue earlier, but we didn’t
pick up on it. Perhaps now is the time to address it. Thank you for your patience, Karen.”
Some faculty invite their students to share examples of work done in previous classes
(e.g., term papers, examinations, designs, lab reports) during the first few weeks of class.
An Architecture professor has his students bring slides of design projects from prerequisite
courses and present them to the entire class. In this way his students show each other their
work and ideas and get to know one another better.
3. Welcome your students’ questions.
Several faculty show their genuine interest in having students ask questions by giving
them prompts. “What questions do you have about …,” gives students time to formulate their
questions. If no questions arise, ask for a volunteer to summarize a particular point that
was made in class. In this way, students may become more aware of questions they have.
Students ask questions because they want a response. By responding directly you indicate
that the question is worthwhile. “Yes, I do think that historians have portrayed the ‘trail
of tears’ inaccurately,” responds a History professor. If you redirect a question to the
class at large, let the questioner know that you are not avoiding or dismissing the
question. “After we hear what everyone else has to say, I’ll see if there’s anything left to
add,” an Exercise Science professor indicates. A Sociology professor also tries hard not to
answer his students’ questions directly. “Even in lecture classes, I often use this
technique,” he indicates. “It tends to involve the other students more with the question and
it illustrates how fellow students can be a resource for learning.”
A professor of Business Administration finds that the way he moves around the room alters
the kinds of interaction he is able to generate among his students. “When a student asks a
question, it is natural for an instructor to move toward that student,” he points out.
“However, this tends to exclude the other students and focuses the interaction on the
teacher and the one participating student. In order to draw my other students into the
discussion and to get them to address their comments to one another as well as to me, I find
that it helps if I move away from the student who asks a question rather than toward him or
her. This forces the student to project so that everyone is drawn into the conversation. It
also makes it more likely that the student will address fellow students.”
A professor of Chemistry moves around in his large lecture sessions consisting of 200-250
students and involves them in his lecture. While it is not generally recommended that
students be put “on the spot” in ways that pose a threat to their self esteem, he manages to
keep the atmosphere nonthreatening by encouraging questions and opinions rather than “right
or wrong” answers. He finds students are far more interested in the lectures when the
“spotlight” occasionally moves to include a different character, and they know that they
could be part of the “action.”
By anticipating students’ questions, you will be better prepared to respond. “Prior to
our class discussions, I imagine the types of questions students may have about a particular
topic. I often look at it from the larger context of the course and anticipate where
difficulties might occur in their thought process. In this way I feel better prepared to
address whatever questions may arise in our discussions,” shares a Music professor.
Sometimes students refrain from asking questions because they sense that the professor
does not want to hear them. It is important, therefore, to be aware of how your behavior and
offhand remarks set the tone for students’ questions. A professor’s negative response to
students’ questions – “We discussed that last time,” or “That question is not really on
point” – discourages future questions. Other discouraging behaviors include looking at the
clock while students ask questions, avoiding eye contact, answering questions hurriedly or
incompletely, and treating questions as interruptions rather than as contributions to the
4. Facilitate class discussions.
Keep in mind that the purpose of discussions is to actively involve students in learning.
Through discussion, students gain practice in thinking through problems and organizing
concepts, formulating arguments and counterarguments, testing their ideas in a public
setting, evaluating the evidence for their own and others’ positions, and responding
thoughtfully and critically to diverse points of view.
A stimulating discussion can be spontaneous and unpredictable, yet a good discussion
requires careful planning. You will want to devise assignments to prepare students for
discussion, develop a list of questions or topic ideas to guide and focus the discussion,
and prepare specific in-class activities such as pair work, brainstorming, or other small
group activity. Your plan should also allow time for a wrap-up so that students can
synthesize what they have discussed.
To involve your students in class discussion, it may be helpful to explain the value of
their participation and what they can expect from the experience. Many faculty members find
it valuable to teach students how to listen to others, paraphrase others’ thoughts,
constructively react to differing views, politely take a different position, and involve
other members of the group. “Students have to understand that they share the responsibility
for making the discussion a worthwhile experience for us all,” explains a Literature
professor. “This is a new idea for most of them.”
Defining the role that discussion plays in the course makes students aware of your
expectations. Carefully describe the students’ responsibilities, which may include: everyone
participates, class time is a “safe place” to test ideas and react to new perspectives, and
discussion will be more worthwhile if students come prepared.
Faculty use several strategies to help students prepare for discussion sessions. Some
distribute study questions on the material to be discussed, while others may ask students to
come to class with a one or two paragraph position piece or several questions they would
like to have discussed. A professor of Business Administration assigns weekly reaction
papers, one to two pages on a specific topic, which are then used as the basis for class
discussion. “In my Education course,” a professor explains, “I give my students a series of
four to eight discussion questions on each week’s reading assignment. These questions serve
both as study aids and stimuli for discussion.”
5. Acknowledge difficult concepts for your students.
“Acknowledging difficulty avoids the risk of belittling the students’ efforts in
mastering the concept, or the students themselves if they do not master the material
easily,” shares a Chemistry professor. “It is important to admit to the difficulty of
understanding material for the first time, but not to make that difficulty an excuse. A good
way of achieving this aim is to offer a specific strategy for mastering the material.”
“It is important to distinguish between appreciating the difficulty students have in
understanding new material, and the rather simpler but less effective option of allowing the
subject difficulty to act as an excuse for the students’ quality of learning,” comments an
A professor of Astronomy observes that he teaches a course better the first time than he
does the second time. “When I asked myself why, I realized that in preparing the course for
the first time, I really had to work hard to master certain parts of the material in order
to explain it to my students. The next time, however, these concepts no longer seemed
difficult to me. Unfortunately, I forgot that they would still be difficult for the
students. Now I color-code all of my notes, keying the parts that students are likely to
find difficult and making a special effort to make points very clear,” he explains.
A Physics professor shares, “After I have finished writing up a set of lecture notes, I
review them carefully, asking myself: What might my students find hard to follow in that
line of reasoning? What examples might make that more clear? This has now become the most
important part of my lecture preparation.”
Several faculty members report keeping track of the kinds of errors students most
commonly make in assignments and exams as a reminder of what students find most difficult to
6. Make an effort to help students having difficulty with your course.
A Biochemistry professor administers a diagnostic test covering knowledge and skills
prerequisite to the course. The test, which is given in the first week, is not graded. “Its
sole purpose is to help me identify those students who need extra help, so I can begin
working with them early in the course. Students need to recognize their weaknesses and begin
to correct them if they are to succeed in my course, but they have to be given the means for
correcting deficiencies,” she explains.
Some faculty provide tutorials based on principles and skills needed to succeed in their
course. A professor of Chemistry developed science and math computer-assisted review units
for students deficient in these areas. “I give a short diagnostic test at the beginning of
the course to help identify students who need this kind of review in order to keep up with
my course,” he explains.
A professor of Geology gives the first of two midterms early enough in the course to
allow him to identify those students who may be having difficulty. After the first midterm,
he asks each of his students who did not pass to talk with him about the exam results. In
these meetings he tries to discover each individual student’s problem. He concludes each
meeting by telling his students that he is certain they can do better and makes a deal with
them. “Usually, I tell them that I’ll forgive the first midterm and let their grade be
determined solely on the second midterm and final,” he explains, “on the condition that they
agree to meet with me weekly to go over homework assignments and to get additional help.
About nine or ten students take advantage of this help each term. As a result of this
technique, in the ten years I have been teaching I have not had to flunk a single student in
a course. Giving students a second chance, I find, is a powerful motivator.”
A Communications professor requires all her students who fail assignments or quizzes to
meet with her. A professor of Nutrition writes, “Please see me,” on the weekly quizzes of
students who score below 70. “It’s important to find out why students score low,” he
explains. “If they are having difficulty understanding the material, I offer to help them.
If it’s a question of motivation or a student placing less priority on my class, that’s all
right too. It helps me as a teacher to know the reasons for the poor performance. Showing
concern is also a powerful motivator for some students; they begin to do better.”
A Nursing professor concurs. “I call students in who get less than 50% on the biweekly
quizzes,” he says. “In a way, I play parent with them; I ‘sit on’ them a little. I think I
understand better now, than when I began teaching, the need some students have for external
A History professor believes that students often need help with specific skills in order
to succeed in a particular course. Simply telling students to “work harder” or “put in more
time to the course,” does not prove very helpful. She offers a series of supplemental
two-hour workshops during the first few weeks of the semester based on topics that she feels
are essential for the success of her students: reading text material, note taking, studying,
and taking exams. During the workshops students practice these skills on actual course
materials (i.e., critically analyzing a journal article, writing a thesis statement for a
research paper, creating an outline for a response to an essay exam). By offering strategies
for success she feels that she is providing the means for her students to succeed in her
course, as well as other courses to which these skills easily transfer.
Some faculty make a special effort to integrate their weaker students into the class
through small group work. A Language professor divides his students into small groups. “I
pose a question to each group,” he explains. “One student in each group gives the answer
orally; a second student corrects the first student, if necessary; and the third student
writes the answer out. Each student has a role, and these roles are rotated throughout the
semester. Initially I assign my weaker students to do the writing, although I am careful not
to do this in an obvious way. This allows the weaker students to participate, but in a way
that reinforces their own learning without holding back the others. Also I often ask a
better student to help out if a weaker student is having difficulty responding. Peer
teaching can be extremely effective, especially when a class takes responsibility for its
weaker members. I find this approach superior to one-on-one tutoring during office hours.”
Several other faculty members also report forming small peer teaching groups in
discussion/tutorial classes or labs. They integrate their weaker students into groups of
average and above average ability students. Some explicitly suggest ways in which their
better students may help other students or ways in which students who are having difficulty
may learn from others.
7. Be accessible to your students.
Many faculty arrive at class a few minutes early each day and talk with their students.
“I try to target a different group of students each day and talk with them about the course
or more general topics, get to know their names, or learn something about them as
individuals,” a History professor indicates. A Retailing professor makes a point of going to
her class early to talk informally with her students. “Five or six students come early to
the class each time to ask questions, share ideas, or just talk,” she reports.
Some faculty stay after class to talk with their students. “The biggest turn-off for
students is for a professor to immediately gather up his notes and virtually beat the
students to the door after class,” a professor of Public Health points out. “This suggests
that he is too busy for students. I have developed a technique of loitering after class and
talking with students as they leave. The result is that after the first few days of class,
more and more of my students linger as well, and I get to know many of them in that way.”
If another class is scheduled in the room immediately before or after your class, then do
as a Biochemistry professor suggests and stay in the hall for ten minutes before or after
class to respond to students’ short questions.
Several faculty explain the purpose of office hours to their students. New students may
only have a vague notion of what office hours are for. Let students know that they can come
to talk to you informally, to ask questions about the material or assignments, to review
graded work, to get suggestions for further reading, or to discuss other topics related to
the course or to your field. Include your office hours in your syllabus and remind students
of them occasionally during the semester. A Political Science professor encourages student
turnout during office hours by placing an invitation within the course syllabus. It reads,
“You are encouraged to stop in during office hours to talk about any problems or suggestions
you may have concerning the course; about careers (especially graduate school, law school,
or the benefits of majoring or minoring in political science); or just about politics or
things in general. If you want to talk to me and find the schedule hours to be inconvenient,
feel free to schedule an appointment.”
Being disciplined on keeping your office hours reflects the importance you place on being
available to meet with students. If you will be unavailable during a scheduled office hour,
announce it in class or put a note on your office door. Students get upset with faculty who
are not present for their posted office hours and these feelings can impair their motivation
to succeed in the course.
A Nutrition professor schedules his office hours immediately following the class session.
“That way students who bring up more complicated questions right after class are invited to
accompany me back to my office. I’ve found that my students are more likely to have
questions or comments at the end of a class when the material is still fresh. This strategy
lets me address their concerns immediately,” he notes.
Several professors work in their office with an open-door policy. “I tell my students
that if the door is open, they should feel free to come in and ask whatever questions they
have,” a Dramatic Arts professor shares. “On the other hand, if the door is closed, it means
either that I am not in or I prefer not to be disturbed.” A Marketing professor tells his
students that even outside formal office hours, “If you catch me in my office, I’m fair
Many faculty try to keep their office door open unless they really cannot be disturbed.
“I always keep my office door open when I am in and am willing to stop whatever I am doing
if one of my students comes by. It’s important not to appear stand-offish, to act put-upon,
bored, or too busy to spend time with your students out of class,” an Earth Science
professor shares. When he is working in the lab, he leaves a note on his office door
inviting his students to drop by the lab if they want to talk. “Actually, I like to have
students visit me in the lab, because there they can really see me at work, and can get some
idea of what I do,” he adds.
Students may be intimidated by the thought of speaking directly and privately to their
professors. The more approachable you are, the more likely students will be comfortable
seeing you during your office hours. A Physics professor explains that she makes a point of
never making students feel unwelcome. If a student drops in at an inappropriate time, she
maintains a positive attitude, saying, “I’d love to see you, how about 4:30?,” rather than,
“I can’t see you now, I’m busy, try again later.”
Some faculty indicate that since many of their students never come to their office or
lab, they try to spend several hours a week in the department course center where students
study, socialize, and eat lunch. They are able to talk with students informally and get to
know them better.
A large number of faculty report using email to increase their accessibility to students.
They include their email address in the course syllabus and set aside a certain time each
day to read and respond to students’ emails. Many recommend responding to students’ emails
in a timely manner (i.e., within 24 hours).
Several faculty members give their home phone numbers to students and encourage them to
call if they have questions or problems. “Just not after 2:00 a.m.!” warns an English
professor. He finds that his students rarely abuse this invitation. “I usually get about six
calls per term out of several hundred students. It is a lot less
time consuming to clarify an assignment the night before it’s due than to negotiate a grade
or an incomplete for a student who did the wrong assignment. I’ve found it’s cost effective
to be a bit more cooperative and flexible at the front end,” he adds. A professor of
Political Science agrees. “Even in my large classes (over 450 students) I rarely get more
than a dozen calls, but the fact that I give out my number lets my students know I am
available if they need me,” he reports.
The suggestions described below may be helpful in addressing your grading practices if
student ratings reflect the following types of concerns:
- The grading policy was unclear to the students.
- The students had limited assessment opportunities.
- The students felt their work was not evaluated fairly.
- Your feedback on student work was not prompt.
- Your feedback on student work was not helpful.
- The students were not aware of their progress in the course.
Many faculty recommend describing the grading policy clearly so that students understand
how their grade will be determined. If you intend to make special allowances (e.g., extra
credit, late assignments, paper revisions) clearly state your policies. Explain your
policies on attendance, participation in class, and anything else pertinent to your course.
An English professor indicates that she views the grading policy portion of her syllabus
as one of the most important sections. “It is only fair that students know the grading
expectations placed upon them from the beginning of the course,” she explains.
A Writing professor concurs that, “the students have a right to know the assessment
process and grading system from the get-go. If you are seriously concerned about their
success in your course, you need to make them aware of how their grade will be determined
from the first day of class.”
See also suggestion #1 of the Organization and Preparation section.
2. Provide enough opportunities for students to show what they are
Giving students many opportunities to show what they are learning provides a more
accurate assessment picture. It is important, however, to use methods (i.e., exams, papers,
projects, group presentations, other types of assignments) that are closely tied to your
course goals. Scheduling some form of assessment every two or three weeks is especially
important for students in lower division courses.
A Religion professor indicates that she tries to give her students various and numerous
opportunities to show what they are learning. “I provide at least five major grading
opportunities and several smaller assignments for my students every semester. The grades
that I use to provide a semester grade reflect individual work, group work, research, and
exams. This provides a more complete picture of my students’ learning,” she notes.
A Chemistry professor includes a wide range of student learning assessments within his
course design. “I don’t believe in penalizing students by asking them to only ‘be on’ two
days out of the semester. I know that I have bad days and so do my students. Between lab
work and classroom assignments, I have about twelve grades for each of my students. Now that
is a much fairer assessment of their ability and their learning,” he states.
Research indicates that students are motivated to learn by constructive feedback and
evidence of progress. “Students need to know what they are doing well in addition to what
they need to improve,” says a professor of History. “I am always careful to praise their
strengths and to be as constructive and helpful as possible in pointing out their
weaknesses.” A Philosophy professor adds, “Unless students know how to improve their work,
what is the point of grading? It is not just a numbers game; it is helping them to learn.”
A Geography professor includes his grading schedule in the course syllabus. “If my
students are expected to meet deadlines for the completion of their work, then so should I.
My syllabus tells students not only when their work is due, but when my work is due! They
know exactly when their graded work will be returned to them. In this way I stay on track,
and the students receive their work back while it is still fresh in their minds and when
what they learn from my feedback can still help them in the learning process for my course,”
“When I schedule student assignments, I block out my own time to grade them immediately,”
reports an Engineering professor. “This is important for two reasons. First, the quick turn
around time ensures that my students are still thinking about the assignment. Thus, any
criticism or feedback is likely to have a stronger impact than if it were delayed a week or
more. Second, prompt feedback indicates to my students the importance of what they are doing
and my concern for their learning the material.”
An English professor concurs. “The impact is enormous when you return assignments at the
next class session. Students are still anxious to know how they have done. That’s a
tremendous advantage in maximizing the impact of feedback on their learning,” she reports.
A number of faculty provide their students with a standard against which they can compare
their work. They distribute a copy of a good (A-B range) assignment (e.g., paper, lab
report, book review, critical analysis) to students along with their graded work. Students
use the faculty comments to understand the strengths of their work, as well as areas needing
improvement. They can then use the sample piece as a guide for improving their work. Some
faculty also provide sample copies of previous students’ work when an assignment is
initially introduced, as a means of conveying expectations.
A Computer Science professor uses peer editing of students’ work to enhance feedback. “In
my upper division courses, I have my students submit two copies of each computer program
they write,” he explains. “One copy goes to me and the other copy is assigned to another
student in the class to evaluate and edit.” He believes that learning to program is like
learning to write short stories; you learn not only by doing it but also by reading programs
other people have written. Peer editing gives his students yet another opportunity to
demonstrate their understanding of the material.
A professor of Architecture uses the same strategy with student papers. He has students
exchange papers to edit. “The final paper is submitted along with a copy of the first draft
with its edited corrections in red,” he explains. “Each paper then receives two grades, one
for the author and one for the editor.” In this way students receive prompt informal
feedback from a peer, followed by a grade and formal critique from the faculty member.
See also suggestion #3 of the Examinations section and suggestion
#4 of the Assignments
4. Keep students informed of their progress throughout the semester.
By keeping students aware of their progress, you help them to appreciate their own
achievements, as well as to understand what is needed to improve their overall grade.
A Forestry professor periodically gives his students a list of their grades to date on
their quizzes, midterms, group projects, laboratory reports, and homework assignments. “I
keep all my students’ grades on my computer,” he says. “Two or three times a semester I
print out scores for each student so they are aware of how they are doing and the progress
they are making in the course.”
A History professor provides a grading template for her students to download to their
computers. “They are able to add to their grading list everything that they complete
throughout the semester. This not only provides them with a list of their grades, but also
serves as a check on making sure no assignments or grades are missing,” she explains.
The suggestions described below may be helpful in addressing your examination procedures
if student ratings reflect the following types of concerns:
- The students were not clear as to the content coverage of the exams.
- In-class and out-of-class activities did not prepare the students for the exams.
- The exams did not reflect the important aspects of the course.
- The focus of the exams was memorization.
- The exams were not returned promptly.
- Your feedback on the exams was not helpful.
1. Develop your exams conscientiously.
Many faculty indicate that one of the most critical aspects of creating an assessment
tool (i.e., exam, critique, laboratory practical, presentation rubrics) is that it reflects
the course goals and learning outcomes. Ideally, assessment tools should measure students’
achievement of the goals and outcomes of the course. A Women’s Studies professor keeps track
of how well her exams reflect her objectives by constructing a grid. She lists the learning
outcomes along the side of the page and content areas along the top. For each test item, she
checks off the objective and content it covers.
In addition to determining the learning outcomes you wish to measure, consider the type
of items best suited to those outcomes, the range of difficulty of items, the length and
time limits for the exam, the format and layout of the exam, and your scoring procedures.
“Since I want my students to be successful as well as intellectually challenged, I estimate
how long it will take students to answer essay questions and make a point of minimizing the
number of questions that call for simple recall of information,” shares an Anthropology
Many faculty members create exams that require an appropriate level of mastery of the
subject matter. These and other measures of learning require students to think critically
and creatively about the course content rather than display mere memory of facts and
concepts. “I really believe that by college, students should be challenged to think and not
just memorize information,” states an International Relations professor.
Several faculty members stress the importance of showing exam questions to tutors or
other colleagues. A Chemistry professor explains, “Tutors are very helpful in identifying
exam questions which may be too difficult for my students. They often see things that I
don’t when I make up the exams.”
Creating an exam that “looks” familiar to students helps relieve the test anxiety often
experienced by students. “Questions on midterm and final exams should not take a form
radically different from those which you use in quizzes, homework assignments, lecture, or
discussion,” states a Political Science professor. “I try to generate exam problems that are
similar to my homework problems so there are no surprises,” comments a Mathematics
professor. “When students can see a link between the things they are asked to do during
class and their private study time, and the things they will be asked on the exam, they are
more motivated to make the effort,” a professor in Psychology observes. “Students also seem
to rate the exams as being fairer and more appropriate when this link is clearly
A number of faculty members balance the difficulty of items on their exams. A professor of Business Administration distributes exam items as follows: approximately
35% are reasonably easy questions that nearly everyone gets correct; about 50% of the
questions require a little more sophistication but can be answered by students who have kept
up with the course material; and 15% of the items are more challenging and generally are
answered completely correct by the top students in the class. “A balanced exam with easy,
moderate, and difficult items gives my students an opportunity to show whether they have
mastered the fundamentals of my course or have gone beyond the minimum,” explains an
Accounting professor. “I also try to include problems everyone should be able to do, as well
as questions that require more thought and really make my students go beyond the material,”
shares a History professor.
Some courses do not lend themselves to exams, such as laboratory or studio, however,
assessment methods should still reflect the course objectives and learning outcomes.
2. Prepare your students for exams.
Many faculty members prepare study sheets and review questions for their students before
an exam. A professor of Near Eastern Studies indicates, “This helps relieve test anxiety,
especially in a lower division course where students are less sure what to expect.” An
Exercise Science professor states, “I organize my study questions so that it is apparent not
only what is most important, but how the parts of the course fit together. I think this
helps my students synthesize the material which is what most of my actual exam questions
require them to do.”
Several professors conduct review sessions before exams. A Biology professor states,
“Either my TAs or myself hold two or three review sessions before an exam. Each session
focuses on a specific topic. About one-third of the session is spent presenting a short
lecture highlighting the major points of the topic and then the remaining time is for
student questions. We are amazed at the number of students who attend these sessions. We
feel they are well worth both our time and the students’.” “Many freshmen have not really
developed good study skills,” claims an Economics professor. “I try to help by giving them
study questions for reviewing the content of my course and by reviewing these questions in
the last session of class before the exam.” A professor of Mathematics tells students, “If
you can handle the examples on these problem sheets, you can pass the exam. People who have
trouble with these examples can ask me for extra help.”
A number of faculty provide students with examples of exam questions. “It is only
appropriate for students to be informed as to the type of questions they will be asked. If
they are prepped in this way for tests like the SAT and ACT, why not for my tests?,”
comments a professor of Education. “I share a few examples of multiple choice and essay
questions with my class. This helps to relieve some of their anxiety, especially on the
first midterm. I will sometimes include different types of questions on my exams that
involve ranking or cause and effect determinations. The students never see these types of
questions for the first time on an exam. We always discuss how to approach these in review
sessions,” he shares.
In helping students prepare for challenging exam questions, a History professor tells her
students that their best preparation is to compare X with Y, which may be, for example, two
playwrights or two orators. In this way she informs her students about the comparative
nature of her exam. Although her actual midterm and final examination questions are not the
standard “compare X’s views with those of Y’s regarding Z,” students who are prepared to
make such comparisons are able to do very well. The actual questions are more creative. For
example, “Suppose that the main character in Molier’s play was to appear in Beaumarchais’
The Marriage of Figaro. How would X (Beaumarchais’ main character) react to Y (Moliere’s
main character)?” or “If X and Y (from the 17th or early 18th century) had met Rousseau, how
would they react to his theories?” Questions of this type not only require students to
understand two historical periods and major changes that took place between them, but to use
that knowledge creatively.
A number of faculty members prepare answers to exams and quizzes to hand out as soon as
students turn in their work. A Chemistry professor prepares a handout of correct answers
that he gives to students as they turn in their answer sheets. “There is no point in making
students wait several days or weeks to find out how they did,” he explains. “They are most
interested in the results at the time of the examination, and this is the time that the
greatest reinforcement of the learning can take place.” He notes that this method gives
students immediate feedback, even though it may be a week or more before the assignments can
be returned with comments or grades.
Discussing the answers to exams, quizzes, projects, or assignments at the next class
meeting is a common practice among many faculty members. An Engineering professor discusses
the answers at the next class meeting even if he cannot return graded assignments or exams.
“I want to correct any misunderstandings and reinforce their learning as soon as possible,”
he says. “Students are much more receptive to this right after completing an assignment or
Another common strategy among faculty is it to return a “perfect” essay exam to students
along with their own corrected exams. A professor of Business Administration likes to
provide a great deal of feedback to his students after exams as a way of reemphasizing the
themes of the course. “I generally spend about half the class period walking my students
through a ‘perfect’ midterm that I distribute to them along with their own corrected exams.
I hope that it helps them to do better on the second exam.”
See also suggestion #3 of the Grading section.
The suggestions described below may be helpful in addressing your selection of
assignments if student ratings reflect the following types of concerns:
- The students could not relate the assignments to course content.
- The assignments did not enhance student learning.
- The directions for the assignments were confusing to the students.
- The assignment work load was unreasonable.
- The criteria for grading the assignments were unclear to the students.
- The assignments were not returned promptly.
- Your feedback on the assignments was not helpful.
1. Select assignments that are relevant to the student learning outcomes.
Establish a student centered approach to your teaching by focusing on what the students
will be doing to attain the desired learning outcomes. As you design your course, select the
type of assignments that will help students accomplish the established learning outcomes.
Assignments should not be an afterthought, but an integral part of the planning and learning
process. An International Relations professor asks herself, “Do my assignments fit the kind
of learning I want for my students? Do they help them to attain the student learning
outcomes?,” as she reviews her course syllabus each semester.
Assignments should be designed so they actually assess the learning you want your
students to achieve. A Mathematics professor realized that his grading process was placing
the emphasis on getting the right answer to the problem. His student learning outcomes,
however, included students developing the ability to explain the process, not just solve the
problem. “To address this, on some assignments I require the students to divide their paper
into two columns. They solve the problem in column one and in column two include a verbal
explanation of what they did and why for each step of the problem. This helps me to check on
the accuracy of their thinking process. Many students can solve a problem, but I want them
to know why they got a particular answer. This is the true proof of learning in
mathematics,” he explains.
As one of her learning outcomes, a Psychology professor states that students will develop
their critical thinking skills. Upon reviewing the assignments and papers she requires for
the course, she realized that they simply require a mastery of facts and basic concepts. In
order to align her assignments with the desired learning outcomes, she reduced the number of
assignments and redesigned them to require synthesis and evaluation skills.
A Sociology professor routinely required a research paper from his students. Realizing
that the research paper was not fulfilling the type of learning he wanted his students to
achieve, he changed his assignments to reflect the learning outcomes. “I want them to be
able to analyze and apply what they are learning to everyday situations. That wasn’t
happening within the context of the research paper. So, now I have my students write several
sociological analyses throughout the semester. I ask them to analyze an event they
experience or an observation they make in light of the sociological viewpoints we are
studying in class. If they go to a family birthday party, an athletic event, a cultural
event, or simply observe the activity within the cafeteria at dinner, they analyze it in
terms of a sociological perspective. The results have been amazing! Of course, some students
initially struggle with the assignment but they get better as the semester progresses. The
analytical skills that this type of assignment requires is really what I want them to
develop. In retrospect, the research paper was more of a library exercise and did not help
the students to attain my stated learning outcomes,” he concludes.
2. Provide clear directions for the assignments.
Clearly define the assignment so students understand the expectations from the beginning.
Some professors provide an assignment sheet to ensure that the instructions are clear.
“Creating an assignment sheet for the students actually helps me,” claims a Biology
professor. “It forces me to think through each aspect of the assignment before I share it
with the students. This allows me to design the assignment so that it measures the knowledge
and skills I want it to,” she explains.
An assignment sheet should list all the essential information for the specific
assignment. An Economics professor’s handout includes a description of the task, the
objective of the assignment, the role that the student should assume, and the report
requirements (e.g., format, due date, length, etc.). A Chemistry professor includes the
audience to whom the student is writing, the purpose of the paper, procedure, standards, and
grading criteria in her assignment sheet. “I always include a grading rubric with the
assignment sheet so students understand as they begin to create the project what I will look
for in the grading process,” shares a Drawing professor.
Discussing the assignment sheet with the students is a common practice among faculty.
“After I pass out the assignment sheet, I take 10 to 15 minutes to discuss it with the
students. The time is well spent since it avoids student confusion and stress over the
duration of the project,” states an Architecture professor. “Questions students ask during
our discussion of the assignment help them to begin to frame the work. I also use this time
to share problems they may encounter and ways to avoid them,” shares a Sociology professor.
A Writing professor has the class work in small groups after the initial discussion of the
assignment. This allows students to brainstorm and begin to formulate ideas and explore
possible topics. “I circulate to see where the students are and help to redirect them, if
necessary. It also allows me to address the class regarding concerns or misunderstandings
that I hear from various groups,” she explains.
Students often find it helpful to see examples of previous work of the type that is
expected in the assignment. “I share a few examples of my previous students’ work to get the
creative juices flowing,” states a Mechanical Engineering professor. A European History
professor shares with students suggested topics and then describes creative approaches that
students have used in the past. Some professors place copies of previous work on reserve in
the library, while others will share one or two previous assignments in class and explain
what makes these pieces good. “Being able to describe why a particular paper is good helps
the students to more fully embrace the scope of the assignment,” states a Philosophy
3. Be reasonable in terms of student work load.
Looking at the big picture (i.e., the semester) during the planning stages helps to
maintain reasonable expectations in terms of work load. “While planning the course and
drafting the syllabus, I ask myself if the work load is reasonable, strategically placed,
and sustainable not only for my students but for me. This is something I consider greatly
when designing and planning a course,” shares a Geology professor. A Retail Management
professor maps out the proposed pacing of her course on a calendar using different colored
markers to record dates of exams, quizzes, assignments, larger projects, and campus events
(i.e., Parents Weekend, Homecoming). “This helps me to avoid scheduling conflicts for both
my students and myself. In order for my students to have the opportunity to provide me with
their best work, I intentionally avoid scheduling large projects close to exam dates and try
to avoid having projects due or exams scheduled immediately after Parents Weekend or
Homecoming. It’s important for students to participate in these events and I am pleased to
allow them that time,” she states.
A Women’s Studies professor also attempts to distribute the work load evenly throughout
the semester. “I try to space out the students’ work in order to avoid having a large amount
of their grade determined during the last few weeks of the semester. I want to see the
results of their best effort, not something that has been compromised by time constraints.
There is too much demanded of students at the end of the semester and simply not enough time
to produce quality products. I want my students to show me what they can do when they have
the time and appropriate conditions in which to work,” she claims.
An Economics professor creates the appropriate environment for students by spanning their
research paper out over the course of the semester. “I break the project down into
manageable pieces for the students. It is important for them to learn from each step of the
process and actually perform and understand all phases of the research process” he states.
He sets up due dates throughout the semester for topic identification, reference list,
outline, first draft, and rewrite. “This not only addresses the work load issue, but avoids
an entire research paper being completed in the last week of the course. Feedback is
provided to the students after each step, which enhances the learning process and the
quality of the final product. As a side benefit, it actually serves as a lesson in time
management for some students,” he adds.
Other professors have found that by making the work load more manageable, they enhance the
learning process. A Business professor used to have his students analyze ten case studies
over the course of the semester. With a case study coming in almost every week, he did not
have the time to correct and return them to the students before the next one was due.
Consequently, several students wrote one mediocre case study after another. “I was so
frustrated with not being able to provide the guidance these students needed to improve. So,
I decided to focus the earlier case studies on building the skills necessary to conduct a
thorough analysis. These assignments were shortened and more focused in design. My students
now write fewer full case studies, but the ones they do write are so much better than
before. They have sharpened their writing and analytical skills as a result of reducing the
workload and focusing on the development of appropriate skills. I could not be more pleased
with the results,” he concludes.
In a similar scenario, a Biology professor was not pleased with the quality of lab
reports she was receiving from her students on a weekly basis. She decided to focus on lab
writing skills. “On the first lab, students only wrote the introductory section. I explained
and demonstrated the qualities of a good introduction. We repeated this for the second lab
so that they could take advantage of the feedback provided on their first lab. It was
exciting for me to see the improvements on their second lab. Previously, when I was grading
the entire lab, I was never able to return them before the next one was due. So, mistakes
were often repeated,” she indicates. She proceeded to add the second lab section, methods
and materials, by the third lab exercise. She was able to provide focused feedback and
proceeded in this manner having students master one section at a time. This reduced the work
load and allowed her feedback to be timely and effective. “By midterms my students were
writing full lab reports of much better quality than I had received in previous semesters,”
she shares. By teaching the process she was able to help students master it one step at a
time. This also reduced the work load and allowed for her feedback to enhance their future
Providing feedback to students from sources other than yourself is a technique used by
some faculty. A Public Affairs professor requires his students to select someone from the
class to read the first draft of their paper. “I provide the students with a checklist for
peer reviewing the papers. The checklist needs to be completed and signed by the reviewer
and turned in with the first draft. Students take their responsibility as a peer reviewer
seriously and are usually very thorough in their review. I have also found that students are
quite accepting of a critique from their peers,” he reports.
Similarly, a Psychology professor uses peer response groups to provide feedback to
students. Small groups of three or four students collectively review a paper and complete a
group review of the draft. “I ask the group to determine the strongest and weakest parts of
the paper and why; identify confusing sections; and discuss transitions, referencing
techniques, introduction, and closure. This exercise routinely creates meaningful discussion
within groups and really helps students to look at their work from a different perspective.
The feedback provides insights and suggestions that students can integrate into their final
paper,” she explains. “It is also important for students to realize that writing is not just
an exercise that takes place between me and each individual student,” she adds.
A Writing professor routinely has her students discuss their current writing assignment
in small groups. “I have them share what they are writing about and why, problems they are
having, roadblocks they are experiencing, and any other aspects of their writing. It is
important for students to talk about their writing. It helps them to generate ideas, focus
their topic, work through difficult areas, and most importantly motivate them to keep on
trying,” she notes.
In an effort to create a more manageable project, some professors break a paper down into
various sections, each with distinct due dates. By receiving feedback at several steps
throughout the process (e.g., thesis statement, introduction, outline, sources, rough
draft), students have the benefit of enhancing their final paper.
Praising the strengths of an assignment is as critical as identifying areas for
improvement. “I always reinforce what they did well in the assignment. I write positive
comments in the left margin of their paper and note points of concern in the right margin.
This helps me to visually see that the comments are balanced or skewed one way or the other
depending upon the quality of the paper. I also note improvements that a student has made
since the previous writing assignment,” shares a Communications professor.
Some professors distribute and discuss a rubric (grading criteria) along with the details
of the assignment. An Interior Design professor indicates, “I have the students self assess
their project by filling out the same rubric that I use when I review their project. I have
found that students are quite honest in their self assessment and sometimes even harder on
themselves than I am! We then discuss the results of the two assessments, which helps
students to identify what specifically needs to be worked on and addressed in future
Discussing the assignment when it is returned to students provides them with a frame of
reference. “I provide the students with a sense of how the class did on the paper. I share
the strengths that I saw within the group as a whole and also some of the common
shortcomings. As a class we discuss how to address the areas for improvement so they are not
repeated on the next paper,” remarks an Advertising professor.
Some professors ask students to assess the assignment. “I ask students to provide me with
feedback about the assignment. They complete a short evaluation which asks them to address
the difficulties they had with the assignment, ways to improve it, and the learning that
occurred as a result of completing the assignment. This helps me to assess if the assignment
is getting at the type of learning that I want to have occurring. It also allows me to
modify the assignment for future use, if necessary,” a Marketing professor explains.
As a way to maximize the learning process, allow students to share their final piece of
work with the class. The day that his students turn in their papers, an Anthropology
professor has each student spend three to five minutes sharing their work with the class.
“This is nothing formal or graded; just an opportunity for students to benefit from the work
of their peers. I cannot possibility cover in my lectures and discussion sessions, all the
wonderfully related topics that they explore through their papers. This is a great time to
learn from each other,” he shares.
See also suggestion #3 of the Grading section.
1. Discipline Specific Journals on Teaching
Issues in Accounting Education
The Journal of Accounting Education
Anthropology and Education Quarterly
Journal of Architectural Education
Journal of Aesthetic Education
Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism
Studies in Art Education
Behavioral Science Teacher
Journal of Applied Behavioral Science
Small Group Behavior
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education (BAMBED)
Advances in Physiology Education
American Biology Teacher
Cell Biology Education
Journal of Biological Education
Journal of College Biology Teaching
Microbiology Education Journal
Business Education Forum
DPE Journal (Delta Pi Epsilon)
Journal of the Academy of Business Education
Journal of Applied Finance (Formerly Financial Practice and Education)
Journal of Education for Business
Journal of Financial Education
Journal of Management Education
Journal of Marketing Education
Journal of Organizational Behavior Education
Journal of Teaching in International Business
Marketing Education Review Business Education Forum
NABTE Review (National Association of Business Teacher Education)
Teaching Business Ethics
Journal of Chemical Education
The Chemical Educator
College Student Personnel
Journal of College Student Development
NASPA Journal (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators)
Computer Science Education
Counselor Education and Supervision
Journal of Counseling and Development
Journal of Counseling Psychology
Design and Graphics
Journal of the American Dietetic Association
Journal of Economics and Finance Education
The Journal of Economic Education
Action in Teacher Education
Journal of Teacher Education
ASEE Prism (American Society for Engineering Education)
Chemical Engineering Education
International Journal of Electrical Engineering Education
International Journal of Engineering Education
International Journal of Mechanical Engineering Education
The Journal of Engineering Education
College Composition and Communication
Research in the Teaching of English
English as a Second Language
ELT Journal (English Language Teaching Journal)
Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language
TESOL Quarterly (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages)
Family Studies/Human Development
Family Relations Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family
Journal of Extension
Journal of Geography
Journal of Geoscience Education
Gerontology and Geriatrics Education
Teaching History: A Journal of Methods
The History Teacher
Hospitality and Tourism Educator
Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Education
THE Journal: Technological Horizons in Education
Journal of Design Communication
Journal of Interior Design Education and Research
Journalism and Mass Communication Educator
Media and Methods
Journal of Legal Education
Learning and the Law
Journal of Education for Librarianship
Journal for Research in Mathematics Education
Mathematics Education Research Journal
School Science & Mathematics
The College Mathematics Journal
ADFL Bulletin (Association of Departments of Foreign Languages)
Canadian Modern Language Review
Foreign Language Annals
International Review of Applied Linguistics
Modern Language Journal
Council for Research in Music Education
Journal of Research in Music Education
Music Educators Journal
Research and Issues in Music Education (RIME)
UPDATE: Applications of Research in Music Education
Journal of Nursing Education
Nursing Education Perspectives
Philosophical Studies in Education
Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, & Dance
Journal of Teaching in Physical Education
American Journal of Physics
Teaching Political Science
Journal of Educational Psychology
Teaching of Psychology
Regional and Community Planning
Journal of Planning Education and Research
Journal of the American Planning Association
Journal of Moral Education
Teaching Theology and Religion
Journal of College Science Teaching
Journal of Research in Science Teaching
Journal of Science Education and Technology
Science & Education
Social Education/The Journal of the National Council for the
Journal of Social Work Education
Journal of Teaching Social Work
Sociology of Education Journal
Journal of Statistics Education
Statistics Education Research Journal
The American Statistician
2. Current Books on Teaching
Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher.
Donald, J. G. (2002). Learning to think: Disciplinary perspectives.
Fink, D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences. San
Finkel, D. (2000). Teaching with your mouth shut. Portsmouth, NH:
Grunert, J. (1997). The course syllabus. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing
Lowman, J. L. (2000). Mastering the techniques of teaching (2nd ed.).
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Menges, R. J., Weimer, M., & Associates. (1995). Teaching on solid
ground: Using scholarship to improve practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Palmer, P. J. (1997). The courage to teach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Paulson, M. B., & Felman, K. A. (2000). Taking teaching seriously:
Meeting the challenge of instructional improvement. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Silverman, S. L., & Casazza, M. E. (1999). Learning and development:
Making connections to enhance teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Tagg, J. (2003). The learning paradigm college. Bolton, MA: Anker
Publishing Company, Inc.
Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to
practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
If you would like more information on this topic, please contact the
Office by email or by phone at 443-8700.