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Oct 03, 2012

Developing Student Reading Capacity

One question that often comes up in discussion during our various communities of practices concerns reading, both getting the students to do the readings and helping students develop a more critical eye. Below are some suggestions shared by faculty at Laurier and elsewhere.

Talk about what it means to be a practitioner in your discipline (e.g., a geographer). How does a geographer think, problem solve, read, write, and so on? What questions do they implicitly ask themselves when approaching a particular text? What is the discourse of the discipline? How can we make more transparent and accessible to our students, what comes naturally to us as academics? 

Develop an activity associated with the reading(s) that feeds into classroom discussion (or an assignment). For example, in one of our first year Religion and Culture courses - Evil and Its Symbols - the professor asks her students to identify a short passage or quote from the reading that is salient to them, and to write a short paragraph identifying why this passage or quote spoke to them and how it connects to the topic under study. Students hand their work in 24 hours before class. Their work becomes the foundation for discussion in the next class meeting. A portion of the students' total grade is assigned to these submissions. 

Model critical reading in the classroom. I like the approach created by Professor Shelagh Crooks of St. Mary's University (Canada). In her class, she provides students with a short reading (it could be one from the assigned reading list) and, in groups, asks them to work through the following questions. These questions are taken up collectively. This exercise is repeated several times over a number of classes, thereby building student capacity and confidence to read with a more critical eye. Discipline-specific questions could be added to the listed below to reflect one's discipline or subject area. You could also turn this exercise into an assignment.

Questions: (1) What is the topic under discussion? (2) What is the issue at hand? (3) What position does the author take? (4) What evidence does the author provide? (5) How credible is the evidence? 

Other considerations:

  • invite authors into the classroom via Skype or other technology to bring a reading to life 
  • provide a worksheet for students to document their thinking/discussion



  • Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom (John Bean, 2011)
  • An Exemplar of Pedagogical Scholarship Takes on Student Reading (MaryEllen Weimer, 2012; accessed at )

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.


Jeanette McDonald and Anna Barichello

Wilfrid Laurier University (Canada)

Author: francine_glazer

Sep 26, 2012

Learning from Conflict in the Classroom

“The study of conflict should be viewed as a basic human requirement and the practice of constructive conflict as an essential set of interpersonal skills” (Wilmot and Hocker, 2011, p. 2)

There are several approaches that instructors can adopt for addressing conflict in the classroom as a learning opportunity for students.  One way to begin preparing students to engage in conflict moments is to have them identify their approach to conflict and their conflict style (Wilmot and Hocker 2011).  By having students read through the following statements and identify which statementaligns with their views on conflict, students gain valuable insights into their preferred communication mode— competing, avoiding, compromising, collaborating, and/or accommodating (Thomas and Kilmann, 1974):  

  • I love peace and harmony and will go to great lengths to avoid conflict.
  • I sometimes will willingly engage in conflict, but only if I can see no other good choice.
  • I like the give-and-take of a good verbal conflict and am not particularly wary of getting involved.
  • I enjoy constructive conflict.  My adrenaline gets going and I like to see what can come of it.  I even seek out conflict at times.
  • I count on conflict to help clear the air, solve problems, and get us to a “different place.”

Additionally, instructors can implement activities where students brainstorm constructive and deconstructive approaches for addressing conflict.  One activity, adapted from “The Complete Guide to Conflict Resolution in the Workplace” by Marick F. Masters and Robert R. Albright,  asks students to think of a recent conflict they have had with a peer, superior, or subordinate; write down what the conflict was about; and list the various ways they could have handled it.  Finally, they identify how they handled it and why it worked or did not work.

Utilizing role-play is also a helpful strategy for generating helpful proactive and reactive strategies for conflict communication.  This active learning strategy gives students the opportunity to solve a problem, apply skills, explore/change values, develop empathy, and to become aware of their assumptions (Nickerson 2007).  Role-plays are well-suited for exploring conflict communication because they help students experience “stressful, unfamiliar, complex, or controversial situations” (Bonwell 1991).  Students can reflect on the words and actions of each character to determine the effectiveness of communication in addressing the conflict and the particular conflict modes present in their scenario.

Facilitating difficult conversations on controversial topics is a common practice among instructors from almost all disciplinary backgrounds.  By incorporating proactive and reactive strategies for conflict communication into the course content and modeling constructive ways of handling conflict, instructors can better prepare students to learn from all aspects of difference in the classroom.


  • Bonwell, Charles C., and James Eison.  “Active Learning:  Creating Excitement in the Classroom.”  ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1, 1991.
  • “Managing Classroom Conflict.”  Center for Faculty Excellence, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  November 2004.
  • Masters, Marick F., and Robert R. Albright.  The Complete Guide to Conflict Resolution in the Workplace.  New York:  American Management Association, 2002.
  • Nash, Robert J., Bradley LaSha, DeMethra, and Arthur W. Chickering.  How to Talk About Hot Topics on Campus.  Jossey-Bass, 2008. 
  • Nickerson, Stephanie.  “Role-Play:  An Often Misused Active Learning Strategy.”  Essays on Teaching Excellence 19.5 (2007-2008). 
  • “Role-Play Exercises.”  Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence:  Penn State University, 2007.
  • Thomas, Kenneth W., and Ralph H. Kilmann (1974). Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode instrument.  Tuxedo, NY: Xicom, Inc, 1974.
  • Wilmot, William, and Joyce Hocker.  Interpersonal Conflict.  8th ed.  McGraw-Hill, 2011.


To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.



Dr. Amanda G. McKendree, Assistant Director

Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning

University of Notre Dame


Author: francine_glazer

Sep 18, 2012

Use PowerPoint to Prompt Engaging Learning Activities During Class

Dilbert depicts PowerPoint presentations as a direct route to slumber and employee revolt.  PowerPoint presentations need not be deadly.  Instructors can create slides that prompt class activities that engage students, motivate meaningful class discussion, and promote deep learning (Berk, 2011).

Instructors commonly organize and plan the presentation of content while they create a set of PowerPoint slides.  Consider creating slides to plan and prompt engaging learning activities at key points during a class presentation.

Instructors who use personal response systems (clickers) can add a slide that poses a question to evaluate student understanding of a critical concept or to ask students to apply a model or principle to a specific application.  Allow students a moment to think individually or discuss the question in small groups before they record their response to the question with their clickers.  

An instructor who does not use clickers can present a slide that poses a question as a prompt for small group discussion (e.g., as a pair-share activity) or a brief in-class written response to the question (e.g., a minute paper).

Share responses to the prompt with the entire class.  If using clicker questions, display a chart summarizing the pattern of responses from the group.  Otherwise, ask for a show of hands for typical responses or initiate a class discussion in which several groups report the consensus response from their discussion.

Wrap up the discussion and refocus attention on the content that triggered the activity.  
  • If common misconceptions about the critical concept emerge in the pattern of responses, spend some time defusing these misconceptions.  
  • If the prompt asked for application to a real world problem, discuss and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the applications proposed. 
  • If the prompt asked for opinions on a controversial topic, ask the class to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the different positions that emerge.    
Include no more than one or two of these engagement slides during a class session to engage student interest and focus attention on critical points for the day’s lesson.

  • Berk, R. A. (2011).  “Powerpoint® engagement” techniques to foster deep learning.  Journal of Faculty Development, 25, 45-48.
  • Bruff, D.  (2009).  Teaching with classroom response systems:  Creating active learning environments.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.   

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Claudia J. Stanny, Ph.D., Director
Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
University of West Florida

Author: francine_glazer

Sep 12, 2012

Using the Course Syllabus as an Opportunity to Promote Student Learning

Many professors may ask themselves if their students read the course syllabus, and what do they get out of such reading. In light of this, in spring of 2011 I started to implement the creation of learning contracts in my courses with two purposes in mind: (1) to promote the reading of the syllabus at the start of the course, and (2) to foster self-regulation in students´ learning.  

For the first course assignment students present a draft of a learning contract where they establish a learning goal to accomplish in the course for the term, and identify what they consider helpful from me as a professor and their peers in order to attain such goal. The criteria for the learning goal includes:  relation to course content, achievable in the term, and measureable. The learning contract format contains the following elements: 
  • Statement of learning goal
and their response to the following questions:
  • What do they commit to as students in the course in order to accomplish such goal?
  • What do they need from me as their professor in order to accomplish their learning goal?
  • What do they need from their peers in the course in order to accomplish their learning goal? 
Throughout the term, students engage in three self-assessment exercises where they evaluate their progress towards their learning goals. The same self-assessment instrument is used in each occasion. The instrument includes a series of closed and open ended questions where students respond to aspects such as:
  • Perception of their progress towards the attainment of their learning goals
  • What aspects of the class have helped in this attainment
  • What aspects of the class have made this attainment difficult
  • What they would do differently as students for the rest of the term in order to attain their learning goal
  • What they would like for me as their professor to do differently for the rest of the term in order to attain their learning goal
  • What they would like for their peers to do differently for the rest of the term in order to attain their learning goal
I present consolidated results of each self-assessment exercise in a class session which serves as input for group discussion on how the class is progressing and how they feel about such progress. In sum, the learning contract activity has proven to be useful to engage students in the course content and for me as the professor to identify during the semester the aspects of the class that student perceive to help and hinder their learning. 

  • Anderson, L. W. and David R. Krathwohl, D. R., et al (Eds.) (2001) A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Allyn & Bacon. Boston, MA (Pearson Education Group). 
  • Bloom, B.S. (ed.) (1956) Taxonomy of educational objectives, The classification of educational goals – Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: McKay.
  • Fink, L.D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Anabella Martinez, Professor of the Education Department
Director of the Centro for Teaching Excellence (CEDU)
Universidad del Norte (Barranquilla, Colombia)

Author: francine_glazer

Sep 05, 2012

Putting Students in the Driver’s Seat

I teach students at many levels at many institutions. I've incorporated a number of strategies to get my students thinking critically. 

We often have so many things to teach our students we lose sight of how this knowledge was assembled. Thus science—like many other subjects—becomes a bunch of facts to be memorized, versus an ongoing process of understanding the Universe. I often will focus a little less on detail — after all, that's what the textbook is for — and really go into depth to explain what people believed before, why they believed it, what people observed, and the nature of  the consensus that developed out of these observations.
I will sometimes put the students in the driver's seat by showing them the evidence that scientists observed and asking them to come up with explanations for what was observed, or to evaluate current scientific theories using this method. I find that when students evaluate evidence for themselves it helps provide that "a-ha! moment" that perhaps what they were taught at home doesn't explain the evidence quite as well as current scientific theories, even if they are a bit controversial in certain sections of society.

As much as I can, I try to keep my assignments relevant. Rather than using an abstract assignment with no personal stake for the student, I try and ask them what they should do in a real world situation. For example, in a recent microbiology class I asked my (mostly nursing) students to come up with protocols to stop the spread of a hospital-based infection throughout their ward. Additionally, I take advantage of technology by using computer-graded homework. I allow the students up to three attempts on each homework, which gives them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. 

Joby Jacob, Ph.D.
Adjunct Faculty, Life Sciences
New York Institute of Technology

Author: francine_glazer

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Dean Kamvakis Dean Kamvakis
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