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Apr 20, 2011

Simple Stress Relief

That time of year is upon us, when many of us have piles of papers and exams to grade, year-end reports to submit, and just a general seemingly unbearable amount of chaos in our lives.  Even when we "take breaks," it's usually not to actually relax but to just complete other tasks that somehow don't seem as daunting as the ones from which we are taking said breaks.  
Over the past few years, I've realized that one of the many benefits of yoga (which I teach) is that I can slow down and refocus and relax at any time, anywhere, even during the last few weeks of the semester.  Even in my office.  Anywhere I am, I can truly take a break.  And I'm more than happy to share some ideas with you of how to do this to help you through this frenzied season.


My students always express frustration at their first attempts at meditating and surprised at how hard it can be.  That is why one of the first things I do with them when "teaching" meditation is to introduce them to the concept of listening meditations.  These can be done anywhere, any time.  They are perfect for rejuvenating the mind when you've graded one too many papers or exams in one sitting, don't have time to get out of the office and regroup, but truly need a mental break. With these, there is no need for that "perfect silent space" we may conceive that we need when we want to find a moment's peace.  Instead, I tell them, just sit comfortably upright or stand tall in Mountain pose (feet shoulder-width apart, palms forward, shoulders rolled up and back and down away from the ears, tail bone tucked, a bit of a bend to the knees, with the belly button pulled in). Then, close your eyes and allow the noise to happen—just don't give it your full attention.  
You may notice certain sounds, like a door slamming or a phone ringing, and you may even give them those names. Sometimes we just give these things names of our feelings of them: loud, pleasant, harsh, annoying.  If we do name them, don't dwell on them, just let them pass.  The sound is there, and trying to ignore it will just frustrate us more. Instead, as with any meditation, focus on the breathing you're doing: in through the nose and out through the nose, slowly, in complete awareness of how that air moves through your body.  Notice how the chest rises and falls, how the abdomen expands.  Take slower, deeper breaths, eventually filling the chest fully and holding it for a moment before slowly letting it out and again holding for a moment before restarting the cycle. You may find it helpful to focus on doing this to a count of four or eight, pausing at the top and bottom of each breath to notice how that fullness and emptiness feels.  
My students have told me this is a great way to settle down and clear their minds right before a test or right after a heated discussion.  They have even said they use the technique to calm them before they go to talk to professors, and they love it because they can do it wherever and whenever.  No mat required.

STIFF BACK RELIEF: Cats and Cows  

If you're like me, you may find that you sit at a desktop computer for hours grading papers electronically or sit in a chair doing the same with real papers. The head, neck, shoulders, and back can get so tired, and there is a simple yoga flow of two asanas (poses) that can help to reinvigorate those areas: cat and cow.  Start down on all fours, making sure your knees are stacked under your hips and that your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are in alignment, too, and flatten the back like a table top with the belly button pulled in. (You may want to close your office door first!) This is called "neutral spine."  Inhale into cow, dropping the stomach the floor, tipping the head to look up and raising the tail bone high.  Then exhale into cat, reversing the stretch by moving through the spine to arch the back like an angry cat, slowly dropping the head and tucking the tail bone under.  Flow through these poses with your breath.  In class, we do at least 5 flows between the two, sometimes 10 if the students say they've been particularly stressed or have been writing papers a lot during the week.  When you are done, finish the flow by sitting back into child's pose, sitting your hips back on your heels, stretching your arms in front of you or wrapping them around your legs to reach for your feet, and letting your chest and head rest as low as is comfortable for you.  


Another way to loosen the back, shoulders, and neck is the asana known as rag doll.  If your balance is lacking, you may want to do this over the back of a stable (not rolling!) chair. From a standing position, with feet hips' width apart, take a deep breath in, and then as you exhale, roll forward vertebra-by-vertebra into a forward fold, arms dangling down loosely.   Then, grasp opposite elbows-- right elbow in left hand, left elbow in right.  Make sure you gently drop the head and let it hang, releasing all tension in the neck and jaw and back and shoulders.  
If you still feel tense through your neck, gently and slowly shake your head "no" and nod it "yes." If you feel tension through the back and shoulders, you can gently sway from the waist, twisting first to the left as you inhale and then to the right as you exhale: all movement in yoga is tied to the breath, so don't move without breathing, and never hold your breath in a pose. When you feel relaxed, don't sit right up: slowly inhale and exhale as you roll up, one vertebrate at a time to avoid a head rush.

Simple meditative and yogic practices can make our lives easier in so many ways, and this time of year, we especially need those little things that can make life less hectic.  Well, that and an automatic paper-grader.  If you find one of those, let me know!

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.

Wren Mills, Ph.D.
Instructional Coordinator, Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching (FaCET)
Western Kentucky University

Author: francine_glazer

Apr 12, 2011

Using Concept Maps

Student learning of new concepts requires connecting the new concept to old learning. Understanding grows as layers are added through connections to old ideas, and deepens as old ideas are rearranged through sudden insights.
This process can be made more explicit by using concept maps—a graphical representation, like an organizational chart, of a central idea.
To build a concept map for a particular topic, the creator identifies a central idea or focus question for the map. After recording as many ideas that fall within the focus question as possible, he or she then orders them approximately from the most inclusive to the most specific concept. Finally, he or she arranges these associated ideas in a meaningful way on his/her map to show relationship hierarchies, drawing in various types of links, such as solid lines for strongly connected ideas, dotted lines for weaker ideas, a line with a slash mark on it for opposites, etc. The system doesn’t matter so much as that it is individualized by the student to represent his or her construction of that concept. And it is a map “in progress”. Rather than being “finished” it evolves with the students’ understanding.
Concept maps are particularly powerful in illustrating a student’s understanding of relationship and interconnectedness. They can immediately reveal misperceptions.
Students may have difficulty at first creating something that requires so much active thought, but with practice and encouragement they can improve. They may have particular difficulty understanding or making explicit relationships between different concepts. They may feel everything is related to everything, but their task is to choose the most salient/important links.
Creating a concept map for a chapter is a great way to study once the process has been practiced and understood. Creating an accurate concept map does require some understanding of the material so you would probably use them in the middle to end of a topic, rather than at the beginning (unless you want to do a pre-post comparison).

  • Examples of concept maps are available at
  • More can be learned about educational applications of concept maps at
  • Software is available (links at the site above or try FreeMind (, a free software I have used.  Or you can create one using post it notes or a large blank piece of paper.
  • Also try Tufts University’s Visual Understanding Environment, Here’s the description from their web site: “The Visual Understanding Environment (VUE) is an Open Source project based at Tufts University. The VUE project is focused on creating flexible tools for managing and integrating digital resources in support of teaching, learning and research. VUE provides a flexible visual environment for structuring, presenting, and sharing digital information.”
  • For in depth understanding, this paper is good: “Novak, J. D. & A. J. Cañas, The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them, Technical Report IHMC CmapTools 2006-01 Rev 01-2008, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, 2008, available 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.

Sally L. Kuhlenschmidt, Ph.D.
Director, Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching (FaCET)
Western Kentucky University

Author: francine_glazer

Apr 05, 2011

Evaluating Students on Class Participation

Do you want to include class participation in your grading but find it difficult to grade participation fairly?
Develop a rubric to evaluate student participation. Suggested criteria for a rubric include:
·      How often did the student participate during class?
·      Were contributions relevant to the topic under discussion?
·      Did the student appear to be adequately prepared? Did contributions reflect or apply the content of course readings?
·      Did the student contribute new ideas?
·      What was the quality of evidence of critical thinking in the student’s contributions?
·      How well did the student listen to the contributions of others? Did the student engage in civil behavior during discussions (avoid interrupting others, use respectful language, etc.)?
Share your participation rubric with students during the first week of the class. Invite student comments and suggestions for revisions (within acceptable boundaries).  This strategy will clearly communicate your expectations for effective participation and promote student acceptance of these criteria.
Evaluating participation in every class session can become burdensome and encourage student participation merely for the sake of earning points that day. Instead, use the rubric to evaluate participation and provide feedback to students once a month.  This strategy allows you to base your evaluation of participation for intervals of time that will be manageable for your ability to recall student behavior.  It also provides students with feedback about their early participation and will allow them to make corrections and improve participation across the term.

  • California State University rubric for information literacy:
  • University of West Florida rubric for class participation in a seminar discussion:  
  • Roblyer, M. D. and Ekhaml, L. (2000). How Interactive are YOUR Distance Courses? A Rubric for Assessing Interaction in Distance Learning. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 3(2). Accessed 4/5/2011 at
  • Roblyer, M. D. and Wiencke, W. R. (2003). Design and use of a rubric to assess and encourage interactive qualities in distance courses. American Journal of Distance Education, 17(2):77-98.
  • University of West Florida, Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment’s collection of rubrics:
  • Walvoord, B. E. and Anderson, V. J. (2009). Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment in College. Jossey-Bass, 2 edition.

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

Mar 29, 2011

Seven Principles for Developing Assignments and Providing Good Feedback

The feedback we give our students can have a tremendous influence on how effectively they learn.  Here are seven principles to keep in mind when designing assignments and providing feedback to students.
1.     Help students understand what you define as “good work.”
Give the students examples of what you expect from them. Consider providing them with the scoring rubric you will use when grading the assignment.
2.     Help students to reflect on what they learned
Students learn best when they have opportunities to practice their skills. Have students read and evaluate each others’ work. Have them give feedback to each other in order to begin a conversation about the work.
3.     Provide students with evidence of what they are learning.
Give students timely, corrective advice that fits within the scoring rubric for the assignment.
4.     Engage the student in discussions, with you and with peers, about their learning.
Have the student identify comments that they found particularly helpful Ask the students to explain why the feedback was useful and how they applied it.
5.     Provide positive motivation for the students.
Give students the opportunity to revise and resubmit one or two selected pieces in which the student makes adjustments based on the feedback they received.
6.     Encourage students to move beyond their current levels of understanding to the desired level of understanding.
Give students feedback on their work-in-progress that includes some action items. Consider a two-part assignment in which students submit a draft followed by a final product that incorporates feedback they received in class.
7.     Offer students the opportunity to give you feedback that can shape and enhance your own instructional practices.
Give students the opportunity to tell you which aspects of the assignment were the most difficult. You can gather student feedback anonymously, with a “minute paper” (Angelo and Cross, 1993) in class or with the survey tool on Blackboard.

  • Angelo, T. A. and Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers (Josse Bass Higher and Adult Education). Jossey-Bass, 2 edition.
  • Nicol, D. J. & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31 (2) pp. 199-218. Available through NYIT’s online databases at   
  • Walvoord, B. E. and Anderson, V. J. (2009). Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment in College. Jossey-Bass, 2 edition.

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.

David Sacks
Faculty/Instructional Consultant
Teaching and Academic Support Center
University of Kentucky

Author: francine_glazer

Mar 22, 2011

Successful Strategies for Teams: Team Member Handbook

by Frances A. Kennedy, Ph.D. with Linda B. Nilson, Ph.D

Teamwork is one of the skills most prized by prospective employers. It’s important to remember that our students don’t necessarily come into college knowing how to work effectively with others, and to construct team assignments in a way that helps them learn not only the content, but also the necessary interpersonal skills. This week’s teaching note showcases a set of resources that will help your students do exactly that.
Published in 2008 by the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation at Clemson University, Successful Strategies for Teams is an 88-page resource designed to guide students through the potentially treacherous waters of completing a major group project.  It will equip them with techniques and templates that corporate experience has proven highly effective in making teams more productive, efficient, and successful.  Specifically, these techniques help teams organize information, organize and run effective meetings, and generate useful member contributions.  
This handbook promises a wide range of learning outcomes for students: to recognize different team player styles and what each contributes to the team; to organize a new team with clear ground rules, roles, and responsibilities; to organize and run effective team meetings that stay on track; to practice sound project and time planning; to solve problems effectively by follow a series of steps; to apply qualitative and quantitative analysis techniques to solving problems; and to know when and know how to use the appropriate organizational, data collection, and analysis tools.
The various sections address why students should learn to excel at teamwork, the stages of team development, team player styles, mental models of teamwork, teamwork skills, ways to troubleshoot group problems, and tools for organizing, problem solving, and collecting and analyzing information.
The book is freely available 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.

Linda B. Nilson, Ph.D., Director
Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation
Clemson University

Author: francine_glazer

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Patty Wongpakdee Patty Wongpakdee
Associate Professor
Department: Fine Arts
Campus: Manhattan
Robert Koenig Robert Koenig, Ed.D.
Associate Dean
Department: Student Advancement Programs & Hospitality
Campus: Manhattan
Eugene Cunningham Eugene Cunningham
Adjunct Faculty
Department: Communication Arts
Campus: Old Westbury