CIPs Teaching Tips – Spring 2013 #6 “Is it Wednesday yet?

We’re almost to the Wednesday of the semester; in other words, it’s almost mid-semester. (We all know how fast the semester will zoom to the end once we hit midterms.) It’s a great time to review and reset or adjust back toward your semester goals. Here are a few suggestions for doing just that:

Reset the classroom climate… Checked-out Students (eye-rollers and other negative vibe distributing souls): Revisit with the class what a “conducive to learning” atmosphere looks like in the classroom. Re-identify behaviors that support actual knowledge and concept learning but also discuss those behaviors that make it easier or more difficult to pay attention and feel safe AND engaged. Explore instructor and student behaviors. Guide your students to bring up “attitude” based behaviors and their impact. Then remind your students that their participation grades are affected by these disruptive or non-helpful actions AND by those that help create an engaged respectful climate in the classroom.  If after all this there are still some misbehavers, talk to the class first and let them know that you’ve noticed some of the negative behaviors in class that they identified as undesirable. Remind them that it’s their choice to be in class but that if they choose to be there in body, they shouldn’t do it in a way that lessens the experience for others. Tell them that you want them to stay and engage in class, at best and to stay and do no harm, at least.

Structure learning… Difficult Students (those who want to “take over” and classes that are bifurcated with those who are and are not as cognitively advanced): Chunk out your class time so that students have very specific activities in which to engage. Be specific about both the process to be used and the outcome to be achieved. An example of using this method in a communications class would be:

Before showing a short video scene, ask students to watch and note down (individually) any uncomfortable/undesirable/unexpected (whatever word works for the lesson) interactions they observe. When they are done ask students to share – write the responses (simply stated) on the board. Ask how many chose each one. Pick the top 2 or 3 or the ones that get the greatest reaction from the class. Organize groups to discuss each one (– two groups for each occurrence or one group for each depending on whether you want comparison or not). Give very specific instructions to the group as well – ask each person to write a list of what they think might have contributed to the negative interaction they are considering. They should label the contributions they list as “observations” and “implications” – what they actually “saw” or “heard” and what they are inferring from these. Tell them when all group members have finished their listed, they should each share what them with the group. The group should then form a combined list to hand in at the end of the exercise. A note taker should volunteer/be appointed to compile the list of these recommendations. Remind them to label contributions listed as “observations” or “implications.”

Finally, tell them to have a discussion where each person suggests one change that could be made to improve the interaction. A note taker compiles a list of these recommendations. Two speakers are chosen – one to share the first list and one to share the second.

Using this heavily scripted procedure and product to be delivered is one way to make sure that someone doesn’t take over completely because everyone has a role. It also requires students that wouldn’t usually choose to participate to do so in a safe manner. It ALSO provides the brighter students with some real substance to get into – the discussion at the end of the group work in which they create suggestions for behavior modifications. This could be any higher order thinking type of discussion in any course. Students simply need to be asked to analyze what they’ve discovered and then analyze it in such a way as to create a response or solution.

Here’s another method to use in these same situations… Disassociation with a Side of Freedom & Participation: This method involves students presenting what other students have contributed. For example, in the example above, students would be asked the same question but then write a response on a notecard. Notecards would be drawn and read by students who did not write them. As above, the ideas would be put on the board or on large poster sheets if there isn’t a lot of white board space in the room. Then students would be asked to go to at least two stations and write something they felt contributed to the outcome. They can also check (put a tick mark by) anything listed they agree with, in addition to what they write themselves. You would facilitate making sure all stations receive comments. Then as a class, review and discuss what is written at three or four of the stations and ask students to divide into groups based on those stations. Each person in the group is asked to come up with on suggestion for a change that could be made to improve the interaction. Each person is responsible for reporting out someone else’s suggestion to show that they all understand each other’s. They plan who will be responsible for each suggestion.

Finally, it’s review time in many courses whether there is a midterm exam or project. Regardless, here are a few things to remember to stress at midterm:

How what they’ve learned:

  • advances their understanding and mastery of the overall purpose of the course
  • prepares them for the next phase of their learning (after midterm)
  • is important in a particular career, discipline, or habit of mind
  • is important in the way our current globally focused world functions

And finally, thanks to Cindy Hill for this link to a helpful site for those who want to make review sessions fun:

Here’s to the second half of the semester being even better than the first,


CIP, Center for Instructional Practice

Contact Director Cinse Bonino for a one-on-one CIP instructional design session:

Email: or Phone: 802 651 5965 Skype: cinse.cip


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