CIPs Teaching Tips – Spring 2013 #10 “Medium”

One denotation of “medium” is a size that is smaller than large and larger than small. It can also mean an average amount as opposed to more than or less than usual. It can also have a connotation of being humdrum, boring, or even a compromise. Another definition of “medium” is someone who, or something which acts as a conduit or connection, creating a delivery system. What does “medium” have to do with teaching?

All of the above meanings of “medium” come into play when you end up with a class filled with a mix of students which includes a group whom are at a lower level of cognitive development than the rest of the class. This happens with the most frequency in first year classes. It might look something like this:

One group of students complains because you don’t give the “clear” directions. Another group in the same section complains you are too “picky” and “exact” about what you want them to do. You don’t seem to be able to win. Students say they want leeway but seem to stress when it is given to them, or students want clear guidelines but then complain when they are penalized for going outside of them. Why can’t they make up their minds? Meanwhile, there is another group of extremely bright and cognitively advanced students who get everything you say. What’s an instructor to do?

*You know you don’t want to teach in a wishy-washy, middle of the road (medium) style that doesn’t really work well for anyone.

*You are also certain that teaching only to those who get confused is unfair and provides nothing for your really bright students.

*You might feel as if you should teach only to the brightest and let the others “fall” where they may, but you are dedicated to creating an effective learning environment for any students willing to engage and apply themselves.

The solution to this situation involves the final definition of “medium” given above: creating learning opportunities which enable students to “connect” what they are learning to why they are learning it and how what they are learning will be useful in their lives and careers.

But there is a secret to making this work. In order to be successful you must design the learning in your classroom based on the following:

  • It is not enough to simply connect learning to lives and careers; students must SEE the connections.
  • They will not perceive these connections unless they are pointed out to them.
  • They will not understand these connections unless they are explained to them in an obvious and accessible manner.
  • They will most likely not remember these connections unless they are pointed out to them multiple times.

How does this help your bright students? Won’t they get bored while all this is going on around them? Not, if you use their comments and questions to elevate the discussion generated by helping students through the four steps above. Not if they are invited to help uncover the connections in the first place or encouraged to restate them in accessible ways (for their classmates).

Show your students the learning process; show them why what they are learning matters and how it fits into the design of their lives and careers. If they can see these connections, they will better grasp the new concepts and information they are learning. Better yet, they will carry them out the door of your classroom and use them in their lives and careers.


Students need to learn that good communication is extremely important in creative fields. If a client, director, producer, or manager gives specifications or instructions about a deliverable to a creative professional, that individual needs to be able to listen well, discern what s/he knows or doesn’t know, and ask questions to clarify what needs to be done. S/he further needs to understand that the client, director, producer, or manager might not be clear about what s/he wants in the first place OR might not be good at communicating this OR both. Students are encouraged to treat assignments in a creative course as similar to the specifications or instructions they would receive in their careers. If the student complains about the instructions and blames the instructor for making them unclear, but does not ask for clarification, the student will receive a lower grade. The instructor will explain that this reflects what will happen in their career if they do the same there. If they are paid by the project (flat fee) they will have to put in many more hours of work redoing the project to get it up to spec. This results in time and therefor money lost. If they are paid by the hour, they will indeed get paid for all of their hours spent working; however, it is unlikely they will be rehired since they took so long to do the project!

*This method of making obvious connections can work in all areas of learning – science, math, the humanities, technology, or whatever.

Here’s to the wonderful mediums and methods available for showing connections to students and to a learning experience that’s far beyond “medium” in its worth and effectiveness,


P.S. If you’d like help designing specific learning activities to uncover the connections in your course, make an appointment for a one-on-one at the CIP.

CIP, Center for Instructional Practice

Resources and support for every cycle of teaching…

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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