Pensive college student using laptop November 30

What Are We Communicating to Students When We Write?

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Do we communicate more with students in writing than we used to? I think so. In addition to the course syllabus, the usual handouts, and written feedback on papers, projects, and performances, we now share all kinds of electronic messages with students. We exchange emails, post announcements on course management systems, and participate in online discussions. Those who use PowerPoint tend to make rather text-heavy slides. And if you happen to teach online, then virtually all your communication with students occurs via some written format.



student studying late at night November 9

Courses That Are Hard, but Not Too Hard: Finding the Sweet Spot

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I have been doing some reading and thinking about hard courses. Courses need to be challenging, but when they become too hard, students stop trying and little learning results. So how do we find that sweet spot between hard and not too hard? More importantly, how do we create that sweet spot in our own courses through the decisions we make about content, assignments, and exams?


Professor smiling, students hands raised November 2

Humor in the Classroom

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Humor is one of my favorite teaching tools. I rely on it—when the room feels tense, when I sense learner drift, if I aspire to make a point more memorable. Humor doesn’t cause learning, but it does help create conditions conducive to it. It doesn’t make hard content easy, but it can make learning it feel easier.


Professor helping student in lecture hall October 26

Finding Signs of Progress When Learning is Slow

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Slow learning—not to be confused with slow learners—is learning that happens gradually, where understanding deepens slowly and skills advance but without immediate noticeable change. Some learning occurs all at once; suddenly, there’s a performance breakthrough. Typically, fast learning feels easy, even if it was proceeded by a frustrating period of confusion. What is finally understood is so clear, so obvious—what is finally mastered no longer seems hard.


Professor in front of class. October 19

Getting More out of Exam Debriefs

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Brief—that pretty much describes exam debriefs in many courses. The teacher goes over the most commonly missed questions, and the students can ask about answers but generally don’t. These kinds of debriefs don’t take up a lot of class time, but that’s about all that can be said for them. For some time now, I’ve been suggesting that students, not the teacher, should be correcting the wrong answers. The students are the ones who missed the questions.



Professor with students October 5

Why We Teach

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We’re at that time of the academic year when the daily details begin to pile up. Teach a class, grade assignments, schedule advisees, and prep for tomorrow. It may not feel like a grind just yet, but it does require lots of focused energy, which makes this a perfect time for a quick reflection on why we teach. For some, teaching is just a job; it’s a paycheck necessity. But for readers of a blog on teaching and learning, I’m pretty sure we’re in it for something more than the bucks, which tend to be pretty modest anyway.



study group September 21

What Happens When Students Study Together?

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I’m a strong believer in the benefits of students studying together, even though students don’t always understand or even experience the benefits. Oftentimes the potential gains of group study sessions are compromised by student behaviors. Students will saunter into study sessions, mostly not on time, sit around, check their phones, and socialize. When they finally start reviewing their notes, the text, or the homework problems, it’s all pretty superficial. There are very few questions, explanations, or confessions of confusion. The most intense conversation takes place over what they’ve heard from others about the exam and their hopes that it will be easy.