student studying late at night November 9, 2016

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

By:

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, 2016

Humor in the Classroom

By:

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, 2016

Finding Signs of Progress When Learning is Slow

By:

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, 2016

Getting More out of Exam Debriefs

By:

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, 2016

Why We Teach

By:

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, 2016

What Happens When Students Study Together?

By:

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.


Students get tests back. September 14, 2016

A Dose of Reality for First-Year Students and How We Can Help

By:

By the third or fourth week of most courses, students have had a reality check. They have taken the first exam, received feedback on their first paper, or otherwise discovered that the course isn’t quite what they had expected or hoped it would be. Here are a few reminders as to what many beginning students and some others might be thinking at this point in the semester.