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Classroom Climate

How to Respond to Hostile, Inappropriate Comments in Class

When hot moments ignite in the classroom, it is important to engage thoughtfully and purposively in strategies that maintain a supportive communication climate. Managing hot moments is a complex endeavor, and it is our responsibility to maintain a climate that is conducive to learning by not adding fuel to the fire.

How to intervene when someone makes a blatantly inappropriate remark (Adapted from Obear, 2010):

Ask clarifying questions to help you understand intentions.

  • “I want to make sure I heard you correctly.  Did you say…”
  • If they disagree with your paraphrase, you could end the conversation. If you suspect they are trying to “cover their tracks,” you may consider making a statement about the initial comment.
  • “I’m glad to hear I misunderstood you, because, as you know, such comments can be…”

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Classroom Climate

Participation Policy Examples

Here’s a collection of five different participation policies. I encourage you to use them to stimulate thinking and conversations about how a participation policy's content and tone can influence learning and classroom climate. Which policies work best—given the course, its content, the instructor, and the students? The objective is to use these examples to stimulate reflection on participation policies, in general, and on your policies, specifically.

At the end of the article is a set of questions to encourage reflection, discussion, and analysis. For example:

  • Which policy aligns most closely with your thinking about participation?
  • Which policy would you not use? Why?
  • Do these policies reveal something about the teacher? If so, what?

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Online Learning

Five Classroom Assessment Techniques for the Online Classroom

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) are valuable tools for helping faculty find out what students are learning and how well they’re learning it. Since the 1988 release of Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers by Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross, college teachers have been using CATs to gauge student learning and reflect on their teaching. As teachers learn what challenges students are encountering, they can address those deficits and design learning activities to better support student learning before students are confronted with an exam or other high-stakes activities.

But can well-known CATs like the muddiest point and minute papers be used in the online classroom? Yes, with a few modifications, you can use your favorite CATs with online students. Stephanie Delaney, PhD, dean for extended learning at Seattle Central Community College, offers guidance on moving five popular CATs online.

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Worksheets and Checklists

Creating a Climate for Learning: A Survey for Students and Teachers

How well a class functions is the result of both what the teacher does and what the students do. The way we solicit course evaluation feedback reinforces students’ tendency to see the teacher as the one who’s responsible for whether it was a good class. Teachers do play a significant role, but they don’t make or break a class without a lot of student input. We need to be using evaluation activities that make clear that what happens in class is a shared responsibility.

Here’s a feedback activity that highlights the roles played by teachers and students. It can be configured in a variety of different ways—three options are recommended here.

  • Students can provide input on the conditions for learning created by the instructor.
  • The instructor can provide input on how well students are functioning as a community of learners.
  • The students can evaluate the course in terms of how it functions as a learning community.

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Assignments and Activities

A Study-for-an-Exam Assignment

To remediate the exam preparation study skills that beginning (and other) students are missing, most of us respond by telling students about those skills that make for good exam performance. “Come to class.” “Take notes.” “Keep up with reading.” “See me during office hours if you need help.” And most of us have discovered that this approach isn’t particularly effective. It doesn’t always work well for two reasons. First, students tend not to listen all that closely to advice on how to study when it’s offered by people who sound and often look like their parents, and second, it’s not enough to know what they should be doing. Students need to work to develop and refine those skills.

Consider an approach that might succeed where how-to-study admonitions fail. It starts with a first-year seminar program. A first-year seminar provides a perfect structure for this assignment, but it could be used in a variety of courses. In this first-year seminar course students get the usual instruction on learning strategies, but more importantly they complete an assignment in the seminar called a Strategy Project Assignment. It’s a “multistep project requiring students to plan, monitor, and evaluate their newly learned strategies as they prepare for a test in a course in which they are currently enrolled.” (pp. 272-3)

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Reflections

Immediacy Questionnaire

Building rapport with students can go a long way in increasing motivation and preventing incivility in the classroom. Below is a list of 20 verbal and nonverbal communications that can affect the classroom climate. Use the questionnaire to rate yourself on these observable behaviors. If you're feeling daring, hand it out to your students and ask them to rate you.

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Discussion Techniques

Five Types of Student Questions and Sample Responses

Students ask all different kinds of questions. Some are on the money—good, honest queries about content that they don’t understand or want to know more about. Other student questions are more difficult to handle. It’s good to have some strategies lined up for when these sorts of questions are raised.

Questions you can’t understand – Sometimes when the understanding is muddled, so is the question. It doesn’t make sense, even though what’s in the midst of the muddle may be a legitimate question.

  • Apologize: “I’m not sure I’m understanding the question. Please ask again. Maybe you can rephrase the question or talk to me a bit about what’s behind the question.” When the student tries again, listen intently.
  • Take a stab: “Let me see if I’ve got the question. Here’s what I think you’re asking.”
  • Enlist help: “I need help. Would someone else take a crack at asking the question?”

Questions that are irrelevant – These aren’t bad questions, they’re just not appropriate given the content under consideration or at this time in the course.

  • Recognize the question’s value but decline to answer it for now: “That’s a good question, but I’m not going to answer it now because the answer will make more sense when we’re talking about. . . .”
  • Say when you’ll answer it: “We’ll be taking about that [in a couple of sessions, later this on today, etc.] and I’d like to ask you to repeat the question then.”
  • Don’t forget: If you said you’d answer the question later, be sure to do it.
  • Say where the answer can be found: “Answering that question is going to take us away from what we’re discussing. If you’re interested in the answer, here’s where you can find it.”
  • Answer briefly, as in very briefly, and explain why. “That’s a good question. It’s not really relevant to what we’re discussing now. However, I’ll give you a one sentence answer.”

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Teaching Strategies and Techniques

A Handout for Students on Note-taking

When it comes to class notes, we all know that students would much rather get the teacher’s notes or PowerPoints than write their own for lots of reasons. They’re getting the content straight from the expert. It makes note-taking less work, and they don’t have to decide what to write down. Further, lots of students don’t like to take notes, and many don’t take very good ones. Having the teacher’s notes keeps students covered if they don’t feel like taking notes or attending class, but the research on note-taking is clear: students need to take notes for themselves.

I wrote this article to help you explain to your students not only why they need to take notes but how to take good notes—the kind of notes that become valuable resources when studying for an exam.

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Worksheets and Checklists

A Checklist for Better PowerPoint Presentations

We've all sat through some pretty horrific PowerPoint presentations. Too much text. Tiny font. Confusing graphs. Dizzying slide transitions and effects. Cheesy clip art. Poor color combinations. The list goes on and on.

But don’t blame PowerPoint just because some slide shows are bad. Blame the presenter. When used appropriately, PowerPoint is an effective tool for increasing student attention and participation.

Here are a few basic guidelines for creating more effective presentation slides:

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Tools and Technology

Creating Accessible Video for the Online Classroom

Videos are being integrated more and more into the online classroom. However, they can create barriers for learners with hearing problems. If a student asks for an ADA accommodation for a video, you will be scrambling at the last minute to create a text supplement. That’s why it’s good practice to create a text supplement at the same time that you create a video.

Many faculty use separate transcripts to add text for hearing-impaired students. But this makes it challenging for a deaf or hard-of-hearing student to absorb the visual and auditory information simultaneously, as they need to shift back and forth between the images and text. The better way to create accessible video is with captions that appear within the video itself, allowing learners to read the text with the images. While captioning takes time, the steps are not difficult to master, and there are a variety of options for adding captions to online videos.

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