Category Archives: Tuesday Teaching Tips

HUH? vs AHA!

Reflection is one of the most powerful tools we have as educators.  Through reflection, we can promote a sense ownership and allow students to feel empowered.  Students can be more aware and acknowledge their growth. 

Nonetheless, we tend to keep the process of reflection as an individual reflective moment that is seldom or randomly shared.  Oftentimes when a forum is open for sharing reflections, not all students will share. Furthermore, they may feel intimidated to reveal their questions or doubts in an open forum with their peers.

The following exercise could resolve some of these issues, offering an open space to share questions and gain feedback from your students. 

Reflection is approached from the HUH? vs AHA! statements.  On a white board the professor will write in big letters the word HUH? and AHA! separated by a line.  Students will have with post-it notes.  The students should write all the (HUH?) questions, inquiries, doubts, or concerns they may have.  Also, they will be asked to write all the (AHA!) revelations, engaging moments, or things that they found surprising from the class or a specific activity.   Students should write one idea per post-it note.  After the students write their post-its, the students will then place all the post-it notes in the spaces labeled accordingly.  The notes stay posted for everyone to see and may be used for discussion by the professor.

This activity serves for student reflection as well as for feedback to measure the temperature of the class, helping the professor identify what is working, and where you may find room for improvement.

Lucia De Paz is an Assistant Professor in the Business Administration Department at Principia College.  

Gentle Nudge

I don’t know how you feel, but I already feel as though I know my students really well and that they all know what to do at all times.  However, today’s class reminded me that they are still adjusting to the schedules of their classes, figuring out the timing of homework (as seen by the early morning notifications I got from Canvas), and learning each other’s names.  While I may feel like I know all of the students and that I have been clear on my directions, it’s possible that the students do not have everything figured out yet. So, this morning I realized that I should give a gentle, yet firm nudge of what to do.  This nudge allowed for clear and direct expectations, as well as empathy for the student who is still figuring it out, whatever “it” is.

Yeah, me either…

Have you ever gone to one of your classes and thought that the students would understand exactly what you were explaining and that you would be on the same page only to find that you were not on the same page?  Yeah, me either…

Yesterday was the first class of the semester, so I introduced some keys terms that we will explore throughout the semester.  I figured my students hadn’t heard the terms explicit and implicit before, but when I did ask them if they knew what “explicit” meant, several of them said the word means something inappropriate. And just like that I realized the importance of making sure that my students and I are understanding the terms, concepts, and ideas in a similar manner.

From their vantage point, “explicit” meant inappropriate because they had seen the phrase “contains explicit content,” and they are not wrong.  They had a definition, reason, and example of what the word “explicit” meant from their perspective. I appreciate how they reminded me that our language is multifaceted and layered AND how important it is for us all to be aware of the context that we use the language.  

Another example that comes to mind is the word “drive.”  When you see “drive,” what do you think? Are you picturing being behind the wheel of a vehicle or are you thinking about motivation?   Both definitions are accurate, but the way in which the word is used matters. Provide content to avoid the “me either” moments! 🙂

Happy (almost) week 1!

This week’s Faculty Focus reminds us of the importance of the first day of class.  This first day can set  the stage or tone for the entire semester, so how do we make the day engaging and inclusive while beginning cover the curriculum?  This is exactly what I’m thinking through right now as I map out my course.

For me the first day of the semester is a like a seesaw.  I find that I teeter between building classroom community and setting classroom expectations.  So how can we make sure to strike the balance between setting the stage for academic standards in our courses while engaging the students in their learning community?  Here are some ideas that you could try:

  • Name games
  • Ice breakers
  • Student inventory sheets (these can be homework)
  • Syllabus if-at quiz that encourages students to work individually and with a group (see the CTL for help with this activity)
  • Kahoot! about the syllabus

These are just a few ways to spruce up the first day of class, but feel free to add any suggestions.  Comment below if you have other tips and tricks to share!

First Day of Class Intentions

Welcome back from the summer, faculty!  While the students are not yet here and school doesn’t start for another few weeks, I thought this would be a great time to welcome you back and post this nifty idea from Faculty Focus.  I was reading a recent blog post that a professor wrote about his first day intentions, and I thought I would send the link along (click here).  I appreciated reading how this professor begins his first day of class by adding in his expectations in a way that I find students would value.  If you want to chat about this post or anything regarding how to set up your courses, then feel free to visit the CTL in SG 202.  See you around!


Note to self

While attending a Student Learning Community meeting on Monday night, my colleague, Cherie Hufford, encouraged the students and me to write a letter to ourselves thinking over the semester and our successes, tribulations, accomplishments, and moments of growth.  The letter could include any of the following:

  • Motivational quotes
  • Advice
  • Realizations
  • Goals
  • Support
  • Reminders
  • Achievements

I choose to write advice to my future self thinking about what I learned this semester and reminders of what truths I wanted had learned.  

To me, this “Note to Self” activity could be a great way for students to reflect on your class.  There are several ways to vary this activity:

  1. You could have the students complete this activity on the boards in your classroom as a sort of whole class sharing activity.  
  2. Another variation of this activity could be an email to self with a future date set so the email shows up next semester.  

No matter how you decide to do this activity, I think the “Note to Self” is a great reflective culmination to the semester.  So, what would you write in your “Note to Self” letter?


Sharpen your focus! Six strategies for success  

We have two weeks left of the semester, and papers, project, and assignments are piling up.  Many students claim they are struggling to focus, so here is a list of six focus strategies that can apply to students, athletes, faculty and staff.  After you read this, feel free to share your own strategies.

  1. One thing at a timePeople think they can multitask easily but true focus requires us to concentrate on one thing at a time. Finish that and go on to the next task.
  2. Give each task its own time – Although this seems similar to #1, it’s a bit different in that it addresses all the things we do but don’t give separate time for. We check our email, but it’s not on our to-do list. Yet, it can take up significant time. Choose specific times for email, homework, working out, etc. and then – BE PRESENT at each activity.
  3. Build up your focus muscles – It’s just the same as building muscles for any sport – practice keeping your thoughts from distraction. Have a reminder word or phrase when you notice yourself drift off such as “Concentrate” or “No distractions.”  Some people use an object, such as wearing a rubber band, so they remember what task they are working on and sticking to it.
  4. Be confident in your developing abilities – It’s all about your mindset. If you say you can or you can’t, you’re right! No one is in the same place they were a year ago, or even last semester.
  5. Take time to breathe – Taking time out for a walk or some other exercise can help your creative and thinking juices flow.
  6. Get more sleep – It seems counterintuitive, but since it’s hard to focus when sleepy, you are probably wasting more time trying to concentrate than you would if you spend time sleeping, you can then spend time focusing and accomplishing more.

Cherie Hufford, MSEd and MA, is a student support specialist, visiting faculty, and assessment assistant at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois. She recently completed a second master’s degree in teaching English as a second language. When Cherie isn’t teaching, she enjoys baking, rooting for the Packers, and caring for her micro “farm,” complete with a small flock of chickens, gardening boxes, and herbs in the window sill.

Critical thinking matters

A phrase that is often mentioned in higher education is “critical thinking;” something we all have heard at one point or another. As a student, I was a critical thinker, but to be honest, I was more distracted with completing an assignment, maintaining my GPA and achieving academic success than really wrestling with ideas.  It wasn’t until this semester, working as a Post Graduate Teaching Intern (PGTI) in the Global Studies department at Principia College, that I began to understand more deeply what critical thinking is and why it is important.

Funny enough, once I graduated in 2016 from Principia, I never anticipated to go back to the college to work. However, one step led to another and I returned. It has been a tremendously enriching, meaningful, educational and valuable experience for me. I have participated in the Cultural Competence Task Force, been a member of the Global Citizenship Advisory Board, planned for and sat in on three classes, and conducted two 75-minute lessons on intercultural communication. In the three short months since being here, I have seen tremendous personal growth – becoming a stronger communicator, a more effective co-worker and a more engaged citizen of the world. Above all, I have grown as a thinker and have been learning what it means to think critically.

Often I have felt that I am constantly inhaling, taking in new ideas, hearing people’s concerns, being exposed to various viewpoints, and engaging in intellectually demanding conversations. We can, however, only breathe in so much and then we must exhale. Being in an academic environment, we will always be engaging in and wrestling with ideas and concepts. Debates will ensue, difficult conversations will happen. That is at the very heart of education – grappling with problems in order to solve them, to emerge into the world as thinkers and contributors. At times, it can feel burdensome. I have sometimes felt overwhelmed by the amount of information I am receiving, as if my lungs are about to burst as I continue to inhale. At this point comes the critical thinking piece. I have been learning how to take everything I am learning, hearing, experiencing and engaging with and shape my own thoughts about it all. Where do I fit in this discussion? How do I think about this particular topic? I have sought to inquire into issues, to look at them from different perspectives, to question surrounding viewpoints.

I am finding that this process of reflection, questioning, inquiring, in essence, thinking critically, has given me the avenue to breath out…to exhale. I have come out from under the mental weight that I have sometimes felt piling on, and through this process of exhaling, have found that I am being strengthened as a thinker. I have taken the weight and used it constructively, used it to grow stronger.

Critical thinking is helping me discover my place in the world. I am finding where I stand amidst a sea of various thoughts, opinions, questions, etc. It is allowing me to both listen to others and then generate my own ideas to contribute. I have discovered that critical thinking grounds me; I am finding a more firm foundation on which to place my feet. As I continue on my journey in the world, discovering more fully what my place and purpose are, I am grateful for these lessons I am learning. I would encourage us all to continue to hone that skill to think critically. Our thought is, in fact, the most valuable thing we have and it is our task to cultivate it by formulating our own thoughts, ideas and questions. And remember that as your breathe in, you must also not forget to exhale.

Moriah Early-Manchester has a BA in Global Studies. She has spent a significant amount of time living, working and studying in Germany. Most recently during her time in Stuttgart, she volunteered as a German language instructor to refugees from Eritrea and Afghanistan, cementing her love for bridging differences. Moriah is also the Global Outreach and Communications Director for the Euphrates Institute, a nonprofit organization in the peace building field with the core message of turning “others” into brothers by informing people about global issues, inspiring them with models of progress and hope, and in the process, transforming ourselves, our communities and the world.

The Credibility Bank

As a professor there is nothing quite so difficult to handle as the question “Can I have an extension?” On its face, it seems like a simple request, but it introduces a lot of subjectivity into what we prefer to think of as an objective process. Absolute deadlines seem fair, since they apply to everyone equally. Extensions, however, seem haphazard and can lead students to question why one person is able to receive extra time while others don’t.

In an attempt to help clarify my policy and be transparent with my students, I devised a concept a few years ago that I like to refer to as “The Credibility Bank.” It’s a straightforward idea: every time a student comes to class or hands in an assignment on time, every time they make a great contribution in class, every assignment that they do exceptional work on, I treat those actions as a deposit into the Credibility Bank. Then, when the day comes where they need an extension, where they have a bad exam, or whatever the case may be, I mentally check their account balance. If they have enough to “cover” what they need, I am happy to be accommodating. If, however, they are consistently overdrawn at the Credibility Bank, well… we all know what happens when we try to withdraw more than is currently in our bank account.

Over the years I have found the Credibility Bank analogy to be useful in helping students to understand that all of their actions in a class are connected. Good work, in addition to being its own reward, provides you the credibility needed to overcome the occasional error. The Credibility Bank also makes the process less personal and arbitrary. Extensions, grace periods, etc. are no longer just something haphazardly granted to some students but not others, but rather are a direct result of past actions. It restores objectivity to the process by making the entire apparatus transparent, relatable, and impersonal.

So, next time you are fretting because a student needs a couple of extra days on a paper they really should have started work on weeks ago, just check their balance at the Credibility Bank. By doing so you can remove yourself from the equation and return responsibility to the student, which is where it belongs.

Peter van Lidth de Jeude is both a professor and lifelong student of history. In his spare time he enjoys reading, baseball, searching far and wide for the best baked goods, movies, absurdly long conversations, and trivia, although not always in that order. When not in his office engaging in marathon discussions with anyone brave enough to stop by, Peter tries to have as many adventures as possible, which he frequently accomplishes by treating adventure as a mindset rather than an activity.