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Collaborative and cooperative learning, often commonly known as “group work,” is growing in favor among professors as an effective active learning tool. Aside from the benefits of getting students involved in the education process, another reason for the expanded role for group work in the classroom is the demand from students (and their future employers) for opportunities to develop teamwork and interpersonal communication skills. Others have highlighted the ways in which group work promotes critical thinking and cross-cultural competencies. While most are also familiar with common complaints about group work, when done well, activities like the think-pair-share, in-class debates, or group projects can all help students understand the content and develop the skills they need to be successful.

For group work to be effective, however, it requires careful planning: choosing an assessment that matches your lesson plan and goals, assigning a task at the correct challenge level, and deciding how you will select groups for the activity. For many, it is the formation of groups that receives the least amount of attention. And though group work can be sufficient with many different group arrangements, a group that is strategically designed with learning in mind can elevate group work to the next level. Here are just a few options for forming student groups, along with some brief advantages and disadvantages to each:

  • Proximity-based. This is perhaps the most common way to form groups: get into a group with one or two students sitting near you and discuss the question on the board. It is the least time-consuming method, requires little movement around the classroom, and allows students to (hopefully) get right down to business. However, since students tend to sit in the same position, near people they know, it limits the number of students one partners with for group work.
  • Student-selected. If proximity-based selection models are the most common, student-selected groups are a close second. Forming groups is simple when we ask students to take charge. Furthermore, this method gives students freedom to take ownership over the activity and work with people they feel comfortable with. As above, however, this may limit discussion to those individuals who students are already communicating with. It may also mean that all of the “talkers” or “hard-workers” are in a single group, or that some students may be left out when forming groups.
  • Student-selected with limitations. To limit the problems associated with student-formed groups, you may consider placing certain requirements on who students work with in group activities. For example, ask students to find a person they have not worked with yet during the semester, that one student majoring in the subject work with a non-major, or that they work with someone sitting in a different section of the classroom. Though this may open up the discussion more, it also reduces student choice in the matter and will likely take more time.
  • Assigned roles. If your project includes multiple roles for students, such as note-takers, presenters, or multiple sections that can be completed by one or more students, another way to divide students up is to first assign (or let them select) these roles and then ask them to form complete groups based on division of labor. This allows students to work on a particular skill and potentially with a potentially different group than they otherwise would have. If you use this method, be sure to give students a chance to perform most (if not all) of the roles throughout the semester.
  • Randomly assigned. Want your students to hear different perspectives and work with new people? Random assignment of groups might be the way to go. There are many ways you can do this, from entering names into a random number generator, drawing names out of a hat, or having students line up in order of their birthday. (Hint: try to avoid forming groups based on physical characteristics, like what a student is wearing or how tall they are; this may draw uncomfortable attention to students’ appearances.) Though it may be more time consuming and cause more commotion in the classroom, it is a fair way to form groups, ensures everyone is included, and breaks students out of the habit of talking to the same people. Plus, it raises opportunities for the formation of community (learning birthdays or favorite books) and can be good to get students moving around the classroom.
  • Assigned groups. Sometimes the best way to generate groups is to do it yourself! In particular, if you want to balance student personalities, abilities, or the sociodemographic characteristics of the group, assigning groups can be an effective, if somewhat time-consuming, method. If you assign groups for graded work, consider reducing the point value of the assessment, otherwise you need to be confident that your assigned groups will work out.

In choosing which method to use to form groups, consider the limitations of your classroom space, time, and the goals of the activity. For a quick think-pair-share, perhaps proximity-based groups are the way to go. For in-class debates, you may want students to prepare both sides of an argument before randomly assigning them a team in class. For longer group projects, students may feel more comfortable choosing their own groups. Try to match your selection method with your goals for the activity. Throughout the semester, mix it up and try a couple of these group formation options! Being thoughtful about your preparations should put you on the path towards an effective assignment or class activity.

Additional Reading

In anticipation of the upcoming book talk being hosted by the Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning (James Lang, discussing his book Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, on April 7th, 2017), this spring break we challenge you to plan one “small teaching” activity for a course you are teaching or plan to teach in the future. Small teaching, which Lang describes as “small but powerful modifications to our course design and teaching practices” (2), are learning activities that take 5-10 minutes, one-time interventions in a course, or small changes to course design or communication with students. Here are a just a few suggested activities:

  • Opening Questions. As you begin class, consider asking students to recap the previous class, the main theories covered by the course to that point, or other relevant material from earlier in the semester, either orally or in writing. The more practice students have retrieving what they’ve learned from the course materials, the more likely they are to be able to do so successfully in the future. This also helps students contextualize new material, form connections with old material, and follow the logical flow of the course.
  • Minute Thesis. On the board, write the names of materials read in the course in one column and major themes from the course in a second column. Have a volunteer circle a theme and draw lines to the materials. Then, have students think of a thesis for how the materials connect to that major theme. Repeat as necessary to give students practice with developing a thesis and drawing out connections across the different units of the course.
  • Tell a Story. Human brains have a knack for understanding and remembering stories, and students often find them more interesting and motivating than regular lectures. Furthermore, stories bring student emotions into the classroom, allowing for a more holistic learning experience. If you want students to remember a major concept, try communicating it through story! For more on storytelling in the classroom, check out this previous blog post or review the materials from our workshop on storytelling.

An added benefit of small teaching activities: they are designed to be low-stakes exercises so you can try lots of them and determine what works best for you. There are plenty of other small teaching activities to experiment with; for more ideas, check out James Lang’s Small Teaching book, read his series of articles on the Chronicle of Higher Education, and attend the book talk in a few weeks. As always, the Kaneb Center is happy to help you with all of your teaching questions or concerns, big or small. Stop on by soon!

Have students reflect on the work they have done thus far in the semester 

You can solicit this information in a survey format at the end of class or allocate time to have a class discussion (or both!) This is an efficient way to gauge what students feel they have learned, what lessons or activities they felt worked best, and what gaps still exist in their knowledge. This information will help you structure or reframe the next half of the semester during the break. As always, make it clear to students that you are listening to their feedback and be transparent when you alter the class based upon their reflections.

Tip: if you feel crunched for time right before the break, you can always do this activity online either before or over the break.

Tip: Having students complete self-reflections multiple times during the course of the semester will help you better gauge student progress at more regular intervals.

Sample self-reflection questions:

  • What was the most important thing you have learned this semester? Explain your reasoning.
  • What do you expect to learn after the midterm break? Make sure to explain the reasoning that led you to this prediction.
  • What are one or two things that you wish could have been explained more clearly to you during the first half of the semester? Please be as specific as possible so that I can better address your concerns going forward.
  • Evaluate your work thus far in the semester. What specifically might you do to improve in the future?
  • What is an assumption you had before the course started that this class has helped you think more deeply and more nuanced about? Please full explain how your thought process has evolved.

Give students a meaningful assignment over spring break

Most of the time, the second half of the semester will be devoted to a larger project. Think about the specific learning goals of this project and ascertain what knowledge or skills students will need to begin and complete this project. You do not necessarily have to introduce the entire project to them before the break but should assign an exercise, reading, etc., that will prepare them for the challenges of the project once introduced. If you are in the middle of a big project, use student reflections to gauge what information they might need to continue the project and assign reading or assignments designed to clarify or extend their knowledge and skill sets so that you can build on them together after the break.

Further Reading

Ken Bain. What the Best College Teachers Do.

In our Faculty Feature series, the Kaneb Center interviews teachers around campus to learn about what motivates them, discuss techniques they use in their classrooms, and share bits of wisdom with others in the Notre Dame community and beyond! This edition, we feature Joyelle McSweeney from the English Department.


Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a poet who writes stories, plays, novels, and lyric essays in addition to poem-shaped poems. I think it’s all poetry! I also Direct the Creative Writing Program and teach creative writing at every level, from Introduction to Poetry Writing up to Graduate Poetry Workshop. With Johannes Göransson (also a poet in the English Department), I also co-run a translation press, Action Books, which publishes aesthetically engaged, politically urgent poetry from all over the world.

Why did you decide to become a teacher?

I love poetry and think it has a bad reputation in the U.S.; many Americans think of poetry as something archaic, locked away, ineffectual, or hard to get. But everybody loves something about language—loves humor, slang, song lyrics, sports lingo, prayer-like intensity, something. Starting from that passion and growing a joyous, rambunctious youthful poetry is something I try to model in the undergrad classroom. I’m a “hype man” for poetry.

In what ways do you find teaching rewarding or meaningful?

See above! I like undoing the notion that poetry is irrelevant or useless, that it’s boring or hard to get. Unlocking in both novice and experienced students that desire to play, show-off, go further or speak against the grain and to follow what’s idiosyncratic or unexpected (even to them) in their poetry makes teaching worthwhile.

Describe one teaching technique you like to use in your classes.

I always teach a translation unit in my undergrad classes. This can be daunting at first, as many of the students don’t know a second language. But that’s one subtext of the lesson—the common American habit of monolingualism is actually a disadvantage, in response to which we should work hard to generate solutions. So part of the assignment is about ‘solving’ the problem of monolingualism—admitting a deficiency, finding a partner, properly crediting collaborative work, etc.  The other part of the lesson is of course translation itself: what kinds of choices do literary translators make? What makes a translation ‘good’? How do issues of presentation (i.e. facing translations, footnotes, prefaces, etc.) change our sense of the translation? We read through and argue over enough examples for students to begin to develop their own sense of translation techniques and ethics which they then apply to their translation project. The final project requires three elements. Students must design a project which presents: 1) the original poem in its original language 2) their new translation, and 3) a third poem of their own, inspired by the translation process, growing from the translation ‘zone’.  This third element shows how translation is a transforming aesthetic experience for the translator, and how it generates art.

What advice would you give to a new teacher?

Teach from your passion, but don’t expect students to automatically share that passion! Reverse engineer that feeling of discovery you have when you encounter something new in your scholarship or creative activity. How can you get students to put aside their apprehension/inertia/self-consciousness and approach the subject matter with that sense of discovery which makes them want to go further? What’s really at stake?

In your opinion, what makes a great teacher?

Sharing passion, and giving the students the tool to keep pursuing their passions outside the framework of the course.

Thanks, Joyelle!



Beginning and sustaining an engaged class discussion is a notoriously difficult enterprise for new teachers and if you are teaching a contentious topic, passionate outbursts and heated debates can create even more challenges. Like many other aspects of teaching, preparation is critical for establishing a welcoming but ordered environment for students to participate in debate and deliberation.

Over time, experience will help you recognize the difference between a possibility for fruitful debate and a situation that should be defused quickly so you can guide the class back to the topic at hand. But as you begin your teaching career, here are some ideas to consider in order best to cultivate that much needed experience.

  • At the beginning of the semester, give your class guidelines for polite discussion, so they know what to expect. It can also be helpful for the students themselves to participate in constructing a list of rules for debate; this can help to underscore the importance of those rules and develop a sense of shared responsibility in the class.


  • As the instructor, you are the one who paces the discussion, including who has the floor at a given time and when to move from one topic to another. Students expect you to set boundaries and to enforce the rules, so have confidence in your position. Lead by example, listening to students’ contributions and affirming or qualifying them respectfully.


  • Cultivate friendship and camaraderie within the classroom through group activities that allow the students to get to know one another and better sympathize with each other’s assumptions and backgrounds. You can’t control what happens outside the classroom, but to some extent you can help relationships to develop during class time. This can be achieved through various paired or small group activities that fit your current materials.


  • You might plan your classes carefully, but be flexible with your time. If a particular topic is raising more discussion than you expected, consider accommodating the students’ interests instead of moving on to stay on schedule. If you feel unprepared to deal with a topic at the moment, make a note to come back to it at the next class period. Be transparent with your students; you can admit, “I’m not sure about this, let me do some research and we’ll return to it next time.”



  • If you are about to cover a contentious topic, give your students time to gather their thoughts with an in class writing assignment or short reflection before class. This individual approach will help the quiet students who are reluctant to speak up in tense situations to work through their opinions. Ask them to consider why this topic is so divisive or difficult to discuss. You might ask them to submit their responses to you anonymously or reassure them that their answers will stay with you and won’t be shared with the group. Making time for them to formulate their reactions and ideas will also give you a sense of the diversity of opinion present in your class.


  • Even when a debate isn’t particularly heated, you can help to reformulate unintentionally offensive comments both for the sake of the offended and the offender. Because it can be difficult to understand the repercussions of one’s own views if they have never been challenged before, some students will not understand why their comments come across as inflammatory to others. You can depersonalize such a comment by acknowledging that such a view is widely held but also quickly explain why others might disagree or respond differently.


  • Always connect student comments to course materials and goals for the class. You don’t just want to keep a heated exchange from spiraling out of control; you want these arguments to be an opportunity for the students to learn. Re-framing different assertions and responses within the context of the course helps to accomplish both those goals.

Surveys have shown that students benefit from the enthusiasm and expertise of faculty who bring their research into the classroom.  The incorporation of research into the classroom can also promote an inquisitive approach to learning and provide a model for critical thinking. But as we know, it can be difficult to bring research into the classroom in disciplines with hierarchical knowledge structures or when the curriculum is highly constrained.  The good news?  Even if you cannot incorporate the content of your research, the scholarship on teaching and learning suggests that introducing students to the process of research can effectively promote learning.   Here are some strategies for different ways of incorporating your research into the classroom:


Explain disciplinary standards or techniques

Students often wonder why we insist on details that seem nitpicky:  lab technique, following templates for written work, citing sources in a particular format, etc.  Choose an example from your own research (either a success or a mistake) that illustrates why following those standards are essential to your efficiency, accuracy, or teamwork.  Use photos, screenshots, or stories to show students what it really looks like to do fieldwork, archival research, or work in a research group.


Give students an opportunity to think like an anthropologist / biologist / theologian / ____

Choose a relevant and defined problem from your research for students to solve, being sure to balance a challenging question with the appropriate amount of background information.  You might ask students to suggest the possible explanations for a piece of evidence, find a problem in an experimental design, or decode the argument of a dense source. This sort of inquiry-based learning emulates the thinking of the research process.


Empower students to question or challenge published work in the discipline

Choose an image, quote, dataset, or graph you uncovered in your own research that seems to contradict a class reading. Ask students to analyze, compare, and draw a conclusion about which interpretation is more convincing. In my experience, students are keen to suggest possible syntheses or additional research questions. Such an activity introduces students to how knowledge is constructed and tested in your discipline.


For those of us early in our careers in the classroom, these strategies offer relevant ways to incorporate our work into the classroom, even if our research topics seem narrow or above our students’ levels.  By focusing on the methods of research in our disciplines, we can share our enthusiasm and expertise even when it is not suitable to give an extended lecture on our research content.


Further reading: 

Prince, Michael J., Richard M. Felder, and Rebecca Brent. “Does Faculty Research Improve Undergraduate Teaching? An Analysis of Existing and Potential Synergies.” Journal of Engineering Education 96, no. 4 (2007): 283–294.

Most people enter graduate school with very little (if any) teaching experience. One major component of learning to be an effective teacher is the chance to serve as a teaching assistant (TA). TAships are supposed to be an opportunity to observe a professional teacher in action and get hands-on experience with certain aspects of teaching without bearing responsibility for the whole course. This model assumes quality mentorship from the lead professor, which may be more or less the case in a given semester. Regardless of how proactive the instructor is in actually training the TA, here are just a few strategies TAs can use to make sure they are making the most of their TAship opportunity:

  • Take notes. Chances are, if you are TAing for a particular course, you may be asked to teach a similar course in the future (or at least incorporate those themes into other courses you teach). This is the perfect time to begin thinking about how those courses are structured and the content you will include when you are the lead professor. Try to attend every class, even if it is not required of you, and take notes during class. Although it may be review, write down notes on the content being presented for future reference. Additionally, try to take note of how the professor structures class time, interacts with students, and delivers the material. Then begin thinking about ways you might teach the course similarly or differently when you are in charge.
  • Offer to teach a class. Some professors are willing to allow a TA to take over preparations for at least one class period. This allows you to get involved in the behind-the-scenes work of preparing for class in a lower-stakes and (hopefully) supportive environment. Meet with the main instructor ahead of time to review your material, and maybe consider asking the professor to distribute informal student evaluations of your class. These can be used in a job market packet if you have few opportunities to obtain student evaluations; at the very least, the chance to see you in action gives the professor an insight into your teaching for letters of recommendation. If you are unable to lead a formal class, you could also practice preparing a future class session and see how it aligns with what the professor does.
  • Learn to grade efficiently and effectively. One of the primary duties of TAs is grading student work, sometimes including class participation. Those new to grading may see this as a daunting task. It is indeed and important one for both the students and for you: it is a chance to learn how to grade fairly without allowing it to take over your life. Talk to the course instructor and other TAs about strategies you might employ, read up on effective grading techniques, and consider attending a workshop through the Kaneb Center on effective grading.
  • Interact with students. Even if you are only grading for the course, seek out opportunities to practice interacting with students. Hold regular office hours and encourage students to attend. In consultation with the main instructor, put on an exam review. Chat with students before or after class to make yourself available as a resource to them. Even these casual interactions can be useful practice for running a full course.
  • Ask questions! While some professors will initiate conversations about teaching with their TAs, many times it is helpful if a TA comes up with questions to discuss with the professor. They can even be quick discussions after class: How did you plan for class today? What did you look for in the reading assignments? What do you do when students ask for a regrade on an assignment? While many of these conversations can start at the beginning of the semester, look for ways to learn from the experience of the primary instructor throughout the semester. The best way to do so: ask questions!

The experience of being a teaching assistant is often the first step towards teaching one’s own class, and it is an important part of graduate students’ professional development. However, it does not have to be the only preparation one makes. The Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning is a valuable resource on campus to assist TAs and instructors with all of their teaching needs. Attend one of our workshops, sign up for a confidential individual consultation, or check out our library with lots of great resources for teachers of all experience levels. We hope to see you soon!

For Further Reading

There are many studies, some linked at the end of this post, which argue for the benefits of eliminating (or at least limiting) laptop use in the classroom, advocate for old-fashioned hand-writing as a superior note taking practice to that of electronic transcription of lectures, and argue that college students are just too prone to distraction to be able to police themselves on technology use. There are also those such as Rebecca Schuman who argue that restricting laptop is infantilizing to students who should be learning not only the lecture material but also how to navigate real world situations in which they will not have someone to regulate their attention.

I personally allow my students to use their laptops in class because I believe that we all need to embrace the fact that technology is networked into our lives now and that learning how to integrate technology into our daily practices is a necessary tool. Instead of banning laptops, I suggest that we put more thought into how to better integrate them into our classes.


Most of the studies discrediting laptops as classroom tools focus on note taking in lecture classes. Consider the following quotation from the New Yorker: “The act of typing effectively turns the note-taker into a transcription zombie, while the imperfect recordings of the pencil-pusher reflect and excite a process of integration, creating more textured and effective modes of recall.” While that’s a fair point, it doesn’t address the fact that note-taking is just one part of learning.

Whether students are taking notes by hand or via laptop, it is important that time is spent in class for students to reflect on and respond to the lecture so that students may better understand and synthesize key points. In other words, the issue may not necessarily be with note-taking but with the lecture format itself. Long lectures without pauses for deliberate review or reflection can often lead to distraction. After all, isn’t doodling flowers on one’s notebook the old-fashioned equivalent to surfing Facebook during class? Distraction can happen with or without technology; minimizing distraction and increasing attention should be our priority.


There are many ways to harness possible distraction into an activity that uses technology effectively. Here are two options:

Google Docs

Have small groups of students use Google Docs to write a collaborative piece. This could be a class reflection, a clarification of a key point, or anything else that might benefit from collaboration. Students can then discuss what they wrote with the class.


Poll Everywhere is a website that allows students to electronically send in answers to questions that you create. You can create quizzes, reflection questions, etc. and view the answers anonymously or even in graph form.


If you are still afraid that students will be peaking at other websites when they should be working, make it a habit to move around the space in the classroom. Make them feel that you are very spatially aware and present and they will be less likely to surf the internet – both for fear of being caught and because they will feel more engaged and connected with you. This suggestion, incidentally, also reduces the amount of flower drawings that might pop up on traditional pen and pencil notes.


“The Case for Banning Laptops in the Classroom.”  http://The New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-case-for-banning-laptops-in-the-classroom

“The Laptop and the Lecture” Study at Cornell University http://www.ugr.es/~victorhs/recinfo/docs/

Studies on how Handwriting increases learning: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797614524581

“In Defense of Laptops in the Classroom” http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2014/06/in_defense_of_laptops_in_the_college_classroom.html

This post was written by Catherine Sims Kuiper, Graduate Associate of the Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning.


As new instructors it can be particularly difficult to establish appropriate boundaries in the help we give our students. This happens for a variety of reasons, but most often because graduate students who are new to teaching can feel a need to prove their worth to their students. It’s helpful to keep in mind that your students are already disposed to look up to you as an instructor and to assume that you are in a position to help them. The important choices you will need to make – in conversation with your professor and any other TA’s for your class – are in establishing how much and what kind of help you should make available. Note that some professors will have very clear expectations they expect you to follow, while others will leave you more flexibility to establish your own guidelines. Regardless of your situation, you should have a clear idea of how much help you are prepared to offer at the beginning of the semester and to lay this out for yourself and your students by clarifying what exactly your office hours are for. While there is of course much to be said about the ways in which you can best support your students, here we focus on managing expectations and workload as you aim to balance your TA work with other duties.

Here are some helpful guidelines for structuring office hours, focused on managing your own time while cultivating a good working and mentoring relationship with your students:

  • Clear Communication. Whatever specific rules you establish for your office hours, make sure that your students are aware of them. Decide on a time and location and on how flexible you can be with making additional appointments to fit your students’ schedules. You may wish to offer students the chance to vote or fill out a calendar poll, so that they have input into which of your available times become official office hours. Once you have come up with a plan that suits your needs as an instructor and a student yourself, communicate this to your students at the start of the semester.
  • Set Boundaries Out of the Office. You do not need to be available to your students 24/7, and in fact it’s better for them not to form a habit of depending on you to do this. Consider establishing certain hours for responding to student emails (and communicate these hours to students!); if you do receive a question late at night, wait until the following morning to respond.
  • Create Structure. It can help to have an agenda in mind for a meeting with a student so you can budget time accordingly. If you have a number of students who need to discuss an assignment with you, plan ahead to allot sufficient time for everyone while still keeping to your own schedule. Additionally, keeping to a pre-arranged schedule will help you know when you’ve fulfilled your obligation to your students.
  • Know Your Limits. You are here to teach a particular course, not to spend endless hours coaching your students on how to study or how to write. If giving input on writing or studying begins to occupy too much of your time, be aware of the different campus resources such as the Writing Center or Academic Services, which are available to help students cultivate the different skills they need to succeed. Even more importantly, don’t offer help you’re not qualified to give. The University Counseling Center (UCC) offers counseling services to students who are struggling with mental or emotional burdens that might come up in office hours. You are welcome to suggest that a student visit the UCC, or even offer to walk them to St. Liam’s Hall if you believe their situation is urgent.
  • Cultivate Good Habits. You need to follow your own rules as much as your students do! Make sure you are prepared ahead of time for contingencies that include referring students to other services, keeping to the time allotted for your office hours, and appropriately limiting your responsiveness to emails.

Maintaining these kinds of boundaries and structures around your office hours will help you find a balance that allows you to best complete your research, coursework, and other teaching duties, while still offering the individual support your students need.

Instructors commonly value deep learning, in which students are authentically engaged in the course material, have natural curiosity, and possess intrinsic motivation for the work.  Some of our students bring this intrinsic motivation and associated tendency toward deep learning with them to the classroom.  Other students find more motivation in external factors, such as grades or the approval of other people. As people passionate about our disciplines, we hope that all students—regardless of where they begin our class—will leave with a greater interest and enjoyment in the subject.  What can we do to promote and preserve the motivation of all students who enter our classrooms?

Here are several tips, targeted especially for the early weeks of the semester, to start off on the right foot:

Target the appropriate challenge level.  Students respond best to tasks slightly above their current skill level.

  • Assess students current knowledge during the first week (or two) of the semester to help you construct assignments at the appropriate level. You might survey students about their past experiences, reasons for taking the course, and concerns about the subject.  Another option is to give a diagnostic pre-test at the beginning of the semester to gauge students’ knowledge and abilities in course topics.
  • Be flexible during the course to respond to students’ growth as well as their challenges. Varied assignments help maintain interest and target different skills.

Be accessible and enthusiastic in your teaching style.

Begin the semester with low-stakes assignments.

  • Early, encouraging feedback supports students’ beliefs that they can do well and offers them opportunities for improvement.
  • Begin scaffolding larger assignments now to reduce anxiety and build new skills over the course of the semester.

Build in choice to increase intrinsic motivation.

  • Students who are allowed some degree of control in their learning tend to be more self-directed, take greater ownership of the work, and devote more effort to the learning.
  • Allowing students to exercise some personal choice in designing their assignments enables them to connect the course to their interests and concerns.
  • Smaller ways to incorporate choices into the classroom include: allowing students to select partners for labs or activities, soliciting student feedback on which topics or questions they want to focus on (especially in review, tutorial or discussion sections), and offering options between different assignments or exam questions.

Connect the course material to the real world.

  • It can be tempting to begin a course with a theoretical approach before moving to applications, but this approach can lose students’ interest and make it more difficult for them to understand the information.
  • Use real-world examples in your teaching to demonstrate the value of the knowledge and help make the information stick.

Provide support outside the classroom.

  • Offer recommendations and information about appropriate academic, professional, and wellness support services on campus.
  • If your class sizes allow, consider requiring all students to visit office hours early in the semester. You will get the opportunity to know your student and their motivators better, and the student will find it easier to seek your help or advice in the future.
  • Treat your students like individuals outside the classroom. Say hello when you see them around campus.  Encourage them to join a broader intellectual community by inviting them to relevant department lectures and events.


Additional reading and sources on motivation:

Bain, Ken. What the Best College Teachers Do. 1st edition. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2004.

Kirk, Karin. “Motivating Students.”   On the Cutting Edge: Strong Undergraduate Geoscience Teaching.  http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/affective/motivation.html

Kyndt, Eva et. al. “The Direct and Indirect Effect of Motivation for Learning on Students’ Approaches to Learning through the Perceptions of Workload and Task Complexity.” Higher Education Research & Development, 30, no. 2 (2011), 135-150.

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. “Motivating Students.” https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/motivating-students/.

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