Course planning4


*Gathering feedback from your students using an online, free and customizable survey tool

We know that it is a best practice in higher education to gather feedback from students about their insights into their learning during the semester. The standard course evaluation form does not do this because it comes too late and assesses other things. I recommend registering and using the Student Assessment of their Learning Goals, a free, online survey tool. The site has a standard survey that asks about knowledge, understanding, integration, skills and personal data and a list of many other surveys used by other instructors to give you some ideas. You can also customize the standard survey or create new ones. The results are collated for you and then store the data and your history of use. The url is Using this tool should jump start everyone finding ways to improve their teaching and gathering evidence about how effective they are.


*Summarizing and using feedback on your courses

As the semester winds to an end and you hand in your grades, take time to reflect on how the course went. Read over the feedback you get from the student courses evaluation forms, and comments students, peers, your chairs, etc. made to you during the semester. Think about ways you can improve your course. Not all feedback makes sense and some you cannot act upon.

You might make a 1 page summary of the feedback and your analysis for each course by constructing a table with 4 columns at the top of the page and leaving some room at the bottom of the page. The first column might have different headings such as topic covered, activities and assessments, or what ever you want to comment on. The final part of the sheet should summarize your action plan. Then place this summary on the top of your file or save it along with your ANGEL materials for each course.

Summary of Feedback of Course _________ Semester ______ Year ____

topic Number of students who felt positive about this topic Number of students who felt negative about this topic Comments for improvement

Action plan: How I will improve the course the next time I teach it.

*Get more meaningful feedback from student course evaluations

Nationally faculty are reporting that online course evaluation forms results in fewer students completing the forms. The up side to the online course evaluations forms is that sometimes students write more or better quality comments online than on paper.

If you want to get more students to complete the form for your class and if you want comments, you might send the students a message or tell them in person how important the course evaluation forms are for you. You can appeal to them on the basis of needing complete information to improve the course. If you are especially interested in feedback on one aspect of the course you could communicate this to the students. While we use a standard course evaluation form, you certainly can develop your own brief form and ask students to complete it online.

*Organizers to help students learn the material and see the big picture

Novices think, read and study differently than experts in your field. Our job as teachers is to help students acquire the thought processes to help them become more like experts in the discipline. There are lots of ways of doing this. One effective technique involves the use of organizing schemes. All disciplines have schemes or major themes that integrate most of the content in the discipline. Teachers need to make these organizing schemes explicit to the students on our syllabi, through assignments and learning activities. When you give out the syllabus, begin the discussion of this your course around organizing schemes. Point out how the activities and assignments or assessment relate to the organizing schemes. You can do the same with the textbook or required readings. You can ask the students to show in a diagram or concept map how the materials relates to the organizing schemes.

*Getting some feedback on how well the course is going

About the half-way point in the semester it is a good idea to gather some feedback on how well the course is going. The cardinal rule about getting feedback include: be judicious in what you ask (keep it simple and easy to complete), do not ask for information you cannot change (such as departmental policy that you are enforcing), and ask students to comment on specific aspects of the course so that you can make some mid-course corrections.

If some continuing aspect of the course is not going as well as you like, such as class participation, you might want to get the students’ ideas on how you can change the course so that the students will contribute more to class discussions. You could ask them if giving them a study guide or questions in advance would help, or if they pair and share and then report would get them to engage more with the questions in advance would help, or if they pair and share and then report would get them to engage more with the questions. Do they want to be called on randomly, such as giving each students a playing card and then pulling cards from the deck, let students call on other students or asking the dominating ones to say less? In addition to specific ideas, please ask the students for their ideas in an open-ended question as they will come up with ideas you never thought of.

Once you get this feedback, either discuss how you will use it or make obvious changes and tell the students that you changed as a result of their feedback. This completes the loop.

*Getting feedback from your students using an online, free and customizable survey tool

We know that it is a best practice in higher education to gather feedback from students about their insights into their learning during the semester. The standard course evaluation form does not do this because it comes too late and assesses other things. I recommend registering and using the Student Assessment of their Learning Goals, a free online survey tool. The site has a standard survey that asks about knowledge, understanding, integration, skills and personal data and a list of many other surveys used by other instructors to give you some ideas. You can also customize the standard survey or create new ones. The results are collated for you and they store the data and your history of use. The url is Using this tool should jump start everyone finding ways to improve their teaching and gathering evidence about how effective they are.

*Making sure your students understand what is expected of them in your course

About the second or third week of the semester, find out if your students have any questions about your course. You could also ask the students to re-read the syllabus and other handouts such as descriptions of assignments and projects before you ask students to respond to you.

You might create a discussion board on Angel and let the students ask questions about the course, and let them answer each others’ questions. You might respond if they have the wrong idea or if only you would know the answer to the questions.

You could also ask students to email you such questions or spend the last few minutes of the next class asking students to write their questions. Then either go over the questions in class or develop a comprehensive answer sheet.

Doing this activity is especially important if students came into your class and after the first day or if you are doing non-traditional activities or assessments in the course.

*Doing teaching completely and fully

Lee Shulman, the recently retired president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and someone who has greatly shaped my thinking says that the full act of teaching includes vision, design, enactment, outcomes and analysis.

It is important that we focus on all of these aspects throughout our teaching. It is easy to forget one or more aspects and concentrate on just the enactment while we are engaged in day to day aspects of teaching. Teaching lacks a purpose of focus without a vision. Design requires that we look at how well the pieces fit together so that the entire course is integrated. Enactment is the actual interaction with students, or implementing the plans. Outcomes relate to student learning, change in attitude or values or perceptions. Teaching remains incomplete without analysis. It is only with analysis of what we have done that we can see if we achieved our vision, if the design was appropriate, if we need to change how we teach and if the students reached the outcomes we wanted them to reach.

*Allowing students to have one mishap per course and be forgiven

At the beginning of the semester hand each student a small colored card with the words printed on it, “Stuff Happens”) a line to fill in the date, assignment/activity and student name. Each students can use it only once for whatever fairly minor bad stuff that happens such as missing a required class, asking for a short extension on an assignment, coming without the necessary equipment, etc. Students do not get a second one and cannot give them away. If no bad stuff happens, then they can trade in their card for a small bonus, such as a few points on the final exam.

*Helping students do well in courses that require judgment

I read an interesting article published in AMSTAT news from September 2008 that called, “Match is Music, Statistics is Literature” given to me by the statistics folks here. It pointed out why students have difficulty learning and doing well in statistics. I started thinking what many other faculty on other disciplines can learn from how to teach statistics. Many of our students have trouble with courses that require more than just memorizing or plugging in formulas. If we want our students to employ good judgment, we must help them to know how to challenge the creditability of data and they must be encouraged to look for bias in information or reading. We need to give students a model or models of how to do the above things and we especially need to give them practice actually doing them prior to testing them on their mastery of these skills.

*Helping students overcome misconceptions that interfere with accurate understanding

Students, and people in general, have misconceptions about the disciplines we expect them to learn. These misconceptions must be overcome for students to achieve true understanding of the discipline. These misconceptions must be overcome for students to achieve true understanding of the discipline. Just talking about misconceptions or even providing correct information will not be enough to overcome firmly held misconceptions. To help students overcome their misconceptions or even providing correct information will not be enough to overcome firmly held misconceptions. To help students overcome their misconceptions, student need to confront their misconceptions, and compare them to the correct information. They need to think about the content in a different way. Students need to see why the correction information is more plausible. Annette Kujawski Taylor of the University of San Diego proposes that we develop or find refutational texts that the students should read and discuss. Standard textbooks are not refutational. Refutational texts directly address misconceptions by comparing it with correct information and most important its supporting evidence. If you would like examples of refutational texts and of common misconceptions I can send you a copy of the presentation, complete with many references, from her Lilly-East presentation in June 2010 in College Park.

*Making your syllabi more encouraging and inviting for students

As you may know, I did a student our syllabi. As a rule, they appear very negative and punitive. There are often lists of requirements that talk about consequences for not meeting them, many negative statements and a rather harsh tone. This may give the impression that we do not want our students to succeed, that we do not care, or that we control everything. The consequences is that students do not think they have control over their education. This also leads to the students becoming strategic learners (doing what is necessary to pass the course or get a good grade, without caring about learning). Instead we should strive for deep learning or learning with meaning and full engagement of the students. As you construct your syllabi, try to be as positive as possible. Instead of demands, you might invite students to participate in a most worthwhile educational journey with significant learning opportunities along the way. Describe the content and what they will be doing with enthusiasm. Allow the students t make some decisions over how the course will be run (such as when a paper is due, either at the beginning or end of a week). Describe the advantages of coming to class having already read the material.

The gist of these ideas come from Ken Bain’s 2004 book, What the Best College Teachers Do.

*Helping students use textbooks more effectively

Students and faculty tend to view textbooks differently. Students see textbooks as the ultimate truth and the compendium of all knowledge. They do not realize that textbooks can be outdated with new information, and they can have a bias. As a faculty member you may not agree with how material is discussed. It is your role to help students to see textbooks as reference material and just one of many sources of information. You need to point out where the textbook is not accurate or where there are controversial material.

Of course all of this applies in an even bigger way to what they find on the web. The beginning of a semester is a good time to discuss how to read and view the textbook.

*Connecting with your students 1:1 as human beings

Research has shown that students do better in higher education when they personally connect with others, especially their faculty. In addition, in civility markedly decreases when students know their faculty more as human beings.

Here are a few approaches to help you and your students connect.

  1. Post on your Angel website or describe on the first day of class some personal things about yourself that you might be willing to share. This could include your hobbies, an interesting vacation you took, your roles within the university outside of this class, etc.
  2. Regardless of the size of your class, ask your students to develop a personal ad about them and submit it to you alone. This ad should include personal likes, dislikes, interesting things about themselves, hobbies, goals for the class, strengths and weaknesses as a student and learner. You could also include more specific questions that you want them to answer.
  3. If your class is small ask each student to schedule an 8 minute appointment with you during the first few weeks of the semester (and strictly enforce the schedule ) by handing out an appointment sheet that has 10 minute intervals. Send the appointment sheet out several times so students can confirm or change their appointments.
  4. If your class is larger and will be working in groups, try to set up group appointments in the same way. You might need slightly more time for group appointments.
  5. During these appointments, provide a relaxed atmosphere and tell the students this is an opportunity to get to know each other as human beings and to help students to feel comfortable talking to you. Review the personal ads and share common interests. Concentrate on learning the students names in these appointments. Ask the students if they have any questions about the course.
  6. If this is an online class, you can meet with each student virtually.

I was reminded of these ideas by Christy Hawkins at Thomas Nelson Community College.

Best wishes with the beginning of the semester. Setting the right tone early pays dividends throughout the semester.

Course planning3

*Planning your course to help students acquire the thinking skills of the discipline

The nature of the discipline, the process of critical thinking in a discipline is just as important as the material and concepts in your discipline. However, we often tend to give these skills and processes less emphasis in our day to day teaching. So now that you are planning or revising your courses, plan time within the schedule to go over how you think in this discipline. Role model what you do by thinking out loud as you solve problems. Students don’t get the thinking process naturally if they just hear about the content or see experts solving problems easily; however, once they understand the thinking process within the discipline, the content will come much easier to them. This emphasis on role modeling critical thinking skills applies at all levels of courses as the critical thinking skills required varies with the complexity of the material.

*Alignment of Skill Requirement.ppt

Best educational practice models say that students learn more when a course is aligned. Alignment means that the objectives, teaching-learning methods and assessment methods are consistent and coherent. Roger Ideishi developed a beautiful series of graphics to show when a course is aligned and when it is not aligned. He is using these slides in conjunction with the workshops on general education. However, they apply to all courses and not just those with skills. His slides are attached.

*Beginning to do scholarship on your teaching

If you have innovated or find a part of your teaching interesting, you can begin to do some scholarship on your teaching. Start with a question you would like to find the answer to, or think of a way to show that the improvements you make in your courses have been worth making . Then gather data on it.

*Making your course more aligned and more explicit to your students

As you finish off the semester, review your course to make sure that your objectives, teaching/learning activities, and assessments are consistent. Alignment means that if you have evaluation or problem solving as a goal for the course, you give students opportunities to practice these skills and that you assess the students on these skills. A lack of alignment would be is the assessments did not match the level of the goals. At the end of the course review what actually happened compared to what you hoped would happen. Note where you need to make further alignment. Perhaps you need to change how you assess the students toward more projects using authentic assessment (mimics what practitioners do).

Then the next time you teach this course discuss on the first day how your course is aligned. You might want to show your students that the course is aligned in the syllabus. Students will accept why you are asking them to do something if they see is as congruent with the goals of the course.

Aligned courses lead to more learning.

*Teaching models to revise as you plan for next time you teach

Many faculty use a hub and spoke model of course management without even thinking of it. The instructor is the hub because students look to the instructor guidance, feedback, information, assessment. They even answer questions just directed to you and make presentations to you. When you plan your course the next time try not to use the hub and spoke model. Instead diffuse the center by having students look to each for information, for assessment, feedback. Discussions need not be directed by you. As you plan your course, ask yourself, would a hub and spoke diagram work for what I am doing or asking students to do.

*Essential aspects of course planning

When you are planning your course, think of the most important aspects/concepts/values of what you want to cover in the course. One way to do this is to think what you would cover, do or ask the students to do if they only had 3 hours to devote to this topic. This usually gives you the real essential aspects. Then plan your course around this theme.

*Making the implied more visible and constant in your syllabus and first day of class

When we develop our syllabi and our grading policies they make sense to us and often follow from what we believe to be the correct way to teach this course. However, we may not make our logic clear to the students. We might need to elaborate on the implications of our policies. For example:

  • If a professor’s grading policy puts a heavy emphasis on class participation, group work, or written assignments, then that professor probably wants students to be creative, to engage in dialogue, and to interpret texts freely Students may not realize this unless you tell them. However, some times we can give the wrong message by our grading policies. for example.
  • If the grading system is simply an average of two of three test scores, with no emphasis on participation or interactivity, then some students might assume that the professor would almost rather the students not show up for class and get the notes from a friend. So we need to be sure we are being consistent with our messages and our goals. 

*Getting students to understand the relationships among concepts

While experts often see relationships among objects, novices often fail to see these relationships. One reason why novices do not see these relationships is they do not know what should be compared. We often summarize relationships into compare and contrast type tables. In order for students to understand what we mean by compare and contrast, we need to explicitly explain what we mean. We need to help students to understand what are the appropriate criteria that they can use for valid comparison and help students see the big picture.

Some of these ideas come from Virginia Anderson of Townsend University.

*Getting course-specific evaluation information from your students

If you are interested in learning about how your students felt about course-specific activities, such as a unique assignment or a different method of assessment, ask your students to complete a brief survey on these points. This semester you will have to ask your students to complete this survey separate from the university wide course evaluation form. We will be using online, standard course evaluation forms this semester and you will not be able to ask additional questions on these forms this semester (we hope to be able to do so in the future).

Also you might remind your students to complete the online course evaluation form since it will not be given out in class.

*On the first day of class help your students to see the overall consistency in your course

When you plan your course you want to align your objectives with the teaching/learning activities and with what and how you assess your students. This is considered a best practice in education because it leads to increased learning. While you may align your course or make it internally consistent, students may not see this overall integration or alignment. Therefore, you want to make this alignment explicit to the students. You should explain how the course is aligned to the students on the first day and describe it in the syllabus. You might put a table in to show your alignment of objectives, teaching/learning activities and assessment.

*Do your students understand your syllabus and know what will be expected of them?

After the first class or first few classes, you might want to be sure your students have read and understand the syllabus for your course. You might want to do a syllabus check as an online quiz or a short assignment. This assessment can count a little toward their participation grade.

*Getting students’ ideas on how you can improve your course and how they learned.

Toward the end of the semester, ask students to reflect on your course. You might ask them to describe how they learned in this course. What they found confusing, what worked well or suggestions for improvement for the next time you teach this course.

Read over the suggestions and before the last class, thank the students for their feedback and tell them some of the changes you are considering as a result of their feedback. This is also a time to check on the accuracy of your perceptions of what they said. Completing this feedback loop is a models good communication and shows them that you took their comments seriously.

*An activity for the first day of class to find out what concerns the students about your class

Students may have heard rumors about you or your class. They want to hear the truth, but do not have the nerve to ask you directly. Here is a brief activity to answer their concerns.

Ask each student to write their concerns, questions about the course or about you on a piece of paper. Then ask the class to stand up and quickly introduce themselves (name only) to six other people as they exchange papers. After six switches, no one will know who wrote what on the paper. Then ask the students to form small groups of about 5 students each and to pick the questions or concerns that they also want to know about from the papers they are holding. You can address their fears without knowing who expressed them

Good luck getting ready for the semester to start.

*Should you provide students with complete lecture notes? No

Research shows that students learn more when they do not receive complete lecture notes. The process of taking notes in their own words helps students to learn. If you want to help students to learn give them a partial set of notes with major title or headings or an outline where the students have to fill in more details.

Reference: Cornelius & Owen-DeSchryver (2008) Differential effects of full or partial notes on learning outcomes and attendance. Teaching of Psychology, 35 (1), 6-12

*Trying innovations, get feedback and make corrections

If you are trying something new in your courses. Assess how well it is going by determining if the students are learning from it, and if they like it. Once you have the feedback, you can make mid-course corrections, if necessary. If the innovation is a complete failure, abandon it and tell the students why you are not continuing its use. Usually you can find ways to improve it and not abandon it.

*Helping students find what you posted on Angel

Students think differently than we do and navigate Angel sites differently. When students do not find what they are looking for they either get frustrated or contact you right away. If you are adding content, either as attachments, or as links to your material on Angel, please post it several places or at least make reference to it in several places. You might put in under the lesson and the communication tabs.

This tip comes from Jeff Swain, of Penn State University who gave a day long presentation on using Angel more effectively. The plenary part of his presentation is is available on this link.

*Making sure your students understand what is expected of them in your course

About the second or third week of the semester, find out if your students have any questions about your course. You could also ask the students to re-read the syllabus and other handouts such as descriptions of assignments and projects before you ask students to respond to you.

You might create a discussion board on Angel and let the students ask questions about the course, and let them answer each others questions. You might respond if they have the wrong idea or if only you would know the answer to the question.

You could also ask students to email you such questions or spend the last few minutes of the next class asking students to write their questions. Then either go over the questions in class or develop a comprehensive answer sheet.

Doing this activity is especially important if students come into your class after the first day or if you are doing non-traditional activities or assessments in the course.

Course planning2

*Getting students to read and have ownership over the syllabus

I have often heard faculty complain that students do not read their syllabi and they ask questions that are contained in the document. To get the students to read and take ownership over the syllabus hand out a draft syllabus with certain points left for the students to decide. Students can have a say over deadlines for projects, dates for tests within a few days, or even how much weight, within a range, specific assessments will count. Students can be asked to modify or add policies, but you still get the final veto. Class time during the first class can be devoted to discussing some of these points and the discussion can be continued after the class period ends. If you are using Blackboard, students can have a discussion between the first and second class of the decision they have to make. Without an electronic discussion system that all can read, they can communicate with you by email. Before the second class you should determine the consensus. You can also give a bonus point or 2 if the students correct mistakes in the document, or if they identify areas that need further clarification.

*Helping to balance the power in your classes

To achieve learning-centered teaching the instructor needs to look at the balance of power between themselves and the students. Some possible ways to do is to consider:

Faculty can share power with students to determine how individual classes are conducted, how material is learned (not what material is learned).
What opinions are expressed, etc. Yet we cannot give up power as to how an entire course is run.
Faculty power comes from the authority our university has given us as the instructor.
We can share power but we can never share authority.

The idea of the distinction between power and authority comes from D. Fink’s book, Teaching with your mouth shut, 2000 Heinemann Publishers.

*Getting mid-course feedback on your class

About half way through the semester it is a good idea to get a read on what the students think of your course. Ask your students to write their answers to a few questions on topics that you can change or make mid-course corrections. You might consider asking about how fair (in terms of aligned with objectives or what you say will be on the test is on the test) your tests are (not how difficult are your tests), your pacing in your classes, clarification of difficulty concepts, availability to answer questions, etc. Once you get their feedback address their concerns in class or on Blackboard and indicate if you will be making any changes as a result of what they told you. Some things you may not be able to change or want to change, but it still worth letting your students know you recognize their concerns. Students will appreciate you more as a teacher and value your class more because you showed them you care about them.

*Does the amount of content taught influence how well students understand the material

Thirty years of research strongly indicates that the more content taught in a course, the more students rely on memorization and the less they learn with understanding or acquire deep learning in the discipline. Decide what is the essential content that you need for the students to learn, and cut the rest out of your course. Then work with students to learn to use the content and not for you to cover the content.

*How to plan time allotment for a course

Most of us plan courses in terms of how many hours the students spend in class. However, the unit that we should be using is learning time, not class time. The general wisdom is that for every hour spent in class students in undergraduate courses are supposed to spend 3 hours out of class and perhaps more for graduate classes. Therefore, for a three hour per week of classroom time, the students really should have 9 hours of learning time per week for that class. Now divide the 9 hours into what students can do on their own (often learned material), what should be done with others (such as discussions), what a teacher is needed for (such as answering questions or doing demonstrations or modeling problem solving or learning to learn in the discipline). Plan your weekly schedule based upon the total learning time and the type of activities needed to learn the course objectives and where they should be done. This might lead you to plan class time very differently. Students should be made aware of this change in thinking and oriented to the concept of learning time. This might help them to spend more time on your course outside of class.

Chris Knapper of the UK and now in Canada introduced me to the concept of learning time.

*Being supportive of our students in their differences in the time they need to master skills

If you are assessing students on their skills, give the students several opportunities during the semester to demonstrate these skills, provided they are independent skills and not ones that build on each other. Some students take longer than others to learn skills and others may not more than one attempt to demonstrate mastery.

This tip come from Margie Roos in PT and was mentioned at the last TableTalk on being supportive of our students. Many other good ideas also come out, so attend the next discussion on Tuesday, January 18th.

*Using a bingo card concept to increase student interaction with the content and decrease procrastination

This is a more complex tip than usual, but I think it is worth trying.

Create a bingo card with cells giving the types of additional activities you want the student to do to help them engage in the regular and consistent interaction with the content necessary to really retain it. Examples for the cells might include:

  • you might ask the students to create a 20 item crossword puzzle, with the answer provided, on the terms used in a chapter
  • ask five intelligent questions pertaining to the class material during a class
  • have > 95% class attendance
  • find a website that is accurate about a concept discussed in the textbook etc.

Distribute the bingo card at the beginning of the semester and let the students know that this is an optional assignment.

When a student shows proof that he completed the activity the instructor marks the box. Prizes are given when people complete a line or several lines. Prizes can be to drop the lowest quiz grade, can bring a study sheet with information to the final exam or adding 5 points to the final exam score. The irony is that students who get the most lines probably will not need the prizes because the extra work they did helped them to master the material. However, the motivation to earn the prize may have helped them to engage in the content more and to decrease their procrastination.

This tip was adapted from Amy Jo Sutterluety, Bingo Games Decreases Procrastination, Increase Interaction with Content. The Teaching Professor, Nov. 2002: 16 (9) 5-6.

*Maximizing student learning

As you are preparing or revising syllabi, prioritize what you do, what you ask students to do and especially what you do while with the students (i.e., in the classroom) to maximize student learning. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Information can be disseminated many ways beside through a lecture, consider posting material to read, giving students access to websites or course auxiliary materials to illustrate concepts
  • While students are in the classroom, have them engage in the material by solving problems, asking you questions, or answering questions. You can use the time to check on their mastery of the material, to help them to learn better or clarify misconceptions
  • Ask students to check each other’s homework, discuss their differences and then have an opportunity to redo their improved/corrected solutions (have them hand in both versions). This might be done out of class.
  • Use blackboard to give self-assessment quizzes with the answers explained after the deadline for doing it
  • Give students assignments that prepare them to come to class ready to engage in the material. Use class to reinforce or apply content not to go over what was covered in the assignment
  • Give students explicit criteria on how you will grade papers, projects, etc. in advance of when they complete the assignment.
  • Give students opportunities to give each other formative feedback either prior to or instead of you reviewing every product (especially homework problems).
  • Allow students to give feedback using your criteria on drafts and then you will receive better papers

If you incorporate some of these ideas, you might need to adjust the balance in your syllabus or consider the total picture of what you are doing in the course.

*Reviewing how the courses went as you finish the semester

As you hand in grades, take a little time to review how your courses went and write some notes to yourself. Try to analyze where the students had difficulty-identify the concepts they had trouble learning, the assignments or activities they seemed to have a hard time understanding or doing, etc. Look at the directions you gave students for exams or assignments and check that they were clear. Finally record what went especially well. As you revise your courses for the next time you offer these courses, these notes will help jog your memory.

*Developing prerequisite courses that meet the expectations of the instructors of advanced courses

If you are teaching a course that is a prerequisite for more advanced courses, talk to the instructors of these courses. Find out the essential knowledge (topics or concepts), skills and attitudes that they want your students to acquire in your course. You might find that you are covering material that they do not care about or some topics might need further emphasis. Then plan your course to be a good match with what they want without and what you think should be covered.

*Making sense of students’ complaints that the instructor or the course was unfair

Research shows that students complain that a course or an instructor was unfair when there is a disconnect among the goals or objectives of the class, such as how the students were taught, what the students were expected to do and how they were assessed. Courses that are aligned or consistent in all of these areas are more likely to be perceived as fair. Students might think they they are too difficult or too challenging, but fair if they are aligned.

*Getting meaningful feedback from your students that is separate from course evaluations

If you want to gather some individualized feedback at the end of a course, ask the students to complete a couple of questions that you would like to know more about.

Leslie Bowman suggests the following questions:

  • What did you find most useful in the course?
  • What is the most valuable lesson or content you learned from this course?
  • Is there something that the instructor should be informed about concerning his/her teaching style?

Keep these questions separate from the course evaluation forms that students need to complete. This should be formative feedback just for you.

course planning1

*Planning for the functions of content coverage in your courses

Currently many faculty see the function of content is to build strong knowledge foundations. While we all agree this is important, the more comprehensive functions of content should be to develop learning skills and learner self-awareness as well as to build knowledge. As you are planning your specific teaching and learning transactions for next semester (this is not just what you will cover, but how you will get the students to learn the content) think of approaches that do not separate learning strategies from content. The implication of this is that teachers cover less, but students learn more.

*Setting the right tone for your class, getting to know your students

Early on in the semester, have a discussion with the students (can be in small groups, with summaries reported back to you) about what they expect in a class. What have they liked or disliked about classes in the past? Ask whose responsibilities is it to establish or maintain such a climate or a policy? This short discussion can give you insights into how to improve your class and promotes learning centered teaching.

*Still time to revise your syllabi

As the first week of the semester draws to a close, it is a good time to make a few changes in your syllabi. Before doing so gather some data from your students. Perhaps they would like to see the test dates or due dates for assignments modified a little bit to ease their overly heavy days. Do the students understand what is expected of them? Perhaps you need to elaborate on what you want them to do. After seeing who is registered for the class, do you need to modify the schedule a little? Perhaps you need to spend more or less time on the introductory material at the beginning of the semester. Did enough copies of the textbook arrive at the book store or do you need to modify some early assignments? These are the types of minor modifications that you can make now and will go a long way to improving student learning and satisfaction in your course.

*Thinking about trying some thing different next semester

Are you thinking of trying something different in your courses next semester? Perhaps you are thinking of trying a different way to assess students, a new policy, or trying a different teaching and learning transaction. If you are ready, pilot test this new strategy in one of your courses this semester for the next few weeks. Then gather feedback from the students as to how you can improve it and did it lead to greater learning, student satisfaction, engagement with the subject matter, etc.

*Looking at your policies

As you preplan your courses, or educational programs, please take a close look at all of your policies. As you review each policy ask yourself, “How does this policy help students to take responsibility for their own learning?” Alternatively ask yourself, “how much does this policy encourage students’ dependence on us for their learning and their decision making?”


*Textbook selection

When you are considering textbooks to use in connection with your courses, first consider what and how the content is taught. If you find several textbooks that are consistent with what you plan to teach, then look at the additional instructional materials that you and the students can use that go along with this textbook. Publishers of large sellers are developing excellent electronic cartridges that have many presentation software for the figures in the book, self-instructional materials, self-assessments, web links, 3rd demonstrations, etc. Some of these cartridges can also get you started with Blackboard very easily.

*Consistency of standards across instructors or courses

Students often feel that they have been unfairly treated if they think that their peers had it better with another teacher or if another instructor in the same course was easier. As we have multiple sections of various courses or multiple instructors for a course, we should strive for consistency among instructors within the same course or different sections of a course. Departmental meetings might be an appropriate place to discuss the level of expectation that we want to achieve with our students as well as expected content to be covered. For example, what should the pass cut off point or standard be or how much should a student have to do to pass a course? What is the expected item difficulty that we are striving for? Do we want most of our students to get an item right or only 50%.

These discussions will show how different we are now and what we can do to strive for more consistency. They might even lower the complaints of our students.

*Helping students to feel like they have some control might raise course evaluations

All people, but especially adolescents, like to feel that they have some control over their lives and thus their courses. If you allow students to have some say in determing course policies (such as expected course behavior like attendance, lateness, etc,) they probably will come up with the same rules you would impose, but now they feel they made the rules themselves. Further if you allow them as a group to help you determine deadlines for assignments (within general guidelines), or dates within a week for tests, you might make their lives more manageable.

Students might not resent the deadlines or dates as much if they helped to select them.

*Insuring students get the big objectives for the course

About half way through the semester it is a good idea to reflect and take stock on the progress being made in your courses. For each course ask yourself if the students are realizing the overall objectives, not just the day to day content objectives. Are you preparing students for the more advanced courses that follow this course? Are you spending enough time with students or emphasis to help them gain the thinking skills, values, learning to learn skills, etc. that are important for this domain? If you need to make mid-course corrections, you can do so.

*Allowing students a little say over deadlines and getting them to get in the habit of using the Blackboard/Listserv for your course

When you give out your syllabi on the first day of class, tell students that you are willing to take their feedback on the due dates of some or all assignments (within a limited time period), or the actual dates of exams (if you have flexibility) electronically between the first and second class. Then post the relevant feedback questions on your chat room, discussion board or class listserv. Tell students they can only respond electronically until the second class and you might want to limit how many times they can respond to the question.

Asking for feedback and the possibility of making minor changes (based on the voice of the majority) to the schedule helps students to feel part of the decision making in the class and may cut down on complaints or excuses later. Make sure you tell them it is majority rule with your ability to overrule them.

Giving students a very early assignments (and one they might want to do) on Blackboard or other electronic discussion format you will be using insures that they know how to access it, sign in and you might get them in the habit of using this non-class discussion venue frequently. If you find the technology is not working you will know about it very early in the course.

*Time to refresh your course

Before offering a course again, it is time to refresh it. Consider the following:

Have you included the recent developments in this discipline?

Does your textbook now offer a course pack that has many worthwhile self-instructional and self-assessment activities? You might want to include some of them in your course requirement.

Look at what your students really need to know to succeed in more advanced courses or careers that follow from this course and make sure it is emphasized.

How are you fostering student learning?

What learning activities would help students to master the difficult concepts and skills of the course.

Remember you can not continue to add without taking out or reducing emphasis.

*Spend time thinking about the courses you are teaching now

Before you get involved with the grading of exams and final papers and before you are thinking about next semester’s courses, spend time reflecting and writing about this semester’s courses. Go through all of the material you gave students especially the syllabus, assignments, etc. Think about timing – should you have moved things around, emphasized 1 topic more and another less. Were your directions clear or did you have to explain something to many different students? If so, re-read them now and make changes based upon the students’ questions. Did your evaluations (exams or projects) meet your expectations and the objectives for the course?

Write your reflections on how to improve or change the course now and put these notes along with the folder and computer files you keep for these courses.

*Excellent, free web-based instructional materials available for the sciences and health sciences

I found out about an excellent collection of free, web-based instructional resources in anatomy, on various diseases, organisms, chemical and drugs, analytical, diagnoses and treatment techniques, biological sciences, psychology, physical sciences, and health care. As the collection is continuing to grow, you will need to recheck the site over time. Check or
Let me know if you use anything from this national digital library and how it worked.

*Helping our students to become self-directed learners

As teachers we all know that the subject matter has more content than we can possibly fit into the time available for the course and what makes it worse is that the content is growing daily. How can we solve this problem? One option is that we all could talk faster, but that probably won’t do it. A real solution involves the following:

Learn how to restrict the content we expect our students to learn and provide the scaffolding to allow for further learning

Help our students keep on learning the subject after the course is over.

The is the only real chance we have to go beyond the basics with the students.

Have to find ways to make this subject interesting and inspiring so they will want to keep on learning

*Planning for new courses or revising courses on the basis of program learning outcomes

Many programs have developed or revised learning outcomes. This was done before looking at course learning outcomes intentionally. Now that the program learning outcomes are completed it is a good time to look at where there are holes or duplications in where these outcomes are met. It is probably appropriate for all of the faculty within a program together to review the program and course learning outcomes to see where changes should be made to courses. Revised courses or new courses should flow from areas identified as needing more or less focus on the learning outcome identified by the program.

*Helping students to get the essential long-lasting lessons from your course

As the semester winds down, help students to emerge from the day-to-day aspects of the course to see the essentials, long-lasting lessons from your course. Help student to see what you want them to always remember from your course by developing a handout, including such a discussion at the end of the course, giving them a directed assignment or questions on the final relating to these essential lessons. Once you have decided what are these essential long-lasting lessons, check for consistency of what you are saying now and the goals of the course. If they are not aligned, redo your goals for the next time you teach this course.

Course planning

*Course Planning

Planning for next round of teaching – What big picture ideas do you want your students to gain?

Before you immerse yourself in the day to day thinking of your courses, make a list of the big picture concepts that you want your students to gain in this course. In ten years when they have forgotten all of the details and most of the content, what do you want them to remember about this discipline? In addition, do you want them to acquire better thinking skills, be able to see connections, have a new set of skills, obtain new values, etc.?

Once you have thought about these broader picture issues for some time, then you can revise your courses to be more consistent with these ideas.

*Planning Process

When you get to planning for your next round of teaching use this planning process:

  1. First consider the situational factors – who are your students, how does this course fit into the large education program?
  2. Then consider your learning goals for the course. What do you want your students to achieve at the end of the course?
  3. Next plan how you will assess your students and give them feedback. Assessment should be consistent with the goals of the course.
  4. Finally plan your teaching and learning activities to help the students reach these objectives.

It may sound backwards, but it is more consistent and leads to a better course.

*Key Questions to Consider When Designing Courses

Consider answering these four key questions when you are designing your courses:

  1. What situational factors plan an important role in this course? Situational factors include the general context of the learning situation (e.g., the university, the profession, etc), the nature of the subject, the characteristics of the learners, and the characteristics of the teachers.
  2. What should the full set of learning goals be for the course to meet the expectations of the courses that come afterward, the profession, higher education in general, etc?
  3. What kind of feedback and assessment should the teacher provide?
  4. What kinds of teaching and learning activities will foster the achievement of the complete set of learning goals that have been set?

These should be unifying themes in your planning.

This tip comes from Dr. L. Dee Fink, an internationally known designer from the University of Oklahoma. He has developed a model for integrated course design leading to significant learning experiences.

*Are you thinking of revising your courses by next year?

Are you on the cusp of deciding if you want to revise your course or what to revise in your teaching? If so, consult with the important stakeholders (people to whom the course matters) before you make revisions. Important stakeholders for any course include students, faculty who teach courses for which your course is a prerequisite, or co-requisite, the faculty who teach the prerequisite courses to yours, and your chair.

If you want to get ideas form previous students, you might consider a post-course survey or focus group. Keep the stakeholder faculty informed if you will be changing the content or delivery of your courses so they will know what to expect.

Since the first time you offer a revised course or make innovations, it may not be perfect. Let your chair know of your plans in advance. All of these stakeholders will be wonderful resources for ideas for improvement.

*Curriculum Development Process

A standard curriculum development process involves the following steps:

  1. A statement of need – why is this course needed, by whom, for what
  2. Development of the goals of the course
  3. Design the instruction, teaching and learning activities and the student assessment tolls to match these goals
  4. Deliver the course – implementation
  5. Use feedback to evaluate how well it went, where it can be improved
  6. Revise the course as needed, based on feedback and experience.

Don’t forget to incorporate the feedback loop into your thoughts and revisions. Feedback can come from many sources including your students directly, student evaluations, your own experience with the course, faculty who teach your students afterwards the changing demands of the field or profession, peer evaluation, etc.

*Depth vs. Breadth

As you plan your courses, think of the curriculum to be learned as a rectangle, with the horizontal sides = breadth and the vertical sides = depth. In this image the area of the rectangle basically remains constant regardless of how you construct the rectangle. Which do you need for your course, greater breadth or greater depth? You cannot have it both ways. Mathematically inclined folks will remind us that the maximum area of a rectangle with the smallest parameter is a square. Perhaps you also need to make your curriculum more of a square than a very narrow, but long rectangle. (Adapted from John Biggs- Teaching for Quality Learning at University, What the student does), SHRE and Open Press, 1999

*Preparing course syllabi

The more explicit you make the course syllabus, the more you are communicating with your students about their course. This improves the chances that the students will succeed in the course. Here is a checklist of topics (not comprehensive, I’m sure) to include in an expanded course syllabus or course manual:

  1. Why would a student want or need to take this course?
  2. What are the course objectives? Where do they lead the student intellectually and practically?
  3. What are the prerequisites for the course? This includes not just previously taken courses but major concepts that the students are assumed to know and be able to use in the course. How will students acquire necessary, but missing skills or concepts?
  4. Why do the parts of the course come in the order they do?
  5. What instructional formats (lectures, labs, discussions, student presentations, group work, etc.) will be used, when?
  6. What does the faculty member expect from the students in day to day classes, in assignments, on tests, etc.?
  7. What is the purpose of assignments and exams?
  8. What will be exams and assignments evaluate – memory, understanding, ability to synthesize, application, presenting evidence logically, writing skills, problem solving, etc.?
  9. Why have the books been chosen? What is their relative importance in the course and in the discipline?

10.  What other resources should the students obtain/access. e.g., calculator, lab materials, professional attire, access to the Web, etc.

11.  Include a detailed schedule of events, classes, assignments, exams, date due and your expectations regarding them.

12.  Include your policies on lateness (both personal and for assignments), make-ups, absence, class participation, etc.

13.  How will the final grade be determined – Will you curve the grades, allow students who are getting an A to be excused from the final, etc.? What weight does each assignment, exam, class participation, presentation, etc. have?

14.  Who the instructors will be if more than one is used, and how the students can contact them.

Take time to plan and develop detailed course syllabi, it will save you time later.

*Planning written assignments

As you plan your written assignments for next semester, take a tip from the faculty who teach writing. Ask your students to hand in a draft or a section of a major paper a few weeks before the deadline for the final paper. Then spend time making suggestions for improvement and comments throughout. This will force the students to work on the paper earlier and once they see what you want, they will hand in a better final copy. The writing faculty say that the time you spend with the rough drafts will be saved in the correcting of the final paper.


*Content Coverage

As you plan your courses, ask yourself the following questions about content coverage:

  1. How much content are you expecting the students to learn? Is this reasonable?
  2. Is the content covered in a context that will help the students to learn the material?
  3. Am I assuming that content coverage (by the instructor in a lecture or in the readings)= student learning, mastery?
  4. What can the faculty member do to promote students learning the material?

It is better to thoroughly learn less material, than to superficially learn, but not understand more material.

A quote from a very well respected educators says it very well, “The greatest enemy of understanding is coverage. If you’re determined to cover a lot of things, you are guaranteeing that most kids will not understand, because they haven’t had time enough to go into depth, to figure out what they requisite understanding, is, and be able to perform that understanding in different situations” (Gardner, 1993)

*Consistency in expectations

Are you writing low level objectives, yet expecting high level learning? Or are you writing high level objectives, and only examining for lower level learning? When you develop your materials for a course, be internally consistent. If you are expecting higher levels of learning, then make sure the students see that they will be examined/evaluated in a manner that is consistent with higher level learning. Higher level evaluations might include multiple choice questions involving problem solving based upon a scenario, student reports presentations asking student to graphically or pictorially represent a concept or develop a schema for organizing the major topics of the semester, essay questions, critique primary literature in the field, etc. Many of these techniques can be streamlined in the time required for correcting. The way you present material can also encourage higher level learning. Do you go over all the material, or expect the students to come prepared to class and ask questions? Give the students assignments or projects to do in class that encourage higher level learning.

*Rethinking how Objectives are Met

Before you begin actually planning the specifics of your course, take a fresh and critical look at your objective and goals. Ask yourself, are there other ways to meet these objectives than what you have been doing in the past? You might consider how technology might affect the nature and structure of the unit or course itself? These technologies may not have been available a few years ago when the course was first planned. For example, you might move a large part of the dissemination of information out of the classroom activities to self-paced or structured study through the use of mixed media, including print and electronic. This frees up classroom time for discussions, answering questions, exams (and not have to schedule them at 7:30AM), demonstrations, etc.


*Making sure your students get the big picture from your class

During the break from the regular routine of classes, take stock of what you are doing and what you are trying to achieve in your classes. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What really matters in this class?
  • What major learning outcomes do you want the students to achieve?
  • What are you really good at with the students?
  • Are you doing enough of that with your students?
  • What do you really want to accomplish with these students?
  • What are you doing to help your students reach these important goals?

If you find that you are not concentrating on these answers, what can you let go of to help achieve what you really want to achieve?

*Planning Courses to help students become intentional, responsible and enabled learners

A national panel of educators has recommended that college graduates should be intentional, responsible and enable learners.

  1. To meet the goal of an intentional learner, we need to help our students to become integrative thinkers and see connections among disciplines, reflect on their acquired knowledge and their learning to learn skills.
  2. Since responsibility to act as informed citizens is based on values, principles and commitments, we need to help students acquire these values and principles. Responsible citizens are active participants in their society and can see consequences of their own and others’ actions and decisions.
  3. Enabled learners can use their knowledge and skills to communicate their ideas, solve complex problems and manage practical situations.

As you review, revise and plan your courses for next semester ask yourself how well or how much are you fostering these skills on our students. This thought process may allow you to incorporate these desirable outcome indicators without making huge changes to your course structure.

*Are your students realizing that learning in your subject should not end when the course does

As the weeks roll on through the semester are your students coming to realize that their learning in your subject should continue after the course ends? What are you doing to help students continue learning when the course in over? Think about trying to do some of the following. Here are a few ideas to foster the idea that learning this discipline can continue after the formal class end:

  1. Are you showing how interesting the subject is and how much you still enjoy learning about it?
  2. Have you made it clear that you will still be accessible to the students as they continue to learn?
  3. Have you fostered intellectual curiosity in this subject matter?
  4. Have you helped students to develop these learning to learn skills in this discipline:
  • ability to ask good questions in this discipline
  • knowledge of print, electronic, human resources that are available to them
  • ability to evaluate the appropriateness of these resources for their continued learning
  • ability to read the primary or secondary literature on this topic

If we can get our students to achieve this lifelong learning in a subject, we and they will have succeeded.

*Setting expectations and welcoming your students

If you are completely changing your course over the way it was taught in previous years, or if you are teaching a brand new course to advance students, you might consider sending these students a letter or email to their homes explaining the course and outlining some of your expectation of the course. You might also want to welcome them into the course and tell them how excited you are that they will be in the course. This letter should only be used in special cases and not for routine courses or course changes. It might work best for the students that you have already taught and have some expectations about what your course will be like.

*Plan and Teach to Foster success in your students

As you plan your courses and teach them, remember three 3 important goals to foster success in your students:

  1. acquisition of knowledge that can be used and applied
  2. development of self confidence
  3. learning to take responsibility for their own learning and professional development

*Plan what kind of time schedule make the most sense for your courses now

We will be doing zero-based scheduling next year. This means that the registrar will be planning all of the courses from scratch and not using this year’s schedule to plan next year’s schedule. Thus, we are in a window of opportunity to really think about what makes sense for our courses in terms of scheduling. For example, would larger blocks of time (but meeting less frequently) meet your needs better than 50 minute classes. Literature from both adult education and secondary education indicates that longer blocks of time promote more interactive learning activities and seem to support increased learning. However, you need to really re-think or perhaps learn about how to use all time effectively. Once you make these decisions, please convey your rationale to the person in your department who is responsible for making the scheduling request for next year.

*Helping students to succeed with changes you are making to your courses

Are you planning to change the way you run your courses next semester? Perhaps you want to incorporate more learning-centered teaching, a different evaluation scheme, or requiring students to hand in drafts or parts of a project before the final copy is due, but are afraid that the student will not accept the changes or will not be able to do well with them. For any of these changes, you need to build in enough structure and guidelines to help the students overcome their resistance or learn how to succeed. You might want to write a rationale in your syllabi and go over the rationale repeatedly in class. You need to spend time convincing the students why they need to move from their current, perhaps overly dependent state, to becoming autonomous learners.

*Helping students to understand your syllabi or how you are teaching

If you are innovating how your course is being run, using a different assessment process than usually done by others or if you have a complicated series of events for the students, make sure all of this is spelled out in the syllabus. To get the students to read and understand these directions, assessments, events, etc. tell the students they will be responsible for the material on the syllabi for the second class. Then in that class play a short quiz game on the way your course will be run to insure student understanding.

Collaborative Teaching

Reprinted from Essential Teacher, Volume 4, Issue 3,September 2007, Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)

“The city is more crowded. We would need more signs and traffic lights,” said one student. “We would have to live in apartments,” said another. Eight students in Ms. P’s 4th grade classroom were squeezed into a 4 x 4 square marked by masking tape on her classroom floor. Four of the students were English language learners.

The class was brainstorming how living in the city compared with living in the country. The eight students in the first square concluded that living in a crowded city required different types of transportation and housing. They predicted that they would need more stores, signs and garbage collectors. Students were kinesthetically experiencing the concepts of crowding and privacy. They were gaining hands-on experience with the basic concepts of the unit. This was possible because Ms. P and I were collaborating and had time to plan together.

In a collaborative or co-teaching setting, the ESL teacher “pushes into” the general education classroom to collaborate with the teacher. Co-teaching involves two credentialed professionals who are partners in the instruction of the lesson. One professional is usually a classroom or subject area teacher and the other is a certified ESL teacher. They have equal responsibilities for planning instruction and there are a variety of ways this instruction is delivered. Together the two teachers are lowering the student-teacher ratio and providing differentiated instruction in a manner that is not possible for one teacher.

Co-teachers are using the same physical space. Students are not pulled out of the classroom for one of the teachers to instruct. Although small heterogeneous groups may be pulled aside for reinforcement, English language learners are not isolated from mainstream students in the back of the classroom. In elementary schools, ESL teachers may come into the classroom for one instructional period each day. I spent two hours each week co-teaching in Ms. P’s 4th grade social studies class. Together we were able to lower the teacher-to-student ratio and combine our talents to provide comprehensive instruction for all of the students in her room.

Over the past few years co-teaching has become more popular as low incidence school districts search for ways to best serve the needs of their English language learners. What is co-teaching? Does it work? If you ask ESL teachers who have tried co-teaching, you will hear both negative and positive responses.

Compare the co-teaching experience that I had with Ms.P with that of another ESL teacher in New Jersey.

Paulo is a “push in ESL teacher” in a large school district. He teams with five different teachers each school day. He also teaches two classes of beginners in a pullout setting. Because of his work load, he is unable to plan lessons with his co-teachers. When he goes into some classrooms, the teacher turns the students over to Paul and uses the time as a prep period. In others, he is helping a few ESL students at the back of the room while the classroom teacher works with the rest of the students. Usually, he serves as a classroom aide, roving around the room to help students who do not understand the instruction. He is not necessarily scheduled into a classroom when the students need him most.

This is collaborative teaching at its worse. ESL professionals are not classroom aides. They should not be relegated to the back of the room with English language learners. What is the point of “push-in” ESL if students are kept on the fringes of the “real” instruction? Both teachers have a contribution to make. The classroom teacher contributes knowledge of the curriculum and of all the students in the class while the ESL teacher brings information about teaching strategies, second language acquisition and diverse cultures.

It is my experience that ESL teachers who are pushing into general education classrooms are generally more satisfied if they:

  • have input into their schedule and whom they will be teaching with.
  • co-teach specific subject and are in the classroom each time the subject is taught.
  • have time to plan with the co-teacher
  • enjoy equal status with the co-teacher.
  • can discuss and decide their role and responsibilities in advance.

Here are some models that are used when co-teaching English language learners:

  • Teach and write. One teacher teaches the lesson while the other records the important points on an overhead or chalkboard. ELLs benefit from this because information is being presented to them through different modalities. Station teaching. Students rotate through predetermined stations or activities. Each teachers works with all the students as they come through the station.
  • Parallel teaching. The class is divided into two groups and each teacher delivers the content information to their group simultaneously. This allows teachers with distinctly different styles to work together.
  • Alternative teaching. Teachers divide responsibility for planning. The majority of the students work in a large group setting but some students are pulled into to a smaller group for pre-teaching or other types of individualized instruction. The same students should not be pulled into the small group each time.
  • Team Teaching. Teachers co-teach each lesson. This requires a great deal of planning and cooperation. Both teachers are responsible for all of the students.
  • Lead and support. The lead teacher instructs the class while the supporting teacher provides assistance as she roams around the room. The supporting teacher may elaborate the important points or retell parts of the lesson. Ideally, classroom and ESL teachers should alternate roles so that one is not always the lead teacher. This type of instruction can be misused and the ESL teacher may find herself in a subordinate role.

There are many obvious benefits to co-teaching for students. ESL students have both academic and social benefits. They are exposed to the mainstream content but have the support of a second teacher. They are not pulled out of the class and learn with their classmates.

ESL teachers, however, cite many concerns. They do not want to lose ownership of their students be relegated to the status of an aide. They feel that collaboration is a lot of additional work especially if they are co-teaching with several different teachers. They are also concerned about ESL beginners, who they feel do not really benefit from learning in the large group setting.

I think the benefits of collaboration outweigh the drawbacks. When teachers share the responsibility of instruction, lessons are more creative because two people are planning them. It’s nice to have another adult in the room to be able to provide a range of support to students and to share those “ah-ha” moments.