- 01 Welcome Video Transcript
Welcome to the latest digital edition of The Little Orange Book: Short Lessons in Excellent Teaching, composed by the fellows at the University of Texas System Academy of Distinguished Teachers. Teaching can be a rewarding and very influential profession, but sometimes the pleasures and the responsibilities of this job can be overshadowed by your worries about whether or not you're being as effective as you can be. The Academy Fellows understand that, and so we wrote these essays to give you our best advice and practical suggestions, no matter what your students’ age level is or what disciplinary specialty you work in. We hope you will find that these essays will inspire or encourage or maybe challenge you as you work to inspire, encourage and challenge your own students. Best of luck!
- 02 Preface Commentary: Mary McNaughton-Cassill
“It is difficult to argue with John Sibert’s contention that “we are all teachers.” One staple of childhood is “playing school.” Whether training toy animals to jump or siblings to read, even young children seem predisposed to instruct others. Certainly, human parents spend tremendous energy teaching their babies to eat, sleep, and walk. Infants, in turn, teach their parents to respond to their every cry and facial expression. When it comes to language, adults instinctively slow their rate of speech, simplify their phrases, and point to things as they speak.
As our children get older, we create formal learning frameworks ranging from books, television and computer programs, to physical education courses to enhance their skills. This might not strike you as remarkable until you realize that most animals spend far less time specifically teaching their offspring. Although young primates pick up skills by imitating their parents, and there are examples of animals helping their offspring by leading them to food, or providing them with partially disabled prey, much of their learning stems from trial and error.
Consequently, as humans, our concerted efforts to pass on information have enabled us to expand on the knowledge acquired by prior generations. While much of this learning occurs in traditional classrooms, it can happen anywhere. Helping others solve problems, adapt to new technology, or navigate social situations is the most human of endeavors. Perhaps it is no coincidence that doing so also improves our own confidence, sense of self worth, and mental health. As John says, “Everyone is a teacher. We should run toward that worthy title for the benefit of everyone, including ourselves.”
- Chapter 01 Commentary: Karen Huxtable
“Mary Lynn Crow’s reminder that instructors can be compassionate while maintaining high standards prompted me to develop ways to implement her suggestions. Students often face multiple obstacles to their success, some of their own making. These difficulties may come as a surprise to students, but they aren’t surprising to experienced instructors. Instead of responding to each dilemma on a case-by-case basis, instructors can be proactive by using principles of universal design to create courses ready for emergencies before they occur. All students must achieve course learning outcomes on a timeline set by the instructor, but proactive flexibility, such as extended deadlines or make-up exams, can prevent students from having to ask for special treatment. Be hard on standards and soft on students by creating requirements that can absorb the need for leeway without sacrificing learning or development of scholarly self-regulation. For example, instead of assigning three papers, assign five, and only three count. Apply automatic “second chance” deadlines. Allow all students to retake an exam, whether they missed it or simply need another chance to learn more a second time. Professors can’t make exceptions for one student, but when exceptions are compassionately available for all students, high standards are preserved.”
- Chapter 02 Commentary: Susan Doty
“Pivot. There were two interesting twists in this piece by Michael Starbird in which he recalls a medieval art history course he took as a student, and both serve as teaching moments. When “cut the bull” came from the mouth of this “extremely old professor,” there was a surprise double whammy. First, when we show students alternative sides of our professional selves, we shift their perceptions and reach them in new ways because they see us differently. Secondly, when we challenge them to tell us what they are observing instead of what they believe we want to hear, we encourage both more meaningful learning and increased personal responsibility for their own learning. What Michael’s professor did was brilliant twice over. By showing another side of herself, she broke a stereotypical mold and connected with her student individually, directly, and personally. In challenging Michael to honestly tackle his perceptions, she allowed him to embrace the unfamiliar and explore it without fear. A lifetime of intellectual curiosity began that day.”
- Chapter 03 Commentary: Kenneth Roemer
“[T]ry looking for the answers in the mirror”: that opening advice turned me off. I’m bald, wear glasses, and have a slight stoop. Looking in the mirror would just make me self-conscious.
Fortunately, I continued to read and realized that Brent Iverson was not emphasizing physical appearance but the ways teachers’ displays of enthusiasm for their subject could be contagious and inspire students to be engaged learners. Years ago, a new graduate teaching assistant demonstrated to me the truth of the power of the mirror effect. It was one hour before Barbara Chiarello’s first class as a teacher. She was terribly nervous. To calm her down I told her that first-year students were probably also nervous. If she stood before them as a nervous wreck, they would probably become more anxious. I told her to pretend as if she were at ease and full of enthusiasm for the class. She followed my advice. The students’ positive responses enabled her to drop the act of being calm and to be much more at ease and enthusiastic. The mirror effect obviously worked. Of course, she had advantages: she wasn’t bald, a glasses wearer, and a bit stooped.”
- Chapter 04 Commentary: Alex Piquero
“Reading John Sibert’s essay made me think about why I became a professor. I wanted to know both why and why didn’t things happen. Research questions are everywhere: in airplanes, coffee shops, baseball stadiums, grocery stores. Our job is to look at what is and then ask “why is that the case?” and then subsequently, “why is it not something else?” The sense of curiosity has but one outcome – the discovery of something one did not know before.
Consider a crossword puzzle. If one follows the daily puzzles from The New York Times, Monday is the easiest and the puzzles become more difficult with each passing day. Sometimes, answers are easy. Other times there could be two answers for the same question (Q: Four-letter word for “big time actor who everyone loves;” the answer could be star or idol). Not knowing the immediate answer forces the solver to go about their business filling in other clues. The solution may not happen right away; it may come five minutes later, five hours later, or the next morning when the puzzle’s answers are published.
The bottom line is that curiosity is the catalyst in the pursuit of knowledge. There is nothing greater than learning something new. Crossword puzzles are good at teaching these lessons, in pencil of course.”
- Chapter 05 Commentary: John Hadjimarcou
“No good teacher knows everything about teaching. What makes someone a good teacher is the relentless pursuit of excellence. If good teaching is as much about the past as it is about the future, how do good teachers remain relevant in today’s dynamic teaching environment? How does one become a dynamic teacher?
The answer to these questions rests on the idea that good teaching is a moving target and presents unique challenges that require creative solutions. Changes in socio-economic conditions, demographics, and technology suggest that teachers must remain vigilant in understanding how these changes impact teaching and how to best go about effecting positive change.
Shifts in the environment of teaching present many challenges, including the level of preparation of incoming students and how to best engage them and help them succeed in their academic endeavors. The 21st century student is often the first in the family to attend college, has limited financial resources, and works full-time. Motivating, engaging, and retaining such students require novel, often unconventional teaching techniques. Accessibility to courses and flexibility of schedules take center stage. Moreover, keeping students engaged at a high level requires new teaching methods, including flipped classrooms, just-in-time teaching, and new learning structures.
Dynamic teaching revolves around the idea of constantly understanding who students are. It involves investigating teaching and learning in a scientific way and arriving at scientifically driven solutions. Good teachers approach learning the same way they approach a research question, and they put their science-based training into overdrive for answers. Excellent teachers do not react to change, but they are always one step ahead. They are trailblazers.”
- Chapter 06 Commentary: Kenneth Roemer
“Neil Gray raises a fundamental question about the novice-expert student-teacher paradigm. Aren’t teachers expected to know all the answers? When a teacher doesn’t know an answer, this paradigm breaks down. The responses to the breakage can, as Neil explains, either lead to dishonest teaching or opportunities for self-evaluation and learning collaborations.
I am especially aware of the good and bad possibilities. I am supposed to be an “expert” on Native American literature. I’ve published books and articles and developed eight courses. Some students think I should know everything about thousands of years of indigenous experiences. In literature classes, I’ve been asked questions about horses, hair, food, and legal decisions. I often don’t know the answers. To pretend to know perpetuates a noxious form of dishonesty. I do not claim a tribal affiliation. For centuries, people like me have “spoken for” Native Americans. For me to pretend to know would (1) risk the dissemination of false information and (2) perpetuate a dangerous tradition. To admit I don’t know would (1) emphasize the enormity and complexity of the subject and (2) open the possibility of working with students to find an answer. Obviously, in these cases, “I don’t know” is the correct answer”
- Chapter 07 Commentary: Catherine Ross
“Sophia Andres and I both teach English literature, and most folks may find it amusing or quaint that we are passionate about poems such as “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” or novels such as Jane Eyre. The truth is I do like these texts, but I’m not passionate about the literature itself: I’m passionate about seeing the looks on students’ faces when, suddenly, as we are working on one of their readings, they discover something new and realize how great it is to be a thinking, feeling human being. I’m passionate about making those moments happen for students, because it is my hope that in college they will learn to live full lives, lives that are guided by personal and social responsibility and lifted up by energy and their own passions.”
- Chapter 08 Commentary: Barbara Shipman
“When I’m thinking about math, my mind feels spontaneously alive with pictures, ideas, connections, and more questions – things I did not learn in a class or from a book – the “secret” ways in which I really understand something. These are things I share with my students. For example, it is simple to see that dividing 1 by a huge number gives a tiny number. This simple fact takes us a long way in understanding ratios where one variable quantity is divided by another. Where textbooks give complicated methods for graphing ratios, I remind my students to just remember this: 1/HUGE = tiny! The simple, fun, secret ways of seeing things are so much easier, satisfying, and reliable than following tedious procedures designed to replace the amazing gift of thinking about the basic, simple ideas.”
- Chapter 09 Commentary: Robert Prentice
“Although writing a textbook may make you “darned close to being a content expert,” beware the overconfidence bias that affects almost all of us. Eighty-eight percent of American drivers rate themselves as safer than the median driver. This bias is difficult to shake; drivers who had been hospitalized after car wrecks still rated themselves as near experts in driving, even though 34 of 50 had caused the accident that injured them.
Unfortunately, this same overconfidence affects teachers: 94% of college professors in one survey rated themselves as above-average teachers, which doesn’t seem mathematically possible. Humility seems the better course. If you’d like to know more about the ubiquitous overconfidence bias, especially as it relates to ethical decision making.
At least if you have written a textbook, you should know enough about the topic you are teaching to avoid the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is a cognitive bias that causes people who know the least to be the most overconfident in their knowledge. They don’t know enough to know what they don’t know. Write a textbook, and you’ll know what you don’t know!”
- Chapter 10 Commentary: Susan Doty
“Deliberately create doubt. I teach an Honors Issues and Policy class where we explore controversial issues in a very formulaic way. We frame them as dichotomous questions, defend why we care in current context, study the underlying economics, identify yes and no experts, probe their backgrounds for bias, summarize their learned arguments, identify what’s missing from their positions and, only then, come to individual informed personal opinions. After analyzing twenty class issues in this very structured way, students develop their own final controversial issue on a topic of their choosing. Initially, students have strong, often passionate, feelings about this issue, but the process of examining and defending opposing positions in their best light creates doubt. More often than not, they will conclude, “I was so sure of my position on this issue before and now I am looking at it very differently.” Embrace the ambiguity!”
- Chapter 11 Commentary : John Hadjimarcou
“Brent Iverson’s message encapsulated in words such as patience, persistence, steadfastness, humility, and calmness puts forward one of the most basic ideas about good teaching. From a student’s perspective, this kind of teaching projects caring, confidence, and collaboration.
Caring suggests to students that their teacher supports their pursuit of learning. It also implies that a teacher will do what she can to help her students grasp complex ideas. Going beyond what is normally expected, an instructor who exercises the idea of caring does not easily give up on students, but she experiments with new and different ways to help them learn. This experimentation is not done in callous way, but it shows a willingness to persist by trying multiple ways to help students understand the material.
This confidence could be the result of helping past students overcome similar learning challenges or of careful, methodical investigation to address issues through the scholarship of teaching. Confident teachers engage students in their learning after reviewing the signals students send. Confidence is also a major catalyst in building trust in the learning process.
The idea of trust is nurtured through student-teacher collaboration. Good teaching is built on open, direct, and reciprocal communication. As Brent suggested, the demeanor that teachers project to students goes a long way in building their confidence and trust. It takes patience, persistence, and humility to understand what students go through to learn and help them complete that journey successfully.”
- Chapter 12 Commentary: Barbara Shipman
“The student-as-consumer idea of education that made chemistry professor John Sibert hate freshman chemistry as a student has caused many of my students to hate math.
I tell my students it’s okay to feel that way – I would hate it, too. But they don’t actually hate the math. They hate the system that taught them, that turned math into something it is not, into methods and memorization they could not enjoy or understand. My main objective in class is to turn this around, to engage my students in creative thinking and the enjoyment of discovering beautiful ideas together with new friends, to bring them to know and love math for what it really is. One of my students wrote at the end of the semester: “This class reminded me of how I used to think about math before it became unenjoyable for me. Now that I actually enjoy it again, I am easily motivated to use mathematics in both my college career and in life.”
- Chapter 13 Commentary: Diana Dominguez
“Good moods are contagious. Bad moods are as well, unfortunately,” writes Robert Prentice. This concept became clear to me in my first year of teaching high school 25 years ago. I learned that positive thinking is not only contagious; it’s life-changing.
A common assignment in 9th grade English was a reflective journal about the insights students had gained. One student wrote: “You should know right now that I’m the loser kid teachers always give up on, so you shouldn’t waste your time on me.” It hit me in the heart in ways I still feel today. My feedback to him was simply, “Not in my class!”
That “loser kid” is now a teacher himself – at the same high school where he was a student. Just before he graduated four years later – in the top 10% of his class – he told me that my note turned his whole thinking around. I wonder what might have happened if I had dismissed his journal comment as melodramatic teen angst and moved on.
Robert writes that we should transmit to students that we are “happy to be in class and . . . [are] having fun teaching the material.” I’d add that it’s especially important to always be aware of how our attitudes can have far-reaching consequences. Positive thinking can change lives, and isn’t that what all teachers hope for?”
- Chapter 14 Commentary: Kevin Schug
“Don’t reinvent the wheel. This advice applies to the classroom and presentations in general. When you observe other presentations, make conscious notes about things you like and do not like about their style, their slides, their mannerisms, and so on. As suggested, try some new things – but not all at once. Treat the classroom like a laboratory, exploring different strategies and activities, to see which ones best engage the students and fit the course material. You should not be overwhelmed. I would never recommend that an instructor move from a 100% traditional lecture style to a 100% flipped classroom. Instead, each topic or even class session can be different. Mix it up and see what works. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from students, even beyond the typical end-of-course survey mandated by your institution. If you try something new, spend a few minutes the next class asking the students what they liked or didn’t like. If you hit upon something they like, something that you find interesting and engaging, and something that effectively conveys the necessary material, then that’s gold – everyone will benefit.”
- Chapter 15 Commentary: John Daly
“Patrick Davis sparked in my mind something I have often thought but never fully developed. We, as teachers, spend much of our time teaching what we (and our discipline) know. I wonder whether we spend too little time, especially with undergraduates, focusing on what we don’t know.
Let me frame this last statement by describing a career paradox many of us experience when it comes to research and teaching. Our research life emphasizes discovery – unearthing and creating knowledge. Our teaching life highlights what our discipline (and sometimes we) has discovered. My solution to this seeming paradox is believing that our best teachers passionately engage in scholarly pursuits. And, our best scholars understand that discovery demands an appreciation and understanding of what is known.
Perhaps, though, we as teachers focus too much on the known. Maybe we should spend more time in our undergraduate classes on the unknowns. And, even the unknown unknowns (hat tip to Donald Rumsfeld). Don’t laugh – the unknown unknowns are the future of every scholarly discipline.”
- Chapter 16 Commentary: Beth Brunk-Chavez
“One of the most important elements of teaching is making connections. Connections can be made between the instructor and students, between the students and the course content, and between the students themselves. Connections make learning meaningful.
James Vick provides several strategies for making connections in a traditional classroom, and efforts can be made to do the same in online courses. Making connections between the instructor and students might include sending each student an individual message toward the start of the semester and using student names when providing feedback. Faculty can help students make connections with their classmates by offering whole class discussion boards along with small group live discussion sessions. Using social media with traditional or online classes also enables students to make connections with their instructor, classmates, and the content. Introductory videos, comments on readings, status reports on projects, and notifications about events are just a few assignments that strengthen connections to the course.
Many students do not expect to feel connected in online classes. Planning a few strategies to develop connections can make learning in the class a more memorable and enjoyable experience for everyone.”
- Chapter 17 Commentary: Barbara Shipman
“As Neil Gray points out, there is a lot in a name! A name signifies a personal identity, and calling someone by name welcomes that person. I want my students to feel welcome to share their ideas in class, but for many, sharing thoughts in a math class may feel intimidating. In my classes of 70, students earn points for coming by my office so that I can meet each of them. This personal interaction makes it easier for them to open up in class and say what they think. Sometimes, we make a discovery that gets labeled with the student’s name. Weeks later, everyone still remembers “Whitney’s Theorem” and how she helped us find it. When the class is over, the moments that may be most memorable and where the learning was best may be the times when people connected with each other by name, laughing and saying what they felt or thought."
- Chapter 18 Commentary: Kenneth Roemer
“Michael Webber takes a direct approach: Explain to students why they are important. Three interrelated assumptions “behind” this approach are that it will raise students’ self- esteem, that elevation will encourage them think that they are capable, and this elevated self-concept will enable them to do better work.
I first witnessed a demonstration of the elevation via an indirect approach, not at a university, but at a children’s theater. My daughter was auditioning for her first musical. She got a good part, Twinkles, that required her and many of the other children to learn 18 songs plus dialogue in about three weeks while doing homework for their regular classes. My response: no way. Fortunately, I was not the director. She never questioned the children’s ability do the show, so most of the students assumed they were good enough to do it. And they did.
I think of this example when I assign challenging individual or team work. I act as if it is a normal task, and assure students that they can do it. Most of the time the students respond well because embedded in the challenge is the assumption that you are good. You can do this. That’s the “Twinkles” effect.”
- Chapter 19 Commentary: Alex Piquero
“I have had the wonderful opportunity to work and publish with some of the field’s most prominent scholars. When I teach criminological theory, I weave in stories about my time as a graduate student attending my first academic conferences where I went to the panels of famous scholars. After their talk, I would introduce myself and in some cases, the meeting went longer. I weave these stories about meetings, cocktails, boat rides, and getting lost in London that help give students the content they need and reinforce the fact that I and the “stars” of our field are just people, who do all kinds of normal and crazy things.
For over twenty years, I was also the bass player in a rock band that played at every meeting of one of our professional societies. Those Friday night shows with a packed house of criminologists were memorable not just from seeing the smiling faces of the people I read in grad school, but also the stories I could tell about their dancing abilities have made many of my classroom discussions legendary.
Students will remember some of your content (hopefully, more than some!), but they will be more likely to remember the environment within which you provided for their learning. Stories remind us that we are all the same.”
- Chapter 20 Commentary: Diana Dominguez
“There are many ways to bond with students online – and it all starts with the instructor,” states Beth Brunk-Chavez. I can attest to this from the experience of being both a student and an instructor in online classes. As an online student, my experiences of instructor involvement have run the gamut from a non-existent presence to an over-involved presence that shut down discussion among the students – an online version of “helicopter parenting.” Those experiences have made me especially interested in finding the right balance for my online classes.
Communication isn’t solely about posting discussion responses or responding to emails. Consider the tone and style you adopt in assignment instructions, announcements to the class, introductions to material, and even the syllabus with its plethora of required university information. These largely text-based items set the stage for how students view your approachability and presence; do they create a cold, authoritarian distance or a welcoming “we’re all in this together” environment? Adopting a conversational tone goes a long way to helping students feel they are part of a community of learners as opposed to disconnected individuals plodding along on some isolated quest for the finish line. I remember a student who took one of my face-to-face classes after having taken an online class with me. She told me at the end of the first class that my in-person behavior was exactly what she’d envisioned when reading all the materials I’d posted for the online class. Put your spirit into all the resources you share with your online students, and, as Beth says: “you might surprise yourself and your students with the connections you are able to create.”
- Chapter 21 Commentary: Art Brownlow
“As I read through Kenneth Roemer’s essay on selective lying, it occurred to me that there is a good bit of this going on when we teach our course content, especially in the humanities, and especially in gateway courses. As Ken explains, noteworthy figures – in his example, authors – tend to shape their images to create the “desired identity.” Often, textbooks for core courses are inclined to present the artist as a special figure and gloss over aspects of character.
Yet, can we separate the great artist from the flawed human? In daily discussions in my music history courses, I find my students constantly return to this theme; they are fascinated by it. When historians push beyond the sanctioned autobiography and reveal the actual human behind the artist, the result is often a shock to students who have performed and grown to love a composer’s music. It is the same theme of Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus (and the Academy Award-winning film of the same name). How can a critically flawed human being create such divine music? More importantly, does it matter?
If you are confronted with awkward silences when giving a discussion prompt, try using Ken’s selective lies, which are actually selective truths devoid of context. I find some of the most lively classroom discussions ensue when I present diametrically opposed “selective lies” about a beloved artist.”
- Chapter 22 Commentary: Beth Brunk-Chavez
“Everyone understands the importance of feedback. Whether students are conducting a lab experiment, practicing an instrument, or developing a web page, they need someone to help them understand when they are on track – what John Daly labels reinforcing feedback – or when they are missing the mark – what John calls redirecting feedback.
Sometimes, teachers lament the challenge of getting students to understand feedback and then use it productively….if they even read it at all. This concern suggests that the way we give feedback is just fine; it’s the students’ reception of it that’s the problem. But, what if we are wrong? What if we put the responsibility on us to make the feedback more effective for the student? And, what if, instead of just sending our comments back, we work with students on understanding and using it productively?
There are many high- and low-tech ways to provide students with our feedback: audio files, videos, post-it notes, and so on. However, no matter how the feedback is delivered, engaging students in a conversation about it is the best thing we can do. Give students a moment to process it, write about it, and plan what they will do next (or next time). Then, perhaps, rather than providing feedback to justify a grade, students can use it more productively as “feedforward.”"
- Chapter 23 Commentary: Kevin Cokley
“Many teachers have not been taught how to effectively translate theoretical concepts into practical, relatable pieces of information. A teacher’s effectiveness can be detected by students’ reactions to the material being taught. Sophia Andres astutely points out that PowerPoint presentations that overly rely on words can be quite boring. Indeed, in my own teaching I have noticed a different level of engagement from students when I revised my PowerPoint slides to include more pictures. The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” could not be more true than when teaching undergraduate students who bore easily with pedagogy that simply relies on reading from a PowerPoint slide.
Capitalizing on students’ obsession with the Internet is sage advice for all teachers. A recent study found that college students spend between 8 and 10 hours a day on their smartphones, with much of that time spent on the internet. Teachers should think of creative ways to incorporate students’ internet obsession into the class. For example, it is standard (and boring) to teach the beliefs of a particular scholar via a PowerPoint slide, but it’s much more interesting to show a YouTube video of the scholar being interviewed. This brings the lecture material to life in a way that sparks a student’s interest beyond understanding abstract concepts.”
- Chapter 24 Commentary: Jill Fleuriet
“We can think of feedback in teaching like peer review on a grant, an article, or a book. If we accept that master teachers learn alongside students, Michael Webber’s essay shows us how teachers become peer reviewers of learning through intentional, detailed explanation of student work.
One way to extend the message in Michael’s essay is to think similarly about teaching feedback: how master teachers use teaching feedback to continue learning how to teach. A master teacher crafts spaces for feedback from students, peers, and teaching mentors. Teaching feedback, like student assessments, can be both formative and summative. Formative feedback lets us know how well we’re teaching at that moment. It is more than grades; it is reflection on why the grades were what they were. Summative feedback is retrospective and explains how well our teaching achieved its objectives. To quote Michael, good feedback “will also give more explicit feedback about why it is wrong or what could have been done better.” A master teacher seeks such feedback to improve her own teaching, including where it went wrong. Good peer reviews are often humbling, and so is good teaching feedback. They both produce experts in their fields.”
- Chapter 25 Commentary: Barbara Shipman
“When someone asks a question or I propose one in class, most of the time I do not know the answer right away, and I tell my students that. As we think it out together, I let them in on the secret ways I’m thinking (which is usually not the typical “math book” explanation). Critical thinking is a creative, spontaneous, unpredictable process. It involves drawing pictures, playing with ideas, guessing and checking, making and correcting mistakes, and trying new things. I am comfortable not knowing the answers, and I want my students to feel that way, too. This gives them the freedom to think, to play, and to enjoy the process of figuring things out.”
- Chapter 26 Commentary: John Sibert
“Two essays in this collection focus on imitation: Kenneth Roemer’s “Teaching Invention through Imitation” and John Hadjimarcou’s “Imitate Success.” Kenneth and John speak in different ways about using imitation to eventually develop one’s own identity. Both essays conjure up the old adage: “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Such an approach is not flawed, but it recognizes that we all stand on the shoulders of those who come before us. Seeking guidance or a template until traction is gained in one’s own identity is a solid, proven method for development. The key word here is “development.” Without development, a person may ultimately doubt their abilities to the point that they feel professionally or academically fraudulent. Thus, I would suggest that beginning lecturers or developing students, who choose to play a role or borrow a template until they “make it,” gain the self-awareness to know the cause of why they need to fake it in the first place. Is it a lack of experience? Is it a lack of confidence? Is it fear of judgment? It is through such reflection that early fakers can successfully use the guidance of others to become independent, innovative makers.”
- Chapter 27 Commentary: Brent Iverson
“Wait, I do not have time to understand this, just tell me how to get the right answer.” How many times has a professor heard that before an exam? One of the biggest transitions a student can make when starting college is to take ownership of their own learning process. Once students grasp that the point of higher education is their learning and understanding, not test scores, a life-long learner has been created. But how can faculty guide students on this path?
David Silva describes important techniques built around the motto “For Us, By Us” or FUBU. According to FUBU, students “become the primary agents of their own learning by providing feedback and creating artifacts that emerge out of their own experience (“by us”) for their own benefit (“for us”).” This can be achieved by a simple “muddiest point” card in which students fill out a card on the way out of each lecture describing what confused them the most about what was just discussed. The professor starts the next class by guiding the students through their own discussion of the muddiest point from the previous lecture. In other words, rather than the professor telling students what they should know, we can give them the space to figure that out for themselves, and to help each other in the process.”
- Chapter 28 Commentary: Art Brownlow
“As an advocate of team-based learning, I found Mary Lynn Crow’s discussion of best practices not only beneficial, but also a good reflection of the research in this field. In “The Essential Elements of Team-Based Learning,” Michaelsen and Sweet (New Directions for Teaching and Learning, no. 116) identify these four essential elements of team-based learning:
• Groups (must be properly formed and managed)
• Accountability (students must be accountable for the quality of their work)
• Feedback (students must receive frequent, timely feedback)
• Assignment design (must promote both learning and team development)
Make no mistake about it, team-based learning involves effort, especially when embracing these elements. I find in my application of team-based learning, I struggle most with group formation and accountability. Each semester, it seems there is a team that doesn’t quite click, despite my efforts to put together diverse groupings of students. And, although in class I continually move from group to group guiding the process, I still find inequities in the distribution of teamwork.
Even though I find I must work on these aspects of team-based learning, the rewards are great. Through teamwork, my students arrive at answers and a degree of comprehension that would not have been possible individually.”
- Chapter 29 Commentary: Beth Brunk-Chavez
“As a teacher of writing, I also like to incorporate drawing into students’ learning processes. However, rather than students’ observing me draw, as Neil Gray describes here, I ask them to visually depict their writing process. Using a low-tech approach, I bring in large pads of paper and markers and give them a seemingly simple prompt: “Draw your writing process.” Some students jump in while others struggle to get started. Some draw a literal depiction with them walking to the library, sitting at a desk, and working on their laptop. Some take a more creative approach, depicting their process as a car trip, a movie, or a rocket launch to the International Space Station.
When everyone has finished their drawing, students are invited to walk around the room and look at everyone’s. After, they are asked to discuss their observations – what seemed common, what was unique, what are they interested in knowing more about, what activities are productive and which seem less so? The activity is concluded with a writing activity.
I’ve also used this activity with graduate students who will become teachers of writing. The biggest take away for this group is how no two writing processes are the same, an important realization before they ask their own students to write.”
- Chapter 30 Commentaries: Sophia Andres
“Though I agree with John Hadjimarcou that the end result should be of primary consideration when designing a course, I begin by selecting the material that has inspired me in the past or in the present as I’m researching the subject I will teach. In the process, I do hope my choices will in turn inspire my students. I could never understand why some professors ask their students to submit the thesis statement of an assignment before they write the assignment. Though I have a general idea where I’m going when I’m composing an essay, a chapter or a book, I invariably refine the beginning based on the direction I have followed. Sometimes, the material has a power of its own taking me to a direction I hadn’t anticipated. And so is the case with the designing of courses. In this way, I follow William Wordsworth’s definition of poetry, “overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquility.” I let my passionate response to material I have explored guide my selection. Then I look for the conceptual development of the course and often eliminate material that does not seem an integral part of the entire course.”
- Chapter 31 Commentary: Robert Prentice
“If you’ve taught at all, you’re probably run into a classroom hijacker. David Silva’s essay spells out a wonderful solution to this frequent problem – the “Listen, Write, and Read” method. This approach precludes the hijacker from dominating the proceedings and has the additional advantage of requiring the other students in the class to become actively involved in the classroom experience.
However, the “Listen, Write, and Read” method may require you to alter the classroom approach you had contemplated. A simpler solution that has often worked for me is to take the offender aside after class and politely inform him (or her) that he is violating social norms and likely alienating his fellow students. I assure the student that I know that it is not his intention to come across as a jerk, and tell him that he can easily solve the problem by staying within guidelines for conduct that I quickly lay out for him to ensure that he does not disrupt (unduly) or dominate.
Most students do not want to be jerks. They have heard of companies that have “no jerk” rules, so they understand the stakes. But if this conversation doesn’t work, I strongly recommend “Listen, Write, and Read."”
- Chapter 32 Commentary: Sophia Andres
“On the first day of class, almost every student seems frozen yet eager to scrutinize their new professor. I often make it my goal to have every class buzz with interactions among the students by the end of the semester. They might come to class for their professor and the content, but I’m even happier when they come to see their friends, some of whom might end up being in their circle of support for semesters to come. I always take time on the first or second session of my classes to have the students introduce each other and ask them to report something unique about the person they interview. I also joke that part of their final will be to know each other’s name, provided the class is a reasonable number.
I make it a point of breaking down my lectures to study questions which I give to my students before we discuss a topic. Then I assign students to a group where they decide which part of the question each one of them will be responsible for. I also have them write their answer and submit it when we have completed our discussion. The questions I ask pertain to those to which they have already worked on. When students have had the opportunity to think about the questions, discuss responses with their classmates, and write about them, we are able to collectively break the silences.”
- Chapter 33 Commentary: Michael Starbird
“All students can improve their ability to think effectively. How a student thinks is a skill that can be taught and learned. One of the important steps in getting students to improve their thinking is to regularly get students to evaluate their own thinking. Catherine Ross describes concrete, practical steps that all teachers can use to make metacognition a useful part of every class. When students turn their own minds toward understanding how they themselves learn, they can choose strategies for learning that work. Catherine also points out the importance of having students reflect on what features of their learning strategies get in the way of their success. If students adapt the practice of regularly reflecting on their own thinking and learning, they will have added a self-reinforcing feedback loop that can lead to their continuous improvement throughout their lives. What a great addition to their education.”
- Chapter 34 Commentary: Michael Starbird
“When we think about teaching a course, it is natural to concentrate on how to convey the challenging concepts. Brent Iverson points out that one of the fundamental and life-changing contributions we can make to our students is to teach them how to learn. All of us would list lifelong learning as one of the principal goals of education. But teaching the skills of learning is often neglected in classes. Brent teaches organic chemistry, a notoriously challenging topic. For students to succeed in truly mastering that difficult subject, many students need to develop learning skills beyond those required for success in earlier classes. Human beings can learn how to learn greater amounts of material and more nuanced concepts; however, new learning skills may be required. All teachers would do well to embrace the idea that our teaching responsibilities should include teaching the skills involved with more advanced learning. Thinking about teaching learning skills would cause us teachers to become more specific and more nuanced in understanding what those study and mastery strategies are that lead to student success. Teachers who teach learning, as well as knowing, can truly transform students for a lifetime.”
- Chapter 35 Commentary:Kevin Cokley
“I am a firm believer that students want to learn and want teachers to teach. This may sound obvious, but we should not take it for granted. I really like Catherine Ross’ suggestion that teachers take the time to explain why their course is important. Teachers likely assume that the importance of their course is self-evident, and indeed this may be the case with certain courses. However, this is not the case for all courses, and in these instances, it is the teacher’s responsibility to help students see the big picture.
When teaching becomes a rote activity, learning also becomes rote for students. To avoid this, I agree that teachers need to model the skills that they hope to instill. To do this, teachers must demonstrate their own learning, growth, and ability to self-correct in front of students. Holding students accountable for learning should also involve holding teachers accountable for effective and inspiring teaching.
I especially like Catherine’s suggestion of giving brief daily quizzes. In my experience students often need help developing self-discipline. While they may want to be on top of all their course readings, if there is no built-in structure of accountability they sometimes will choose to take the path of least resistance. For example, this might mean only reading PowerPoint slides instead of the actual text. In these instances having regular quizzes that cover specific information not necessarily included on the PowerPoint slides will foster the accountability and self-discipline that we want to see in our students.”
- Chapter 36 Commentary: John Sibert
“In “Understanding Fairness,” John Daly notes that procedural fairness allows for students to accept grading outcomes provided that they believe the processes used to make judgments are fair. This statement caused me to reflect on a practical aspect of classroom instruction – partial credit for an incorrect or incomplete answer. I have repeated the mantra to many students that incorrect answers are subject to the mercy of the partial credit court, for which their input is not warranted. However, whether the partial credit rubric is strict or lenient, the student concern should be that their answer was treated the same as every classmate who answered similarly. In other words, the process is fair. Providing customized, individual attention to students based on their needs, challenges, and curiosity is a joy of teaching and need not be administered equally across the entire class. However, students must be assessed equally across the entire class. John gives examples of creative processes for assessing student learning based on clearly communicated procedural fairness. He has considered assessment and its relationship to student learning in each of them. I suggest that instructors spend as much time considering the fairness of their assessments, especially as related to student learning outcomes, as they do in developing them.”
- Chapter 37 Commentary: Mary McNaughton-Cassill
“In recent years the phrases “safe zones” and “trigger warnings” regarding sensitive topics have become punitive terms used to imply that today’s college students are too sensitive. However, learning has always been risky. Admitting that you don’t know something makes you vulnerable, practicing something you are not good at can be embarrassing, and struggling to understand something can make you feel inadequate. Exposure to foreign concepts, diverse belief systems, and people who disagree with you can also feel uncomfortable and disorienting.
This is why Mary Lynn Crow’s suggestions for helping students feel safe while learning are so important. Creating a shared culture of respect, giving students a voice, and owning your own struggles with learning can help students to realize that learning is a process, not a goal. In other contexts we have accepted the idea that practice and mistakes are part of the learning process. However, we haven’t always applied this knowledge to matters of the mind.
Despite research to the contrary, many students falsely believe that academic performance is a reflection of innate intelligence, rather than a learned skill. As teachers we are in a position to help them realize that challenges and mistakes can lead to growth, but only if we create a safe and supportive place for them to practice.”
- Chapter 38 Commentary: Brent Iverson
“Michael Starbird seeks to develop students who “think creatively and insightfully out of habit.” Michael recounts how he learned that lesson in a class in which each student was challenged to use only paper, pencils and their own mind to prove mathematical theorems. By the end of the course, he had learned how to think effectively. We should all develop ways to introduce this kind of essential thinking exercise into our own classes.
No matter the approach taken, all faculty must strive to help students think for themselves and learn on their own. Our graduates’ collective futures will not be filled with tests to be taken, but rather real problems to be solved. The most important of those problems will probably not even become evident for decades to come. The best and therefore right answers will only emerge from the type of effective thinking and genuine insight derived from a lifetime of learning and thinking."
- Chapter 39 Commentary: Sophia Andres
“I often think students watch YouTube videos more often than they open their books. Rather than condemning the students’ desire for the visual, we can actually capitalize on it. There is a YouTube video on just about every topic, and we can supplement our teaching with one of them. Of course, it takes time to screen through quite a few of them to find a good one. However, we can also ask students to find a YouTube video on a given topic, share it with their classmates and have them discuss its positive and negative qualities. Questions can involve the knowledge of the material presented in the video, its authenticity, the attempts of the authors to distort information or manipulate viewers. We can thus prepare students to be active rather than passive viewers, questioning the information to which they are daily exposed to in social media.”
- Chapter 40 Commentary: Diana Dominguez
“Whether we like it or not, as educators, we are role models to our students. Some students will seek us out for mentoring or advice on classes to take, books to read, or careers to follow. These are the students with whom we develop relationships that “give us all the feels.”
We also need to realize the effect we have on those other students in our classes, the ones who never come to office hours, who don’t request extensions on assignments because they are overwhelmed, who don’t explain an absence in a semester – the students who simply don’t communicate with us even though we make it clear that we want to hear from them. Short of forcing them to interact with us outside of class, it is in the classroom where we can serve as positive role models.
Greeting students by name when they get to class, finding moments to engage in non-class-related banter, providing encouraging feedback on assignments in a conversational tone: these are all low-maintenance equivalents to the smile you give a stranger on a street that can spark a domino effect of positivity. Students are, indeed, sensitive beings, and when we show we see them as individuals, we validate them and give them worth. In return, they’ll see us as individuals, as sensitive beings, but, more importantly, they’ll likely go on to spread that same attitude to others. And that can give all of us “the feels".”
- Chapter 41 Commentary: Catherine Ross
“When I read Beth Brunk-Chavez’s title – “your class is not their life” – I heard myself intone “Amen.”
Students come to the universities in the UT System for many different reasons. Especially if students are the first in their family to give higher education a shot, they may not have a very clear idea of why they need to be in college, let alone why their professors think they should be in college. I hope they realize before they leave our universities, however, that becoming educated is a life-long process and that their professors are trying to help them learn about themselves, to expand how they think, and to guide them toward broader horizons. But if some students just need the credit in my class to “get out of here,” and if they don’t mind doing just enough to get by, so they can get home to their children or to the job that makes it possible for them to be in college, like Beth, I get it. Still, I will keep on trying to give even these students more than they expected; and I hope that some of them will be pleasantly surprised. ”
- Chapter 42 Commentary: Michael Starbird
“Teaching is a human act – people reaching people. Part of teaching involves exposing the best parts of our humanity to students and colleagues to model and help create a better world. Often we leave students with something far more important than course content. Practicing human values and attitudes, such as kindness and gratitude, not only puts students and colleagues in more receptive frames of mind, but that kind of generosity also has positive practical consequences, as James Vick points out. Most of us would agree that helping teachers at all levels to feel appreciation for their work has value in itself – well worth the cost of giving it. In fact, the cost of giving thanks to teachers may well be a negative number – that is, the act of thanking students or colleagues not only benefits the receiver of the thanks, but it also reminds us to return to our own teaching with yet more enthusiasm. It is healthy to remind others and ourselves that teaching matters.”
- Chapter 43 Commentary: Susan Doty
“Behind our prioritized “to do” lists – and the actions that result from them – are our thought priorities. I have received two bits of advice from esteemed teaching colleagues over the years that frame my priorities. The first was: “There is something to like in every student you meet; it is your job to find it.” The second was: “If you always put what is in a student’s best interest above all else, you will make the right decisions.” I embrace the first by making an effort – a sincere and deliberate effort – to get to know each of my students personally and to find a point of connection. Beyond the connection, I look for that unique something that I can honestly commend. For me, the second piece of advice translates to my belief that it doesn’t matter how well I teach if students don’t learn. Student learning is my thought priority. ”
- Chapter 44 Commentary: Robert Prentice
“This essay by Sophia Andres is one of my favorites in The Little Orange Book. The message it tells is a positive, life-affirming one. It is consistent with her experience, and mine. And, it turns out, it is also consistent with the science which shows that people who go above and beyond to help others – in other words, who act pro-socially – generally better themselves in all sorts of ways and also inspire others, which can have all sorts of positive knock-on effects.
I call to your attention this short video, which is part of a series of ethics education videos in the Ethics Unwrapped program for which I am faculty director.”
- Chapter 45 Commentary: Robert Prentice
“Sometimes we become so involved in day-to-day preparation for class that our focus on the details that will make a classroom session productive can distract us from what we are trying to accomplish. David Silva helps us keep perspective by emphasizing that we should ask ourselves: “Years from now, what will students remember about me as a teacher?” I suggest we also ask: “Years from now, what will students remember about me as a person?
The course material we teach students every day in class is, of course, what we think of as our main job. But we can also help teach our students how to live their lives. To do this requires two steps. First, open the window to your personal life just a bit. Let the students know you as a whole person who lives beyond the classroom. Second, lead the type of admirable life that you would like your students to learn how to lead. Walk the walk.
This may sound like more than you signed up for when you decided to begin a career as a teacher. But whether you wish to or not, you are going to have an impact on your students. You might as well do it with intentionality. Your impact can be substantial and the rewards immense. To paraphrase David, let me ask you: ”When you are gone, what will your former students have to say about your life?”
- Chapter 46 Commentary: Kenneth Roemer
“Courage is grace under pressure.” This famous quote from Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea has taken on a life far beyond its original context to capture the nobility, not only of an individual withstanding the onslaught a turbulent ocean, but the ability to remain steadfast when confronted by sudden threats. The esteemed teacher, administrator, and scholar, James Vick, extends the meaning by asking, what if the onslaught is not sudden and from without, but gradual and from within?
Confronted with a serious and slowly developing illness, many professors would abandon the profession. Instead, Professor Vick celebrates a profession that can accommodate continuing excellence despite physical weaknesses. He even demonstrates his celebration by turning what many would call a disability into art: his poem.
I’m sure he is aware of another benefit to his courage. One of the stereotypes of an old professor is the sad example of a burned-out, absent-minded teacher hanging on long after his or her prime. Professor Vick offers a counter example: despite his physical failings, his compassionate dedication to students, his continuing curiosity, and his desire to learn demonstrate to students that professors experiencing declining health can provide a living example that can inspire students to embrace the possibility of a life of learning. Wouldn’t it be fine if more of us who are “older” and experiencing some physical decline could demonstrate this type of “grace under pressure?””