Teaching Tips


Tell us what practices work in your classroom! Submit your own tips at teach-learn@montclair.edu

April 2014 - Provoking Creativity in Groups

When organizing group work in their classes, faculty are often times faced with many difficulties, ranging from lack of student motivation, to procrastination, varying work ethics, and uncertainty of how to fairly assess all the group members and the final product. One of the difficulties reported is also lack of creativity. Numerous studies suggest that creativity is not an innate trait of the genial few, but rather, that training in creativity can hone creative thinking skills in any student.

Dr. Sunwolf generated thirty six techniques that provoke creativity in groups (2002, p.208). Consider using some of them listed below to assist your students with tapping into their own creative potentials (to read all her tips on generating creative opportunities in group work, check out the book, available in Sprague Library):

* Crystal Ball is a technique that will help students envision the future by imagining various possibilities (outcomes, results, situations) for their end goal;

* Reverse Brainstorming requires students to change the usual process of brainstorming by coming up with ideas that would make their problem even worse and then creating a list of ideas for doing just the opposite;

* Role Storming technique will have students experience problems from different points of view as they are brainstorming possible solutions to problems from perspectives of people affected by the problem;

* Six Thinking Hats is a technique in which students visualize themselves wearing different color hats and, depending on the color they are "wearing" at the moment, they focus on new aspects of problems (e.g. white - facts and figures, red - emotional views, black - negative aspects, yellow - positive possibilities, green - creativity and new ideas, blue - control of thinking and focus);

* Buzz Groups technique includes students discussing a specific issue and generating a variety of ideas in small groups which are then analyzed by the whole group;

* Wildest Idea will challenge students' mind-sets by encouraging them to come up with the wildest ideas, think of possible variations, and then find practical uses for each idea


Sunwolf (2002). Getting to "groupaha!": Provoking creative processes in task groups. In L.R. Frey, (Ed.), New directions in group communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Pp. 203-217.

March 2014 - Engaging Diversity in the Classroom

Lee, Williams and Kilaberia (2011) analyzed journals of a student cohort of a first-year experience course to see what activities they reported to have engaged them most with diversity. Students reported that three components, classroom climate, interactions with diverse content and peers, and formal, structured reflection were essential to the process. Three effective activities in particular were Biographical Object assignment, Common Book assignment, and the High-Stakes Collaborative Project. For the Biographical Object assignment, students chose an object and described its importance for their cultural identity to their classmates as part of the verbal component, and wrote a paper as a written component. In the Common Book assignment, all the students read the same book, discussed and debated it in class, explored various perspectives and contexts, visited a lecture by the author or the author visited their class. For the High-Stakes Collaborative Project students worked collaboratively on a research topic, presented it, and submitted a written assignment about it.

With our increasingly diverse classrooms and workplaces, it is important that we help develop these competencies among our students. According to the tips from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning and Barbara Davis (1993), consider implementing the following practices for engaging diversity in the classroom:

* Develop a syllabus that explores multiple perspectives on the topic (aim for an inclusive curriculum, incorporate materials, assignments and topics to include different cultures, racial and ethnic groups);

* Design classroom instruction and materials with a diverse group of students in mind (be sensitive to terminology, select readings and texts that are gender-neutral and free of stereotypes, consider different approaches to teaching to accommodate for different learning styles);

* Create opportunities to get to know your students on an individual/personal basis (learn their names, meet with them outside of class, involve them in your research, encourage them to come to office hours);

* Design opportunities to interact with each other in respectful and meaningful ways (assign group work, allow for collaboration, suggest meetings outside of class);

* Activate student voices (encourage all students to participate in class discussion, show them you value all comments by providing a safe environment, do not allow discriminatory behaviors);

* Generate a challenging but vibrant learning process that encourages students to develop their creative, critical, and analytical thinking skills (set classroom norms and expectations, ask students to consider multiple perspectives and present all sides of an issue, allow for application of theoretical knowledge, allow for formal and informal reflection on their learning, provide feedback);

* Invite guest speakers to class to enrich the experience (faculty or off-campus professionals).


Davis, B. G. (1993). Tools for teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University. Teaching in racially diverse college classrooms. Retrieved from http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.topic58474/TFTrace.html

Lee, A., Williams, R., Kilaberia, R. (2011). Engaging diversity in first-year college classrooms. Innovative Higher Education, 37(3), 199-213. doi: 10.1007/s10755-011-9195-7

February 2014 -Ideal Teacher Behaviors

Knowing what traits students prefer in a good professor is important because those qualities are linked to students’ perception of the value of the course, motivation to do well, their learning and performance in the class. However, students differ in their academic self-efficacy and motivation and because of that they place different value on traits in their ideal teacher (Komarraju, 2013).

Intrinsically motivated students, more independent and self-sufficient in their learning, are assured that they can put in the effort and have successful outcomes and because of that they do not place great value in their professor’s caring of professional traits. On the other hand, extrinsically motivated students, students who are unsure of their ability to succeed and anxious students who worry about their performance, strongly value when their teacher is caring and professional. Here are some examples to consider in your classroom to create a learning environment for those students who need your assistance:

-display caring traits  i.e. be a teacher who encourages and cares for students, who provides praise for good student work, helps students who need it, offers bonus points and extra credit, knows student names, builds rapport, provides constructive feedback, and is accessible, humble and understanding;

-display professional traits i.e. be a professor who effectively lectures, presents current information, relates topics to current, real life situations, uses recent videos, magazines, and newspapers to demonstrate points, talks about current topics, uses new or recent texts, who is well prepared, confident, authoritative, knowledgeable, and punctual.

To find out whether your students are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated and to assist the ones who will be receptive to your efforts, try assessing them early on in the semester by surveying their motivation for attending college, interviewing them during your office hours, or by keeping track of data such as attendance, completion of assignments, both in-class and homework.

Komarraju, M. (2013). Ideal teacher behaviors: Student motivation and self-efficacy predict preferences. Teaching of Psychology, 40(104), doi:10.1177/0098628312475029.

January 2014 - Asking Questions

Asking questions in class is an important teaching skill that encourages students to think and learn. Students' answers also help faculty assess their learning. However, not all questions effectively do that. Questions you ask your students should "capture students' attention, arouse their curiosity, reinforce important points, and promote active learning" (Davis, 1993).

Consider using the following tactics for effective questioning:

* Ask one question at a time because multiple questions at once may confuse the students;

* Avoid yes/no questions and ask "how" and "why" questions instead;

* Pose questions that lack a single right answer to elicit discussion about a variety of theories and possible answers;

* Ask focused questions because overly broad questions may steer discussion off topic;

* Avoid leading questions to allow for a range of possible answers;

* Pause in silence after you ask a question to allow for students to think about the answer;

* Search for consensus on correct responses by involving other students in discussion;

* Ask questions that require students to apply knowledge and demonstrate their understanding rather than just asking them "Do you understand?", to which the answer is yes or no;

* Structure your questions to encourage student-to-student interaction by asking them to respond to one another;

* To encourage the quiet students in the class, pose your questions as if you're musing on it such as "I wonder if ...", rather than seeking right or wrong answers such as "What is the definition of ...";

* Use probing strategies by asking follow-up questions such as asking for specifics, clarification, relationships, explanation, etc.;

* When talking to a student, move around the room to include other students in the discussion.

Davis, B. G. (1993). Tools for teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Practice Tips from Faculty

Contributed by Steven Markoff, Instructional Specialist, Department of Accounting, Law, and Taxation

A Teaching Resolution

I always have a goal to become a 5% better teacher every semester.  The time in between semesters is a great time to set some teaching goals for the upcoming session.  So I’d like to suggest one which will have the power to make your teaching more effective and more enjoyable.

More and more, we are being asked to develop critical thinking skills in our students, and that means switching from the old role of conveying information. To this end, almost all classes could do with a lot less professor talking, and a lot more professor listening.  Of course, in order to listen, there must be something to listen TO, hence, the need to ask questions. Are you asking enough questions?  If not, that’s a real good goal for the new semester. As James Thurber, the celebrated journalist once said, “it is better to ask some questions than to know all the answers.”

So, if you want to set a goal to ask more questions, and become a better questioner, here are some things that, over the years, have worked for me and others:

1. Ask tons of questions – the more the merrier.  Remember, unless you ask questions, you have nothing to listen to – and then all you can do is talk!

2. Use questions that teach, and not merely assess – Albert Einstein once said “most teachers waste their time by asking questions that are intended to discover what a pupil does not know, whereas the true art of questioning is to discover what the pupil does know or is capable of knowing.”  Questions should be teaching tools, not merely assessment tools.

3. Ask students what they think of others’ answers – I am always going around the room doing this. “Ms. Wayne, what did you think of what Ms. Lazzara said?” or “Ms. Lazzara just said such and such.  What was she assuming when she said that?”  This helps develop their ability to listen, and also to think critically about what others are saying.  An added bonus – it keeps them awake in class, as they always know that you might spin around to them next and ask them to comment in this fashion.

4. Embrace wrong answers – that’s part learning. If you are constantly getting correct answers, then you are probably not asking good probing, challenging questions.  Try not to focus on whether or not an answer is correct or incorrect, otherwise, only people who know they have the ‘right’ answer will want to contribute.  Let the students know that incorrect answers are okay as well.  I often will call on a student that I know will give an incorrect answer, not to humiliate them, but rather, to promote further discussion of the question and to step through the thinking process from the ground up.

5. Ask tough questions – I’ll be frank – I love asking questions, but asking questions when you know that the students know, is a complete waste of time.  If all you do is ask questions that they know, then quite honestly - they don’t need you.  Your job is to expand their abilities and challenge them.  To do that, you must ask tough questions, and help them to get from where they are now, to the answer.

6. Test the way you teach – students learn according to how they are tested, and they figure that out pretty quick.  You can ask them to stretch and think critically all day long in class, but if you do not test that way, they simply will not learn it.  If all you are going to do on your exam is ask them to memorize and regurgitate, then forget #’s 1 - 5 above as none of it will matter.

Make a New Year’s resolution to ask more and better questions in class and you will see your students learning more right in front of your eyes, and you will learn and grow as a teacher as well.  Plus, it makes teaching a heck of a lot more fun, interesting and challenging.


How to use the Socratic method in the classroom. Retrieved from http://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/socratic/fourth.html

Lam, F. (2011).  The Socratic method as an approach to learning and its benefits. Dietrich College Honors Theses. Paper 134. http://repository.cmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1126&context=hsshonors

Lemov, D. (2010). Teach Like a Champion. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

December 2013 - Student Reflections

Student reflections are an important assessment form that allows students to think about how, why and what they are learning. They are valuable because they encourage metacognition and synthesis, two important skills of understanding, analyzing and managing one's learning, and the ability to put together pieces of learned information and see the big picture. By assessing students' attitudes, values and opinions about learning processes through student reflections, instructors can quickly gain insight into progress and potential problems, and are able to address them accordingly.

Some opportunities for students to reflect are:

* Minute papers: students briefly answer a couple of questions (e.g. "What was the most important thing you learned during this class?");

* Other short questions and prompts: students answer questions about their learning processes, attitudes and values (e.g. "Describe something major that you've learned about yourself from this assignment.";

* Before-and-after reflections: allow for assessment of students' growth and development by comparing their responses at the beginning and at the end of the course (e.g. "Why is this discipline/course important?");

* Longer self-reflection assignments: students write essays to reflect on the learning experience (this form requires the instructor to provide detailed prompts such as "set explicit goals, monitor your progress, seek out feedback, evaluate your learning, assess personal strengths," etc.)

* Journals: written assignments throughout the semester to develop skill through repeated practice, study skills, conceptual understanding, metacognitive and synthesis skills;

* Self-Ratings: students rate themselves on their knowledge, skills, and attitudes (e.g. students rate a course-related skill on a scale from 1 to 5);

* Interviews and focus groups: instructor poses open-ended or questionnaire-type questions to elicit discussion (e.g. "What did you think was the best part of this course?").


Suskie, L. (2004). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide. San Francisco, CA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc.

Practice Tips from Faculty

At the end of the semester, with the final exam, I have a separate page where the students complete the following sentence anonymously :  "During the semester I learned _____."  Some of the answers that come out of that are incredible.  I then have another person gather this information and give it back to me in a Word file, which I then reformat and circulate back to the students. There are several reasons I do this.

First, it forces all of the students to reflect on the semester and make an evaluation. “What did I learn that is worth putting down?” I think every class could benefit from more student reflection and evaluation. We convey information to them and they convey it back to us, possibly without ever thinking of why they are doing that and what thy are gaining from the process. We often end the semester with a final examination that asks “can you compute the average cost?” or “do you know how to compute interest expense?” without any general query about what was actually learned.

Second, these reflections should help the teacher get better at teaching. If I don’t like what I read from the students, I can consider what changes need to be made. I have never made a secret that I do not like formal student evaluations which too often hinge on whether you get a 4.3 or a 4.2 on a five point scale. However, I believe that asking students what they learned, and then deciding whether you like the answer or not,  is a very valid way to get some genuine feedback.

Third, it gives students a take away from the semester. Too often, students study like mad and take a complicated final exam and then walk off without the semester being brought to any type of logical conclusion. Somehow there should be some closure to the semester other than the mystery of walking away from a final exam wondering what you got right and what you got wrong and then a grade magically appearing on WESS or Blackboard. By sending out the list of “what did you learn in this course?” the students can get a sense of what the entire community gained from the course and I think that is a great wrap up.

-Steve Markoff, Department of Accounting, Law, & Taxation, Montclair State University

November 2013 - Addressing Incivility in the Classroom

A number of actions and behaviors can disrupt a class ranging from lateness, texting, surfing the Web for content unrelated to class, to engaging in a number of other nonacademic activities. These behaviors negatively impact the professor, the students, the classroom climate, and therefore, learning. It is important to address these incidents accordingly.

Guy Boysen studied students' ratings of teacher responses to another disruption  - student incivility. He administered surveys about instances of incivility varying in disorderliness and harmfulness, and students rated effectiveness of teacher response. He found that students recognized incivility when it disrupted the class, and wanted the teacher to exert control, end such behavior, and maintain class order. Based on Boysen's research, the following interventions were found to be the most effective for addressing incidents in the classroom:

* Both direct confrontation and private confrontation were rated as the most effective for all types of incivility;

* Ignoring the incident was perceived as an ineffective way to address the incivility;

* Direct confrontation, discussion, and providing counterexamples were perceived as more effective for disorderly incidents (incidents perceived by all individuals in the classroom such as verbal insults or phone ringing) than nondisorderly incidents (incidents only immediately perceived by the professor such as obscene gestures toward a student presenter or listening to headphones);

* Disorderliness increases desire for an immediate response rather than a delayed or passive response.

Address the disorderly incidents in your class immediately in a direct and decisive manner by telling the student that the behavior wasn't appropriate, by leading a class discussion about the behavior, or by giving counterexamples to show the flaws in the students' thinking that led to the behavior. If a direct confrontation is not advisable, consider addressing it in private. Regardless of the method, always avoid disrespecting or humiliating any students.

Boysen, G.A. (2012). Teacher responses to classroom incivility: Student perceptions of effectiveness. Teaching of Psychology, (39)4,  276-279. doi: 10.1177/0098628312456626

October 2013 - Creating Presence in Online Teaching

Research suggests that a sense that the professor is present in an online class will enhance professor-student relationship and will benefit student performance and learning. The sense of presence doesn't just happen naturally, and the professor must consider it before, during and after the course. To create an online learning community the professor needs to address many students' needs and will act as a "designer of activities as the course evolves, facilitator of group discussions, catalyst for interactions, observer, evaluator, mentor and tutor" (Lehman & Conceicao, 2010, p.66).

To increase your presence in your online classroom, consider using the following activities:

* Send students welcome letters and orient them to the course;

* Introduce yourself to students and encourage students to introduce themselves to one another by using Individual Data Sheets, Getting-To-Know-You Surveys or Biographical Forms;

* To encourage relationships among students use ice-breakers such as Virtual License Plate, Where in the World are You, or What Do You Like;

* Hold electronic office hours (for example, use Skype or chat to communicate with them);

* Post frequent announcements;

* Assign team projects, debates, or blog exercises;

* Provide detailed digital feedback on assignments or to narrate instructions by creating personalized videos (for example, using Jing, Camtasia, Snagit, or Screenr);

* Use activities for one-way learning sharing of course material such as concept maps, participant videos, labwork, interviews, and trigger videos;

* Create class collages;

* Use discussion board to encourage student collaboration and interaction.

Lehman, R.M., & Conceicao, S.C.O. (2010). Creating a sense of presence in online teaching: How to "be there" for distance learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

September 2013 - Establishing Rapport in the Classroom

In his literature review, Neil Fleming (2003) found that various studies pointed to the importance of the professor's rapport with students and the effect of professor-student interpersonal relationship on student learning. Results suggested that students were more likely to understand the content and learn more effectively if the professor built relationships, communicated respect, consideration and empathy for the students.

To start the new academic year with a welcoming classroom climate in your classes that will contribute to learning, consider the following strategies listed by Nancy Chism:

* Display authentic concern for students and avoid patronizing behaviors;

* Attend to terminology preferences of social groups by reading and listening to discussion as well as asking directly;

* State explicitly that diversity is valued in the classroom and deal promptly with biased student comments rather than ignore them;

* Personalize the classroom interactions as much as possible by engaging in informal discussions before class, using students' names and encouraging students to visit during office hours;

* Enrich course content by drawing on perspectives, examples and references that reflect the fullness of human inquiry.

Additional ideas:

* Encourage open debate, self-disclosure, and ask students about their viewpoints or feelings;

* Allow plenty of time for students to ask questions and challenge the professor's views;

* Incorporate humor, praise student performance and engage in conversations outside of class;

* Use inclusive language and avoid sarcasm and indifference;

* Encourage involvement, commitment and interest.

Fleming, N. (2003). Establishing rapport: personal interaction and learning. The IDEA Center. Retrieved September 3, 2013, from http://www.theideacenter.org/sites/default/files/IDEA_Paper_39.pdf


Practice Tips from Faculty

My course is built on this, starting with pre-course contacts a long time in advance of the course.  Not only does the quality of the learning improve, but other areas as well.

In his newly published book, Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty, James Lang provides evidence that the quality of the teacher-student relationships has a significant effect on this area as well, which is of great concern to many.

Quality interpersonal relationships also seem to solve, at least for me, many of the most pressing problems that teachers say they face in the class, such getting students to read the book and to prepare for class.  I spend extensive time talking about this in my Influencing Student Behavior presentation.

Thanks for bringing this to the faculty attention.

-Steve Markoff, Department of Accounting, Law, & Taxation, Montclair State University

August 2013 - Laptop Use in the Classroom

Results of an experimental study by Sana, Weston, and Cepeda (2012) showed that students who used laptops to multitask during a lecture-based class had poorer quality notes and lower comprehension test scores in comparison to students who were not using laptops to multitask. In addition, the nearby peers who were in direct view of the multitasking students were also affected and scored lower on comprehension tests.

To ensure that technology in class fosters learning rather than hinders is, consider following suggestions:

* Discuss consequences of technology use when not used for curricular purposes and inform the students of laptop misuse.

* Compile a list of rules to follow about the use of technology in class together with your students which will serve as a contract and will be enforced throughout the semester.

* If the laptops do not help learning in a particular course, discourage the laptop use altogether or restrict the use of Internet to course-based websites only.

* Guide the students' laptop use by directing their attention to class-related websites (ask them to look for information or find videos to share with the class).

Sana, F., Weston, T., & Cepeda, N.J. (2013). Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. Computers & Education 6224-31, 464-478. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2012.10.003

July 2013 - Twitter in the Classroom

Research suggests that "Twitter use in higher education may facilitate increased student engagement with course content and increased student-to-student or student-instructor interactions - potentially leading to stronger positive relationships that improve learning and to the design of richer experiential or authentic learning experiences" (Greenhow & Gleason, 2012).

To incorporate Twitter in your classroom consider these ideas:

* Create a feed for your classroom so you can tweet about upcoming assignments, events and class news.

* Commit to posting at regular intervals, but vary the time of day of the posts.

* Post supplementary materials like links to articles and videos so students can continue learning even when class is over.

* Track hash tags, memes, and current events by setting up specific feeds that the entire class can monitor.

* Connect with other classrooms and professors to increase communication and build community.

* Follow other educators' tweets to keep with the latest teaching trends, get ideas and and support one another.

* Suggest people, organizations, journals, magazines for your students to follow.

* Be personal, yet avoid overly personal comments.

Greenhow, C., & Gleason, B. (2012). Twitteracy: Tweeting as a new literacy practice. Educational Forum 76(4), 464-478. doi:10.1080/00131725.2012.709032

Online Colleges Staff. (2012, July 26). A teacher's guide to social media. Online Colleges. Retrieved July 2, 2013, from http://www.onlinecolleges.net/2012/07/26/a-teachers-guide-to-social-media/

Edudemic Staff. The teacher's guide to Twitter. Edudemic. Retrieved July 2, 2013, from http://www.edudemic.com/guides/guide-to-twitter/

June 2013 - 21st Century Syllabus

Rey Rosales suggests that developing a "21st Century Syllabus" will lead to greater student learning outcomes, provides a clear course roadmap for students, and delivers access to a broad range of online resources. Rosales notes that such a syllabus encourages enhanced collaborative learning opportunities and helps students identify and take ownership of their own paths to learning within a high-tech learning system.

To respond to some of the pedagogical demands of the 21st century, consider including the following practical ways into your syllabus:

* Open Courseware: offer alternatives to students regarding course textbooks and resources from courseware sites, open-access journals and online databases. List the readings and other course materials with live web links for easy access in your syllabus.

* Collaboration: mention avenues for collaborative learning, especially peer-to-peer learning through social media networks in the syllabus. Try using Twitter, Facebook, wikis or other collaborative tools.

* Blended Learning and Virtual Access: another important component is the idea of just-in-time access to materials - make materials available for download or purchase when students need them. Use a learning management system or website where materials (slides, lecture captures, digital files) are posted and can be accessed by students as needed. Indicate this alongside your contact details (online office hours, mobile device details, etc.) on the course syllabus.

* Learning Analytics: consider using a learning management system to chart and follow your students' progress. Use that data to modify and adjust course content and presentation to help students learn the content more effectively. For a list of LMS visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_learning_management_systems

* Face Time: virtual face time with an expert can add variety to the learning experience in a way not possible with straight lecturing by the instructor or the teaching assistants. Consider incorporating interaction with an expert into the classroom experience. Set up Skype or any other video conferencing or online chat/discussion accounts eliminating the need for the expert to come to the classroom.

* DIY Learning: recognize, provide guidance and give credit to the ideas of do-it-yourself learning by asking students to watch software tutorials (Lynda.com, Khan Academy) and sharing ideas in a wiki, Twitter, or chat. This will foster collaboration that the instructor can guide without dominating. Reflect this method of learning in the classroom in the syllabus.

Rosales, R. (2011). The syllabus and a 21st century education. EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved June 4, 2013 from http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/syllabus-and-21st-century-education

May 2013 - Last Day of Class

On the last day of class help your students review the course materials, syllabus and goals, invite them to reflect on the semester, organize and synthesize their learning, get closure and think of implementation of their knowledge in the future. Some activities to consider:

1) Portfolios: If the students have been keeping a portfolio of their work from the start of the course, ask them to put together a sample of 3 pieces of work that demonstrate their growth. Have each student explain their choices and how their personal growth relates to learning outcomes for the class identified in the syllabus;

2) Concept map: Have class as a whole construct a concept map of the course demonstrating their understanding of how the course worked;

3) Review the Syllabus: Review the syllabus to reaffirm that learning outcomes have been met and to remind students of the material that has been covered;

4) Letters to the Future: Have students set goals at the beginning of the course and review them at the end of the course to see which ones have been accomplished. Also, consider having them write a letter to the students who take the course next, giving advice and encouragement;

5) Pre-test, Post-test: If you used an assessment of student knowledge, ability of values at the beginning of the semester, use it again at the end. This will help students realize how much they have changed during the year, and will help you identify areas you may need to emphasize more next time you teach the course;

6) Final exam, Take Two: After the students take the final exam or project by themselves, have them work in groups to identify how their answers might have improved. This can identify areas in the course that need development and also may reduce dissatisfaction with grades on the final exam;

4) Stand and Deliver:Uhl (2005) recommends ending the course with an invitation to students to stand and share their thoughts. Some prompts: What are your regrets? For what are you thankful? How will you use what you have learned?

Burdick, D. (2013). The Last Day of Class. Center for Teaching Excellence. Endicott College. Retrieved May 6, 2013 from http://endicott.edu/Academics/AcadResources/CtrTeachingExcellence-AcadResources/~/media/AcadResourcesMediaLibrary/PDFs/CTE/LastDayofClass.pdf .

April 2013 - Note-taking for Students

Research on note-taking indicates that taking notes and reviewing them, in class or after class but especially before the exam, positively impacts student learning, and in turn helps students perform better on exams. Some strategies to implement in your class to support note-taking are:

1) Pacing: moderate speed of delivery at 135 words per minute best supports students note-taking,

2) Pausing: taking short two to three minute breaks allows students to review and rework their notes, and write down what they recall; this improves student comprehension and retention of material,

3) Verbal and visual cues: assist students in identifying lecture structure and hierarchical relationships, key points, and context by verbally calling for attention to them or visually by drawing diagrams, graphs, charts,

4) Handouts: students take better notes if a professor provides outline, overview or other organizer to supplement their notes,

5) Expose students to alternative and non-linear note-taking techniques: if students are familiar with models such as the Cornell Method (involves creating separate columns for notes and cues/questions, with a summary at the bottom of the page), concept maps, matrices or the "Smart Wisdom", they may prove more effective for some. A study by Makany, Kemp, & Dror (2008) found that non-linear note-takers performed on average 20% better than linear control groups measuring comprehension and metacognitive skills, surmising that non-linear strategies offer a visually accessible format that decreases cognitive load and enables deeper understanding through improved knowledge management and organization.

DeZure, D., Kaplan, M., & Deerman, M. (2001). Research on student notetaking: implications for faculty and graduate student instructors. CRLT Occasional Paper No. 16. University of Michigan. Retrieved April 1, 2013 from http://www.crlt.umich.edu/sites/default/files/resource_files/CRLT_no16.pdf.

Boye, A. (2012). Note-taking in the 21st century: Tips for instructors and students.Teaching, Learning, and Professional Development Center. Texas Tech University. Retrieved April 3, 2013 from http://www.tlpd.ttu.edu/home//TLPDCTeachingResources/documents/Notetaking%20Whitepaper.pdf.

March 2013 - Exams

Research shows that open-book tests result in increases in performance on an initial test compared to a closed-book test, but that the two types of tests result in similar long-term retention. Both types of exams also result in better long-term retention compared to simply studying the material and not being tested on it. Gharib, Phillips and Mathew (2012) report that alternatives to closed-book exams, such as open-book exams or cheat sheet exams, are preferred by students because they give them the illusory belief that they will perform better and they decrease test-taking anxiety levels.

To incorporate the alternatives to closed-book testing in your classroom, consider allowing open-book exams or the following cheat sheet strategies:

  • Allow or require cheat sheets or crib sheets. Some professors require them to be handwritten to ensure that the student personally prepared it.
  • Develop guidelines for grading and create a handout that includes directions, questions, and grading rubrics.
  • Consider creating a few sample crib cards showing a range of styles (outline, list of key topics or principles, graphic organizers with facts and data for support arguments, and so forth) that students can use as models.
  • Create cheat sheets with students in class as part of the review before the test. Collect the cheat sheets after the class and give them back attached to their test.
  • Collect cheat sheets after the test, discuss them during test review: some faculty grade the cheat sheets, some have students assess the value and usefulness of the information on the cheat sheet.

Barkley, E. (2010). Student engagement techniques. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bean, J.C. (2011). Engaging Ideas: The professor's guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p.218.

Gharib, A., Phillips W., & Mathew, N. (2012). Cheat sheet or open-book? A comparison of the effects of exam types on performance, retention, and anxiety. Psychology Research 2(8), 469-478.

Theory in Practice: Tips from Faculty

I have noticed that the reduction in anxiety will come about regardless of whether you allow a post-it note, and index card, a sheet of paper or a book.

In addition to hand written, I limit the amount that they can put on the sheet by making it one side and only one line of writing per line. I feel that by allowing them to put too much on there will actually become part of the problem as, if they exam has significant time pressure as mine do, allowing them virtually unlimited amount of small writing actually encourages them to spend more time looking and less time thinking, thus it becomes part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Because my tests require thinking that is not in the book, giving them the book also results in encouraging them to waste precious time flipping through pages instead of thinking. So the effectiveness here depends on the connection between the book material and test material.

My students frequently report that they hardly used the authorized teaching aid permitted and, after one midterm, the top performers do not bring it for subsequent exams or the final. The best scores come from those with relatively few well-thought-out and organized notes.

In my view, the score benefit comes from the anxiety reduction that you mention and, the actual task of putting a test causes the student to learn the material. By being forced to prioritize and ask themselves the question, "Is this really important enough to put on my one page?", that causes them to prioritize the importance of the material, which is an essential learning skill.

-Steve Markoff, Department of Accounting, Law, & Taxation, Montclair State University

February 2013 - Classroom Community

Students will engage deeply in classroom-based learning if they feel that they are welcomed, valuable, contributing members of a learning community, and are likely to engage less in a course in which they feel like their presence is neither noticed nor needed. One of the strategies for creating conditions that build a sense of community and reduce anonimity in the classroom is learning students names.

Here are some ideas on how to do it. Several have the added advantage of going beyond just learning names to learning more about each student's background, aspirations, and interests.

  • Photo roster/seating chart: Create a seating chart (using Table option in Microsoft Word with columns) based on where students sit; cut and past each student's picture into the appropriate cell in the table.
  • Name tents: Cut 8 1/2 x 11 inch card stock paper in half, distribute the paper and markers and ask students to form a tent and print their first name on one side and last name on the other side. Students place their name tent at the front of their desk. Collect the tents and have them available for pick up each class section, or tell students they must be responsible for bringing their name tent to each class.
  • Group photographs: Particularly effective if students have already been formed into teams. Gather students in groups of 4-6 for a photograph, make prints, and circulate the photograph with a marker so that students can write their names underneath their picture.
  • Video introductions: Have students fill out basic information on an index card, then line up, submit their card, and introduce themselves while being videotaped. This has the added value of being visually memorable and allowing you to hear the correct pronunciation of their name.
  • Student info cards: Ask students to attach a passport size photo to an index card and add identification information (e-mail, telephone number, major, career goals, hobbies).
  • Name game: Students and professor form a circle, introduce themselves and repeat names of those who have already introduced themselves. In the end, consider the entire group saying all names together. For larger classes, form more circles.
  • Online self-introductions: Ask students to write a brief paragraph introducing themselves to the rest of the class and post this on a designated forum thread. If possible, ask students to post a photo of themselves or to select and appropriate avatar. To ensure that students read all the introductions, create a quiz or point-generating assignments based on details you have gleaned from the students' introductions.
  • Interviews and introductions: Students will be paired up and interview one another by asking questions (for example, What is your major? Why are you taking this course?). Pairs will then introduce their partner to the whole class.
  • Academic "speed dating": Students will go through several short face-to-face conversations with their peers, each conversation anchored by a prompt provided by the teacher and posted on a presentation slide. A buzzer is set for 2-3 minutes, and when it goes off, students must quickly find another partner with whom to participate in a brief conversation. To use this activity on the first day, create prompts that focus on the syllabus such as "What is the purpose of the assignment on page 8?", as well as lighthearted prompts such as "Describe the most unusual or fun job you've ever held."

Barkley, E. (2010). Student engagement techniques. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Practice Tips from Faculty


"I usually do a hybrid of your tips that gets conversation going based on the class topic. For instance, in my leadership class I have students journal privately online about the first time they noticed their leadership ability. Then in class, I have them pair up to share their entry and also discuss their leadership style. Afterwards, we go around the room sharing reflections on the experience of journaling, working in pairs and the leadership journey. This way we learn fun facts about each other and we quickly have unique information to remember about everyone. Students love this! I do it in an OB course as well."


-Angela Durham, Department of Management, Montclair State University


January 2013 - Active Learning

Smith (2008) reports that when students learn about learning, or when they acknowledge the linkage between their goals and the implemented learning methods, they have a new appreciation for why learner-centered instructors do what they do. Furthermore, these learners come to value these teaching methods, such as encouraging and providing opportunities for active learning, so long as they are used effectively and they can measure their own learning.

    Students learn best (Davis, 1993) when they take an active role:
    • When they discuss what they are learning,
    • When they practice what they are learning,
    • When they apply practices and ideas.

To start the discussion about importance of active learning with your students, try asking them the following questions on the first day of class:

    Thinking of what you want to get out of your college education and this course, which of the following is most important to you?
    1. Acquiring information (facts, principles, concepts)
    2. Learning how to use information and knowledge in new situations
    3. Developing lifelong learning skills.

Then ask them to think about the best approach in accomplishing each one of the goals: is it studying alone, or learning with peer and instructor influence. This discussion can explain active learning methods they may find in the class syllabus.

    Some methods to include in your syllabus that promote learning:
    • Administer weekly online assignments to serve as a guide to both you and the students, to encourage reading the content and for students to come to class prepared
    • Allow for in-class peer work for students to apply what they read
    • Limit lecturing; focus presentations on topics students struggle with.

Smith, G. (2008). First-day Questions for the learner-centered classroom. The National Teaching and Learning Forum 17(5), 1-4.

December 2012 - Rehearsal and Practice

As we are nearing the end of the semester and final exams are in sight, provide opportunities for guided practice and rehearsal to your students to reinforce learning and increase retention. Two major factors affect the quality of the rehearsal: the amount of time and the type of rehearsal activity.

  1. Rote rehearsal is for remembering and storing information in the same form that it entered working memory. This method is used for memorizing lists, facts, definitions. Strategies to teach students:
    1. mnemonic devices
    2. number memory techniques
  2. Elaborative rehearsal helps students process the information so that it’s more meaningful. It takes more time but it results in deep learning. Elaboration strategies include:
    1. forming associations
    2. organizing information into categories
    3. outlining
    4. clustering concepts into taxonomic categories with shared characteristics
    5. paraphrasing
    6. summarizing
    7. creating analogies
    8. self-quizzing

Barkley, E. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

November 2012 - Teaching Through a Disaster

As the Montclair State campus community continues to get back on track after experiencing a disruptive week caused by Hurricane Sandy, we would like to offer some tips on how to be supportive to students in the classroom who are still recovering from home, work, or transportation issues. First, please follow all guidelines communicated by Montclair State administration, especially if you or your students require additional or specialized support services. Second, consider some of the steps outlined below to help address the stress of meeting educational goals and your student needs after a traumatic disaster. Third, review the list of technology resources (training and tools) sent by the Office of Information Technology (OIT; added below for your convenience) for ideas of how to provide access to resources and teaching materials to students who are still unable to make it to campus.

    Some helpful hints for stabilizing the emotions and behaviors of your students in your classes and returning to an improved mental and emotional state after a crisis to continue to promote an optimal learning environment are:
    1. Listen – provide opportunity to share experiences.
    2. Protect – inform students about events and what is being done in the community to keep everyone safe.
    3. Connect – help reestablish connections and a feeling of normalcy.
    4. Model calm and optimistic behavior.
    5. Teach – help students understand the range of normal stress reactions, invite counselors and professionals if needed.

Adapted by Professor Lori Ungemah, English, New Community College at CUNY: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lori-ungemah/schools-hurricane-sandy-nyc-_b_2064542.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

Schreiber, M., Gurwitch, R., & Wong, M. (2006). Listen, Protect, Connect – Model & Teach: Psychological First Aid (PFA) for Students and Teachers. Accessed November 7, 2012 athttp://www.ready.gov/sites/default/files/documents/files/HH_Vol3Issue3.pdf

Technology Resources (Training and Tools):

  • Designing Accessible Online Course Materials - How accessible is your online or hybrid course to all students? Federal and state regulations have impressed upon us the increasing importance of accessible course design. This workshop will help you better understand what is meant by course accessibility and offer some tips on how you can begin to make your courses more accessible.
  • Ustream and Youtube - Ustream allows you to create channels to broadcast live via a webcam. An educational channel may then be used to broadcast live presentations to your students over the web to enhance teaching and learning in your online/hybrid courses. You may also publish Ustream footages on YouTube, and then share the videos with students.
  • Google Docs - Google Docs is a suite of products that allows you to create different types of documents, collaborate in real time with others and store them on the web for free. All you need is an internet connection and a Google account.
  • Using Google Sites to Create an ePortfolio - ePortfolio is a valuable learning assessment instrument which can be integrated into student learning to showcase their accomplishments and reflect on their educational or professional experiences. Google Sites can be utilized to create ePortfolios, which can not only assist you to assess student learning, but also help your students organize and reflect on their learning process.

For additional resources, please visit OIT's website at http://www.montclair.edu/oit/

October 2012 - Critical Reading, Writing and, Speaking Prompts 

Critical reading, writing, and speaking prompts can be designed to cultivate specific critical thinking skills. They can be used to develop supporting material that can be used in and out of class, alone or in combination, to help students expand, clarify, or modify ideas.

    The following six types of prompts can be used by educators to create reading guides (as reading questions or to focus class discussions) for students in their pre-class reading assignments:
    1. Identifying the problem or issue helps students create a “need to know” viewpoint.
    2. Making connections helps students think about course topics within the realm of their own experience.
    3. Interpreting the evidence can help students in reading case studies, viewing video clips, or reviewing information.
    4. Challenging assumptions helps students identify and critique seldom-tested assumptions, determine their source, and evaluate their validity based on information.
    5. Making applications helps students use what they have learned in practical ways.
    6. Taking a different point-of-view helps students consider diverse ideas.

Tomasek, T. (2009). Critical reading: Using reading prompts to promote active engagement with text. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 21(1), 127-132.

September 2012 - Welcoming Students to Class

    Legg and Wilson (2009) report that sending a welcoming email before the first class:
    1. Increases positive attitudes towards the instructor.
    2. Enhances positive perception of the class.
    3. Increases student motivation in class.
    4. Affects retention (students are less likely to withdraw from the class).

Legg, A.M. & Wilson, J.H. (2009). E-mail from professor enhances student motivation and attitudes, Teaching of Psychology, 36:3, 205-211.

This is a communication strategy to use to establish a connection with your students before class begins. To read more, visit:http://teachingandlearningatmsu.wordpress.com/

These are just some strategies to encourage students to think critically. For more literature on teaching and learning please consult the Research Academy's library or contact our office.

Tell us what practices work in your classroom! Submit your own tips at teach-learn@montclair.edu