Teach the Test or Practice What I Preach

I have been guilty for teaching the test for many years, especially in my general education courses, music appreciation class, and woodwind methods class. I lectured with power-point, I required the students to take notes, and then finally I administered the test. To avoid sleepers or cell phone gazers, I changed my format to make it more interesting, however I tended to leave the student’s participation out of the formula. The only tactic left was group discussions, and I avoided this like the plague until I attended a workshop last May. This workshop was lead by UCA Residential Colleges called “Deep Learning Faculty” workshop. Since I teach at EDGE Residential College at Hughes Hall, I felt obliged to go to this two day event. I cringed, when we worked in groups at this workshop, but I discovered that students working in groups was the answer to some of my teaching strategies. I had to let go of the control of my teaching lectures and trust my students to teach themselves under my guidance.

Although I knew group discussions was the answer, putting it into practice was another matter. However, I lead by example. My husband teaches fourth grade and when he told me that he took his fourth grade students to teach the third grade class, I thought I could do the same with my class. I decided to try it with my woodwind methods class. I had each of my students teach someone else to play a woodwind instrument. In this case, it was the oboe. They had to pick a volunteer who had never played the instrument. This was time consuming, but well worth the effort. The results proved to be educational. I empowered them. As future band directors, they felt confident in the process of teaching a beginner student. I sat back and watched them be the teacher and watched them put to practice what they learned in the class. This was better than taking a written test that they probably would forget down the road. Next step, I am now ready to tackle a larger class, music appreciation.  Do you have an approach or method where the student teaches another student?

–Lorraine Duso

A Long Overdue Thanks

Recently some colleagues and I were bemoaning the lack of research skills we encountered in many of our students. I was confused because I learned many of my research and organization skills in high school. Reflecting on our conversation, I realized I owe a great debt to one fantastic teacher from my past. Her name is Mrs. Kate Smith.

I was blessed to be assigned to Mrs. Smith’s English class for three of the five years between grades 8 and 12. Although I had other great  English teachers, Mrs. Smith is the teacher who helped me make the transition from reader, to a reader who is also a lover of literature — from Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion to Eudora Welty’s Why I Live at the P.O. More importantly she taught me to write. I can still recall journaling in her classroom; she journaled right along with us. She instilled in me the idea that writing can be enjoyable. Most notably though, Mrs. Smith taught me how to research and organize my thoughts enough to write a paper.

Mrs. Smith showed us the resources in our school library and took us on a field trip to a local university to explore their resources. Mrs. Smith led us through the process of creating bibliography cards and note cards. She drilled into us that the bibliography must follow the prescribed format and that notes were to be written in our own words – not plagiarized. We then put the cards in order by topic and typed the paper following the cards and adding transitions. This is the process I learned before college and this is the exact process I used through my doctoral dissertation. I even followed this process for the first peer-reviewed article I published while at UCA (I’ve since moved to word processor files for bibliography and notes). This method might seem simplistic, but I constantly encounter students lacking this basic skill. If only everyone could have a Mrs. Smith in their life, the world — at least for professors — would be a better place.

So to Mrs. Smith, a long overdue thank you. Do you have a Mrs. Smith in your past needing a thank you?

–Jeff Whittingham

When “Grit Over It” Isn’t Enough

After twenty years in higher education, I’ve often paused in my teaching career to ponder why some students who seem to have everything stacked against them go on to succeed and some who seem poised for success end up dropping out of college.  It’s the students who do succeed, despite the odds, who intrigue me. What is it about them?  What do they do differently?  Are they brighter?  Do they come better prepared for college?  The answer to that is often, “no”.  My personal experience has led me to believe these students are more diligent, have a better attitude, are willing to work (even when the work is difficult), and don’t blame others for their struggle.  From my professional life, most successful individuals attribute their success to a combination of factors which includes intellect or intelligence, but often focus on their ability to navigate difficult situations through their persistence. In fact, history is filled with examples of highly successful individuals who overcame obstacles and rejection to achieve great acclaim.

Then along came Angela Duckwork and Paul Tough …….

Increasingly, research shows that high achievement, excelling at education or one’s vocation, requires something more than “natural talent” or “genius”, Duckworth and others suggest a necessary ingredient is grit.  What is grit exactly?  Grit has been defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” (Duckworth et al., 2007). There is also research that suggests that grit training can lead to positive long term outcomes.

And this is where the story might end; if we teach our students to stick with things when they are difficult, to see challenges as a necessary condition of success, and to remain positive in the face of hardship, then they would all do better in higher education and life.  Aww, but nothing is that easy.  What about the students who are first generation college students?  Those students whose families aren’t equipped to help them with college.  Those students who come from low socio-economic backgrounds, who aren’t in the position to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps”.

For three years I worked with high school students in East Saint Louis.  The students I worked with were among some of the most “gritty” individuals that I’ve ever met and may not be successful in college despite their grit and attitude.  There are barriers.  Real barriers like institutional inequities, social capital, and socio-cultural differences that can’t just be ignored.

In the book Outliers (Gladwell, 2008), the author talks about difference in child rearing practices between high socio-economic homes and low-socio economic homes. One example tells of a mother, from a middle class home, taking her son to the doctor.  In the car ride to the doctor’s office the mother preps him for the visit.  She asks her son to think about questions he can ask the doctor and encourages him to participate in the exam.  All this while the mother from the lower socio economic home doesn’t have a primary doctor and when she does take her son to see the doctor she encourages him to sit quietly and scolds him for speaking up.  These differences in experiences are cumulative and make certain students less able to navigate the complex social aspects of college.  Fast forward to both young men going to college.  Something happens with financial aid.  One is prepared to ask questions and advocate for himself and the other may choose to drop out because he is not sure how to handle the situation. So, what can we do?

I believe the first step is to listen to our students.  If they aren’t doing well in a class, ask them why. Help them find support through tutoring, advising, financial aid, and counseling.  Don’t lower the bar, just help them build a ladder so success is attainable. Talk about the importance of good failures and perseverance.  Talk students through positive assertiveness and coach communication skills.  So, while grit is the new buzz word in education, it should be tempered with social justice ideals. Remember, our students are complex and often just need a good mentor who can both challenge and support them simultaneously.

–Vicki Groves-Scott, Dean, College of Education



Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and

passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101.


Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. New York: Brown and Company.


Tough, P. (2011, September 14). What if the secret to success is failure? The New York Times, Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/magazine/what-if-the-secret-tosuccess-is-failure.html?pagewanted=all.

Making Room for Quiet

This summer I read Quiet by Susan Cain. In Cain’s discussion of the “power of introverts,” she makes a compelling case for how extraversion has become an important cultural value, perhaps to society’s detriment. As I finished the book, I found myself thinking: Is my classroom too loud? Are extraverts privileged in my classroom?

As I thought about my class from the perspective of students who are quiet, reflective, and/or high reactive, my mind initially went to the plethora of videos, music, debates, role play, and group activities galore in my classes. Then I thought about my teaching style; I encourage responses to the ideas of others and do minimal intervention when voices start to overlap each other. And as for course content, I teach communication courses so of course I am constantly challenging students to be a part of the dynamic process we study. Yes, perhaps my classes are loud, but maybe necessarily so.

But then again, I am an introvert who largely masquerades as an extravert to keep my students engaged. I am not insensitive to quiet students; I was one. There are quite a few things I do to level out the volume in the classroom. I do not assign participation points based on “how much you talk in class”—they are earned throughout the semester from class activities and small written assignments. I lead both individual and group brainstorming. I observe nonverbals constantly and may bypass the talkative student whose hand is constantly raised in order to begin a conversation with someone whose eyebrows are furled as if working through an objection or point of confusion.

In the end, I am okay when the volume in my class is turned all the way up, but I will be more intentional in making room for quiet. How do you achieve volume balance in your class? What do you do to allow introverts to shine? How do you encourage extraverts to be reflective before they speak?

–Monika Alston-Miller

High-Impact Practices: More than the Sum of their Parts

As a high-impact educational practice, service-learning is one of ten strategies that educational research suggests increase student retention and engagement. At UCA, we can see examples of high-impact practices at work at every turn, from first-year seminars to capstones. The UCA Core was designed to include a number of these practices, including diversity and collaboration. Service-learning is part of this push to help students engage and succeed by giving them opportunities to apply their course learning and forge the sense of community that will encourage them to persist in college.

In order for high-impact practices to be just that, however, they must be carefully planned and deliberatively implemented. A service-learning course, for instance, needs a thoughtfully-selected community partner and integrated reflection throughout the process. Cohorts of supportive and similarly engaged faculty are one available resource, and the Service-Learning Faculty Fellows Program offered every summer is one such opportunity.

The detail-oriented work of rethinking and redesigning a course can consume a lot of time and energy, so remember the big picture of high-impact practices and the opportunities where they overlap. As you revise your course, how could you combine strategies to achieve an even greater impact? For instance, a service-learning project can be used to teach about diversity in a First-Year Seminar, or as an applied research project for small group collaboration and problem solving in an upper division or capstone course.

The more high-impact practices we adopt, the more certain we can be that UCA students will persist, succeed, and ultimately graduate into the “real world” ready and willing to improve it.

For a list of all ten high-impact practices, see the Association of American Colleges & Universities, “High-Impact Educational Practices: A Brief Overview,” available from https://www.aacu.org/leap/hips.

–Lesley Graybeal, Service-Learning Program Coordinator

Tea & Empathy

Sometimes it’s easy to get hung up on (or dragged down by) what our students don’t know. We’ve all had one of those incredulous frustrated conversations where we tick off the massive gaps in our students’ educations and weep for the future of western civilization. This isn’t going to be one of those conversations. I’d like to come at the problem of what our students don’t know from a different angle. I’d like us all to take a minute and remember how much we didn’t know when we were 17, 18, 19—how often we struggled or failed to apprehend (what now seem) basic concepts. In the lit classroom, I strive to challenge my students with complex texts and ideas. And I fully expect them to struggle (I mean, if they sat down able to read like professors, I’d be superfluous). The trick is getting them to engage and wrestle with the tough texts rather than shrug and walk away. Because even (and sometimes especially) smart students want to give up on complex texts. One of the things I like to do with my students is acknowledge that we all struggle with texts at times. So sometimes, with upper-division classes, on the first day, I go around the room and have everyone announce a book that s/he started but failed to finish. The idea is to let everyone know that tough texts happen—that we all occasionally bite off a mouthful that goes unchewed. It’s sort of like a support group meeting. Of course, whenever I ask my students to divulge potentially embarrassing info, I go first: So my name’s Glenn, and I started but never finished David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

–Glenn Jellenik

Be Somebody Else Today: Teaching Using Simulations

It’s easy to teach the same way we’ve taught before, but sometimes it’s worth it to step out and try something new. Right now I’m trying simulations in one of my classes for the first time. In these simulations I give the students an overview of the scenario they’re about to be immersed into, along with the learning objectives for the activity and a unique character to role play. (6 people per group)

Some of the students have really taken their characters to heart – one time even a passerby walked into our classroom not realizing we were holding a class. Other students had trouble getting into the simulation: it is quite challenging to develop characters that have enough depth for students to build on, but still enough left open so that they discover what it is that they’re supposed to learn.

Students have been quite receptive to the simulations, and as an instructor I love the fact that they are experiencing how the ideas are formed instead of just thinking about them from an outsider’s view.

This whole idea arose out of casual conversation with a friend that used simulations. I liked the idea and wanted to try it. How do you get ideas for new teaching ideas?

–Jeff Beyerl