Blog Post

Intentionality in Teaching Conference

Sponsored by The Central Pennsylvania Consortium
Saturday, January 22, 2011
830 am - 130 pm
Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA

(These are my unedited notes from the conference.)


J.C., Environmental Studies, talked about killing powerpoint, and instead bringing in the spatial and temporal possibilities of writing on board and developing ideas (and contingencies that take you back or change the conversation).  It doesnt behoove us to teach like they do at flagship Universitys, which are in any case trying to emulate what the liberal arts college does in their honors programs.   Why are students and their parents going to pay extra to get the same passive-learning, big projection screen powerpoints?   The good thing about chalk is that you can change it (unlike powerpoint) and add students contingent comments, and you can read article 2 minutes before class and include it in lecture. And you can write more slowly on board than clicking a mouse, so that students can follow along with you.  More human paced.  Think of board work as ABSTRACTING the most important messages from reading.  It is not spoonfeeding like powerpoint.  Powerpoint is good for downloading heavy information to EXPERTS and fast (this is what created for; bill gates is the one who bought it and marketed it as a teaching tool but this doesnt mean that it works well as one.)


I.  J.E., Sociology: You cant quite appreciate nature until you try to paint it.  I loved his ideas about thinking as writing.  You really dont know what you know till you try to write it.   so he has students close books, put away index cards, and just start writing.  Until you do this, you dont know how your thoughts will cohere or the bridges you can build in between concepts. 

So he has IN-CLASS WRITING.  Once a week has them right for 15 minutes.  Purposes are several: 

1) gives question.  has them write to answer question in 15 minutes.  collects it.  then conversation is more free flowing because theyve had some time to think about it.

2) he reads it the next day, and hands them back after selecting some examples, and has them evaluate which piece of writing most effective in quality and use of evidence for argument.   since no name, no ego.   he teaches them how to write in this way through example.  shows them how the use of punctuation is a form of politics. if you put semicolon or colon, means something important coming up and reader cant rest yet.  Shows how the use of etc. can detract from argument.

3) how  he gets conversation going in class?  (very rarely a question will provoke discussion). 

So he has them do things, such as construct diagrams.  for example: how could social structures come about in contradictory ways, inside of just step-wise.)  people brainstorm their diagrams on board, and then he erases each corner, and asks how they can connect without drawing straight lines.  this is the way they come to understand the spiral as a representation of the dialectic. 

4) He has them circulate their paper ahead of time and then everyone has to defend it.  extracts 1- sentences from their papers that are problematic.  has everyone figure out (anonymously again) what is the problem with the writing, or if a word is overused. To help students understand that the process of writing well ALWAYS  involves heavy editing, he shares a page of his own manuscript which has been heavily edited by a reviewer. This levels playing field.

5) Instead of compare and contrast two theorists that they have studied over the course, he has them REWRITE a paragraph as if the other theorist was saying the same thing, only in their own theoretical language.  This is an application of the theory, not just memorizing.   This helps them MAKE IT THEIR OWN.  A challenge in theory course is to extract understanding.  Rewriting is one technique.

II. R.B., Polisci talked about how students studying less than ever in both public and private university, so how do we raise the bar so students work harder without losing site of intellectual goals or getting angry evaluations?

3 things to know:

students will punish you if:

1) expectations are not clear.

2) if your expectations shift over semester.

3)  if you have arbitrary grading criteria. 

Best strategy:

1) High expectations and tough grading is doable if COMMUNICATION IS CLEAR. 

2) You can expect much, while still making known that YOU ARE ON THEIR SIDE. (dont want antagonistic relationship).  some describe it as being a coach.  work them hard, but show that you are on their side.

3) Teach Easy :  be judicious in the techniques you choose to use in course.  make choices that are good for them and for you.  dont choose to complicate your life with too many different teaching modalities in one course (a blog, small groups, exams, papers, projects, etc.).   find ways to teach that are effective but also be cognizant of trade-offs on your time.

III  J.P., Sociology

strongest predictor of good evaluation:  if students feel that they have learned. 

students learn most if:

1) set bar high.

2) give encouragement at same time.

(she builds both into syllabus. )

She has them turn in 1-2 pages double spaced essay of reading for that day bc Quality of learning depends on quality of discussion.

Their reward for writing in reading preparation is to take control over ideas in the course:  they develop a question for class, and once a week, it is their turn to write questions on board at beginning of class (in a class of 30 that meets twice a week, this would be 15 questions per class).   Instant peer pressure that ups the ante for better questions.  Sometimes she chooses ? to start and sometimes she has them choose, having them explain later why they chose that one.  This gives students control over where conversation goes. 

She informs them that because she was the queen of procrastination in college, she knows how hard all nighters are and wants to spare them by breaking down the steps of projects into smaller bit that are due throughout semester.

BC the semester schedule is so full and has so much writing, she builds in structures of flexibility so that they have room to be human.  It makes a big difference with HOW THEY FEEL about their workload.  she gives:

1) holidays  - can take 5 sessions off out of 25 sessions of writing summaries.

2) late points- every students starts with 2, worth 24 hours of lateness each.  only have two, so she reminds them that they must choose carefully.

Another bonus:  on the morning an assignment is due, everyone who comes into class gets an automatic extension until 5 pm that day.   enrollment usually 100%. 


1) grades reflect intelligence, and bc this is bell curve, grades in class should be bell curve (with the value added of teaching, so should increase but still stay a bell curve).

2) all students are intelligent in their own way, so if ive done a good job teaching, class should be skewed to As and Bs.    But because she gives a variety of assignments that evaluate a number of different learning styles, she finds that most get Bs as not everyone is good at everything.

Q& A responses: 

1) make sure let class know from beginning how participation is counted.

2) J.C. gives COLLABORATIVE QUIZZES:   students answer questions, then hand it in. then talk to companion, and argue and discuss.  then take quiz again, and hand it in.  he averages the grade.  sometimes they get it perfect the first t ime, and then someone talks them out of it, and get a lower grade. 

3) ultimately being a good teacher is FINDING YOUR OWN PERSONAL STRENGTHS and going with that.   What works for you may not work for anyone else.  

4) Figure out what assignments are high stakes vs. low stakes so you can limit grading. 

5) Students value you putting their intellectual development ON THEM.  so put it back on them to figure out what they can do to do better.



1) eportal syllabus - allows you to insert websites into syllabus with additional sources. can add links from students.

2) class blog/wiki:  check out dickenson site THOREAU, WILDERNESS, AND AMERICAN WRITING - where their writing develops over semester.  student research projects become useful for all students, not just conversation between one student and teacher.

ex.  each student works all semester on 1 nature writer and creates site for each. 

3) e-monograph - he puts his book in e-readable format into a site that is built around his important questions.


FIRST STEP:  Ask yourself  why you want to include student researcher.  

answer should be:  1) bc you want to engage student in research context.

SECOND STEP:  Ask what kind of research is appropriate?  

THIRD STEP:  Do I have project in mind that would benefit student and be benefitted by student?

Not all projects should involve students, and not all research would be benefitted by them. students can either be paid researchers or do it for credit.

How to choose student:  do they have intellectual curiosity?  do they have skills (work with digital recorder and do transcription?) do they have time management skills? do they have spirit of academic adventure (meaning that they understand that sometimes research is drudgery and sometimes doesnt come out way one expected).


1)  find out what research interested in and set her to task that speaks to her interest.

2) explain what you are doing thoroughly.  talk about WHY you are doing, and let her ask questions.

3) give her responsability - she has to be a stakeholder.

4) ask for her opinions and interpretations of data that you collect together.  take these opinions seriously.

5) sit down.  debrief with daily discussion.

6) take time to enjoy each others company. this is how she learns collegiality.

7) follow up, and follow through with student researcher.   student needs to feel that input was valuable to the project.  (you would need this too).

8) keep in contact with student researcher. 

9) show her continued support.  keep letting her be a part of it.

10) have her present findings in appropriate venue.  (poster sessions, short paper at smaller conference, co-author.)

V.P., Sociology

benefits of student is that helps you expand beyond your specialized research and learn more.  having final paper at end not enough, the goal is having student GO THROUGH PROCESS.   it looks good on their resume.  gives them a platform for grad school interview.

schedule: they decide what they are going TO DO and what they are GOING TO SHOW.  its okay if they miss deadline, but they must let you know.  this helps them learn to navigate deadlines and work collaboratively.   by end they have a good enough draft of paper for undergrad conference.   conferences important bc it is there that students learn what they know and dont know (in checking themselves against others). 

WHO DO YOU WORK WITH?   someone that you know will work well with you (chemistry important) and your working style. if you are scattered, break into components and see how they fit into stages. this gives organizational outline.  

the way he does it is by finding someone with similar interests.  not so important how smart they are, or how their grades are.  more important how willing.

He asks prospective candidates if interested in research. then if they mention similar interests, invites them.  if not , recommends them to another person.  or he shares list of topics researching to see if interested.  his student did successful project of analyzing swinger websites. 

you can work with 1 or more, but teams can be more tricky b/c of internal chemistry.

He is empowering students to know they can do research.  has them DEBRIEF AT END:  WHAT have you learned about research process? And WHAT have you learned about your self. 

(the process doesnt end until complete). 


explicit goals: model for students whats involved in research.  learn how to learn from scholarship perspective.  learn how you tackle big open-ended question.

implicit goals:  scholarship and productivity. can audition students for future projects.  good way to accomplish pilot research. 

BUDGET: how will you fund course?  Fed grants, NIH R15, NSF RU1.  start up/institutional funding/dept course budget.  talk with chair early on so that they can talk to provost.

MENTORING:  think about how to get right balance between letting them drift to discover and learn from mistakes, and guiding them towards project that can come to conclusion with results.   have back up plan for curveballs because only 1 semester shot. 

formative - guiding mentoring

summative - exam not best, but he has them do and redo presentations so that they learn each time, and the class gives them a constant critique based on a rubric. 

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT:  professional societies have undergrad arm.  provosts, deans, chairs, senior faculty know about resources.  ask them about finding opps and funding opps.

LAST WORDS after our delicious chicken fajita lunch:  FIND YOUR OWN VOICE.


1) have students write a non-graded essay in class for 15 minutes in response to a question about the readings to help them get rolling for discussions.

2) have students write their questions on board and encourage them to develop the conversations.

3) combine project groups into collaborative 3 person teams, that produce 1 project and share grade. 


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