Classroom Challenge

The unfolding events in Ferguson, Missouri, are unquestionably on many students' minds--as they are on faculty's--as they go about their daily lives on campus. The civil unrest in Ferguson is a topic, like many other current events, about which people hold widely divergent and deeply-felt perspectives, often connected in powerful ways to their own identities. Even if you don't teach content related to such issues, unfolding current events are affecting your students' experiences of learning and being on campus. Given how polarizing such topics can be, how can you foster engaged dialogue among students that are meaningful and productive of learning? 

CRLT's website features guidelines for discussing difficult topics to support teachers in facilitating such conversations in classrooms across the curriculum. If you want to raise such topics in your classroom in order to explore connections between course material and contemporary events, here are some strategies for planned discussions of high-stakes topics (other sites around the web provide ideas for teaching about Ferguson specifically)Other CRLT resources offer you ways to prepare for and respond to challenging conversations that emerge when you haven’t planned for them

Some strategies highlighted on these pages--useful for either planned or spontaneous discussions--include: 

  • Create a framework for the discussion, using specific questions to guide student contributions.
  • Allow everyone a chance to contribute, but don't force students to participate in the discussion. Consider letting students write briefly about the topic to gather their thoughts individually before sharing or to provide a way to contribute ideas anonymously. 
  • Consider supportive ways to open and close such a discussion. You might begin by explaining the goals and relevance of the discussion to your class and explicitly welcoming a range of perspectives. To close a discussion, you can thank students for their contributions and indicate ways they can continue to explore the topics. 
  • Where possible, discuss links to the content of your course or discipline. Even in settings where you immediately see a connection to your topics, this is likely to be affecting your students and their ability to focus on your class. Acknowledging this can be a powerful way to facilitate their learning.

Whether you choose to address such issues head-on in a similar way, or you just want to respond productively if students raise sensitive topics, it's helpful to plan ahead. In addition to our online resources, CRLT consultants are available to consult with individual instructors about effective ways to raise or respond to high-stakes conversations in your classrooms. You can request an appointment online or call us at 734-764-0505 for just-in-time consultations about emerging issues in your classes. 

 

Thumbnail photo credit: Brett Myers on Flickr.

shadow

Students and faculty return to campus this fall amidst significant turmoil around the world. Whether it’s protests against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, or the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, distressing events far from home and close to it are likely to be on students’ minds—and therefore to enter your classrooms, whether you anticipate them or not. Because these issues in so many ways relate to differences in social identity and power—and because so many of our students have personal or family connections to places experiencing crisis—these events may also influence ongoing conversations about the campus climate here in Ann Arbor. 

None of these are simple or easy topics to talk about. Over many years, CRLT has developed guidelines for discussing difficult topics to support teachers in facilitating such conversations in classrooms across the curriculum. If you want to raise such topics in your classes in order to explore connections between course material and contemporary events, you can find strategies for planned discussions of high-stakes topicsOther resources offer you ways to prepare for and respond to challenging conversations that emerge when you haven’t planned for them.

Some strategies highlighted on these pages--useful for either planned or spontaneous discussions--include:  Read more »

shadow

What are effective ways to get to know my students and create a positive learning environment from the very beginning of the term? How can I pique students' curiosity about the subject matter? How can I set student expectations for active engagement in the course?

These are common questions as teachers prepare for the first days of class, an important time for setting the tone for what is to come in the term. CRLT offers many resources to help faculty and GSIs think carefully about getting the most out of the first days. These include tips for learning student names, activities for building community, and suggestions for ways to introduce course material and communicate expectations.

Other resources about inclusive teaching provide specific strategies for ensuring that you foster learning environments that include and enable all of your students, from the very beginning of the term. Inclusive teaching can begin before you ever walk into a classroom, as emphasized by these resources on course design and syllabus design.

As always, CRLT consultants are also available to work one-on-one with instructors. We're here to help you get your classes off to a great start.

shadow

At this point in the semester, many courses are building toward a midterm examination. As a teacher, how can you best design such tests to motivate and assess student learning?  How can you be sure that your classroom instruction adequately prepares students for the exam?  How, in short, can you make the most of exam time as a learning opportunity for your students?

The process of designing an exam can offer a great opportunity to ensure that your learning goals, instructional practices, and assessment techniques are all well aligned. Our website features several resources to help you thoughtfully design exams that reliably measure whether students have learned what you've been trying to teach them--and evaluate those exams fairly. These emphasize that effective exams  Read more »

shadow

It's a common challenge: A student answers a question in class. But the answer is wrong. How do you respond?

When there are definite right and wrong answers, it's important that instructors provide clear feedback on student responses so that the class knows which answers are right, which are wrong, and which are somewhere in between. Often, a wrong answer gives some insight into how students are thinking about the question, and provides an opportunity to lead the students to a better answer. Of course, you also want to communicate that the student's answer is appreciated, and maintain a safe space for students to contribute answers in the future. 

We've located some resources from teaching centers around the country with suggestions for how to handle wrong answers. Some of the best suggestions include: Read more »

shadow