Inclusive Teaching

Michigan Diag during winter

As we move into winter term, with its mix of intense academic demands and challenging weather, it's a good time for instructors to prepare to respond or reach out to students experiencing mental health challenges. Whether they are grappling with anxiety, depression, or other sorts of distress, students' mental heath struggles often become apparent to teachers when they take a toll on their academic work. And students in distress sometimes turn to teachers for help because they see them as their most immediate support network.

As U-M’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) states in their guide for instructors on Helping Students in Distress, "your role can be a positive and crucial one in identifying students who are in distress and assisting them in finding the appropriate resources." 

What should you do if you know or suspect a student is in need of your assistance? Detailed guidance can be found in the CAPS guide above or at the University's Mental Health Resources webpage for faculty and staff. In general they recommend, if a student comes to you, that you listen attentively and without judgment. You can help the student develop an action plan for addressing their main concerns, especially with coursework, but remember that it's not your role or responsibility to provide professional help for students facing mental health challenges. You can support students by referring them to relevant campus resources. Depending on the circumstances, these might include: Read more »

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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 course material? How can I set student expectations for active engagement in class?

Students in a classroomThese 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 links to many resources that can help faculty and GSIs think carefully about getting the most out of the first days. These include research on why classroom rapport is useful for student learning, and specific strategies for building relationships and communities in the early days and weeks of a course. Other resources provide suggestions for introducing course material and communicating expectations. Find more first days resources on this list, or click on the tags below for pages that include links to materials we use in our new teacher orientation programs. 

Other CRLT 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 pages 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.

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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? 

Group of students in a classroom

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.
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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 topics. Other 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 »

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At his recent presentation in the Michigan League ballroom, Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur engaged the 250-person audience in an active learning exercise. An expert on the use of peer instruction in college courses, Mazur wanted the many teachers present to experience the power of this pedagogical strategy from a student perspective. So, using an example of question-based instruction from his own field, he provided a very brief explanation of thermal expansion, posed a multiple choice question that required application of the concept, and then guided those present through a 4-step exercise:

  1. Think silently about the question
  2. Commit to an answer (in this case, by using clickers)
  3. Find another 'student' who had a different answer and discuss the thinking behind each answer 
  4. Answer the question again.

The second set of answers was significantly more accurate than the first. Such a result generally follows such a peer instruction protocol, as much research has shown. Why? Through discussion, students shift their focus away from the answer itself and toward the thinking behind the answer, and those with the more accurate logic are generally able to make a more persuasive case. The demonstration also powerfully illustrated how such a technique can engage students emotionally as they become personally invested in learning and understanding the correct answer. The discussion created remarkable buzz in the room about thermal expansion--a topic that Mazur noted would unlikely generate such excitement if simply explained in lecture format. (You can get a sense of that buzz by watching a video of the event.)

In discussing the peer instruction technique, Mazur highlighted several strategies that can help engage all students in active learning, even in a very large course. These included: Read more »

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