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Teaching Tips and Articles Email list

This new Teaching Tips email list group will receive 1-4 emails a month (1 maximum per week), that will include short teaching tips and articles (often with links to more complete information).  Postings to this list began in May, 2006.

How to join:  send an email to the TEC at and ask to be added to the list.

How to be removed from the list: send an email to the TEC at and ask to be removed from the list.

If you come across a teaching tip or reference that you would like to share, please send it to us at!

Spring 2014

By Maryellen Weimer, PhD
I was looking at participation policies in a collection of syllabi this week. I wouldn't give most of them high marks—lots of vague descriptions that don't functionally define participation and then prescribe instructor assessment at the end of course with little or no mention of criteria. But I've voiced my concerns about participation policies previously, so I won't do again here. Instead, what I would like to share with you is a policy that's impressive in its specificity and in the intriguing idea it contains.
Here's an excerpt from the syllabus:
Participation counts for 15% of your grade in this course. Here are the behaviors that count:
  • asking questions
  • answering questions
  • making comments (extra points for comments that relate to material in the text, and for sharing relevant experiences)
Technology Will Not Replace Teachers

By Maryellen Weimer, PhD
I remember with horror and embarrassment the first multiple-choice exam I wrote. I didn't think the students were taking my course all that seriously, so I decided to use the first exam to show just how substantive the content really was. I wrote long, complicated stems and followed them with multiple answer options and various combinations of them. And it worked. Students did poorly on the exam. I was pleased until I returned the test on what turned out to be one of the longest class periods of my teaching career. I desperately needed the advice that follows here.
  • Don't plan to write the whole test at once. If you do, chances are most of the questions will be of the "When did Columbus first visit the new world?" variety.
  • The instructions should specify whether the student is selecting the correct answer or the best answer.
By James R. Keating, EdD
We all understand that writing is important and our students should do it well. Even so, many professors feel uncertain when teaching it, especially when their subject area is something far removed from "Composition 101." Even instructors who work on writing skills find it challenging to maintain momentum when their own academic content inevitably requires attention. Moreover, students, many of whom are easily stressed, worry that their grades will suffer when an "outsider" teaches writing. Some colleges have found it hard to sustain Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) programs just because of this. But it isn't a lost cause. Writing need not be so frightening and teaching it can be fun...for both students and instructors. And the writing lessons themselves don't have to detract from any other academic content. Really!

A popular misconception is that writing instruction requires grammar drills or worksheets and instructors have to teach tenses, adverbs, adjectives, misplaced modifiers, or a dozen other rulebook technicalities. But that isn't true. There are ways to teach writing in amusing little units that don't seem like work, don't feel like a burden, and most importantly, don't depend upon any sort of time-consuming grammatical legalism. Humor and well-chosen case studies will do the trick.

Helping Students Overcome Their Fear of Writing

By Heather Jones


Most students in my developmental writing classes claim they "hate" writing. It's a familiar refrain. But, it is less about "hate" and more about a lack of preparation in the subject area. They do not have sufficient experience with the writing process in order to understand what to do. It is not until they gain this experience and realize for themselves what is wrong and what is right with their own work will their writing improve. This personal realization has to happen. It is key to neutralizing their fear and boosting their confidence.

Here are three simple strategies I have used in my classes.

Give Students Permission to Write
On the first day of class, I inform my students that for the first four weeks of the semester they are allowed to make mistakes in their writing without it affecting their grade. Knowing this immediately reduces the stress they feel about having to take the class and the distrust they have in themselves as writers. I am not telling them how to write; they are experiencing the writing process for themselves. Students can write on different topics triggered by a reading/homework assignment, current events, or a selected topic for journal entry writing. The work is not graded, but is collected for the purpose of identifying areas of need, which I then address in the form of mini-lessons.

Inbox, Sent Items
Wednesday, April 30, 2014 9:27 AM
By Nicola Winstanley
I would like to be able say of my teaching: this is clearly good; this is clearly not good. I would like to be able to think: I always do things right. I would like to be certain.

I would like to watch exemplary teachers and think: I do that! That's me! I know exactly what I'm doing! Look how great this class is—mine is just as engaging.

Certainty is comfortable, after all—a soft cushion to sink into and relax.

But I don't think those things. Instead observation magnifies my self-doubt, self-questioning, constant anxiety. Is this right? Is this good enough? The feeling I get in my stomach immediately after the intense transaction of the class itself is over: I'm not sure.