Classroom Civility

Classroom civility is not something to take lightly. Instructors and students alike should be held to a particular standard when it comes to how they interact with one another in the classroom. Instructors and students come from all walks of life and thus differ and diverge along many lines (e.g., political, cultural, spiritual, sexual, educational and socioeconomic). Given these varied backgrounds and the culture of sharing views that many university classrooms embody, there are certain considerations to keep in mind.

As instructors, we should take a few steps to ensure that our classroom supports respectful interactions and discourages exchanges that are emotionally harmful or offensive to others. You may ask, where do we draw the line? With so many conflicting views among a given student body, we certainly can’t curtail all conversations that stir emotions, but we can ensure that students share a commitment to respect one another, acknowledge that it is OK to ‘agree to disagree’ and that by sharing opposing views, we can come to see things from the perspective of another. The Center for Teaching and Learning at UC Santa Cruz notes that prevention is the best strategy for classroom civility. These tips, from their website, are some ways that you can preemptively address incivility. Continue reading

Assessing Student Learning

What do we assess in the first place?

In Course Design, we can never underestimate the relationship between learning objectives and assessment. These two ‘partners in crime’ work together to determine the entire make up of a course. The first step is to create course learning objectives. Based on these learning objectives, what would be the most appropriate assessments to measure students’ attainment of the learning objectives. Once these two components are in place, we flesh out a learning plan – which is to say, we develop lesson plans and create the learning opportunities that will best support our students in reaching the learning objectives. Critical reflection on the learning objectives should lead instructors to an awareness about appropriate, relevant assessments. Read more from the University of Reading on why assessment is important.

Consider, for example, a practicum course in a program designed to prepare teachers of English language learners. If the learning objectives orient student learning toward skills they will need to be successful teachers in the English as a Second Language classroom, how appropriate are multiple choice exams as an assessment tool? On the other hand, in an Abstract Algebra course where students are charged with solving problems through the application of various formulas, how appropriate is a written 5-page reflection paper? Now, this is not to say that mathematicians shouldn’t be writing in their classes or that teachers shouldn’t be tested on content knowledge, but the bottom line is – determine your course learning objectives and align your assessment so that they map to one another favorably and in support of student success! Continue reading

Active Learning

What is Active Learning?

Active learning is embodied in a learning environment where the teachers and students are actively engaged with the content through discussions, problem-solving, critical thinking, debate or a host of other activities that promote interaction among learners, instructors and the material. Active learning is not represented in the teacher-centered classroom where the teacher is an active transmitter of information and the students are passive recipients.

Engaging students in active learning additionally requires that they be involved in higher order thinking at the levels of analysis, evaluation and create (see, Bloom’s Taxonomy). As instructors develop their lesson plans and therein the learning objectives, it is important to consider the situational factors involved, such as the content of the lesson (e.g., theoretical or practical), the learners (e.g., level, age, academic maturity), the context (e.g., classroom or clinical) and the assessments for the lesson (e.g., formative vs. summative; presentation vs. exam). This information will guide the development of learning objectives and help the instructor decide on appropriate verbs to represent the learning activity at various levels – i.e., Analyze: criticize, discern, summarize; Evaluate: debate, prioritize, value; Create: compile, hypothesize, reconstruct).

One of the most comprehensive sites for an overview of Active Learning is that of the University of Minnesota Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). Instead of re-creating the wheel, we invite you to visit their Active Learning page where you will learn more about: the basic elements of active learning; active learning strategies; addressing student resistance; letting go of control; overcoming the ‘cover the content’ paradigm; incorporating peer review; and more! The site includes ‘dramatization’ videos of scenarios highlighted throughout the Active Learning page as well as a rich list of additional resources. Continue reading

Communities of Practice: Connections and Collaborations in the EAL Context

Presented at the 31st NTC hosted by IGA in Guatemala City, Guatemala
November 6th, 2012


I was very excited to be speaking about community and communities of practice as tools for professional development and teacher empowerment in Guatemala. In some ways, I attribute Guatemala to my life journey of wonder and exploration. I came to Guatemala in 1996 to study Spanish in the quaint town of Antigua. I lived with a remarkable family for a month. I spent most of my time between classes at the plaza in the center of town, chatting with the little girls who were selling purses and other handicrafts. The children always made me feel comfortable. They gave me confidence with my emerging Spanish skills.  Years later, anytime anyone asks where I learned Spanish, I tell them – it all started in Antigua, Guatemala and continued from there. Since then – I’ve traveled to study, surf and climb mountains in several Spanish speaking countries.


When I looked into the audience at the conference I saw a community. A community that I belong to and from which I find strength in shared knowledge and experiences. For me, belonging to a community is a way of life – the only way I want to know. I truly believe that everything is better or becomes better when shared – food, wine, books, music, and travel. Even grief, when shared, becomes more bearable within a community.

So, what is community? Continue reading

TED Talks in the EFL Classroom

It was such an honor and pleasure to present at the Instituto Guatemalteco Americano’s 31st National Conference for Teachers of English. I hope this is the start of an annual tradition for me! In my concurrent session, I presented on how to incorporate TED Talks in the English as an Additional Language (EAL) classroom. Here is a briefover view of the talk.

Here is the e-handout for the presentation. Continue reading

(Em)Power in the Classroom Series (Part 6)

I don’t consider myself to be ‘one lacking voice’ by any means, but sometimes I can’t seem to find it. The ideas will be swirling around somewhere – in my mind or my heart or coming to life in my emotions, but without voice they just swirl, which makes things a bit muddy. Recently, I’ve been finding my voice in the words of others – and it makes me happy! Continue reading