Monthly Archives: April 2016

Is it a discussion if only one giraffe’s talkin’?

April 28, 2016

You know what I’m talking about.  In every group (classroom or otherwise), there seems to be that one giraffe who has something to say about everything.  You know there are other giraffes who have something of value to contribute to the conversation, but they are either reticent to speak in front of others or are introspective and need a bit more time to formulate their thoughts before they articulate them.  With Chatty Giraffe (Chatty G), no such airtime exists.giraffes-627031_1280In a classroom, this can pose a problem.  As instructors, we want to encourage discussion.  A good conversation brings out new ideas and engages the group in critical thinking.  It also gives the instructor an idea of where each of his/her students are at with respect to the content they are learning in class.  How do we encourage quieter ones to participate and the chattier ones to do so in a less overwhelming way?

Brookfield (2015) in his book The Skillful Teacher provides several great suggestions for using discussion methods in the classroom.  Something that surprised me, though, was his thoughts on using participation marks.  Typically I am not a fan.  Petralia (2013) says, “Mandatory participation marks marginalize the shy and instead serve as easy grades for those to whom speaking comes most naturally.”  He adds, “Students must be encouraged to participate because they find it genuinely worthwhile to discuss the topic, not because they just want to earn easy marks.”  I tend to agree with him…and yet…

Brookfield comes at participation marks from a different angle.  He looks to the intent of participation when crafting his expectations and says that his aim is to “socialize students into understanding participation as listening carefully, responding to contributions, synthesizing and analyzing comments already made, asking questions of others and showing appreciation.” Here are some of the specific behavioral examples he provides his students that demonstrate to him they have participated well:

Ask a question or make a comment that shows you are interested in what another person says.

Make a comment that underscores the link between two people’s contributions and make this link explicit in your comments.

Ask a cause and effect question – for example, “Can you explain why you think it’s true that if these things are in place such and such a thing will occur?”

In looking at the Petralia statement I quoted above, it seems that Brookfield has found a way to incorporate participation marks into the curriculum while still fulfilling what Petralia hopes for.  Perhaps giving students marks for participation in discussion but using a rubric like Brookfield’s will motivate those who are more reticent to speak out and cause those who love to contribute to do so in a more meaningful way.

I think it’s worth a try…



Brookfield, S. D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Petralia, A. (2013, 12). Participation Marks: the good, the bad and the ugly. Retrieved from The Bull and Bear:



Blended Learning – Not a smoothie

blended learning pic


April 23, 2016

Now that we’ve established what blended learning is not, perhaps we should chat about what it is.

Blended learning, as defined by Knewton (2015) is “any time a student learns, at least in part, at a brick-and-mortar facility and through online delivery with student control over time, place, path or pace.”

This type of learning came to my attention while working at the regulatory agency I am employed by.  We called this type of program a “combination” program, one which was offered partially on-site and partially at a distance.  An example of how I have seen of this model in action is in health care programs where students study the theoretical component online with web-based teacher support, followed by lab-based practice sessions conducted on weekends.

As technological possibilities grow, students have more choices for how to learn.  Knewton refers to six different blended learning models:

  1. Face-to-face driver – Most of the program is delivered face-to-face by an instructor, but the instructor also employs online learning in a technology lab to supplement.
  2. Online lab – An online platform delivers the entire course, but in a brick-and-mortar location.  Often, students who participate in an online lab program also take traditional courses.
  3. Rotation – As with the example I used above, students have periods of on-line and in-class study and this is done on a schedule.
  4. Self-blend – When students choose to supplement brick-and-mortar learning with online course content (apparently popular with high school students).
  5. Flex – The curriculum of the program is taught on-line, but students can receive in-person tutoring support from instructors as needed.
  6. Online driver – All of the curriculum content is provided on-line with an instructor, but instructors also do face-to-face check-ins with students.

Technology should not be considered to be a replacement for instructors, but rather a support to them so they can focus on the “high value in-person interactions with students” as noted by Willcox, Sarma and Lippel (2016).

More than ever, well-considered curriculum development is essential.  I have seen far too many programs which did not take into consideration which parts of the program might benefit from face-to-face interaction versus on-line training.  How and when do you assess learners in each part of the program and how will the assessment tools differ (in frequency and content) between the different delivery methods?  How do you ensure students stay engaged when they are not in a classroom with peers and an instructor?  How do students access help when completing on-line content?

I have benefited from Vancouver Community College’s Provincial Instructors Diploma on-line courses.  Through integration of Skype/Facetime calls with instructors and learning partners, YouTube videos, on-line forums, real-time on-line librarian assistance (citing in APA really sucks sometimes), frequent assignment submissions and prompt instructor feedback, I have been able to continue to work full-time while honing my craft. It’s not a perfect system, but it has showed me that exceptional instruction (and instructors) don’t reside exclusively in a bricks-and-mortar classroom.



Knewton. (2015). Knewton Infographics: Blended Learning. Retrieved April 23, 2016, from Knewton:

Willcox, K. E., Sarma, S., & Lippel, P. L. (2016 , April). Online education: a catalyst for higher education reforms. Retrieved from Massachusetts Institute of Technology:


Lectures are not evil

April 23, 2016

Anyone of a certain vintage will remember this scene from the movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:

We laughed because most of us had experienced more than our share of lecturers like this whose voices were devoid of intonation, who operated under the guise of participatory learning but whose pauses were designed to give them an opportunity to swallow, not to elicit feedback from the participants.  We told ourselves that if we ever taught, we’d never be like this guy.

What didn’t occur to someone of us (okay, me…) was how a lecture format could be made to be engaging and participatory.  I thought it was the teaching method “lecture” that was evil, but have since learned this is not so.

The key to effective lecturing is engagement.

Okay, so how?  How do we involve our students in the material we are teaching and not bore them to death?

A few ideas:

  1. Ask questions.  Not rhetorical questions or ones that simply lead students in a direction you want them to go, but rather queries that encourage students to consider the information they have just heard and do something new with it.  Whether it’s figuring out a way to apply it to their lives or establishing the flaws in the logic of what you’ve just said, you move students from the place of passive participant to the one of becoming an investigator of the information.
    • Brookfield(2015) suggests posing a question and then waiting a minute to ask for responses.  It helps to give students a break from the sound of your voice (and the introduction of new content) and to think about what’s been said before responding.  You can ask them to respond through use of a Minute Paper (where students write their responses, made popular by Angelo & Cross), through interaction with one or two of their fellow students – what Brookfield refers to as a buzz groups or through response to the class as a whole.
    • Derek Bok Centre for Teaching and Learning (2010) suggests that by asking a question at the beginning of the lecture, you can gain some insight about where your students are at.  You can also ask questions throughout the lecture so that it is less a monologue and more a conversation.  Every 12 minutes or so is ideal.
  2. Move!   When you hide behind a lectern, it is visually boring for students.  By lecturing from several locations in the room, including those where students are most likely to be disengaged ( an area referred to by Brookfield  as “Siberia), students’ attention follows you. When you stand in one place, you become like a basket of laundry your husband doesn’t take upstairs because it’s been sitting there so long he no longer “sees” it.
  3. Demonstrate enthusiasm.  Seriously.  If you’re not enthusiastic about what you’re teaching about, how do you expect your students to be?  You don’t have to be outgoing and charismatic to show enthusiasm.  To me, part of enthusiasm for a subject is being interested in what other people have to say about a topic.  If we listen to our students, model for them how to think critically and ask them for their opinions, we show enthusiasm for our subject matter and for them.
  4. Use technology.  Cool tools don’t make up for poor preparation or lack of content knowledge, but if you have those things going on, technology can serve to enhance the student’s learning experience.  Check out, iMovie for a few ideas.  If you want to post some additional notes after a lecture and want to include some PowerPoint with your commentary, I’ve had fun with Office Mix – which is a free add-on for PowerPoint.

Lectures can be interesting, engaging and yes, even fun…unless you have Bueller’s Economics instructor.



Brookfield, S. D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher On Technique, Trust and Responsiveness in the Classroom [Kobo DX Version]. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Derek Bok Centre for Teaching and Learning. (2010). 20 ways to make lectures more participatory. Retrieved April 23, 2016, from Derek Bok Centre for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University:

pmw8000 (2011, December 29). “Anyone, anyone” teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Retrieved from


The Hidden Curriculum of Unethical Behavior


April 17, 2016

Most teaching colleges have a code of ethics which list the standards by which an instructor must adhere.

Something that had not occurred to me, however, was how unethical behavior can form part of the hidden curriculum in our classrooms.   Hidden curriculum, for those of you who may not be familiar with the term, is, according to Great Schools Partnership (2015) “unwritten, unofficial, and often unintended lessons, values, and perspectives that students learn in school.”    These are the cultural expectations, values, perspectives, teaching strategies and institutional rules that are indirectly imparted to a student through their education experience.

Forsythe (2016) of Weber State University made this observation: “If the teacher believes he is fostering democratic values in the classroom but unintentionally allows students no voice in decision-making, the hidden curriculum is actually teaching the values of an autocracy. If a teacher stresses the importance of ethical behavior to students then engages in unethical behavior, this is another example of the hidden curriculum, of unintended teaching.”

We can say all the right things and espouse the profession’s code, but if our actions belie our words, it means nothing because it is not what the students believe — it is not what we live.



Forsythe, A. (2016). Weber State University. Retrieved from Teacher Education Professional Standards and Ethics:

Great Schools Partnership. (2015, July 2015). Hidden Curriculum. Retrieved from Glossary of Education Reform:

Learn, damn it! Student Resistance to Learning



April 13, 2016

“The ground zero of resistance to learning is the fear of change.” Brookfield (2015) .

Whenever we learn, something changes.  Learning creates a forward momentum and as positive as that can be, for many, it can be a scary proposition.  Sometimes, too, we forget that just because we’re teaching something that is of interest to us doesn’t mean those who are in the classroom have a similar level of excitement.

For example, one of the workshops I teach is on complying with bylaws.  Most people in this class are a) there because they have to be and b) not people who typically interact with legalese on purpose.  My enthusiasm for such a…um….dry topic mystifies some and intrigues others.  “How can she be that enthusiastic about legislation and bylaws?  That’s just weird.”

As instructors, we need to think back to a time when we had to take a course or a workshop on a topic that, for us, was downright painful.  Perhaps it was something that was not in alignment with your skillset (for me, that’s math…brrr…). This may give you a bit more compassion for those who are sitting in front of you, clearly disliking where they are.  You can’t force people to learn and there are those who will fight in spite of our best efforts.  Here are a few ideas, though, for engaging students in learning activities, written by Nicolas Pino James – Golden Rules for Engaging Students.

Sometimes, though, it’s not the content students are reacting to.  If students are taught by someone who they do not respect, who does appear knowledgeable about their subject or who gives conflicting/inconsistent information about expectations, that can impact their motivation to learn.  They could also be experiencing a paralyzing level of fear because the tradition learning environment has not been easy for them.  Here’s a link to a fascinating article by Scott Bedsoe and Janice Baskin on fear in the classroom – Strategies for addressing student fear in the classroom).

As an instructor, don’t make the resistance all about you – sometimes it’s about what’s going on inside the student.  Once you rule out the source of the resistance as you, this article gives you some ways to help resistant learners to move forward…even if the topic is Bylaws and You.



Bledsoe, S., PhD, & Baskin, J. (2015, April 27). Strategies for Addressing Student Fear in the Classroom. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from

Brookfield, S.D. (2015) The Skillful Teacher.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Pino James, N., PhD. (2015, December 11). Golden Rules for Engaging Students in Learning Activities. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from

What do I want to be when I grow UP?


April 13, 2016

What do I want to be when I grow up?

Where am I going?  Where am I on my career path?

At this point, I’m working in a regulatory environment and a small part of it involves teaching and facilitating, but it’s certainly not a significant part of my position.  Having said that, our Agency will be transitioning into the provincial government in the near future and my position in the new system is a bit less defined at this point.

In addition, over the last eight months I have written curriculum content and taught in an integrity-based leadership program and this has given me plenty of opportunity to try out what I have been learning in the Provincial Instructors Diploma at Vancouver Community College – PID .

So…what’s next?

While I don’t have a lot of insight just yet into what my new position will look like (at least not entirely), I thoroughly enjoy instruction and facilitation and intend to take further education in that regard.  Once the PID is done, I’m contemplating the three-course Certificate in Online/eLearning Instruction, also offered at VCC – Certificate in Online/eLearning at VCC.  So much of what is being done in online education is being done poorly, but I have taken several courses online through the PID program and have seen how it can be done well.

Keeping my options open to see what adventures are on the horizon, but want to be ready for them when they arrive!

Power Dynamics in our Classrooms

April 10, 2016

Brookfield (2015) makes the statement that there is “no such thing as a power-free classroom”.  As much as we as instructors want to create a collegial environment, we ignore our power (and that of the students) at our own peril.tug-of-war-515183_1280

An instructor’s power comes in several forms.  In essence, we have the power to assign a value to the work students do.  We decide what is taught, how it is done, how and on what students are assessed.  Even in instances where students are given the ability to “self-assess”, the instructor is one who often creates the rubric around which the student conducts the assessment.

Students’ power is more subtle.  If you have ever posed a challenging question to a group of students and the result is a sea of blank faces or glazed looks staring back at you, you’ve experienced it.  Students can also make their power known through feedback they provide in surveys, especially when those surveys are seen by your supervisor or other stakeholders.

And speaking of stakeholders, they, too, have power in our classroom.  Accrediting body requirements, supervisors, parents all have their own unique power they can wield.  Other external forces that impact our classroom dynamic that we might not immediately think of are issues related to race, gender, and class.  Additionally,  in classroom discussion, dominant students can impact the flow of teaching and learning in your group.

We can’t ignore the fact we have power, so how do we increase the likelihood we will gain student buy-in and trust and thereby more effectively manage the power dynamics in our classroom?  Brookfield lists three ways:

  1. Be transparent – Be clear in your direction. Let students know what they’ll be learning, how you will assess them and what policies you will be applying in the classroom.  Don’t make students guess and check periodically for understanding.  What you mean and what students hear aren’t always the same and that confusion can erode trust.
  2. Be responsive – This does not mean giving students whatever they ask for. Brookfield makes the point that students generally gravitate toward ideas and concepts with which they agree and are comfortable with and they typically don’t like being pushed to think for themselves.  Teaching to the test may be something students like, but it doesn’t leave students well-prepared to think critically or to apply the information they learn once they leave the classroom. Responsiveness can be demonstrated by identifying student concerns and addressing them promptly.  They don’t have to agree with your rationale, but they do need to know what it is.  In addition, pay attention to the power dynamics in your classroom and address them.  We have all had students who dominate a discussion or who are sarcastic or rude to other students.  If you tolerate that behavior, you are showing students it is acceptable and you will quickly lose control of your group.
  3. Be consistently fair – As a student, it drove me crazy when I was told there was a policy on attendance or assignment submission and then I saw the instructor be inconsistent in his/her application. We all understand things come up for people, but students watch us and if we aren’t being consistent and they see what they consider to be preferential treatment to certain students, they lose respect for you and for your rules.

Use the power you possess wisely.  Be transparent, responsive and consistently fair and students will use the power they have to amplify your efforts rather than disable them.



Brookfield, S.D. (2015) The Skillful Teacher.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass