Fear of Mistakes

Instructors often take on many roles. One of which is being a parent to the students, and like every parent, we often fear allowing our students make mistakes. Our fear is somewhat rational, however, because mistakes influences their grades, mistakes uses valuable time covering the same content, and mistakes impacts students’ motivation. For a more lengthy discussion, view this article: Are We Afraid to Let Students Make Mistakes? by Dr. Maryellen Weimer.

A Tip to Help Struggling Students

Because higher education demands large classrooms of students, the struggling students often slip through the cracks. Dr. Micah Sadigh, a professor at Cedar Crest College, has found great success in: A Simple Invitation: Please See Me! to encourage to have one-on-one meetings with him!

What are the top five teaching challenges?

The top five teaching challenges according to Reader Survey are:

  1. Students arriving to class unprepared
  2. Students unprepared for the intensity of college
  3. Budget cuts
  4. Motivation
  5. Technological distractions

Read more at: Reader Survey Finds Unprepared Students a Persistent Problem

Focusing on your Learners by Involving them in the Process (FLIP)

An article by Dr. Barbi Honeycutt about three ways we can “FLIP” a classroom without technology or what she calls “unplugged”: 3 Ways You Can Use Index Cards to FLIP Your Class: Another ‘Unplugged’ Flipped Strategy

Using Learning Goals

As instructors, we all want our students to learn; identifying and assessing what has been learned is key to making sure we achieve our goals and that our students benefit.

What is a learning goal?

A learning goal, or learning outcome, is what we want our students to get out of the course. At the university level, these goals unite traditional liberal arts and research goals with the demands for success post-undergraduate in the 21st century. At the individual classroom level, learning goals contribute to this larger mission while also attending specifically to the mission of the individual department and the individual course. These outcomes might come in the form of content mastery or skills knowledge, in a broad variety of areas. For example, learning outcomes in an introductory biology course will likely include knowledge about basic biological facts, like cell processes, but will also include knowledge and experience in proper lab conduct—both of which are crucial for future success in the sciences.

How to define learning goals

As instructors, we do want our students to learn certain things in certain ways, as well as to be able to do certain things. By framing these “things” as learning goals, we articulate more specifically what they are, how they can be attained, and whether or not our students have attained them. Some considerations in articulating learning goals are the appropriateness of the goal to the level of the course, what is the content students should know, and what skills you want them to have.

In an introductory course, learning goals will be different from what they will be in an advanced course—both in content and skills. While an introductory course might focus on learning how to do a close reading or how to act properly in a lab, an advanced course might focus on centralized higher order skills like contextual critical analysis or designing research projects. Content too is based on skill level, a 100-level course might ask for familiarity, while a 300-level course might ask for mastery. Articulating these goals prior to the start of the course will define the path the course takes, from readings, to assignments, to how classroom time is spent.

Once learning outcomes have been defined for the course, instructors can also break these goals into smaller chunks that together will equal the larger goals. In other words, the overall learning goal becomes point Z, and this breakdown draws the map to get there from point A, the start of the semester.

Making these points evident can strengthen teaching and provide important landmarks for students as they move through the course. For example, by breaking down “improve chemistry lab skills” into constituent parts, like “master two substance titration” both instructor and student will be able to more clearly mark progress.

Assessing learning Goals

Throughout the semester, it is crucial to assess and also provide opportunities for students to self-assess whether progress is made towards learning goals. These can range from traditional exams, to indirect assessments such as surveys and informal writing assignments. Peer and self-assessments can also encourage students to reflect on their own role in the learning process. By designing assessments based on your already articulated learning goals, continuity can be established, and learning processes can be improved.



Working with Different Levels of Academic Preparation

Most classes include students of varying levels of academic preparation. At first, it may seem an insurmountable task to make class time worthwhile for both academically-prepared and under-prepared students. This challenge, however, can be addressed with several techniques.

Know Your Students
It is not possible to address various student needs until you know what those needs are. There are several ways to accomplish this.

  • Solicit feedback during class by encouraging student responses and class discussion.
  • Give regular assignments that require students to demonstrate understanding, not just repetition.
  • Give a pretest. This test, given before material is covered may help to set a baseline for what students know and understand, and can help you tailor future class sessions to meet student needs.
  • Administer attendance quizzes. Attendance quizzes are given for 5 minutes at the end of a lecture and do not affect student grades. They serve as a day-to-day litmus test of how successfully students have learned that day’s material. Allow students to use their notes. After an attendance quiz, sort solutions by common mistakes, and address those mistakes by email or in the next class.

While none of these ideas will work perfectly in every class, experiment until you find which feedback techniques work best in your particular setting.

Planning Lectures
Once you know the needs of your students, you face a new question: for what level students do you plan the lecture?

If you change between easier and more challenging material frequently, you run the risk of confusing your students. If a class is tailored to leave absolutely no student behind, students with more advanced preparation will quickly become bored. If a class is tailored to meet the needs of the most advanced students, much of the class will not have the background to understand the lecture and may become frustrated. To resolve these issues, many experienced instructors recommend leading a class so that it is aimed to the middle of classroom preparation. This way, as much of the class as possible understands what is going on.

Providing Extra Resources
No matter what level class is conducted at, at least initially you will have multiple levels of student backgrounds to address. Providing the extra resources needed to address students’ needs outside the classroom is important as well.

A first easy step is to be aware of tutoring and learning centers that can assist your students. When students ask for help, having this material readily available from the beginning will enable them to quickly get the help that they need.

You may wish to collect both remedial and enrichment material to assist and to challenge as many students as possible. This may be distributed in several ways. You may choose to assign readings on multiple levels. As the semester progresses, you may wish to distribute additional resources through a class website or Sakai page as well.

Final Comments
Although teaching a diversely prepared classroom may at first seem intimidating, it does not have to be an insurmountable task. Make sure that your classroom policies are helpful to all students, and be prepared to provide extra materials, but most of all, be approachable to help students of all backgrounds find and make use of the material they really need.


Course Design seminar

Designing Your Own Course (16:186:856) was created to help students design and develop materials for a course which they might someday teach.

Topics to be covered include:

  • establishing learning goals
  • lecturing
  • class discussions
  • active learning
  • assignment design
  • assessment
  • setting course policies

This seminar:

  • is 0-credits
  • graded satisfactory/unsatisfactory
  • will appear on your transcript
  • will not incur additional fees

Class meets the first twelve weeks of the semester on Wednesdays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the College Avenue Campus.


  • open to doctoral students only
  • at least two semesters of college teaching experience at Rutgers
  • OR
  • have taken  Introduction to College Teaching (16:186:855)

To request a special permission number, contact the TA Project with your name and RUID.

The Teaching Portfolio

In your first semester of teaching or serving as a TA, you should begin to collect materials for a teaching portfolio. A teaching portfolio provides a profile of you as a teacher. It is a solid collection of evidence detailing the effectiveness of your teaching and reflections on that evidence.

An increasing number of colleges and universities are using teaching portfolios to help them make hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions. A teaching portfolio can also help faculty members write reference letters for you, as they will be able to see exactly how and why you’ve been teaching and tailor their reference letters accordingly. While a teaching portfolio can help you get a job, it can also help with teaching awards and research grants. With time, a teaching portfolio will document the evolution of your teaching and will aid your personal and professional development.

For every course you teach, you should take notes that describe the course, how you taught it, and why you taught it the way you did. Gather syllabi, copies of any assignments you created, including exams and paper topics, and any handouts you made. Your portfolio should also include evaluations of your teaching. In addition to student ratings or evaluations, you can ask a faculty member to observe your class and write an evaluation. If you attend a workshop, take a course related to teaching, or participate in any other activities to improve your pedagogical skills, document it in your portfolio. Evidence of an interest in teaching and efforts to develop your teaching skills may make you stand out as a job candidate. The Center for Teaching Advancement & Assessment Research (CTAAR) have information on creating your teaching portfolio.

Teaching Portfolio workshop

As you prepare for an academic job search, you will need to develop a teaching portfolio. Attend this session to learn the best way to do so. Special attention will be given to writing your teaching philosophy.

Date: Tuesday, April 12
Time: 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Location: Room 411ABC, College Avenue Student Center, CAC

Register online

Academic Integrity