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Teacher's Corner

Teaching tips from the Teacher's Aide Newsletter.

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From the 2017 November issue

Rubrics - A Quick Overview

We often get questions from teachers on how to create good rubrics or how to use them effectively. So, let’s talk a bit about rubrics.

Rubrics need to be descriptive. The problem is, they are usually written with evaluation in mind. Of course, you will use them to evaluate your students, but if you focus on describing the performance criteria clearly, then the assessment part is easy.

First, you need a list of the skills and abilities that you expect your students to demonstrate in the assessment. Include subcategories to allow for more descriptions of performance. Then, for each category and subcategory, define what evidences that skill or ability at each level of performance. How would an average student demonstrate that skill or ability? How would an above average student demonstrate that skill or ability? And how would a below-average student demonstrate that they still have some work to do? You need a separate description for each level of performance.

Important: Use your own language. It is confusing to students if you lecture and demonstrate in your voice, but your rubrics and assessments are written in a more textbook-style, or worse, someone else’s language altogether. Use the same terminology that your students have heard you use in the classroom all along.

When you use the rubric to evaluate your students, take notes. When necessary, explain (in writing) why your observation led you to choose one performance level over another. These notes are often more important to the students success than their final grade on the assessment.

Super Important: Use the rubrics to evaluate yourself too! When you see a pattern of low performance in a large number of your students for a particular skill or ability, re-evaluate your own teaching methods. Maybe they aren’t getting it because you could be delivering that material in a different (and more effective) way.

2017 October

Marketing Class Activity: Identify Your Ideal Client

If you are teaching business but you are not teaching your students how to identify their ideal client, they may really struggle with marketing in the future. To illustrate the importance of target marketing, include this activity in the marketing section of your business course.

Identify your ideal client by answering the following questions:

Given your answers, who would be most easily attracted to working with you? Who would you really enjoy being around?

2017 September

Give Your Students Instruction on How to Positively Affect the Learning Environment

With each group of new students, we try to bring as many resources as we can to the classroom, to improve the effectiveness of the learning experience and environment. But remember, it is okay to give students direct instruction on what they can bring to the classroom as well. As the new term begins, give your students some expectations beyond the syllabus, to help them (and you) get the most out of the learning experience.

As an example, Dr. Weimer gives her students a memo at the beginning of the semester that begins:

This is just a brief note to let you know how committed I am to making this a good course. But I can’t do my best teaching without your help. So, I thought I’d share a list of things you can do that will make this a better experience for all of us.

She goes on to explain each of the items on her list: Be There, Participate, and Help Me Get to Know You. Read her entire memo to students, and maybe adapt it for your own classroom.

2017 August

The Value of Teaching Charting

Diana Thompson Interview

This month’s teaching tip is a video tip with Diana L. Thompson, author of the Hands Heal book, and creator of the online health records system HandsHealEHR. You may know the importance of teaching charting to your students, but it is also important to make clear the distinction between wellness charting and treatment charting. When your students are prepared for both, they are prepared for any work environment—private practice, employment, or variations of each. In this video, Diana makes it pretty si mple to understand this distinction, and talks about the value that charting brings to our clients.

2017 July

The End of Class is Just as Important as the Beginning

Usually, we are focused on what to do at the beginning of each class: outline what we will be doing today, review what we learned last time, administer a quiz, share the specific learning objectives for the day. And then we proceed with our lesson plan, winding down to the end of class… sometimes running out of time. If we don’t plan accurately, students often start packing up to leave a few minutes early, even when we are still talking or finishing up an activity. If you want your students to actually think about the relevance of your course content, organization is just as important as that content (maybe more).

Make your day more effective by planning to end the learning and activity phases of your class 10-15 minutes early. Give yourself and your students some breathing space to integrate the material you covered that day. Have your students summarize, in their own words, the topics and ideas you covered. Give them a sample problem to solve, or an ethical dilemma to consider. Have them write down their reactions to the day’s lesson and be prepared to share the next time. Give them questions, not answers, to keep them thinking about your subject-matter until you meet again.

2017 June

Marketing Class Activity: Creating and Collecting Student Business Cards Digitally

Helping students come up with marketing materials for their future practices is a worthwhile activity in any Business or Professionalism course. Here’s an option for creating and collecting marketing materials like business cards, while remaining environmentally conscious: no paper products necessary.

  1. Have students go to VistaPrint and create 3 sample business cards (they do not need to purchase cards to create sample designs online). Have them screenshot each of the 3 designs they create, so that they have 3 image files to submit.
  2. Create a wall on Padlet (or a similar online collaboration site), and share the link with your students.
  3. Have students add their business card image files to a post on your wall. Add comments directly to their posts, for individual feedback. You may also allow students to comment on each other’s posts, for more feedback opportunities and in-class discussion potential.
  4. If this is a required activity, you can confirm each student’s participation based on their posts and feedback discussions.

For additional activities, create a wall for sample brochures, sample gift certificates, sample postcards, etc.

2017 May

Change the Listener, Change the Discussion

This month’s tip comes from Jodi Wiley, an instructor at Lansing Community College in Lansing, MI.

I was teaching through the rationale for Positional Release. This includes diving back into the anatomy that most students gladly left behind a few semesters ago. We talk through basic afferent and efferent message pathways, golgi tendon organs, spindle cells, and even annulospiral and flower spray neurons! After the lesson, I had them summarize the lesson in their own words to a partner as if they were telling another massage therapist who didn't know the information. THEN, I had them share with another partner as if they were sharing the rationale with a client (very different).

It worked SO WELL! I'll definitely use that trick again for Positional Release class, but also others. Yay!

Thank you for sharing this, Jodi. It’s super important to practice explaining what we are doing and why we are doing it. But it’s even more important to practice varying our explanations and discussions based on the actual person listening. We have to find out the listener’s perspective and knowledge base, and then describe in appropriate terminology that they can understand (without being too simplistic or condescending). Sometimes that takes a lot of practice.

Well done, Jodi and Lansing Community College!

2017 April

Creating Instructional Videos

As we acquire more and more students with technological savvy, we may decide to become more technological ourselves. If you are creating (or considering) instructional videos, here are some tips adapted from a recent article by Michael Smedshammer on the FacultyFocus website.

  1. Lose the headset — You look more natural, and most built-in microphones are as good as headsets.
  2. Shorter is better — As you well know, our students have short attention spans. Most marketing experts say not to go longer than 3 minutes in a video. Yikes! We do have a bit more leeway with instructional videos, but you may lose them if you go longer than 5-10 minutes in a stretch. So, break-up longer topics into several different videos.
  3. Don’t read the script — Sure, write a script and practice that script; when it comes to recording, just wing it. Then your video appears much more like who you are in the classroom.
  4. Position your camera so you are looking up at it — No one wants to see your nostrils, and students sure don’t want to be talked down to. The best view shows your head, shoulders, and upper torso.
  5. Choose an appropriate location, and change it up — Classroom or office make good choices, even your home office (unless it’s in a bedroom). If you do multiple videos, change up the location so students don’t get bored with the same background. Even changing the angle of your camera can make a difference.
  6. Look directly at the camera — Don’t look around or off to the side to read your notes, look right into the camera lens. Anything else looks weird.
  7. Cover up your screen — Seeing yourself on your computer screen while you are recording can be distracting.
  8. Smile — Smiling makes you look and sound more enthusiastic.
  9. Don’t over do the editing — The fancy music and transitions that come with most video editing software can actually make you look like a bit amateur-ish (the pros don’t really even use those things).

2017 March

Virtual Guest Speakers

Do you invite local experts to your classroom to share real-life information and experiences with your students? Why limit yourself to your local community? With live video conferencing tools like Skype or Zoom, you can bring in guest speakers from anywhere around the globe. Here are a few ways you can connect your classroom to the larger world of wellness education:

As with any guest speaker, ask your students to prepare ahead of time with relevant material to generate questions for the guest. And, since you will be using technology, remember to do a practice run!

While I agree, students really need to know what works and doesn’t work in their own communities, hearing from experts in other states (or countries!) can extend their learning experiences and help them develop a broad understanding of the field they are about to enter.

2017 February

Brainstorming Review

If you are the type to review just before a test, you probably stand at the front of the class and quiz your students verbally over the basic topic or topics to be covered before you hand it out. Next time, try using this brainstorming activity to help some of that quick review to stick in their brains a bit longer. (Plan for 10-15 minutes for this activity to be most effective.)

  1. Have students pull out a piece of blank paper.
  2. Ask them to write all the words or ideas they know about the selected topic. (If there are multiple topics covered on the test, this may need to be a multi-step process so they can brainstorm each topic separately.)
  3. Next, have them exchange their brainstorming paper with a partner to see if they missed anything. Each student adds any words or ideas to their paper that they may have missed.
  4. Allow the students to look over their brainstorming papers for an additional minute or two, then have them give you their papers before handing out the test.

Once they finally take the test, the students will have already activated their long-term memories of the concepts and vocabulary for the selected topics, and writing them down just minutes before helped to establish current physical memories. It may just give that student with test anxiety the extra boost needed to succeed on the test.

2017 January

Prepare for Learning Success in the New Year

Post these study tips in your classroom, to help students prepare for success in the new year:

IF-AT Immediate Feedback Tests

IF-AT cover Here's a quick video (2m 17s) that describes IF-AT testing, an assessment technique that actually helps students learn. Susan Salvo shared the idea with us back in August, during her webinar on the use of technology in the classroom. We think it could be a really great tool for learning the more complicated ethics subject-matter. Let us know what you think.

2016 December

Teach Teachers How To Create Magic [video]

Create Magic

Do you have the magic it takes to engage your students? In this TED video, Christopher Emdin suggests that to be a great educator, we need to go beyond theory and content… we need magic. Not hocus-pocus magic, rather the magic it takes to transport someone from their current reality into the world of engaged learning. He says, to learn how to create magic, we need to go to where this engagement is happening, and that’s not anywhere near the classroom.

2016 November

Have a struggling student? Send them an invitation!

I read a great article recently about connecting with struggling students, by Micah Sadigh, PhD, called “A Simple Invitation: Please See Me!” His approach is to write a note at the top of tests and assignments inviting struggling students to come see him to discuss what can be done to improve their grade. He finds that many students actually take him up on that invitation, and that most do better after they meet. I think the structure of his meetings with students is brilliant, so I’ve included an abridged version of what he tells each student here.

Helping students learn to communicate about doubts and fears actually helps beyond the classroom and clinic. Students can realize the benefits to reaching out and sharing concerns, instead of avoiding problems, through these individual meetings with you. And by taking an interest in your student’s performance, you are showing that you really care about that student as an individual. The feeling that someone cares can have the added effect of motivating students to do better, because they want to reciprocate in kind and not let you down.

Let me know if you try any of this, and if it helps improve the effectiveness of your meetings with your struggling students.


2016 October

The Learning Styles Controversy

Cherie Sohnen-Moe addresses the learning-styles controversy in this video, and offers tips for content delivery.

2016 September

Teach Your Students to Think About Thinking

Many licensing and certification exam items require the student to think through their own body of knowledge and experience, and apply that collective body toward the situation at hand. This is indeed the very same process we hope licensed practitioners employ as they work with their clients' healthcare needs. We call that critical thinking, and we assume that this critical thinking is naturally occurring in our classrooms as we present content and ideas for students to consider.

Most programs focus primarily on the acquisition of knowledge, practical skills, and professionalism, not necessarily the skills of critical thinking. We encourage you to make a more direct effort to include these skills in your curriculum, to prepare your students for their licensing exams and for their future practices. Here are two ways to begin promoting critical thinking in your classroom:

  1. Talk about the different cognitive levels. For example, show them a picture of Bloom's Taxonomy. Talk about what level they will need to be at to begin their professional practice (understand, apply, and potentially analyze). Then show them where they will need to be to become a successful advanced practitioner (analyze, evaluate, and create).
  2. Teach meta-cognition. In other words, teach your students to think about thinking. For example, show them that learning assessments (exams) are not only useful for the teacher to monitor progress, they are extremely useful for the student's own self-reflection. They can do that by asking questions about their learning process:

    What worked well for me in preparing for my last exam, and what did not work so well? What should I remember to do next time and what should I change about my exam preparation? What questions did I miss? Why? How did my answer compare to the suggested correct answer? What am I still confused about? How can I get the clarification I need?

2016 August

Challenge Your Students to Learn More

Successful people know that continually learning is essential. Warren Buffett is arguably one of the most successful people in the world, and he reads six newspapers every morning. Does he need all that information? Probably not… but an inherent curiosity exists in him, and I'm going to make the leap here that inherent curiosity is at the root of many successful ventures around the world.

Here are six habits that successful people have that you should encourage your students to adopt if they really want to achieve success:

  1. Maintain a healthy curiosity about their work and their profession.
  2. Regularly look into new concepts and ideas. Take hand-written notes to help those new ideas stick.
  3. Pursue subject-matter experts to expand their knowledge base. Attend online courses, workshops, conferences, and advanced trainings.
  4. Try new things that are challenging or even frustrating, because the brain strengthens connections when the task is difficult or uncomfortable.
  5. Be picky about their time and schedule.
  6. Ask questions and keep an open mind.

2016 July

Getting Students to Read

We are frequently complimented on the quality of our textbooks. Those compliments are often followed by: “If I could only get my students to do the reading assignments….” In the article, “Getting Horses to Drink: Three Ways to Promote Student Ownership of Reading Assignments,” (Sep 2015) Dr. Li-Shih Huang shares activities to help motivate students to do assigned readings. Here is an adaptation of the shared activities that I think could easily be applied to ethics and business classes.

Provide Choices to Promote Ownership of the Material

Have each student (or a small group of students) select from the list of required readings; they assume the role of classroom discussion facilitator at the appropriately scheduled time. The student facilitator asks the class to submit discussion questions ahead of time, to encourage consideration before the discussion period, and selects and discusses the best ones during the class period. To receive proper participation credit, each student would have to submit a thoughtful question or comment based on each reading, not a yes/no or true/false type of question.

Visit Dr. Huang's entire article for more details and more ideas.

2016 June

Utilizing Digital Books to Assist in Curriculum

In this 2-minute video Cherie Sohnen-Moe discusses print versus digital textbooks, and how you might use digital versions to prepare for class even if your curriculum uses the print edition.

2016 May

Tip - Slow Down

We have limited time with our students, and we often make the mistake of trying to cover too much material.

Many of the best teachers share that, over time, they have reduced the details they cover to improve effectiveness. Take your time covering important concepts carefully. Use several examples, ask lots of questions, and draw analogies. Allow for discussion and reflection, as these are critical steps in the learning process that are often discarded in the interest of time. Help solidify the concepts by repeating past material throughout the term. Tell relevant stories (e.g., you might have a discussion with the clinic supervisor at your school about a recent situation in the student clinic, and then bring that to class as a “real world” example of your course objectives).

This is an adaptation of tip number 6 from the article “Learning to Teach: 10 Tips for Professors” by Chris Buddle.

2016 April

Be Strictly Flexible

We all know the value of setting policies and adhering to them. Andrea Leppert suggests that we also allow some flexibility, but in a structured manner. She says, “Be strictly flexible. It's a new combination of words, and it means to be diligent, yet understanding, of busy lives, illness, working late… basically ‘life’ that gets in the way of learning.” She allows two late assignments in her courses and recommends giving students two “late coupons” to use when they do not finish assignments on time.

This information was acquired from the article “5 Tips from a Teacher of Adult Students” by Andrea Leppert, M.A.

2016 March

Tips to Encourage Memory Retrieval

We want our learners to have a comprehensive understanding of the concepts we teach, so we focus a lot of our attention on the use of content and situations, otherwise known as "critical thinking." But let’s not forget that memorization of basic facts and terms can provide a solid foundation toward content knowledge and expertise. In fact, content recall is an integral part of the critical thinking process. Here are some ways we can help our learners in their memorization efforts:

  1. Help your learners answer the question, “Why am I memorizing this stuff in the first place?” If they have a purpose, they are more likely to remember.
  2. Break down new words. This is especially important for our anatomy teacher colleagues, who often present entirely new vocabulary.
  3. Use visualization strategies, like mnemonics that link words to images.
  4. Use testing, spacing, and interleaving. Look these up, they are supported by the latest learning research. Basically, you use quizzing as a study technique, spread out the study sessions, and alternate different topics.
  5. Encourage them to practice retrieval, not to simply reread their notes. They need to use their notes to challenge their memory. Passive rereading does not challenge memory, it tricks them into thinking they already know the material. Making flash cards out of their notes and testing themselves is a great way to practice retrieval.

2016 Febuary

Background Knowledge Poll

An activity that helps you assess your learners level of knowledge and increase their experience of inclusion is to poll the learners on what they already know. This can be done before starting a new course or even a new topic. Prepare several open-ended questions about the subject material.

You can also encourage learners to share their previous real-life experiences with the topic. For instance, you might ask, “What characteristics of being a good student will help you be a good employee?”

2016 January


In my observations of many teachers and their various teaching styles, I find that the most effective ones are those who know how they come across to their students (how their students are receiving their words and their behaviors). They know their content well enough to deliver it at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner, and are somehow able to adjust in the moment when necessary. Unfortunately, many not-so-effective teachers think they are doing a great job. That’s not necessarily because their teacher skill-set is lacking. It’s because their self-awareness is low.

The start of a new year is typically a time for self-reflection and setting goals. As teachers, the self-reflection part is paramount to our success. But it must be accurate self-reflection. We must be able to see what we do through the eyes of our students… what we do well, and what we do poorly. We must become more self-aware. It’s a simple process, really, but not so easy. It can even be painful at times. But if you want to be the best teacher you can be, you must:

Wishing you the best for this new year, in your classroom and in your life.

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