Jeanette Rossetti presenting at TEI

Fall 2014 Teaching Effectiveness Institute Focused on Effective Teaching and Cooperative Activities in the Classroom

Jeanette Rossetti presenting at TEIThe Two-Day Teaching Effectiveness Institute began on Thursday, August 14 with Fundamentals of Effective Teaching, an all-day event with sessions designed to introduce faculty to the basic principles of teaching, share information about teaching-related support resources available at NIU, and inform faculty on the ways they can address students’ learning needs. We greatly appreciate the time and commitment of the NIU faculty and staff members from a range of academic departments and support units offered who shared their expertise during the Institute.

Ten informative sessions focused on energizing the classroom experience, constructing a syllabus, assessing student learning, preparing successful writing assignments, and teaching and research support from the university libraries. Participants also learned about how to assist students with emotional and behavioral concerns and those with disabilities, as well as ways to manage academic integrity and difficult students. Participants left the Institute with a wealth of information on the fundamentals of teaching to help prepare them for the new semester ahead.

The second day of the Fall 2014 Teaching Effectiveness Institute on Friday, August 15, engaged participants in the workshop, Using Cooperative Activities to Foster Deep Learning and Critical Thinking, presented by Barbara J. Millis, Ph.D., former director of teaching centers at the University of Texas at San Antonio, The University of Nevada, Reno, and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Dr. Millis presented a highly interactive day-long workshop in which she demonstrated ways to sequence structured assignments and activities to foster students’ deep learning and critical thinking. The workshop was designed around three key learning principles by John D. Bransford and colleagues (2000) that support students’ motivation to learn: Prior Knowledge centers on how students construct new knowledge based on what they already know (or don’t know); Deep Foundational Knowledge states that students need a deep knowledge base and conceptual frameworks in which to learn new content; and Metacognition where students need to identify their own learning goals and monitor their progress toward achieving them.

Each of these learning principles can be addressed in the classroom through simple yet meaningful cooperative activities. Throughout the workshop, participants worked with partners and groups in orchestrated activities that can be immediately applied in many classroom situations. For example, students can use a deck of playing cards with hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs to facilitate team roles and activities that rotate once a week. Another range of activities called Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs), can help students reflect on their own learning while informing the instructor of their progress and how well they understand the content. For example, students can write a type of Minute Paper in which they answer questions or complete sentences before handing in a paper or project:

  • “I’m most satisfied with…, I’m least satisfied with…, I’m having problems with…”
  • “In this paper, what did you learn that surprised you? When editing your paper, what were you unsure about?”
  • “This assignment is important to my role as a professional in this discipline because…”

In another activity, Think, Pair, Share, students are asked to personally reflect on a question or prompt, after which they turn to a partner and discuss their individual thoughts, preparing for a whole class response. The instructor then asks for feedback from just a few of the pairs as time allows.

As a final example, students can be assigned to complete a Jigsaw Graphic Organizer. Graphic Organizers are “visual depictions that suggests relationships and can help [students] structure homework assignments” (Millis, 2010). In a Jigsaw Graphic Organizer, each student in a heterogeneous team is responsible for completing a part of a complex assignment by using a partially completed graphic organizer in which they fill-in blank sections. Each student then becomes an “expert” in their assigned area of the assignment. When back in the classroom, students form “expert teams” made up of other students who had the same part of the assignment/graphic organizer. In their expert teams, students discuss, share notes, and prepare how they will present their information to their original groups. Back in their original groups, student experts will explain their new knowledge to others who did not complete that part of the assignment.

By the end of the second day of the Institute, workshop participants experienced the type of active and interactive learning experiences that can help students to become more motivated, energized, and accountable to both themselves and others in the classroom. Participants also received several resources that can be used when planning interactive learning experiences for deep learning and critical thinking throughout the semester.

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Millis, B. J. (2010). Idea Paper #47. Promoting deep learning. The Idea Center. www.ideaedu/org/sites/default/files/IDEA_Paper_47.pdf

For further information on these topics and other teaching-related issues, contact Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at or 815.753.0595.


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