Diane Rubino
Diane Rubino
Adjunct Instructor, New York University
Course Associate, Columbia University

I limped out of class with a bruised ego. It was an evening of transformative teaching. Sadly, I was the student. I learned I could cling to ideas about how much work students should do, or co-create the course in the moment based on their concerns.


My syllabi include a disclaimer allowing for adjustments. I occasionally used that caveat to switch lecture dates, discuss headlines, or amend an assignment—never anything substantial. But my allegiance changed after an uncomfortable dialogue with students that night.


Unexpected Revolution

The journey began abruptly when a graduate school communications course was serendipitously assigned to me right before the term. This was my first intersession course, when sessions are condensed into a shorter time-period. I made a few changes. But I mostly jimmied the lessons into the abbreviated format. I didn’t have a feel for how meeting in two longer-than-usual biweekly sessions with half the time to do the work would impact learning and course dynamics. I now see more revision was needed.


This became obvious early in the course when I noted a sea of blank stares, accompanied by a weird vibe. I asked what was going on, but got no response. I took a break and the spell lifted somewhat. I lurched through the remaining session, deciding to repeat the material in the next meeting. But something more profound than the subject was amiss.


Stormy Weather

shutterstock_213330322.jpgMore bad weather brewed on the horizon a few sessions later, near the course’s halfway mark. Fortunately, I incorporated some contemplative teaching tools—like creating a pre-class relaxation zone to color or free write while showing tranquil ocean waves videos. (According to Columbia Center for Teaching & Learning’s Kenny Hirschmann, adding a brief discussion period after the reflective exercises could have enhanced the value of this exercise.) This made the start of each class calmer and seemed to build community. The students were easier, funnier, warmer to me and each other.


So that night I popped into a chair among them to take the room’s temperature. During this impromptu discussion they described their struggles to keep up with the course.


This wasn’t news. Teaching in multiple graduate programs revealed I’m somewhat of an outlier, tending to give a bit—or a lot—more work. But this conversation was different because classes never gave me this feedback in person during the term. They saved such opinions for anonymous student end-of-semester evaluation of teaching (SETs) 


This moment was also striking because the majority of students were international. Most grew up in a politically authoritarian environment that usually fostered a quiet respectfulness toward hierarchy. This time they spontaneously spoke up, revealing almost a fixation on the amount of reading and the time spent doing homework. As a result, the content and intellectual value of the resources and tasks diminished. To be clear, this was no rebellion of the disinterested. It was a serious talk with primarily hard workers who wanted to excel. They were fearful of falling behind.


I dodged their critiques because I thought I was right. I also felt defensive and embarrassed because my teaching style was challenged. Though upset, I also listened.


An idea floated into my head: Was my vision of what idealized students could do more important than the concerns of the real people in front of me? I chose the latter.


Steal from the Best

Although I rejected criticism from previous semesters about the workload, I was fascinated to learn a respected colleague cut her syllabus after multiple “too much reading” choruses. Her comments were revelatory. If someone of her stature adopted this approach, I should too. Some day.


I’d reached that day.


I needed to re-calibrate the course with student input. This might allow us to co-exist comfortably. I studied the learning outcomes, key ideas, and skill-building goals, considering what could be taught through lectures, in-class discussions and activities. Then, I did the unthinkable: I cut the readings to the bone. I carefully selected the required resources. But they weren’t sacred texts.


In addition, I changed my grading technique. Until that point, I returned work with a grade and suggestions for future tasks. I was proud of the effort I put into feedback. But some students didn’t read my remarks and kept repeating their mistakes. So I inverted the process. I provided comments without a grade on the first draft, gave students time to review and incorporate my commentary, and graded the revised version. This approach was more positive and resulted in higher-quality outcomes.


Survey Says…

On the last day, I let the class work on SETs without me around. Walking into the room a student grinned while saying, “We gave you terrible reviews.” We laughed. I knew she was teasing.


The class had coalesced by then. I attribute the positive interactions and attitudes to course co-creation. I’d heard about this technique but hadn’t made wholesale changes in real time before. However, the moment felt right for that group.


Based on that experience, I learned:

  1. Some situations and syllabi call for more flexibility than others. In this case, it was necessary to adjust the material to meet students’ needs.
  2. Virtually nothing on my resource list is so sacred it can’t be cut to make the course more reasonable. This can be done without lowering the course’s level or quality, which is what I feared.
  3. Feedback on draft texts and presentations before grading offers additional teaching opportunities, if it’s possible. My small class made reading or listening to two rounds of the same assignment possible.


In the end, everyone lived happily ever after. Just kidding. The students complained about the workload on their evaluations anyway. I shudder to think what they might have written if I let my ego get in the way and clung to my ideas as if they were the holy grail.


Image Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock


    Christopher Ruel
Christopher Ruel
Community and Social Marketing, Wiley

Like many young men and women who witnessed the September 11th, 2001 attacks, Jonathan Montano joined the military soon after he graduated from high school. In doing so, his college education became a secondary concern as he focused on helping others and serving his country.


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His dedication to others and his nation led him to become an Air Commando in the United States Air Force. He supported Special Operations not only in combat zones but also participated in assisting others following the 2004 tsunami and the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast. Montano joined in the massive evacuation of the Lebanese people, and in dropping supplies over Kosovo—the largest operation of its kind since World War Two. This is the kind of person Jonathan Montano is; a man who dedicates his life to serving others.


So, what’s a Air Commando to do when his service comes to an end? For Jonathan, the answer was to keep helping, keep serving, and keep making a difference. Studying at San Bernardino Valley College, Montano earned his vocational nursing license. He then worked in a psychiatric ward to pay down his student loans.


Like any Airman, Jonathan quickly did more than was asked of him at San Bernardino County Valley College. He excelled at his courses and then served as a tutor and a supplemental instructor for Chemistry classes.


Also, Jonathan became a WileyPLUS Student Partner, a dedicated peer leader whose mission was to assist other students at San Bernardino CC. In this role, he led initiatives at the course level and worked with faculty to deliver 15-minute presentations to students on how to use WileyPLUS technology as a study tool. Additionally, he led study sessions with students to teach them how to use adaptive practice as a study tool. It always felt like a victory when a student who started off shaky became confident and proficient in the coursework. And, although presentation skills weren't originally in Jonathan's wheelhouse when he started college, this role helped him develop a stage presence quickly. In fact, Jonathan was chosen to present on behalf of all WileyPLUS Student Partners at two large conferences in Arizona and California.


For his efforts and tireless dedication to his peers, Montano received the WileyPLUS Student of the Year award in the spring of 2017. One might think Jonathan’s extra workload would interfere with hisstudies, but he recently graduated from SBVCC with a 3.989 GPA.


Air Force Special Operation Commando Units have a mission statement; Anyplace. Anytime. Anywhere. Jonathan lived up to his calling in both his military service and in his personal life. We congratulate Jonathan once more for his dedication to helping others at home and abroad, in combat, in his humanitarian missions, and in his achievements devoted to helping fellow students be successful in the classroom.


Learn how to nominate a WileyPLUS Student Partner.


Image Credit: Jonathan Montano


The Formula For Academic Success

Posted Aug 11, 2017
    Christopher Ruel
Christopher Ruel
Community and Social Marketing, Wiley

Meet Rebecca Wuorio

Rebecca Wuorio is a 23-year-old Staff Auditor at Baker-Newman-Noyes Public Accounting. She graduated summa cum laude with a degree in accounting and finance from the University of New Hampshire. How did she land a job as a CPA right out of college? She studied hard. It’s that simple. Doing so allowed her to pass the CPA exam, all three parts, in just three months. You can pass Rebecca’s tips along to your students to inspire them to reach their goals.


Rebecca’s formula for success


1. Make studying your job

Rebecca devoted three-months to studying for the CPA exam full time.  Making time to study is an investment. Do students have other courses for which they to need to study? Yes. Do they have part-time jobs? Often. But a central takeaway from Rebecca’s success is that study time needs to be top priority.


2. Stay focused

A prevailing myth in both education and the workplace is that we can successfully multitask. We can’t—our brains are not built that way. In David Crenshaw’s book, The Myth of Multitasking: How "Doing It All" Gets Nothing Done, the author explores and discounts the practice of multitasking. According to Crenshaw, multitasking is a lie. It wastes time and costs money. Rather than being efficient, multitasking has been shown to actually damage productivity. Rebecca makes a habit of shutting off her phone and freeing herself of all distractions before she studies. There is no multitasking. If you think you can multitask, try this exercise by Crenshaw.


3. Develop a study routine

Rebecca’s situation was unique because she was able to devote her entire summer to studying. Yet, every student can develop an effective study routine. One of the ways Rebecca created a study plan was by keeping her eye on the prize: becoming a CPA. As an educator, you can help students identify their own goals and a study regimen to help them achieve those goals.


Whether a student is studying for a professional certification, or trying to pass Calculus, the keys to success are the same. If you focus on imparting one of these strategies in your classroom, you're making progress. Then try another the next semester.


Have you helped your students develop a better study routine? Share your experience in the comments below.

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    Douglas Petrick
Douglas Petrick
Physics Teacher, Pittsburgh, PA

This is the third and final episode of my three-part podcast series in which I discuss strategies for winning the high-stakes testing race. In this episode, I further elaborate on my blog post by covering strategies 4 through 6. You can read my original blog post here.



Do you have any comments or questions for me? I would love to hear from you in regard to how you prepare students for high stakes testing. Thanks for listening!


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