Course Planning and Instructional Design

Clearly Informing Students of the Objectives

It is my belief that the clear communication of expectations and goals is essential in assisting students with the learning process. It is for this reason that I prepare detailed syllabi that identify my expectations for students, the objectives and the goals of the course. Each syllabus provides information about the course’s goals and objectives, required readings, and assignments. It also provides detailed information about other course requirements such as academic honesty, attendance and participation, and professional and ethical behavior.

I emphasize attendance. It is important for students to be in class both to learn and to help others learn. I take attendance and require students to sign in for every class session. I circulate a sign-in sheet (Sample Sign-in Sheet) before class begins. Arriving late and/or leaving early interrupts the flow of the class, and I consider it unprofessional. If students come in after class begins, it becomes their responsibility to sign in without disturbing the lesson (e.g., immediately after class or during a break), otherwise they are marked absent for that class. Some students have considered my attendance policy harsh; however, I consider class participation and attendance extremely important for all students -- both for themselves, and their fellow classmates.

I also emphasize Classroom Participation. I specifically grade participation based on a student’s preparation, class participation, timeliness, and professionalism. I believe that professionalism is extremely important for the students in the School of Education.

During the first class meeting for each course, it is my practice to orally review the syllabus in great detail. During the second class meeting, I invite the students to ask questions about the syllabus and course objectives, goals, and expectations. I have actually given short quiz questions on the syllabus requiring each student to demonstrate a clear understanding of the syllabus and its requirements. Additionally, it is my practice to begin each class meeting with a review of the previous session and an overview of the current session to communicate clearly my objectives and goals for each class. The course syllabi are presented as evidence of my clarity in informing my students of course objectives.

Planning to Accomplish Objectives
My lesson plans continually evolve and are extremely flexible. I often make final decisions on the day of instruction to ensure linkage between the course content from the syllabi and daily activities by individually tailoring instruction to meet the needs of a class. My syllabi have been modified each semester to meet the changing information and needs of the students and include sufficient flexibility to ensure all materials are covered in an instructionally appropriate manner.

A syllabus for the course is handed out during the first class meeting, and it is designed to be a road map of the subject matter and how it will be covered throughout the semester. During the first two weeks of class, I strive to give students a precise explanation of the course requirements, how they will be evaluated, and the course objectives. I have even invited my previous students as guest speakers to talk about how to be successful in my classes. I display examples of previous students’ projects, literature review papers (Sample Literature Review), and research proposals (Sample Research Proposal) to demonstrate to my students what the final products should look like and how they will be assessed. All materials are made available on the course E-reserve (at EMU) or Blackboard (at W&M) web pages to support students learning outside the classroom throughout the semester. Directions (E-Reserve) for accessing course E-reserve web pages are emailed to students at the beginning of each semester.

Development of teaching materials. The instructional materials I utilize have consistently included the use of PowerPoint presentations, a wide variety of supplemental handouts, the sharing of relevant books and journal articles, the use of multimedia technology (smart classrooms, relevant videotapes, music, websites), and the appropriate use of materials produced by school districts. I have even utilized my children’s school materials and reports (e.g., my 12-year-old son’s MEAP reports (MEAP Results) and standardized test results (IOWA reports), my 16-year-old daughter’s high school’s MEAP reports (MEAP Results), or several school districts’ MEAP reports, etc.). It is too cumbersome to include all of these materials; therefore, some of these instructional materials have not been included but are on file. I have even requested that my previous outstanding students return as guest speakers at the beginning of a semester as I noted above (Request for Being a Guest Speaker and Permission). They typically talk about what they learned and why they were successful in my class. They also conveyed to my current students many important tips and strategies for earning better grades in my class. One of the guest speakers created a PowerPoint presentation (Guest Speaker, Mr. Earnster) and another guest speaker produced a hand-out (Guest Speaker, Mr. Sander) for this specific purpose. Both of these are posted on my course E-reserve web pages. Many students reported that using the guest speakers was very useful and helpful for them, especially for hints on completing their projects.

Starting with simple assignments before more comprehensive ones. Instructionally, I develop my courses by starting with relevant background material to contextualize and reinforce the course content. Thus, I provide an explanation of “why” before I provide the details of “how” to demonstrate and reinforce the relevance of the material. I develop my courses by starting with simple assignments and then move on to more complex and comprehensive projects. Throughout the semester, I incorporate developmentally appropriate assessment with low stakes assessment when students are first exposed to concepts followed by higher stakes assessment after instruction and implementation.

At W&M.
EDUCF 09. To assist my students accomplish the course objectives in a systematic matter, my students are expected to submit a weekly reflection paper (Sample Chapter Reading Reflections) on the assigned readings for that week. In the beginning of the semester, my students are required to meet with me for 30 to 60 minutes to decide the a topic for their literature review. They are initially required to submit a draft of their literature review paper, and even though the drafts are graded they only count for 5 points. Typically, I give substantial feedback on the drafts (Sample Feedback on Drafts) and make a hand-out for their common mistakes (Common mistakes for EDUCF 09 Literature Review) and review them together so that students can revise their submissions and submit a perfect paper when they are required to submit a final literature review (20 points). This helps my students understanding of the course expectations.

Research courses (EDPS 677 , EDUCF 65, & EDUC 663). In the syllabus, I provide weekly essay exam questions (See pp. 4-9) information related to the essential concepts to give students a “big picture” of the semester. I provide three to four questions per chapter, or approximately eight potential quiz questions per week. I also provide detailed directions for their final research proposal (Directions for Literature Review and Research Proposal) so that they are aware of the concepts they need to master prior to completing their final research proposal. Initially, my students in Research Methods courses are required to meet with me for 30 to 60 minutes (Meetings for a Research Topic) to decide their topic for their literature review. For their literature review paper, my students are initially required to submit a draft (for 5 points), I give feedback (Sample Feedback on EDUCF 65 Literature Review Drafts), they revise their literature review paper accordingly, and they submit their final literature review paper (for 20 points). Further for their research proposal, my students are also initially required to submit a draft (for 5 points), I give feedback (Sample Feedback on EDUCF 65 Research Proposals), they revise their research proposal accordingly, and they submit their final research proposal (for 25 points).

I strive to communicate clearly my course goals, objectives, and expectations in my syllabi. In addition to the assignment descriptions embedded within syllabi, I also distribute detailed written assignment descriptions throughout the course. Moreover, I provide examples (after I get a written permission [Permission To Use] from the students for me to use their work as an example) on the Blackboard web site and instructional activities (Sample Reliability & Validity Activity) (Sample CAP1& 2 Activity) that model the developmental nature of learning with low risk activities and examples of high quality student work. All of this is done before students are required to create their own projects, so that they have a complete understanding of course expectations.

EDPS 340. I began the course with the important concepts of the role of assessment in teaching, the tie between assessment and student learning, and creating high-quality class room assessments by creating objectives, matching objectives and assessment methods, and unbiased assessment, before instructing on constructing good traditional or alternative assessments. In addition, I provided relevant materials (specific directions [Sample CAP Directions], deadlines, and scoring rubrics and checklists [Sample SLA Directions] for the major projects as well as tables of objectives for the Test 1 and Test 2 [These are used as study guides]).

Students were expected to create a “blueprint” for their Classroom Assessment Plan (CAP) at the beginning of the semester to serve as a guide for their Curriculum Unit in the corresponding CURR 304/305 course and CAP in their EDPS 340 course. Students initially submitted a draft of their blueprint (Samples of CAP1 Draft Feedback), which was treated as homework. The drafts were not graded nor was a rubric applied. Draft submission was only worth one out of a possible 100 points for the semester. The intent was for students to put their ideas down on paper, struggle with creating objectives, and take risks by exposing their knowledge and skills; thereby enabling me to meet their individual needs through counseling and feedback. Later after students created a traditional assessment, an authentic assessment, and further developed their Curriculum Unit, students' blueprints were resubmitted and graded.

Giftedness and creativity courses (EDPS 504 & EDPS 614). Students were expected to keep a journal and submit an entry each week of class corresponding to the week’s assigned readings. They were expected to determine how each of the readings answer (or doesn’t answer) the five questions in the Course Objectives (in the EDPS 614 Syllabus) for that week. They could refer to their relevant experiences, thoughts, and readings outside of class. However, they were not allowed to simply summarize the readings; they were expected to ask questions, argue, agree, synthesize, and exemplify. Keeping a journal (EDPS 614 Reflection Samples) for the course allowed students to interact with the course content in a low risk manner.

Statistics courses (EDPS 621& EDPS 651). I began the course with an overview of quantitative research methodology, the meaning of data, and the process of conducting and reporting quantitative research before the statistics content of the course. I used a similar strategy with my graduate students that I used for my undergraduate students including weekly homework assignments. Originally, during my first semester teaching this course, I graded each homework assignment thoroughly so that students could learn from their mistakes. However, I realized that I was needlessly increasing their anxiety about the class – particularly among students who were struggling with math anxiety. As a result, I changed the system for grading homework. I began using homework assignments as a preview to the next class lecture and only graded homework as complete or not complete.

Helping Students Develop Self-directional Skills
Consistent with the literature on adult learning theory, I strive to balance my own delivery of information with students’ experiences and the expertise that they bring to the classroom. As a result, I engage in didactic instruction emphasizing my own sharing of information. I also employ active large and small group discussions of relevant concepts, research study presentations by students, research study discussions, and guest speakers from previous classes. I encourage students to be prepared through reading assignments and supplementary worksheets before they attend class so that they can actively participate in class.

At W&M.
Research courses (EDPS 677 , EDUCF 65, & EDUC 663). As noted earlier, each syllabus for research courses includes weekly essay exam questions so that students can study before each class. This enables them to monitor, and if necessary adjust, their understanding of the content during class. I also encourage students to start their final research proposal early in the semester and to request feedback on their progress. This allows them to gain a better understanding of the curriculum and submit a higher quality of work for final grading.

EDPS 340. Students are assigned reading assignments before they attend class as specified in the syllabus (EDPS 340 Syllabus). In addition, students can move ahead of the course schedule by reviewing the detailed project descriptions and examples from my previous students on the course E-reserve web pages. Some students complete their CAP or Students Learning Analysis (SLA) project before receiving any instruction and then modified their projects based on instruction in class or in person. Another example is that for the CAP 2 project, students were required (3% of their final grades) to develop each type of traditional test question (6 multiple choice questions, 1 interpretation exercise with at least 3 questions, 5 binary choice questions, 1 matching question with 4-8 parts, 5 fill-in-the-blank questions, 1 short answer question, and 1 essay question, as shown in an example of CAP2 project [CAP2 Example]) before I even taught the specific type of test questions in class. Therefore, when I taught the guidelines for developing each type of question (for general guidelines [ General Guidelines for Developing Items], for multiple choice questions [Guidelines for Multiple Choice Questions], for interpretation exercise [Guidelines for Interpretive Items], for binary choice questions [Guidelines for Binary Questions], for matching questions [Guidelines for Matching Questions], for fill-in-the-blank questions [Guidelines for Fill-in-the Blank Questions], for short answer questions [Guidelines for Short Answer Questions], and for essay questions [Guidelines for Essay Questions]), if they had trouble with the concepts, they asked questions and modified and revised their own test questions based my instructions.

Giftedness and creativity courses (EDPS 504 & EDPS 614). The students were expected to keep a journal. For example, for their creativity journal, they tried to determine how each of the readings answers the five questions in the Course Objectives (1. Who is creative? 2. What is creativity? 3. Is the creative process the same for all individuals and across domains? 4. Must creativity result in a product? 5. In what ways does the environment affect creativity?). In this manner, they were self-teaching by addressing the things that agree or disagree with their point of view and the questions that they had. The main purpose of the journal was to encourage the student to interact with the content in a self-directed manner.

Statistics courses (EDPS 621& EDPS 651). The students were expected to complete homework (EDPS 621 Weekly Assignments) before they were taught the material to prepare for class. Students were required (10% of the final grades) to read the textbooks and answer questions that exposed them to new concepts and materials so that they could participate by developing questions on the material that they did not understand before they came to class. This method was especially useful for learning SPSS. The best way to learn SPSS is to explore or “play with” it rather than to be taught with a boring lecture on which button to click on a computer menu.

Keeping Students Informed of Specific Responsibilities
I conscientiously prepare for every class meeting. In preparation, I review the assigned readings, prepare detailed PowerPoint slides, collect relevant books and materials for display or reference during class, and carefully organize handouts. My students routinely comment on my organization -- which is both a compliment and a validation. In preparing, I seek to communicate to students that I care deeply about the teaching process and to model for them a professional level of preparation. I keep detailed files on each class session that contain copies of overhead slides, handouts distributed, lecture notes, and other items circulated during class. These items are offered as additional evidence of my planning and organization skills and they are on file and available for review upon request. I also use web-based enhancements that allow for the compilation of course materials in an electronic format using the WebCT system, the E-reserves system, the Blackboard system, and the eCompanion. Before each class session, I place the following information in a class-meeting folder for access by my students:

1) Readings to be completed prior to class (assigned readings and access to course E-reserve readings or the Blackboard site)
2) Assignments due
3) Access to PowerPoint presentations
4) Access to Supplemental Resources (additional materials and relevant links)

I consider my organizational skills to be one of my greatest strengths as an instructor. I also strive to maximize my effectiveness by providing classroom presentations that are clear and understandable. To this end, I arrive early and fully prepared for each class. Each lecture begins with a review of the previous lecture and an overview of the current class session. Topical themes and activities are identified at the onset, and since my lectures are constructed using PowerPoint presentations, I am able to provide students access to a copy of the slides prior to class. It has been my experience that this enhances the clarity of classroom presentations and allows students to become more actively engaged in class discussions. As evidence for this criterion, I offer a sample of my PowerPoint handouts (EDPS 340 Weekly PowerPoint Slides), which are accessible by the hyperlink. It is my belief that these presentations and handouts reflect clarity in my thinking, a thoughtful approach to organizing classes, and the depth and breadth of coverage necessary to deliver an effective lecture. Additional examples of my course materials are available upon request.

Establishing good communication with students. For all of my courses, I require my students to meet with me at least twice each semester to discuss their progress in my class. I also encourage my students to e-mail me by asserting that receiving and sending e-mails is my hobby. Providing individualized and specific feedback to students is essential to their learning and advancement. I grade student exams or papers timely and always return them with effective and timely feedback. I also teach my students that teachers should take no more than one week to grade papers and exams. This allows enough time to grade thoroughly, but still ensures that students receive timely and effective feedback. Even when I attend conferences to present research studies, I grade materials while in transit on planes or trains. I provide my students with extremely specific feedback with the track change function in the Microsoft Word Document so that they could examine my specific comments. I try to give as much feedback as I can -- so much so that some students might complain that they are offended by the negative feedback. Therefore, at the beginning of each semester, I make sure that students understand my commentary style to ensure they do not view my comments as negative feedback.

Promoting classroom procedures that encourage learning. I work hard to devise ways in which to actively engage students in the learning process. I rely heavily on the use of lectures with PowerPoint slides, and I focus on additional ways in which to involve students. At times, this involves creating an anticipatory set of slides to heighten student attention and motivation for learning. At other times, it involves using an experiential activity to anchor learning that has occurred during lectures. I have also found it useful to create activities in which students are encouraged to apply skills which have recently been discussed. I believe that students and professors are partners in the learning process. Accordingly, I actively encourage students to take charge of their own learning; whether it is by asking questions, incorporating their own preferred learning style, or making suggestions. One example of my attempt to actively engage students in the learning process is a cooperative learning approach that I integrated into Assessment and other Research Methods courses. These courses require students to have an understanding of reliability and validity. I provide students with tape measures to measure their classmates’ head sizes to really understand what reliability and validity mean and how students can apply these concepts in the future. This hyperlink provides access to an example of the activities (Sample Reliability & Validity Activity) used to simulate these activities. To assist students in functioning well as teams, I invest time in teaching teamwork approaches using several simulation activities (Sample CAP1& 2 Activity) . The results of this approach are highly effective.

Regular communication with students regarding their achievement. All of my graduate courses at W&M require weekly assignments or exams: EDPS 614 and EDUCF 09 required weekly reflection assignments based on their reading; both of the statistics courses required completion of weekly assignment worksheets; and all of the Research Methods courses require weekly exam questions. These weekly assignments and exams keep me informed of the level of my students’ attainment. Further, I strive to keep my students updated regarding their progress by e-mailing them or by meeting with them (For students' privacy, I can share e-mails at WM related to these procedures upon request). This gives me the opportunity to identify and correct students who are not on target.

For my undergraduate course, EDPS 340, almost every other class (approximately once a week), students were expected to submit an assignment. Once they received feedback and grades from me for CAP 3, SLA, and the Mid-term exam, they were required to have two mandatory meetings with me about their progress in my class. The meetings were for the purpose of identifying areas where students should invest more effort to make improvements, where necessary, on the remaining assignments and for the final exam.