» Advice News, Opinion, Analysis and More For the Adjunct Faculty Nation Thu, 29 Sep 2016 17:23:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Why Not Every Student (or Prof) Deserves a Letter of Recommendation Fri, 20 May 2016 19:11:06 +0000 Jackie Jones is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Multimedia Journalism at Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism. In her essay for the Morgan Global Journalism Review, Jones tackles the subject of letters of recommendation. She writes, “My decision about whether to write a recommendation is also guided by the four principles of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics: Seek Truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently, Be Accountable and Transparent.” In addition, Jones discusses why not all students who ask should be given letters of recommendation.

I am very particular about writing letters of recommendation. I must know the student and his/her performance well and I will not write letters for students whose performance and reputations are wanting.  I am polite, but I don’t hold back and will explain why I am refusing to submit a recommendation.

I once warned a student even before he asked not to approach me because I could not in good conscience say anything positive on his behalf.

This doesn’t happen only with journalism students. Get together with a bunch of professors from a wide variety of disciplines and the war stories flow like whisky at an open bar. Faculty can’t tell whether it’s a sense of entitlement, status-seeking or just plain cluelessness on the part of students.


Jones’s comprehensive list of tips, aimed at students, are applicable to anyone—faculty included—who seek letters of recommendation.

AdjunctNation Freeway Flyer blogger Jenny Ortiz writes that adjuncts who write letters of recommendation can face open discrimination. Ortiz writes in her blog entry When Letters of Recommendation Written by Freeway Flyers Are Discounted: 

Letters of recommendation aren’t things I write on the fly (Freeway humor!); I took my time and showcased the student’s talents. I also explained my qualifications in order to show why my opinion on the matter could be trusted. It was a great letter, if I do say so myself. However, a few days after I sent it to the people in charge of the Writing Center (my former bosses), the student was to solicit a recommendation from a full-time writing professor.

Ortiz goes on to ask: “So, how do we change this perspective? It’s a well known that at most institutions, the faculty students interact with the most are adjuncts and a high percentage are Freeway Flyers.”

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The Mentor Is In: Teaching and Supporting Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Thu, 28 Jan 2016 16:14:05 +0000 by Steven Volk

Planning a route, getting gas and changing a flat tire don’t sound challenging to most young adults, but for students on the autism spectrum at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, FL, it was one of the greatest tests of their independence. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year a group of students successfully drove by themselves from Pensacola to a conference in New Orleans after guidance from the university’s Autism Inclusion Program. And West Florida isn’t the only school integrating these students.

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have always been on college campuses, but with the lack of screening technologies just a few years ago, they struggled through schooling virtually invisible. Today, however, the number of children on the spectrum has risen from 1 in 150 to 1 in 88 in less than ten years, and colleges are beginning to acknowledge that these young adults are eager to receive their college degrees.

The Harvard Review of Psychiatry recently released summaries of the latest findings in ASD research and highlighted that there is a significant upsurge of people with ASD arriving on college campuses.  It is difficult to pinpoint just how great this increase is, however, because many students choose not reveal this disorder according to Jane Brown Thierfeld, Ed.D, co-Director of College Autism Spectrum, an organization of professionals who assist students with ASD and their families and author of “The Parent’s Guide to College for Students on the Autism Spectrum.” For every student receiving special services, there are 1-2 on that same campus who have not identified themselves to anyone, she says. According to Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, lead author of the review, we are only seeing the tip of the ice berg in terms of the number of these students seeking to access higher education.


What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

The National Institute of Mental Health writes that Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by:

  • Persistent deficits* in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts;
  • Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities;
  • Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (typically recognized in the first two years of life); and,
  • Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.

ASD is referred to as a “spectrum” because it refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment or disability that individuals can have, with some being mildly affected by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled.

Teaching and Supporting Students with an ASD

A large and growing literature offers advice on how college teachers can best support students with an ASD. I found one article, “Academic Supports for College Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Overview,” by Marci Wheeler, to be particularly useful. She is part of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at Indiana University-Bloomington. Her article, which originally was posted in 2011, was generated by input from the Students on the Spectrum Club at Indiana University – Bloomington. I have included most of it below.

“Academic Supports for College Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Overview,” by Marci Wheeler


Autism awareness ribbon.

There is a wide range of functioning and abilities seen across individuals diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Generalities are hard to make except to say that communication and social skills deficits are present. There are also neurological differences that affect everyone on the autism spectrum. However, each person is affected in different ways. The sensory perceptions, motor skills, learning styles and coping strategies are often affected and may cause “hidden” challenges that are not understood by those supporting these students. As a result of these challenges the observable behaviors of students on the autism spectrum may make them appear inattentive, bored, rude, defiant or possibly even on drugs. Ritualistic or repetitive behaviors, an attachment to incongruous objects and additional unusual communication and social skills (especially under stress) can make some of these students seem odd and bring unwanted attention to them.

Some students on the autism spectrum may experience sensory overload and/or be distressed by the social and communication demands of a class. They may have learned “acceptable” strategies to cope and have the ability to stay focused on their intellectual pursuits such that they can navigate through their classes (at least the classes in their chosen major) and pass as “normal”. Some students expend a lot of energy, at all costs, to blend in and not be detected. Unfortunately, for some, this may result in them leaving the university without finishing a degree as the stress is too great. Also, on any college campus be assured that there are students who have not been formally diagnosed or students that are not diagnosed until their college years.

Professors and other instructors need to be aware of possible supports that a student on the autism spectrum might find necessary to participate in class and complete classwork. The following six sections briefly state a common concern for most students and list some possible issues and accommodations. Each student on the autism spectrum has unique needs and should work closely with instructors and other college staff to design an individualized plan of proactive support and response to challenges if they arise.

Communication Skills

By definition (following diagnostic criteria) all students with an autism spectrum disorder have some problems which may interfere with receptive or expressive communication. Some of these differences are very subtle and can lead to misunderstandings that are misinterpreted as volitional acts on the part of the student. Students with an autism spectrum disorder may be very articulate and have a large vocabulary which may “hide” their communication challenges. Those supporting students on the autism spectrum should become aware of each individual students weaknesses in this area. Some of these are listed below along with possible accommodations.

Receptive difficulties often experienced by students on the autism spectrum include processing verbal exchanges more slowly, misunderstanding sarcasm, idioms and jokes, very literal interpretation of words, and misunderstanding gestures and body language.

The expressive difficulties of individuals on the autism spectrum may include problems initiating communication; even for those students who at first glance may seem very articulate and even very talkative. Those on the autism spectrum may have trouble staying on topic, turn taking and following conversational “protocol”. Some may be slower to organize thoughts and speak, and/or their voice tone and volume may be unusual. Idiosyncratic use of words and phrases may be present.

Accommodations for a college student with an autism spectrum disorder might include providing the instructor’s lecture notes or a note taker to help key in on important information, providing study guides for tests, allowing a longer verbal response time from the student and allowing for important exchanges of information to be done in written form. It would also help for instructors to be clear, concise, concrete and logical when communicating as well as asking for clarification; don’t make assumptions about what students truly understand.

Social Skills

Social skills (also included in diagnostic criteria) might not seem important in a class setting, but, in fact social difficulties can and do impact the classwork of many students on the autism spectrum. Many college courses require class participation and group work as part of earning a grade. Just going to class with peers necessitates the use of social skills. Some social difficulties and possible accommodations are discussed below.

The social challenges for a student on the autism spectrum include problems understanding others perspectives, sharing space and making eye contact. Many high functioning individuals with an autism spectrum disorder have extreme social anxiety and have difficulty negotiating with others, and interacting and working in pairs or groups. These students likely will not understand the “unwritten” classroom etiquette and will often misinterpret facial expressions and other non-verbal cues. Possible accommodations for students on the autism spectrum include allowing for short breaks to leave class and/or allowing the student to have a “social buffering” object which might include a computer, book or other object that initially might seem distracting or “out of place”. Honoring the student’s chosen level of eye contact w/o judgment can be helpful. If there is group work assigned for class the instructor might assist in the formation and monitoring of pairs or groups of students to assure the proper inclusion of the student with an autism spectrum diagnosis. Also providing written rules for asking questions and other classroom logistics (as needed) may support students with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.

Sensory Differences

When the DSM-5 was released in May 2013, reactivity to sensory input was added as part of the diagnostic criteria for an autism spectrum disorder.  Sensory processing issues seem to affect the majority of these individuals. Some on the autism spectrum have an extreme over sensitivity or under sensitivity to input, from the environment to the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. A significant number of persons experience synesthesia. Synesthesia may affect any of the senses. Synesthesia is phenomena in which the actual information of one sense is accompanied by a perception in another sense. Listed below are some common sensory differences and accommodations that may be important in a class setting.

Common visual and auditory sensory difficulties experienced by students on the autism spectrum include florescent lights that may appear to flicker and certain “bright” colors that may produce “overload”. Someone may see better from a “different” angle or may hear low level frequency sounds emitted by florescent lights. Also certain “typical” classroom sounds may be perceived as “painful” such as the movement and use of desks, people and other objects in the room. Often a person on the autism spectrum may not filter out extraneous sounds and/or may hear sounds in the next room.

Sensory issues related to the sense of touch and/or the sense of smell may occur. For example, certain textures may be “painful” and/or individuals may crave certain textures. Students on the autism spectrum may be disturbed by people accidentally bumping them or the feel of a particular desk or chair. They may wear “unusual” clothing, footwear or accessories because of sensory differences. Also students may be sensitive to certain odors and certain smells may cause “overload”. Some who are very sensitive may be affected by scents from certain perfumes, deodorants and soaps.

Possible accommodations to support a student with sensory differences include allowing hats, sunglasses and tinted lens glasses to be worn and allowing ear plugs or ear phones. Also allowing the student to choose their seat and helping to assure it is always available may be important. If requested by the student, an alternative writing instrument for tests and assignments and/or a computer for in class work, tests and assignments might also be an appropriate accommodation.

A student with an autism spectrum diagnosis may find that a small sensory item brings comfort in class. It is likely, if a student uses a sensory item, that it is inconspicuous but this may not always be the case. Be aware that a student may make a last minute request for a seating change and/or to leave abruptly due to sensory overload. Help devise an acceptable plan to address urgent sensory issues for the student.


Motor Skills

Both fine and gross motor skills may be affected in individuals with an autism spectrum disorder. In addition motor planning and poor awareness of body in space are two areas that often affect motor skills for these individuals. Often fine and gross motor skills as well as motor planning skills are very uneven. Listed below are possible problems in these areas along with possible accommodations.

Fine motor challenges for students on the autism spectrum might affect writing, drawing, turning pages, using utensils, playing an instrument, using locks and keys, and manipulating small objects. Gross motor challenges may affect walking (may have “odd” gait), running, sitting and balancing. Motor planning and the awareness of the placement of their body in space can affect the ways in which an individual moves their body and is able to navigate themselves to accomplish all motor tasks.

Possible accommodations for students on the autism spectrum with motor skills difficulties include allowing a computer for in class work, tests and assignments, providing a note taker, allowing work assignments done at a slower pace, providing models and step by step instruction, providing extra time to take tests and providing readers and scribes (or technology that reads and takes notes). Further accommodations might need to be considered for students taking physical education courses in which motor skills differences might provide further complications.

Learning Style

Students with an autism spectrum disorder often have a very uneven learning profile. They often excel creatively in a non-conventional way. Students on the autism spectrum tend to have excellent long term and rote memory abilities. Executive functioning deficits cause these students many problems. Many are thought to be right-brained thinkers. Most need to like and trust an instructor before they can perform in a class. Some common learning challenges, strengths and possible accommodations are listed below.

Executive function challenges experienced by students with an autism spectrum diagnosis include general organization and planning skills, problems with impulsivity and problem solving and the ability to monitor themselves in the completion of a goal.

Along with the executive functioning deficits, common learning barriers include poor sequential learning, easily bored with repetition once something is learned, attention problems, literal thinking, nebulous sense of time and as mentioned previously, perspective taking deficits. Other issues that impacts learning for students on the autism spectrum are the fact that they need to understand why something is important, relevant or meaningful to them and they may not realize they are having academic difficulty until it may be too late or too difficult for them to rectify on their own.

The strengths of students on the autism spectrum can sometimes help them compensate for their weaknesses. These students can do quite well academically, especially in their chosen field, and their strengths should be respected and used whenever possible. For example these students may have extremely good visual and visual-spatial skills. They often learn best from whole to part (complex to simple) and they can be very creative; out of the box thinkers. These students can also show an amazing knowledge on topics of interest which is most often their major field of study at the university.

Possible accommodations for students on the autism spectrum to support their learning style include providing review sheets, work checklists, and “sub” deadlines and/or intermittent “check-ins.” If possible provide hands on learning, models, demonstrations and other visuals. If possible, pair with peer mentors who might help with feedback and provide “proof-read” opportunities and ongoing structure to keeping on target with work assignments.

Instructors can help support students on the autism spectrum by providing reinforcement at every opportunity. Other accommodations that might be helpful for some students are allowing advanced negotiation of deadlines, extra time for tests, and/or a separate “quiet” place for tests.

Instructors and other college staff can also encourage the use of calendars (computer, traditional, phone w/alarms). Most likely the student has experience with using an organizational tool or tools, of choice, before coming to college. However, sometimes in a new environment the tools and skills used and learned to compensate for executive function deficits do not transfer easily to a new setting. Because the setting has changed, the student may need time “extra” transition time to begin the use of these tools and to maintain routines in the new environment.

Coping Skills

Individuals with an autism spectrum disorder frequently describe themselves as dealing with a lot of anxiety and stress. Sensory sensitivities, social and communication expectations as well as transitions and unexpected changes often trigger this anxiety and stress. It is during these times when these students may display behavior that can seem bewildering, rude or disruptive. Most often when a student displays these behaviors they are doing what they know to do to cope. In fact, these sometimes “confusing” behaviors are often experienced as calming. Included below are examples of coping behaviors in which students with an autism spectrum disorder may engage and possible accommodations.

When under stress, students on the autism spectrum may engage in stress relieving activities which look odd and may even make others feel uncomfortable. These activities may include body rocking, pacing, waving or flapping hands or fingers repetitively, chewing on their clothing or body, “lecturing” on a topic of interest or they may display the “opposite” emotion for the situation. They also may abruptly leave the situation with no explanation before or afterwards.

A possible accommodation in helping the student cope, in the moment, might be to discretely ask the student if something is overwhelming and/or ask if the student needs help or wants to leave. Do not discourage or interrupt behavior unless truly disruptive and understand that student does not intend to be disrespectful. Allow sensory items and/or other “comfort” objects. A student, who is having a hard time coping, might not realize when s/he is being disruptive and needs to leave. The instructor and student can agree on a cue that the instructor can give to signal to the student that it is okay/time to leave. They can also agree on a signal, to inform the instructor when the student is overwhelmed or confused.

Ideally, preparing young adults with an autism spectrum disorder for the demands of college has started years earlier. With a proper diagnosis, individualized early intervention and careful transition planning, college students with an autism spectrum diagnosis, will be better prepared to advocate for themselves. At the same time college professors and other staff at post-secondary colleges and universities need to be prepared for students on the spectrum who are seeking to be a part of these institutions in greater and greater numbers. These students must be given reasonable accommodations to provide an equal opportunity for pursuing a college education. Many great minds and opportunities for society could be lost if individuals on the autism spectrum are not supported in their post-secondary academic pursuits.

Check that Metaphor

Another useful article was Lee Burdette Williams’ nicely titled “Rethinking Everything…Literally,”which appeared in Inside Higher Ed (Dec. 12, 2014). Burdette works with in a residential and academic support program designed to help high-functioning autistic students or students with significant executive function challenges, succeed in college. These students, he writes, “can do many things: solve complex math problems, explain chemistry to anyone who will listen, remember dates of significant world historical events in a manner foreign to most college students who only want to memorize what will be on an exam. What they can’t do very well is understand my metaphors. They are, most of them, literal thinkers.”

So, when she cajoled a student not to “throw in the towel,” or advised another to not let his adversary “get his goat,” she was met with everything from alarm to blank stares. She realized that figurative language, which is so central to how we think, feel and act, had to be, well, rethought in his new teaching context. She concludes, “I find that I do recognize that bewildered expression more quickly these days, and so catch myself almost as soon as the maxim, proverb, aphorism or metaphor is out of my mouth, or I at least announce, ‘I’m going to make a comparison between two things’ (explaining a rule or predicting an action is often very helpful to students on the autism spectrum). I have come to recognize, too, that some of my students do not have this particular deficit, and that some of them are so quick to use a metaphor to describe something that I need a moment to catch up myself.” Most of us are not teaching in Williams’ circumstances, but “re-thinking” our teaching strategies in light of our changing classrooms is never a bad idea.


Very few of us have any expertise in this area, but we are fortunate that good information is available and that we can always seek the reasoned and informed advice of our Office of Disability Services as well as some of our colleagues such as Elizabeth Hamilton.

Here are a few sources that you might also find useful:

Kathy DeOrnellas, “Teaching College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Faculty Focus, April 17, 2015.

The College Program for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders at Marshall University

Abigail Sullivan Moore, “Students on the Spectrum,” New York Times (Nov. 5, 2006).

Chantal Sicile-Kira’s “Autism College” blog is also valuable. Sicile-Kira is an autism consultant specializing in adolescence and transition to adulthood who has authored a number of books on autism.  Her most recent book, A Full Life with Autism: From Learning to Forming Relationships to Achieving Independence (Macmillan, March 2012) was co-authored with her son, Jeremy, who was diagnosed as severely autistic when he was an infant. Her first book,Autism Spectrum Disorder, was recently updated by Penguin.

National Autism Center

Tony Attwood, The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome (Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers), 2007.

John Harpur, Maria Lawler, and Michael Fitzgerald, Succeeding in College with Asperger Syndrome: A Student Guide (Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers), 2004.

Dawn Prince-Hughes, Aquamarine Blue 5: Personal Stories of College Students with Autism (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2002).

Lorraine E. Wolf, Jane Tierfield Brown, and Ruth Bork, Students with Asperger Syndrome: A Guide for College Personnel (Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company), 2009.

Michael R. Dillon, “Creating Supports for College Students with Asperger Syndrome through Collaboration,” College Student Journal 41 (2007): 499–504.

Ann Palmer, Realizing the College Dream with Autism and Asperger Syndrome (Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publisher), 2006.

*A very good point has been raised as to whether a word other than “deficit,” with its connotations of something lacking (as opposed to something different) exists to discuss people with an autism spectrum disorder. The same term was often used to describe those who were learning English, whereas now the preferred term is an “emergent” bilingual. Suggestions? [Added April 20, 2015: 7:59 PM]

Originally posted to the website of Center for Teaching Innovation and Excellence at Oberlin College. Used here with permission.

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Five Ways You May Be Killing Student Motivation Mon, 19 Oct 2015 16:16:24 +0000 by Chase Mielke

“What are your thoughts on student motivation?” my principal recently asked. Knowing that I have an interest in motivation, as well as a love of working with at-risk students, he wanted to know my thoughts on why our achievement gap wasn’t narrowing.

As a teacher, I of course had many thoughts. But, the many thoughts I have on student motivation are just that: my thoughts. And, ultimately, the thoughts that matter most are the students’. So, rather than dive into a discourse of which I was not the best source, I asked my principal a simple question: Why don’t we ask the students?

So, we did.

We sat down with my group of at-risk sophomores – a large majority of whom were in our bottom 30% academically. The stage was set for these students to be completely open and honest; nothing they shared would have a negative influence on their experience in school. They were given a few days to think about factors that affect their motivation in school.

What we had intended to be a quick conversation sparked a deep discussion consuming the whole 70 minute period. Out of the whole conversation, many themes arose – themes worth sharing to a larger community because change begins with understanding.

1. Grading pitfalls

For a struggling student, falling into a pit with a low-grade – without systems to recover – is a recipe for learned helplessness. Many students remarked how frustrating it was to struggle in a class and reach a point where their effort wouldn’t matter.

The most common motivation killers were:

A) Heavily weighted assessments

We all know that not all students who show understanding of content and work hard on assignments, only to bomb tests because of cognitive challenges, stress, or any other host of “test-taking factors.” More than a few students said things like, “I hate how I can be doing well on all my assignments and projects, then fail a test, and all of a sudden I’m failing the class.”

B) No opportunities to revise or re-submit

Surprisingly, students weren’t griping for those finals week extra credit chances to inflate grades at the end. They wanted chances to revise tests, essays, and assignments throughout a class. They wanted chances to turn things in late – even with penalties.


So what?

My realization here was how much grading practices can contribute to learned helplessness. It makes sense: If I don’t feel like my effort will be enough to help me pull myself out of a failure pit, then what’s the point? As a teacher, then, I must consider what opportunities I can provide – such as revision opportunities – that shift students back into an internal locus of control.


2. Lecturing

Students talked often about how often their teachers talk. Despite an educational culture that is putting the focus on students doing the work of learning, many students discussed teachers who talk the entire class period. They stressed how hard it is to stay motivated when they just sit and listen. One of the most common suggestions students gave for helping motivation was hands-on opportunities. They even acknowledged that not every lesson can involve a lab or project. But, they said they’d at least like to be able to talk and share their ideas or practice on their own more often.

So what?

Stephen King once received great feedback from an editor who rejected one of his early writings. The editor said, “2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%.” What if we approached our lectures similarly? “What I say = What I want to say – 10%” Even a 10% shift towards student response opportunities could be a great start to keeping brains active and motivated.

3. Poor explanations

We pressed students often to focus on solutions rather than gripe about specific teachers. In doing so, we realized another theme: Students lose motivation when they don’t understand.

Seems like a no-brainer. But, the learning here is that teachers aren’t intentionally trying to destroy student understanding. Just the opposite was true: Teachers were trying to help students “get-it,” but the understanding was lost in translation. Among the most common comments were:

“I hate when I ask teachers to explain something again and they say, ‘Weren’t you paying attention!?’ They assume I was being lazy but I really was trying. It just didn’t make sense.”

“I can’t stand when I say something doesn’t make sense and the teacher explains it exactly the same way they did the first time. After they keep doing that, I don’t even bother asking.”

So what?

I’m a huge fan of John Hattie’s work, in particular his urging teachers to get more feedback from students and to be conscious of knowledge gaps. My learning is to a) ask for feedback more regularly on my ability to explain concepts and b) ask students what they do understand before trying to re-teach – next time in a different way.

4. Content

Relevance, relevance, relevance. A major factor in student amotivation was feeling like the content was either not useful or too challenging. This is nothing new to teachers: We all have students who ask, “What’s the point of this.” Yet, the answer we give is important. Students commented that “You’ll need this for your next class/college” is more annoying than helpful. They want relevance now as well as in the future. They want it to be relevant to their lives not relevant to our lives.

In addition to the relevance concern is the scaffolding concern. As an ELA teacher, I asked my class what percentage of the content we read is interesting to them. The average? 10%. I then followed up asking what percentage of the content we read was too difficult to understand independently. The average here? 15% Imagine the effect on motivation when the content is both dreadfully boring and dreadfully challenging.

So what?

I need to ask some tough questions about my content. Yes, there are things beyond my control that I must teach, but I must look at what I can control and work from there. For example, it’s easy to get frustrated and angry when kids don’t come in the next day having completed their reading homework. But, do I really expect them to trudge through something that is boring and beyond their ability at home? Can I do a better job of coaching their reading in class and/or finding resources that are more relevant? Yes.

5. Lack of respect and lack of joy

This was THE most discussed topic that hurt student motivation. Over and over students described how much a respectful classroom environment affected their willingness to work hard and learn. The frustration could be summed up in one students’ statement: “They expect us to act like adults but treat us like children.”

My biggest shock came from a survey my principal gave the class. He asked two questions:

– Of the teachers you’ve had in this school, what percentage do you think like their job?

– Of the teachers you’ve had in this school, what percentage do you think like kids?

The average of both answers? 10%

So what?

To any teacher, these answers would be frustrating. We could point to any number of justifications for why students might feel this way, such as, “Kids today think they deserverespect rather than having to earn it first.” As I’ve heard before, though, blaming and justifying are like rocking chairs: They give us something to do, but don’t get us anywhere.

So what do we do? I again return to the value of surveying student perceptions often, getting consistent, honest feedback. Just as no quality teacher is intentionally trying to teach content poorly, no quality teacher is trying to disrespect students. There is simply a miscommunication.

At the end of our discussion, I had more questions than answers. There were still so many things I wanted to know about each student’s motivation. But, to get there, the process of understanding has

1. Ask for truth

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” – Gloria Steinem

2. Improve my teaching accordingly

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” – Aldous Huxley

3. Repeat

“If [a method] fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” – F.D.R.

What action steps will you be taking this coming year to create more motivating contexts for your students?

This post originally appeared on  

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In the Classroom: What Do Great College Profs Have in Common? Tue, 01 Sep 2015 21:31:34 +0000 by Claudio Sanchez

In a year in which we’re exploring great teaching, it’s a good time to talk with Ken Bain. He’s a longtime historian, scholar and academic who has studied and explored teaching for decades, most notably in his 2004 book, 
What the Best College Teachers Do

You focused on 100 college professors in a wide variety of institutions and disciplines. What do the best professors know and understand about teaching?

They certainly understand their discipline. They often understand the history of their discipline and know that everything that they believe can be questioned. They are accomplished scholars, artists and scientists. They know how to simplify and clarify complex subjects. They may not have studied human learning but they grasp important insights into how human beings learn and how to foster that learning through practice.


Dr. Ken Bain | Photo Mike Post

How do the best teachers prepare?

They prepare by thinking about the intended outcomes [of their instruction]. They treat their lectures and discussions as serious intellectual endeavors. The best teachers use a much richer line of inquiry to design a class and every encounter with students. Then they think about how they will help students achieve. The best teachers also think about how they’re going to give students feedback. This involves some basic questions: What do I want my students to do intellectually as a result of taking my class? How can I help them?

What do the best teachers do in the classroom that’s different?

They create a critical learning environment in which students rethink their assumptions. It’s an environment in which students believe their work will be considered fairly and honestly. The best teachers allow students to try, to fail and try again. They allow students to collaborate with one another in tackling the most intriguing problems.

They treat their students with decency and respect, no matter how much a student is struggling. The best teachers trust their students rather than blame them. They often give up their own sense of power over students.

Why is that important?

Ultimately students have to take control of their own education. And if that doesn’t happen, they’re not going to learn deeply. Students have to have that intrinsic motivation and if there’s someone else in charge of their education, telling them what to do, then they’re not going to become those independent, lifelong learners. So a good teacher is there to inspire and guide the individual but ultimately to help them work on their own and take personal responsibility (for their learning).

How do the best teachers check their own progress and evaluate their efforts? In other words how do they know they’re being effective?

They’re constantly looking for results of learning, how much progress their students are making. And it’s not just about meeting a particular standard, although that’s important. When a student arrives with a weak [academic] background, the teacher has to figure out how much progress that student has made with the teacher’s help. That’s what’s important to the best teachers.

We’ve had this dichotomy (in higher education) between research and teaching. And we’ve failed to recognize that teaching and research have something in common — learning. One is concerned with the learning of the student. The other is concerned with the learning of the faculty member. Over the last 30 years there’s been a growing concern about meeting the demands of both.

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The Mentor Is In: At All Times, Be Consistent In the Classroom Fri, 19 Aug 2011 04:24:20 +0000 By Bruce A. Johnson, Ph.D., MBA

What does consistency mean to you or your work as an adjunct instructor? Is this a measurable quality that should be considered or is it in action state that you can occasionally monitor? These questions can be addressed from the perspective of your students and their experience in the classroom. Every school has standard operating procedures that instructors are expected to uniformly implement. While uniform procedures may establish a standard for the school it does not ensure that an instructor’s interactions will be consistent. As students become familiar with their instructor’s teaching style and develop a working relationship with them they will begin to develop a perception of how responsive the instructor is to their needs, the type of feedback they will receive, and more importantly they will observe how consistent the instructor is with their follow through, their follow-up, and their implementation and administration of classroom policies.

Consistent Actions
An instructor’s consistency in the classroom is a culmination of their actions and interactions, which includes consistent communication, tone, feedback, and responsiveness. Communication with students requires professionalism and the need for emotional and social intelligence on the part of the instructor, with all interactions. This means that a consistent, responsive tone will produce a much stronger connection with students than a reactive, defensive, or overall negative tone. Consistency in feedback means that the instructor is providing timely, uniform, and meaningful feedback on a regular basis that students can rely upon for guidance. All of these actions, whether they are generally consistent or often inconsistent, have a direct bearing on students’ responsiveness to the instructor’s classroom facilitation.

Consistent Policies
An area of classroom facilitation where students often experience inconsistency in their instructor’s actions is administration of classroom policies and procedures. Students are likely to make requests for an exception to certain policies, such as the late policy, believing that their special circumstance will warrant an exception. Some schools provide flexibility with policies, typically for extenuating circumstances; however, it is important to consider the cumulative effect of your decision. Administering these policies fairly to all students is a means of maintaining order in the class. Inconsistent policies may establish an expectation for future actions and ultimately lead to frustration for the students and their instructor when the same exceptions are not made and the rules are later enforced.

Consistency & Credibility
The culmination of an instructor’s actions, whether those actions are frequently consistent or occasionally inconsistent, determines whether an instructor will establish or undermine their credibility with students. Students develop a perception of credibility about their instructor over time based upon their interactions and working relationship, which establishes a level of trust and belief in their instructor’s ability to effectively facilitate the process of learning. Students expect to find a consistent learning environment, which includes an expectation that their instructor will apply the policies and procedures fairly and uniformly.

How Do You Know?
While consistency cannot be measured, it is a general approach to classroom facilitation that can be monitored through self-reflection and a review of the end-of-course surveys. As you reflect upon facilitation of your class and the feedback received from your students, do you believe that students have a perception of you as someone who is reliable and fair? From the students’ perspective, are you someone they can trust to establish uniform classroom policies? Your consistent actions will help to develop strong working relationships, maintain uniform implementation of school policies, and establish your credibility as someone who can effectively manage the process of learning.

About the Mentor: Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education; including teaching, training, human resource development, coaching, and mentoring. Dr. J has completed a master’s in Business Administration and a PhD in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Presently Dr. J works as an online adjunct instructor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, and faculty mentor.

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Introductions Are In Order Tue, 12 Jan 2010 22:17:44 +0000 Welcome to the start of a New Year and a new blog here at! My name is Susan Mazur-Stommen, and I will be writing here weekly on the topic of teaching tips across the higher education spectrum. I am a cultural anthropologist from Inland Southern California, where I teach at both community colleges in diverse communities, as well as several of our state universities, the CSUs. I am a product of the California educational system, from K-22. I attended public school, then community college, then San Jose State for my B.A. in anthropology, and finally University of California, Riverside, where I earned my M.A. in cultural anthropology in 1998, and a Ph.D. in the same field in 2002.

I have been teaching since my second semester at graduate school in 1997. I have been teaching on my own since I was at the University of Rostock on a Fulbright in 1999-2000. The University of Rostock is one of the oldest universities in Europe, and it was quite a change from Riverside, where our campus is barely 50 years old! Since then, I have taught about fifteen courses a year, so if you figure on average 30 students per class, then something like 4,500 students have passed my classroom doors since I was let off the leash.

When I started graduate school, like many, I didn’t really focus on the fact that I would have to be teaching most of the time. At that point it is all about the research, but I was lucky in that the UC system has an excellent peer-mentor training program called Teaching Assistant Development Program, with meetings, one on one tutorials, video-taping (ugh), and evaluations by other graduate students who had both been through the process and were acknowledged as stellar. This framework was of enormous help when I was finally thrown into the shark tank to sink or swim.
Another reason I perhaps did not originally realize how much teaching I would be doing was that I was actively fleeing the possibility. I come from a maternal line of educators – my grandmother taught Kindergarten from 1928 to 1969, while my mother focused on slightly older kids. I had nothing against teaching per se, but I had no desire to join ‘the family biz.’

Turns out, though, I love teaching. I love my students, and I am quite happy as an adjunct. I deliberately stepped off of the tenure-track job search three years ago, after looking at peers who had full-time TT jobs, and realizing, many of them aren’t happy! As an adjunct, I find that I can successfully evade campus strife and tension, and just focus on doing a good job. Teaching at both two and four year colleges gives me options in my career that keep me engaged; for example, I have developed my online skills at community colleges, while the CSUs allow me the opportunity to teach upper division and graduate level courses in my main fields of research.

In this blog, I plan to cover teaching from a holistic stand-point. That is, I want to look at how we teach from the position of the whole person, much as we might look at our students. This will include topics like: stress management; organization and priorities; our communication skills and familiarity with technologies such as social media; the physical aspects of the job we often contend with, as well as traditional teaching tips and ideas. I have quite a few templates and handouts that I hope to share with everyone, as .pdfs available for downloading; and I hope you will treat this as a forum and share right back. In fact, class, your first assignment is to let me know the kinds of topics and questions you might like to see covered in this blog. I look forward to creating a community with you as members and citizens. Till next time!

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Readers Ask. The Adjunct Advisor Answers. Tue, 01 Nov 2005 04:00:00 +0000 by the Adjunct Advisor

Students Failing to Cite Sources

As part of the course requirements for a Ceramics I class, the students had to complete a brief (approx. 500 words) research paper on a historic ceramic time/culture, such as Ancient Greece, Africa, Italian Renaissance, etc. On the first day of class in January they were given guidelines for writing the paper including deadlines, suggestions for topics, what questions to address, and a request for 3-4 images. Included in the guidelines was this sentence: “You must cite all sources, including Web sites.” I reviewed this criteria verbally and included it in the class handouts.
This paper with the images would be the basis for their last ceramic project, and is 10 percent of their final grade–the difference between an A and a B. Ten point bonuses were offered for students who turned in papers before the deadline.

Well, the deadline passed and of the 17 students who turned in their papers, 10 completed the assignment as requested and 6 did not cite their sources at all.

I am beyond dismayed this very important component of a college paper was overlooked. And I am in a dilemma as how to grade papers. My first impulse was to record a “0” for this oversight. I teach six college classes and a continuing ed. class this semester and to extend the deadline and re-grade the papers puts palpable pressure on me in terms of time.
I also feel that I gave them fair opportunities and information for writing a successful paper. I have been teaching for a few years now, and this is the first time I’ve come across this situation in such striking proportions. I want to be certain I am grading within a reasonable academic standard.

Your advice would mean a lot! Thank you very much.


Robert Louis Stevenson writes in Kidnapped that one of the characters has “A great memory for forgetting.” It is exactly what small children and undergraduate students have, as well. If you have small children, you will understand my meaning. If you don’t let me explain:
Tell a 7-year-old to get dressed, including socks, tidy up the bed and bring his backpack downstairs, and it’s highly probable the boy will get dressed and bound downstairs barefooted with his backpack slung over his shoulder. The bed and socks victims of the boy’s great memory for forgetting.

The point of an assignment is to teach the students something about the course. That you have undertaken to teach six classes, should not impact the quality of the teaching you do. In this case, you have every right to award a zero to the students who plagiarized their papers with what appears to be wild abandon.

However, and more to the point, almost 40 percent of your students either didn’t understand your directions or simply chose to ignore them. Either way, you need to teach them that what they did neither meets the minimum standards required for the assignment, nor the minimum standards required of college students writing a paper which makes use of outside resources.
Meet with each student individually. Explain the mistake. Show them the directions for the assignment. Ask them to identify two places in their papers where they should have cited a source. If the student is unable to do this, you need to teach the skill. If the student is able to do this, you need to teach the importance of citation.

Then, give all six the opportunity to revise their papers on a short deadline with the understanding that a missed deadline or an uncited source will result is a zero for the assignment.

Good luck!

The Adjunct Advisor

Freedom of Speech

Last week, I e-mailed the students in my class informing them that I would devote part of next class discussion to the war in Iraq, and the second half of the discussion to the class topic. In the middle of our discussion about the war, a student who had already complained about my teaching raised his hand. I thought he was going to say something about the war, but in fact he said he did not want continue the discussion, because it was not one of the topics that appeared in the class syllabus.

He and another student left the class in protest. Later, both wrote letters to the Chair complaining about my discussion of the war in Iraq. The Chair invited me to meet with her and with the Undergraduate Chair. In the meeting, which lasted for more than one hour, both administrators sided with the students who had complained. The Chairs judged that I had behaved irresponsibly, because I had told the students who’d left under protest to feel free to leave if they didn’t like my teaching.

This morning, I received a message from the Chair that she is sending a faculty member to conduct a confidential evaluation. I really need some advice urgently.




Your e-mail leaves several important unanswered questions which have a direct impact on your dilemma. First, I wonder what you teach? You see, there is a natural flow to the discussion of the war in Iraq in, say, a political science course. In a course on biochemistry, the connection between the two subjects becomes less clear.

Second, though I presume that you do teach part-time, you don’t mention whether or not this is the type of appointment you have. Frankly, unless you have tenure or a contract, the type of temporary appointment you have doesn’t have a huge impact on my ability to respond.

The United States Constitution guarantees each citizen the right to the freedom of speech. There are limits, of course. One does not, for example, have the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. Freedom of speech is one of the most basic of our rights, yet one of the most legally complex and morally ambiguous.

You asked for my advice, and with it comes my opinion, so here goes. Teaching involves covering course material and evaluating the progress of the students. In the course of teaching literature, I had many opportunities to have discussions with my students about their views on a myriad of topics seemingly unrelated to the study of great books. We argued about divorce while reading Anna Karenina; we dived into race relations while floating on the raft with Huck and Jim; we even discussed poverty in the United States while in the boot-blacking factory with David Copperfield. I often had students so angry with each other (and me) that more than a few got red in the face and raised their voices.
Never once in 10 years of teaching, however, did I use class time to discuss my personal beliefs if those beliefs were wholly unrelated to the course material at hand. On the other hand, if related to the course material, never once did I hesitate to share my personal opinions in the context of student discussions about the assigned reading.

If your opinions about the war in Iraq were related in some way to your course materials (or even the subject matter of the course), then you were justified in using half of the time that day to discuss the war. Sending your students a warning via e-mail was a thoughtful thing to do, as surely the subject could be potentially painful or disturbing to some students with, say, siblings currently in uniform, or relatives in Iraq (or other parts of the Middle East).

If, on the other hand, you’re teaching, say, French and decided that your students simply needed to hear your opinions about the war in Iraq, that was unprofessional. You could have invited your entire class out for coffee, or arranged a get together at a time not set aside for course work, recitation and lecturing. That you didn’t do this could be construed to mean that you knew your students would have little interest in your political opinions. Thus, you decided to simply take advantage of the fact that they would be in your classroom at a certain hour on a certain day. With this knowledge, you took advantage of them. Such behavior is clearly unethical and unprofessional.

As for the Department Chair and the Undergraduate Chair, the two have every right and responsibility to respond to student complaints. This does not include refusing you due process when resolving those student complaints. Unfortunately, if you have a temporary appointment, and do not have a contract or are not represented by a union you may be afforded little due process. The chances are very good you will be reprimanded and, possibly, dismissed.
If you took advantage of your position as an instructor to express your political opinions during scheduled class time, but have an history of good teaching and good evaluations from your students, you should be reprimanded, not dismissed. You should also apologize to your class, as well as the Chair and the Undergraduate Chair, for demonstrating poor judgement. Writer Mark Twain put it best when he said,

“It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.”

Good luck!

The Adjunct Advisor

Do I Have a Terminal Degree?

I am a new adjunct faculty member at a regional university. I hold an MFA in creative writing from a national university. I recently read in the adjunct faculty handbook at the regional university that adjuncts with terminal degrees make more money than those with master’s degrees. I promptly went to the department chair and he told me that I didn’t have an MFA in the sense that a painter or photographer has an MFA. I assured him I did and he called the Dean, who assured him I did. I gave the department assistant my contract to revise and thought all was well.

I recently received an e-mail from another assistant stating that the university attorney said that I do not have a terminal degree in the way that MFAs in photography and painting have a terminal degree. I know that an MFA in creative writing is a terminal degree. How do I get this across to the administration without arguing myself out of a job next quarter?

Oodles of institutions have undermined the traditional MFA-as-terminal-degree with Ph.D. programs in creative writing. These Ph.D. programs for creative writers at universities all over the U.S. (and in the UK, as well), have turned the MFA from an honored guest at any institution, into a poor relation departments settle for when someone more academically qualified isn’t available.

You can argue until you’re blue in the face or out of a job, but the attorney has advised his client correctly.

Good luck!

The Adjunct Advisor

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