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Creating a

1 Positive

Learning Exchange Networks:

A Faculty Development Program
of the League for Innovation in the
Community College.

LENs is a comprehensive faculty development program developed by

staff from three League for Innovation colleges–Humber College,
Johnson County Community College, and the Dallas County
Community College District. The development team conducted several
pilot programs to test and modify the materials. Faculty and staff from
twenty League campuses experienced and assessed the modules and
workshop curriculum, as well as the supporting ancillaries and media.
Almost three years in development, and many versions later, LENs is
now available electronically to any school wishing to enrich its faculty
and enhance the learning of its students.

Because LENs is available electronically, on-site and on-demand

publishing provide instant access, low cost, and no obsolescence. The
modular approach to the principal topics and the flex-menu structure of
the workshops provide the freedom to custom design any style program
for you campus.

LENs was created by teachers for teachers–new to your campus,

experienced classroom teachers, adjunct faculty, and many other
audiences. In all cases, LENs honors the experience and creativity of
its audience. We believe teachers exchanging ideas, challenges and
innovative solutions not only puts these teachers at the center of the
learning process but also creates an enduring network of support and
collegiality. Hence, the acronym LENs.

The flexibility of LENs provides for numerous modes of delivery and a

wide range of scheduling arrangements. Clearly, “trying to be all things
to all people” is difficult and dangerous. Difficult because every aspect
of our audience is so diverse, community college programs are so
comprehensive, and teaching and learning are noble but extremely
complex ventures. Dangerous because we had to provide depth within
economy and avoid prescription while describing “best practices.” We
hope we have succeeded.

Walt Klarner

LENs Editor and Principal Writer

Johnson County Community College

Copywright © 2003 The League for Innovation in the Community College

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment i


Without vision and risk-taking, innovation is difficult. Three League

colleges provided both. So did Vice Presidents Roy Giroux at Humber
College, Dan Radakovich at Johnson County Community College, and
Bill Tucker at the Dallas County Community College District. Their
advice and counsel have been invaluable. We also need to
acknowledge the contributors to the first version of LENs at Humber
College, whose vision and effort provided the framework and context for
our work. Along the way, Board Members of the League for Innovation
provided encouragement and focus. Two Johnson County staff helped
us deal with the mountain of manuscripts and traversing the digital
divide: Myra Bienvenu and Jennifer Reed. To all, a hearty thank you
and well done!

Dr. Patricia Hedley–LENs Project Director, League Liaison

Humber College

Walt Klarner–LENs Editor and Principal Writer

Johnson County Community College

Dr. Allatia Harris–Director, Workshop and Facilitator Training

Dallas County Community College District

Guy Gooding–Director, Campus Implementation and Research

Dallas County Community College District

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment iii

Project Model and Modules




Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment v

Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
The Self-Study Guide . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
The Workshop . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Rationale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
How to Use This Guide . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Goals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Learning Outcomes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

Unit 1: Paradox and Principles

Competencies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
The Teaching-Learning Triangle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
The Paradox of Pairs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Teaching . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Teachers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Students . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
The Law of Service . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Student Expectations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Communication – The Theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Communication – The Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Humor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
What the Professor Really Means . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
What the Student Really Means . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Self-Test: Module 1 – Unit 1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Personal Reflection and Workshop Preparation . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Did Your Responses Match Ours? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26

Unit 2: The Physical Environment

Competencies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
Elements and Issues of the Physical Environment . . . . . . . . . 30
Quality Assurance – Physical Environment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Innovating with the Physical Environment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
The Faculty Office . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
Textbooks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
Self-Test: Module 1 – Unit 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Personal Reflection and Workshop Preparation . . . . . . . . . . . 38
Did Your Responses Match Ours? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39

Unit 3: The Instructional Environment

Competencies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
Classroom Management . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Class Planning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
Tasks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
Time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
Course Content . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
Delivery Strategies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
Reinforcement and Monitoring of Student Progress . . . . . . . . 51
Self-Test: Module 1 – Unit 3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
Personal Reflection and Workshop Preparation . . . . . . . . . . . 54
Did Your Responses Match Ours? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment vii

Unit 4: The Psychological Environment
Competencies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
The Psychological Environment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58
Attending . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
Responding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
Modeling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
Barriers to Student Success . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
Internal vs. External Locus of Control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
Learned Helplessness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
Reducing Feelings of Helplessness and
Loss of Control in Learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64
Dealing with Classroom Behaviors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
The Mysteries of Motivation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68
Motivational Nutrients . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68
The Teacher as a Motivator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70
Self-Test: Module 1 – Unit 4 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71
Personal Reflection and Workshop Preparation . . . . . . . . . . . 72
Do Your Responses Match Ours? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73

Unit 5: The Challenge of Diversity

Competencies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 78
Bias . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79
Academic Level . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
Language Dialect . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
Gender . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81
Age . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81
Students with Physical Disabilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
Students with Learning Disabilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83
Diverse Learning Styles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83
Culture/Class/Socioeconomic Status . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84
Diversity of “Intent” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
Ethnicity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86
Self-Test: Module 1 – Unit 5 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87
Personal Reflection and Workshop Preparation . . . . . . . . . . . 88
Do Your Responses Match Ours? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89

Fish Story . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93
Why Do I Teach? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95

References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .101

viii Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment


Learning encompasses three broad domains—knowledge, behaviors

and attitudes. When we create a positive environment for learning, we
set the conditions for students to move through a range of behaviors in
each domain, from simple to increasingly complex, until they achieve
mastery of the course learning outcomes. (A brief review of taxonomies
in each learning domain—the cognitive, affective and psychomotor—is
included in Module 2–Developing Learning Outcomes and

Positive learning environments are those that consider students’ needs

in each domain:

• Cognitive learning is affected by the instructional environment.

• Psychomotor learning can be enhanced or frustrated by the physical


• The psychological environment, both within and external to the classroom,

affects and is affected by the feelings, attitudes and emotional well-being of
each individual student, hence its name—affective domain.

The three domains are not discrete. They interrelate and overlap, so
that cognitive and psychomotor learning can be affected by the
psychological environment, and vice versa.

The challenge of creating a positive learning environment is one that all

teachers face regardless of the physical environment in which learning
takes place. Learning can occur in many settings, not just in the
classroom. Accordingly, the term “classroom” in this book is used
figuratively and includes a wide range of learning environments.
What does
This self-study guide represents phase one of a two-phase program.
Phase two is an interactive workshop that will provide you with the the concept
opportunity to apply the principles of developing a positive learning
environment. In this module, we have considered three climates, which of “climate”
we believe must work in harmony to help create a desirable
environment for learning. These are the physical, instructional and
psychological climates. In exploring these climates we also examine the
have to do
challenge of open, honest and unambiguous communication as a
critical factor in the teaching and learning relationship.
with learning?
Creating and maintaining a positive learning environment is an ongoing
process. Clearly, there is no one “right” combination of elements that
will magically result in a positive climate for learning for every student.
The methods you devise will be uniquely yours and will reflect your own
personal style and the philosophy, direction, goals and skills of your
particular program, faculty and students. You will bring your own
creativity as a teacher to build on the wide variety of experience of
teachers across a range of disciplines.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 1

The Self-Study Guide
This guide has been developed to provide you with background
information which will prove to be useful when preparing a positive
learning environment for students. The guide is designed to be
completed on a self-study basis and will serve as the basis for a
subsequent workshop.

Beginning with an exploration of the contradictory nature of education

and its players, Unit 1 applies the general concepts of the Law of
Service and interpersonal communication to the teaching and learning
environment. In Unit 2, the physical climate of the classroom is
examined as it pertains to a positive learning environment. In Unit 3, the
focus is on the instructional climate and how well it meets diverse
student needs. Unit 4 focuses on the psychological climate, with
emphasis on how teachers influence the students’ perception of their
own ability to learn. In Unit 5, the focus is on the challenges and
benefits of diversity among our students.

The Workshop
The workshop designed to accompany this guide will provide an
opportunity for you to work collaboratively with your colleagues to apply
these ideas. You’ll have a chance to explore the different learning
environments and discuss strategies for improvement. Each unit
includes Workshop Preparation activities designed to connect your
experience with this module with the workshop curriculum.

The workshop is guided by one or more of your colleagues who will act
as facilitators of the process rather than “teaching” the content. The
success of the process will depend upon your participation, openness
and enthusiasm.


How important Creating a positive learning environment is the cornerstone of effective

teaching. In order for our students to succeed, they must first believe
they can succeed. Students must have confidence in their abilities and
are the physical, they must feel that the teacher shares that confidence. A positive
learning environment nurtures these feelings by allowing students to
instructional and explore and expand their knowledge without undue risk or fear.

psychological A positive environment is assisted when learning outcomes, objectives

and expectations are clearly communicated to the student. Students
climates to have a wide range of learning needs and styles, and this diversity must
be taken into account in employing a variety of teaching strategies. The
student success? size of the classroom, the arrangement of the furniture, the functioning
of equipment and other physical aspects of the class all contribute to, or
detract from, the learning environment. When these factors can be
manipulated to be positive influences, an environment more conducive
to learning will be created.

2 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Cornerstone: “Whatever level of motivation your students bring
to the classroom will be transformed, for better or worse, by what
happens in that classroom.”

As teachers we are accountable to our students, as well as to their
future employers. We assist students to achieve course and program
learning outcomes. The success of our efforts depends on our ability to
create and maintain favorable instructional, physical and psychological
learning environments.

A positive learning environment is one in which all students have an
equal opportunity to succeed. As conscientious teachers, we need to
become aware of our own assumptions and guard against acting out
our own biases. We must avoid creating or tolerating a climate in the
classroom which in any way results in the unfair treatment of an
individual because of his or her identity.

In order for learning to become accessible to a student, it needs to be
presented in an atmosphere free from the fear of failure or humiliation.
Students need clear expectations of learning outcomes so they can
measure these against the skills they already have in order to establish
their learning goals. Students also require access to the physical
resources necessary to achieve their learning goals.

High academic standards can only be maintained within a learning
atmosphere which honors the diversity and integrity of each individual,
builds self-esteem, provides productive and purposeful learning
activities, and prepares students for responsible citizenship.

How to Use This Guide

At the beginning of each unit, a list of learner competencies is
presented, followed by a discussion of concepts which we feel are
critical to creating a positive learning environment. This discussion is
meant to be introductory in nature and for many may represent a
review. Short checklists have been included wherever possible to help
you focus your thoughts toward your own class needs. Each unit
concludes with a Self-Test to help you assess your progress. Many
questions are objective, but some ask for a subjective, personal
response. In these cases, your answers could, of course, differ from
the answer key yet be quite correct! Once you have completed the five
units, you will be ready to participate in a workshop guided by your
colleagues to discuss these concepts further and to share solutions for
problems we all face. Let’s begin . . .
Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 3

This module will assist you to:

1. Design and deliver instruction appropriate for both teacher and

learner, including their personal values and styles, their needs
and expectations, and their talents and abilities.

2. Communicate clearly and effectively with students, peers and


3. Evaluate and modify psychological, instructional and physical

educational environments to enhance the learning process.

4. Innovate with the elements of the educational environment to

create a positive learning environment.

5. Appreciate the role of “positive” environments in enhancing


6. Share your knowledge and skills with your colleagues.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this module, you should be able to:

1. Embrace and reconcile the contradictory, even paradoxical,

nature of education.

2. Apply the Law of Service to psychological, instructional and

physical learning environments to enhance the learning process.

3. Recognize the importance of clear and effective communication

in the educational process.

4. Differentiate the three educational climates.

5. Analyze and evaluate various suggestions and innovations for

improving the educational climate you create.

6. Describe the challenge as well as the innovative opportunities of

diversity in providing effective learning.

4 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment


Paradox and
Unit 1: Paradox and Principles

We begin with paradox, attempting to embrace the contrary realities of

teaching and learning. Using the paradox of pairs to explore teaching,
teachers and students provides a quick but sound theoretical foundation
for developing a positive learning environment. Both the Law of Service
and communication theory are basic and central to our theme. This unit
attempts to provide practical and philosophical underpinnings without
exhaustive elaboration.

Unit Competencies

Upon completion of Unit 1, you should be able to:

1. Describe the Teaching-Learning Triangle and the results of

emphasizing one element over the others.

2. Explain the contradictory nature of education, illustrating with

paradoxical pairs for teaching, teachers and students.

3. Identify some of the enduring attitudes toward teaching, teachers

and students, illustrating with selected notable quotations.

4. Define the Law of Service.

5. Apply the Law of Service to the teaching-learning triangle.

6. List and describe the general principles which apply to all

students’ expectations of their educational experience.

7. Illustrate a model of interpersonal communication, describing the

six-stage process.

8. Define each of the components of the communication model and

discuss the problems inherent in each stage of the process.

9. Identify the benefits and pitfalls of using humor to create a

positive learning environment.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 7

The Teaching-Learning Triangle
For several decades, writing teachers have used a simple graphic to
describe the writing context to their students. The graphic
accommodates the four elements—writer, subject, audience and style.
Even though all four elements are always present in any writing context,
there is always an emphasis, each leading to a specific, legitimate kind
of writing. Let’s adjust the triangle labels to accommodate the
instructional context.


Subject Student
For the writer, an appropriate emphasis of one of the four elements
(throughout the process and product) sustains focus, purpose and
effect—all positive results. However, emphasizing one of the four
elements in our instructional triangle can produce qualitative
differences—either positive or negative. Clearly, the teaching-learning
triangle is constantly changing its emphasis even within a single class

The challenge is to be mindful of all four elements . . . all the time! The
trick is recognizing when to emphasize what. Some call it “timing”;
others say they are responding to “the teachable moment.” The more
experience you have as a teacher, the more likely you will be able to
anticipate these moments and use them to everyone’s advantage. Let’s
look at just some of the positive and negative results of emphasizing
one element over the others.

Emphasis Positive Negative

Teacher Willing to risk Plays safe
Model of a mind at work Unwilling to give up control
Selfless/giver Self-consumed/egocentric
Personable Detached/aloof
Subject Value content Depersonalized learning
Clarity Collaboration de-emphasized
Value process/scholarship Focus on product (what)
Access and assess information Learner differences neglected
Student Feel respect Discomfort—pressure
Confidence increased Lack of clarity/confusion
Feedback valued Teacher “unprepared”
Diversity valued Superficial coverage of content
Technique Facilitated learning Depersonalized learning
Process focus (how) “Game-playing”
Connect content with application Superficial coverage of content

8 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Teaching has been called both an art and a craft; indeed, it is both. To
suggest that teaching is an art when emphasizing Teacher and/or
Student and a craft when emphasizing Subject and/or Technique is
somewhat true, but it is also a gross oversimplification because all four
instructional elements can produce both art and craft.

The Paradox of Pairs

Not only is teaching both an art and a craft, many of its qualities and Embracing
components seem to be at odds with each other. This paradox of pairs,
instead of creating confusion, helps us avoid reducing the complex contraries . . .
activity we call teaching to simplistic absolutes that simply are not true.
So to further “prime the pump” for our discussion of creating a positive
learning environment, consider the following lists and any additional
contradictory pairs that, nevertheless, suggest the truth about teaching
is relative and illusive.

• Art and Craft

• Process and Product

• Orderly and Chaotic

• Academic Freedom and Outcome-Based Standards

• Active and Reflective Thinking

• Formal/Programmed and Informal/Spontaneous

• Talent (Nature) and Technique (Nurture)

• The Character of Content and the Content of Character

• A Noble Profession and the Subject of Scorn

Our list, somewhat short and random, concludes with a hint that
teaching had been a target for criticism over the last few . . . centuries.
Here are a few notable and often rather barbed comments from the
past to reflect on. Notice not just positive-negative polarities but also
the contradictory perspectives of our subject.

“The chief wonder of education is that it does not ruin everybody

concerned in it, teachers and taught.”
--Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, 1907.

“Observation more than books, experience rather than persons, are

the prime educators.”
--Amos Brown Alcott, Table Talk, 1855.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 9

“Education is that which remains if one has forgotten everything else
in school.”
--Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years, 1955.

“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.”
--Jacques Barzun, Newsweek, 1955.

“The three R’s of our school system must be supported by the three
T’s—teachers who are superior, techniques of instruction that are
modern, and thinking about education which places it first in all our
plans and hopes.”
--Lyndon Baines Johnson, Message to Congress, 1965.

“What does education do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free,

meandering brook.”
--Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 1850.

Somebody ought to do a study of teachers’ birth dates. The odds are

in favor of Gemini as the predominate sign. After all, teachers are not
just a pair of contrasting styles or roles; their identity is best described
with a long list of seeming contraries. The following pairs suggest a
broad canvas on which to define our identity and the quotations raise
difficult questions about our academic task.

“WHO are you?” Teachers

• Critic and Coach
(The caterpillar to • Taskmaster and Mentor
• Autonomous Individual and Connected Collaborator

• Scholar and Former Student

Adventures in • Traditional Conservative and Free-Spirited Liberal

Wonderland • Subject Expert and Learning Facilitator

• Lecturer and Story-Teller

• Lecturer and Model of a Mind at Work

Lewis Carroll
• Researcher and Innovative Entrepreneur

• Learned and Learner

10 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but
Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out
everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals
upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of service to them. This is the
principle on which I will ever bring up my own children, and that is the
principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to the Facts, sir!”
--Charles Dickens, Hard Times, 1854.
(Professor Gradgrind explains to his students . . . “the one thing
“The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence.
He inspires self-distrust. He guides their eyes from himself to the spirit
that quickens him.”
--Amos Bronson Alcott, “The Teacher,” in The Dial, 1840.
“There is no teaching until the pupil is brought into the same state or
principle in which you are; a transformation takes place; he is you and
you are he.”
--Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, First Series, 1841.
“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the
--E.M. Forster, quoted in The Observer, 1951
“I’ll learn him or kill him.”
--Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, 1883.
(A veteran riverboat pilot thus expresses his philosophy of teaching.)

Our audience—students—is the most difficult to define. Here’s why:

• Client and Customer
• Transfer and Career Program
• External Journey (goal) and Internal Quest (undecided)
• Prepared and Underprepared
• Individual Learner and Member of a Community of Learners
• Extrinsically Motivated and Intrinsically Motivated
• On One’s Own and Partner with Teacher
• Fully Available and Loaded Down with Baggage
• Learner and Learned

“The only really educated men are self-educated.”

--Jesse Lee Bennett, Culture and a Liberal Education, 1922.
“Self-education is fine when the pupil is a born educator.”
--John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic, 1928.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 11

“The Roman rule was to teach a boy nothing that he could not learn
--Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, Second Series, 1844.
“A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.”
--Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard, 1734.
“The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil.”
--Ralph Waldo Emerson, Lectures and Biographical Sketches,

Part of the pleasure of teaching is the incredible mix of student

personalities, values, interests, abilities, motivations, goals, background
and experience. It is also part of the challenge. You can expect one or
more of the following on the first day of class: university dropout, adult
returning to school after a decade or more, learning-disabled, gifted,
Generation X-er (ball-cap bill backward!), unemployed, working too
many hours, recently divorced, recently married, and so forth. Oh yes,
add at least one recent high school graduate! Obviously, there is no
typical student. Any classroom environment designed to accommodate
typical students is destined to fail. Some—probably many students—
will find their expectations unmet, their hopes dashed. So the great
lesson of the paradox of pairs is respecting, even taking advantage of,
individual differences.

Someone once said that there are no coincidences. In one sourcebook

for the quotations listed above, “teaching” appears between “talent” and
“tears.” Interesting juxtaposition! The teaching life is loaded with
contradictions that, mostly, make our calling interesting and creative.
Just as Gibran says of teaching in The Prophet (paraphrased), “ I
cannot lead you to my truths; I can only lead you to your truths.” Some
of you will have to make sense of these educational paradoxes; others
may just shrug their shoulders and move on. Probably, these two paths
serve equally well.

Before we proceed, let’s explore several definitions of learning that
invite comment:
• Learning is the transfer of knowledge.
(One of the most archaic and useless definitions, it overlooks the learner
and oversimplifies the domains to be “learned.”)
• Learning is the acquisition of some true belief or skill through experience.
(Suggests learning is external to the student both in its source and
• Learning is experience put into language—spoken or unspoken, written or
(Confirms learning as a cognitive and even emotional event but overlooks
• Learning is constructing meaning.
(Students are intimately involved in a creative act, raising consciousness,
and suggesting a performance.)

12 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

• Learning is a change in one’s knowledge, attitudes or behavior.
(Emphasizes the learner, attends to all three domains of learning, and
assumes learning is a dynamic, evolutionary or even revolutionary act.)

We can measure and evaluate change, but why, if learning is change,

would a person want to change?
• To adapt to a changing world in order to endure or even prevail.
• To accommodate his or her own change to the world.
• To become an agent of change.

If not change, why might an individual want to learn?

• To do what the human learning machine does—learn.
• To experience the pleasure (fun!) human beings associate with

The preceding discussion of learning is merely intended to initiate

reflection on the very essence of our work as educators. Module 2
(Developing Learning Outcomes and Competencies) and Module 3
(Selecting Teaching and Learning Strategies) explore domains of
learning and adult learning theory in depth.

The Law of Service

The college system has been involved in an ongoing debate over the The student as
years as to the identity of our “customers.” Traditionally, many people
have argued that our customers are the employers of our graduates. customer?
This line of thinking identifies industry and business as the logical focus
for customer satisfaction goals. However, many faculty would prefer to
regard our students as our primary customers. If, for the sake of
argument, our “product” is education, the students are the direct
recipients of that product. While employers also make use of our
product, they do so through the talents and energies our graduates
contribute to meeting their employers’ needs.

Customer satisfaction, once a concept that would have been considered

out of place in higher education, has become the new “bottom line” in
colleges, as it has in business and industry. In order to ensure that both
our direct and our indirect customers are satisfied, we must provide top
quality educational “service.” In business there exists a Law of Service
which can be adapted to the educational field:

Perception = OR > Expectation Satisfaction

Both of the variables “perception” and “expectation” are subjective in

nature. They originate in the “assumptive world” that students bring with
them when they enter post-secondary education, based on all their past
experiences, the background of beliefs and values that guide them, and
even the promotional rhetoric of the college. Each student will enter into
the college with different expectations of the educational climate and,

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 13

once here, will perceive “reality” according to his or her own particular
world view. Although we may not always understand or agree with our
students’ interpretations of their educational experience, we must
acknowledge and respect their perceptions and feelings. As educators,
we must be cautious of judging or responding to a student’s
expectations based on what we “feel” the student should think, rather
than what the student actually does think.

If we translate the Law of Service diagram above, we can see that

students will be satisfied with their learning experience when they
perceive that they have received a level of experience (service) that is
equal to or higher than what was expected. If students expect to receive
a good educational experience and then perceive their experience to be
poor, they will be dissatisfied. Our goal in education should always be to
satisfy our customers, while maintaining our own high standards as
educators responsible for creating and maintaining a quality learning

Understandably, reducing the student role to “customer” may offend

some educators. After all, such a noble adventure (and it is “noble”)
loses its glow when lumped into the transactions common at the local
discount store. Education isn’t just bought; it is earned. Furthermore,
the student, just as the customer, isn’t “always right.”

Student Expectations
Throughout the units of this module, we will revisit this service law as it
applies to the various aspects of a positive learning climate. However,
there are some general principles which apply to all students’

1. Accessibility. Students expect prompt and efficient service.

They must be able to get to someone in the college organization
who can help them. Whatever assistance they need, they do not
expect to experience a maze of red tape. Many students don’t
complain because they perceive that they do not have access to
whoever could solve their problem, and/or they do not believe
their efforts will make any difference. They want their questions
answered and their needs met as soon as possible.

2. Courtesy. Students expect to be treated in a professional

manner. Like us, they react poorly to rudeness or indifference.
Even in a situation where little can be done to fix the problem, a
kind word or other evidence of empathy with their concern goes
a long way.

3. Personal Growth. Every student is unique. Students want to

know that we recognize them as individuals. We need to provide
encouragement for their learning challenges, while at the same
time demonstrating concern for the very real barriers that may
stand in their way.

14 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

4. Empathy. Empathy is the ability to see and feel things from
someone else’s point of view. Students expect that we should
understand and acknowledge their concerns. Empathy is the
essence of a “customer-oriented” philosophy. Students do not
expect to be treated as an imposition or an interruption. We
must demonstrate to our students that conditions that affect
them affect us, and we are willing to help.

5. Job Knowledge. Students expect that teachers will know the

facts about the college and its relationship with the industry in
which they plan to develop a career. They expect current
information and honest answers.

6. Consistency. Students expect to get the same answers no

matter whom they talk to. If teachers work together to provide
consistent performance standards, there is no reason for two
different teachers to give students conflicting answers to factual
questions. Students also expect that consistent standards for
evaluation will be applied, and they can be assured of receiving
equal treatment. (This is a good reason for making sure that
your guidelines for evaluation are clear and unequivocal,
published early in the semester and enforced consistently.)
Where accommodations need to be made to assist special
needs students (for example, allowing a sight-impaired student
to respond orally to examination questions), it is important that
students be made aware of compelling reasons for a difference
in treatment.

7. Teamwork. The college may be composed of many different

schools and departments with different goals and methods, even
different “cultures.” But to the student, the college is a single
entity. Students do not expect internal turf battles to affect them,
nor do they expect to be passed from one department to another
for answers to apparently straightforward questions.

These expectations are not unlike the ones each one of us brings to our
interactions with the service providers with whom we do business. To
ensure that the service equation remains positive for our students,
college staff in all roles and categories need to re-dedicate themselves
to the values of teamwork and clear communication.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 15

Communication – The Theory
We send a How important is good, clear communication to setting a positive
learning environment? Everything you do and say communicates
message by something to your students. The room you are in and the materials you
use tell their own story. Even your non-verbal behavior sends a
everything we say message. In fact, you cannot NOT communicate.

So where should the question of communication fit in a discussion of

and do, and by creating a positive physical, instructional and psychological
environment? We couldn’t decide either, so we put it right up front, as
everything we do an issue which transcends all boundaries and deserves our thoughtful,
ongoing attention.
not say and do.
Everyone is familiar with the frustration of being “misinterpreted.” We
are all very sure that we express ourselves clearly, and that anyone
who was paying attention should be in no doubt about what we
intended. Yet we are bewildered to discover that our students frequently
misunderstand our intent or make assumptions based on their own prior
perceptions of what they expected or wanted to hear. Of course, we do
the same, but we tend to interpret the communication blocks as
occurring somewhere outside ourselves. It is a common problem, but as
educators, we have a particular responsibility to try to reduce the
frequency and impact of communication breakdown.

The following communications model presents the complex elements at

work in even the simplest communication. Because the model works as
a cycle, the roles of “sender” and “receiver” are shifting constantly.
Messages get sent and received consciously or unconsciously, verbally
or non-verbally. Sometimes, the physical environment itself
“communicates” a message which is interpreted, given meaning and
even acted upon, without a word being spoken.

The reality of the other person is not in what he reveals to you, but in
what he cannot reveal to you. Therefore, if you would understand him,
listen not to what he says but rather to what he does not say.

The reality of the other person is

not in what he reveals to you, but
in what he cannot reveal to you.
Therefore, if you would
understand him, listen not to what
he says but rather to what he does
not say.

16 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Communication Model
Sender Receiver

1 2 4 5 The spoken word

Form Idea Encode Decode Take Action
A Thought or Translate Interpret Based on belongs half
Feeling Into Speech Message Thoughts or
Which or Transmit Feelings
Needs Behavior Stimulated to the one who
Expression by Perceived
Message speaks and half
to the one who

French proverb
6 Feedback

1. Form Idea
Our perceptions or feelings are shaped into thoughts that can be
communicated to others. Perceptions are based on the values,
attitudes or assumptions that we have formed throughout our
lifetime of experiences. Each of us has our own characteristic
way of interpreting and expressing our views. The process of
idea formation can be distorted if the sender lacks knowledge,
makes unfounded assumptions or has negative attitudes toward
the receiver.

2. Encode
Encoding is the process of “translating” our thoughts and
feelings into words or actions which communicate a message.
The message can be sent verbally or non-verbally, consciously
or unconsciously. For many reasons, both cognitive and
emotional, codes may distort the original message intended by
the sender. For example, formal written language may
unnecessarily complicate a simple verbal message. Sometimes,
anxiety about the reaction of the receiver may cause us to
encode a message which sounds very different from our original

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 17

3. Noise or Blocks
If you Many factors can interfere with the clear transmission of
messages between a sender and a receiver. These blocks
write it, include:

• Physical blocks: a noisy environment, inability to hear or unreadable

will they overheads
• Negative attitudes of the receiver toward the sender, the situation or
read it? •
the message
Inability to see or interpret facial expression or body language
• Fatigue or high stress levels of the sender or the receiver
• The simple fact that many written communications are never read

4. Decode
Decoding is the process of transforming a received message
into thoughts and ideas that convey meaning to the receiver
encoding; however, decoded messages can quickly become
distorted as they pass through the emotional and cognitive
“filters” of the receiver. The values, attitudes and assumptions of
the receiver, as well as his or her mood or fatigue level, may all
affect the way the message is received and interpreted.

5. Take Action
Action—whether it is expressed verbally or non-verbally, in
writing or in some other kind of behavior—is usually based on
the assumption that what the receiver understood the message
to mean is roughly the same as the meaning the sender meant
to convey. We can all think of many examples in which, clearly,
this was not the case. In addition to genuine misunderstandings,
there are some situations in which the receiver may be unwilling,
rather than unable, to respond appropriately to the sender.

6. Feedback
Without feedback, there is no way to know whether any
particular message has been effectively transmitted and
received. Yet this is the part of the communication loop that
frequently is left dangling. We tend to assume that, of course,
our message has been received exactly as we sent it. We tend
to discount the possibility that someone could read into our
message some meaning which we had not intended. When
communication does break down, each of us tends to attribute to
the other a lack of perception or, worse, an unwillingness to “get
it right.”

To complicate matters, feedback is frequently missing altogether when

the message is communicated in writing, over the telephone or by
e-mail (where we are deprived of the visual cues that normally aid us in
the decoding process), or in any situation where the sender and the
receiver are unknown or unavailable to each other.

18 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Implications for the Teacher/Student

As teachers, we are painfully aware, and frequently baffled, by the Many students
many ways that messages between ourselves and our students can go
astray. We suspect that our students just aren’t listening (which is, of have learned
course, sometimes true!), or that they take a perverse delight in finding
ingenious ways to misinterpret even the most straightforward to hide their
instruction. We cannot believe the number of ways students find to
(mis)interpret what we considered to be a clear and unambiguous test feelings (and
We are baffled and sometimes hurt by the hostile reaction we may be
receiving from a student whom we have gone more than half way to try in order to
to help. We may be unaware that the reaction we feel to be directed
against ourselves may belong to an earlier and unhappy educational
experience, and now the very fact of being in a formal classroom may
“look good.”
be restimulating negative or anxious feelings in our student.

In creating a positive learning environment for students, it is particularly

important that we recognize the uneven balance of power in the
teacher/student relationship. Our arguments may carry more weight
than we realize simply because we are an authority figure and have the
power to confer or withhold grades. We need to guard continually
against the temptation to assume that miscommunications are always
the fault of the student and accept that our role, along with our
understanding of the dynamics of interpersonal communication, places
an additional responsibility on us to give and invite regular feedback to
reduce misunderstandings.

As teachers, we are painfully

aware, and frequently baffled,
by the many ways that messages
between ourselves and our
students can go astray.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 19

Communication – The Practice

Strategies for a Positive Learning Climate

• Learn your students’ names early on, use them regularly and pronounce them
properly. In this way, you communicate your interest in your students as

• Expect, and show your willingness, to repeat instructions when necessary, to

ensure that all your students, including the non-native English speakers,
understand what is expected of them.

• Try to recall when you were unfamiliar with the “jargon” of your discipline, and
remember to decode your language for your students as you go along.

• Invite questions for clarification and ask for regular feedback to be sure that
what you thought you said is the same as what they thought they heard.

• Become a student of body language, particularly your own. Be aware of

whether your face contradicts your words, and whether students are picking up
subtle “double messages” that may communicate lack of respect or loss of

• Maintain your sense of humor and be willing to admit that when a

communication goes awry, at least part of the responsibility for the problem
may lie with you.

• Don’t expect that everything you say in class will be heard and understood.

• Don’t give important instructions right after you hand out the test papers. At
that point most students will not “hear” you.

• Try not to create barriers to communication in the form of visual aids that
cannot be read or handout materials couched in language that is well above
the average reading level of your students.

• Avoid using sarcasm, irony or dismissive body language when a student says
something you can’t agree with. Not only will that student perceive a lack of
respect, but so will other students, who may then decide that it is too risky to
speak up in class.

What can we do to create a

welcoming atmosphere?

20 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Education can and should be fun. Working in a cooperative group to Humor is a
produce a model of DNA or a brief analysis of the Pop Art movement,
while instructionally sound, can be fun. Conversely, humor, used to serious thing, one
reduce tension and provide relief from tedium, can be instructionally
sound. of the greatest
Students frequently complain that their professors are “boring.”
Professors also complain about their students’ BF (boring factor).
and earliest
Humor can contribute to a positive learning environment, but it’s like
frosting a cake. Too much frosting and we get sick of it (or forget the national resources
cake). No student wants a buffoon for a teacher, and no teacher wants
students distracted from important content. which must be
Humor almost always involves a victim. The inadvertent quip, which preserved
seemed like a good idea at the time, can backfire, not just bomb!
Students can get hurt, taking a comment made in jest as a personal at all costs.
attack. Sometimes, students just don’t realize a wry comment is
tongue-in-cheek. Result: Offended!

So what’s a body to do?

James Thurber
(-) Don’t use humor that’s inconsistent with your teaching

(-) Avoid ad-libs, reflecting on the response a few seconds before

inserting foot in mouth.

(-) Guard against biased or culturally insensitive humor.

(+) Select humor that connects well with course content.

(+) Select humor that connects well with instructional process.

(+) Select notable sources, citing humorous quotations or definitions

relating to your subject (provides credibility and distance).

(+) Select prose passages ideal for humorous critique or cartoons,

presented as an overhead transparency.

(+) Use self-effacing humor that illustrates how we all fall prey to
life’s incongruities and challenges (an especially effective
technique for reducing student tension).

The reference section of your library contains numerous quotation

source books (not just Bartlett’s). However, the best resource is a
recent book by Ronald A. Berk, Professors are from Mars, Students are
from Snickers. A very well-developed, organized and serious
discussion of how to write and deliver humor in the classroom and in
professional presentations, the book is loaded with techniques and
examples, all the while sporting Berk’s outrageously funny sense of
humor. You can’t do better!

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 21

Combining our discussion of humor and communication, we thought we
might illustrate both with a friendly translation of “teacher and student
speak.” Enjoy!

What the professor really means . . .

By J. Timothy Petersik (reprinted from the Chronicle of Higher Education)

On a humorous What He or She Said What It Means

You’ll be using one of the leading textbooks in I used it as a grad student.
note . . . this field.

If you follow these few simple rules, you’ll do If you don’t need any sleep, you’ll do fine in this
fine in this course. course.

The gist of what the author is saying is what’s I don’t understand the details either.
most important.

Various authors agree that . . . My hunch is that . . .

The answer to your question is beyond the I don’t know.

scope of this class.

You’ll have to see me during my office hours for I don’t know.

a thorough answer to your question.

In answer to your question, you must recognize I really don’t know.

that there are several disparate points of view.

Today we are going to discuss the most Today we are going to discuss my dissertation.
important topic.

Unfortunately, I haven’t the time to consider all I disagree with what roughly half the people in
the people who made contributions to this field. this field have said.

We can continue this discussion outside of I’m tired of this. Let’s quit.

Today we’ll let a member of the class lead the I stayed out too late last night and I didn’t have
discussion. It will be a good educational time to prepare for the lecture.

Any questions? I’m ready to let you go.

The implications of this study are clear. I don’t know what it means either, but there will
be a question on it in the test.

The test will be a 50-question multiple choice. The test will be a 60-minute multiple guess, plus
three short answer questions (1,000 words or
more) and no one will score above 75%.

The test scores were generally good. Some of you managed a B.

The test scores were a little below my Where was the party last night?

Some of you could have done better. Everyone flunked.

Before we begin the lecture today, are there any Has anyone opened the book yet?
questions about the previous material?

According to my sources . . . According to the guy who taught this course last
year . . .

It’s been very rewarding to teach this class. I hope they find someone else to teach it.

22 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

What the student really means . . .

What He or She Said What It Means

Your lecture was really good today. Better than Monday’s.

I want you to tell me the truth about my Please be kind.


When is the project due? I’m not ready.

I know the answer. We already covered it in my last class.

I‘ve got to get an “A” in this class. Do you give A’s?

Can I see you during office hours to discuss I plan to cut Friday’s class.
today’s lecture?

A “D”? I thought I’d get at least a “C.” Got a “B” the last time I turned this in for a class.

I don’t understand the textbook. Where can I get one?

I’m getting A’s and B’s in my other courses. Well?!

I studied for the exam. You asked “trick” questions.

I’m confused. I stayed out too late last night and didn’t have
time to study.

I don’t work well in groups. Groups are too much work.

My computer disk crashed. Before I saved any of my work. What should I


Yes, I understand I’m clueless. Help!

This was an interesting class. Wherever do you find this stuff?

How should we study for the exam? Can you give us the test questions?

I have a minor question. Help, my life is falling apart!

I’ve really enjoyed this class. More than you’ll ever know.

Both the teacher and student often do not say what they mean or mean
what they say. Maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s the pressure to conform to a
stereotype, and maybe it’s just that we’re not listening.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 23

Self-Test: Module 1-Unit 1

1. List the six stages of the Communication Model in order.

1. ____________________ 4. ____________________
2. ____________________ 5. ____________________
3. ____________________ 6. ____________________

2. List several types of Noise or Blocks that interfere with

_______________________ _______________________
_______________________ _______________________
_______________________ _______________________

3. Label the four elements of the Teaching-Learning Triangle:

4. How might two dichotomies of teaching—”Art and Craft” and “Nature

and Nurture”—explain each other or at least be compatible?

5. In your opinion, why has formal/institutionalized education been

such a target for criticism?

6. List two DO’s and two DON’Ts concerning the use of humor in the
_______________________ _______________________
_______________________ _______________________

7. After rereading “What the professor really means . . .” and “What the
student really means . . . ,” list and comment on two themes
common to each list (but not necessarily to both).

24 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Personal Reflection and Workshop Preparation

1. Read “Fish Story” (a student narrative) in the Appendix.

Consider the following questions:
a. How do you think today’s student would react to the
professor and his style of teaching?
b. Do you think today’s students tend to “lean on” instead of
“learn from” their teachers?
c. Who was one of your best teachers? Why that person?

2. Read “Why I Teach and How I Teach” (faculty piece) in the

Appendix. Consider the following questions:
a. How does the teacher’s activity described in this reflective
essay differ from the traditional or typical role in education?
b. What are the benefits of this educational approach for the
student and for the teacher?
c. Do you use this strategy? If so, describe briefly. Examples?
If not, can you speculate on areas of your course(s) that
might benefit from this approach?

3. For each of the lists of paradoxical pairs (Teaching, Teachers,

Students), select the three or four pairs that most affect learning
and the learning environment (in your opinion).

4. From each of the three lists of quotations (Teaching, Teachers,

Students), select your favorite quote. Why those three?

5. Apply the “Law of Service” to your role as a teacher working in

a college. Are your expectations met or even exceeded? (In
other words, which of the seven student expectations also apply
to teachers?)

6. Although all six stages of the Communication Model are

important and deserve our attention, select one stage that
particularly challenges your teaching.

7. Either describe an attempt at humor in the classroom that went

awry or some humorous technique you’ve used with some
success (or both).

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 25

Did Your Responses Match Ours?
1. List the six stages of the Communication Model in order.
1. Form Idea 4. Decode
2. Encode 5 Take Action
3. Noise/Blocks 6. Feedback

2. List several types of Noise or Blocks that interfere with

Physical blocks Negative attitudes
Fatigue and/or high stress Lack of facial or body signals
Unread written communications

3. Label the four elements of the Teaching-Learning Triangle:



Subject Student
4. How might two dichotomies of teaching— “Art and Craft” and
“Nature and Nurture”—explain each other or at least be compatible?
Teachers are born—teachers are created: both are true. A teacher who does not
understand and apply all the elements and strategies of the teaching-learning
triangle—however talented, however born to be a teacher—may not be effective.
However, all the technique and good intentions in the world will not make a great
teacher if enthusiasm, passion and vision are lacking. One connects with and
reinforces the other. Teachers and artists can be nurtured, and both must master
technique. But without fine clay, all the shaping and forming at the wheel will not make
a great vase. (Or something along these lines.)

5. In your opinion, why has formal/institutionalized education been

such a target for criticism?
Many view learning as a natural process and formal education as an artificial and
constraining imposition. (See Thoreau quote.) Others view education as more than
acquiring skill or becoming learned; they expect an increase in wisdom or a moral
sense. Still others complain about the quality of schools and the importance of
education, yet they do not support learning politically or financially. Finally, some
critics have forgotten that teaching and learning are not the same thing. (Your
response may be quite different yet on target!)

6. List two DO’s and two DON’Ts concerning the use of humor in the
(See the list in the unit.) _______________________
_______________________ _______________________
7. After rereading “What the professor really means . . .” and “What the
student really means . . . ,” list and comment on two themes
common to the each list (but not necessarily to both).
Both can’t express genuine feelings about performance. Both hide the fact that they
have personal lives with their demands and problems. And both may be failing to
communicate because they don’t expect the other to have empathy. (Responses vary –
that’s okay.)

26 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment


The Physical
Unit 2: The Physical Environment

The classroom, office and laboratory, as well as the physical artifacts of

education–all affect the quality of teaching and learning. Here, three
issues are central to creating a positive learning environment—planning
for success, dealing with adversity and innovating with available

Unit Competencies

Upon completion of Unit 2, you should be able to:

1. Define the physical learning environment and list its various


2. Describe the nine-step process for ensuring quality control of the

physical learning environment.

3. Explain the innovative attitude, illustrating with examples.

4. Explain the purpose and criteria of the faculty office that

enhances teaching and learning.

5. Describe the general criteria for textbook selection and

innovative strategies for involving students in that learning

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 29


The physical climate is the most apparent of the three climates to both
students and teachers. When things are working as they should,
physical conditions provide a “background” against which the real work
of learning can proceed. But when they go wrong—the room is too hot
or too cold, the audio-visual equipment is broken or lab resources are
inadequate—suddenly physical conditions demand too much of our
attention and can act as a barrier to learning.

Teachers often experience frustration because they feel they have little
control over the physical environment. Yet the atmosphere created by
the physical surroundings, and communicated to the students through
the air quality, the furniture, equipment and other resources, signals the
value the college places on the physical conditions that support the
learning experience.

Consider the Law of Service:

Perception = OR > Expectation Satisfaction

because I PERCEIVE . . . and I EXPECTED . . . I FEEL

Nice classrooms, modern A comfortable, clean, well-equipped

equipment, good resources college conducive to learning SATISFIED

Crowded, uncomfortable A comfortable, clean, well-equipped

classroom, obsolete college conducive to learning DISSATISFIED
equipment, inadequate

Elements and Issues of the Physical

• Size and Style of the Room
Is it large enough for the number of students it is expected to accommodate?
Is it appropriate for the kind of instruction to be carried out in that setting?

• Temperature
Is the room too hot or too cold? Is there any way to adjust the temperature to
accommodate unusual weather conditions?

• Air Quality
Is there any movement in the air? Are students having trouble staying alert?

• Furniture Style
Is the style and placement of furniture appropriate for the learning activities
taking place (tablet arm chairs, tables set in rows, drafting tables, etc.)?

30 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

• Furniture Arrangement
Is the furniture movable? Is it feasible to create an optimal furniture
arrangement (circle, U-shape, small group clusters, etc.) to support the chosen
learning activities?

• Lighting All the world’s

Is it adequate? Can it be controlled? Can the room be darkened to allow for
light projection equipment yet provide for note-taking? a stage . . .
• Viewing Screens, Chalkboards, White Boards, etc.
Are they in a good location? Are the sight lines adequate?

• Environmental/External Noise
As You Like It
Can everyone hear and be heard? Does “white noise” from the air conditioning
or noise from outside the classroom compete with the business at hand?

• Types, Quality and Quantity of Equipment

Are all classrooms equipped with standard items (overhead projectors, Shakespeare
screens, etc.)? Do they work? Are they clean? Are they serviced regularly?
Are other audiovisual resources available in quantities to meet the demand?
Are technicians readily available to troubleshoot?

• Scheduling of Classes (time of day, week, etc.)

Do those who design students’ schedules take into consideration the length of
time between classes, number of hours in each day, etc.?

• General Cleanliness
Are classrooms regularly cleaned? Are trash containers emptied? Are soft
furnishings maintained and replaced promptly when necessary?

• Setting Availability
Is the room vacated by students and teacher in time for your students to enter
the classroom and prepare for learning? Do you have time to set up your
materials and greet your students? (If not, civility may be necessary here.)

• The Big Picture

The college as a whole also contributes to the physical environment through
the availability and quality of the cafeteria, library, computer labs, bookstore
and the general appearance and upkeep. While many aspects of the physical
environment appear to be out of our control, there are still some things we can
and should do to try to communicate our desire to provide adequate learning
conditions for our students.

Quality Assurance—Physical Environment

While many aspects of the physical environment appear to be out of our

control, we are not helpless. The following nine-step strategy should
ensure the physical requirements for a positive, quality learning

1. Communicate—Express concerns regarding any aspect of the

physical environment. Administrators cannot fix a problem if
they are not aware of it. Program directors and department
chairs often survey the teaching-learning environments their
faculty will work in. Usually, the basic aspects have been
checked before the first class, even before scheduling a class
into a room. But if there is a problem–any problem–don’t
hesitate to share your concern. Your supervisor may be able to
work some unexpected magic!

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 31

2. Plan—Decide upon both your optimal and your minimally
acceptable requirements for the physical environments as you
There ARE some plan to teach the course, even as you design your syllabus.
That way, you can anticipate needs and overcome problems
conditions we can before they become problems. Communicate those
requirements even before room assignments are made.
3. Test—Actually visit the classroom or a typical one, checking on
line-of-sight, furniture and its arrangement potential, lighting, etc.
Moving about the room, see how it “feels” in the back row, on
the sidelines and at the lectern. Picture moving from one
modality of instruction to another. Incidentally, you will also
discover circumstances that may affect your syllabus and
teaching style!

4. Encourage Feedback—Invite students to communicate

anything negative (and positive) about the physical environment
of the classroom that affects learning. A good subject for a
“minute paper” (classroom assessment), this feedback topic is
often overlooked.

5. Be Prepared—Carrying a spare overhead projector bulb can

save a class period (and demonstrate productive behaviors). If
your presentation includes a computer projection display
(PowerPoint, multimedia or a word processor), a few key
“backup” transparencies can salvage a program that crashes.
Often overlooked, your college’s emergency evacuation plan
should be worked out with students ahead of time.

6. Empathize—Don’t whine or complain; that’s not modeling

effective problem solving. On the other hand, do express your
concern for the well-being of the students if a foul-up occurs and
your willingness to solve the problem. They’ll appreciate that.

7. Use Humor—”The best laid plans . . . ,” “Murphy’s Law . . . ,” “It

seemed like a good idea at the time . . .”—all these and more
can reduce the tension as well as suggest your awareness of
the problem.

8. Innovate—How can a problem become an opportunity? If

technical problems make your presentation impossible, could
you move the students into groups, exploring the topic (probably
with the help of text materials and your oversight)? Could be an
excellent class experience for you and the students. If the
lighting or air handling fails, could you move to the library, the
student commons or, weather permitting, outside? You might
lose 10 minutes, but you may have gained more than just
salvaging the class period. Some teachers have a back-up
activity at the ready (for example, a short Internet search project
or a library-based survey of resources relating to the subject). If
all else fails, small groups of students could move to

32 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

various locations in the building (have a map ready!) to write
potential test or quiz questions or compose a summary of the
chapter. These products could be turned in at the end of the
class period, reviewed by the teacher, and discussed at the next
class period. Again, student-centered, subject-focused . . .
9. Avoid the Mistake—Canceling class sends several signals to
your students. And they are all negative—can’t solve problems,
not prepared, doesn’t value class time (or the students’ time).
So if utter chaos is the only alternative, then, and only then,
should you cancel. After all, you do have to weigh what would be
gained against what would be lost.

Even though effective quality control involves many elements, to get

you started, here is quick checklist to evaluate the physical environment
you will work in:

• The room provides for the students’ sensory needs.

• The furniture in the room is appropriate and in good repair.
• The furniture is arranged to facilitate learning.
• The equipment in the room is in good working order and appropriate to
facilitate learning.
• The classroom is clean, well supplied (chalk, markers, printer paper, etc.) and
• The college’s emergency evacuation plan is posted.

Innovating With the Physical Environment The medium

Yogi Berra never said it, but he could have: “The medium is the tedium
and vice versa.” Monotony, repetition, predictable routine—all these is the tedium?
and more can put a student to sleep. It’s even been said a teacher
should never die in a faculty meeting—nobody would notice! None of
us is immune from slipping into a passive, coma-like state. A positive
learning environment involves more than avoiding the negatives we’ve
discussed so far. Innovation is often using what you have (or are stuck
with) in a different, productive way. Here are a few possibilities:
• Your students are working in small groups. The quickest way to get their
attention for an announcement or suggestion is to . . . turn off the lights. Off
for a second and back on will silence the most robust conversation, instantly.

• Students have fallen into a pattern of sitting in the same seat class after class.
Although that behavior is comfortable, no doubt, a minor rearrangement of
chairs could change the dynamics (chairs in double rows with aisles in
between or an amphitheater arrangement in, say, three semicircular rows).

• Moving to one side or even the back of the classroom will cause students to
take notice, shifting their chairs to attend to your presentation, not to mention
the potential for a little humor.

• Exchange classroom roles with the students, when appropriate. Each week, a
small group of students could be responsible for the room set-up, distributing
handouts, collecting projects (even stapling papers!). Boardwork, operating
overheads and projection devices (including computers) could be assigned to
small groups each week or two. Results: Active participation in a community
of learners, teacher available to confer with students and free to observe
student behaviors.
Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 33
Innovation asks, “What if . . . ?”
• What would happen if you occasionally greet your students at the door outside
your classroom?

• What would happen if, one time, you move all the chairs to one side of the
room and have everyone sit on the floor? (If possible, if appropriate, if the
students are forewarned.)

• What would happen if you dressed differently (more casual or more formal)?

• What if you brought artifacts (props) that relate to your lecture, engaging the
students’ senses?

• What would happen if you used a classroom flaw (real or created) to illustrate
some principle of your lecture?

• What if . . . ?

Of course, innovation, by its very nature, involves risks. But good

teaching is . . . risky business.

Other Artifacts of the Physical Environment

Faculty Office
As comfortable, inviting and safe as your classroom should be, there is
an overlooked extension of the classroom that can be critical to your
success as a teacher—your office. Of course, not all teachers have the
luxury of a private or shared office. If you have an office, it serves at
least three purposes:
• A place to prepare instruction and evaluate the results of that instruction.

• A sanctuary where you can think, mentally prepare for or recover from the
frenetic pace of the teaching life.

• A meeting place to confer with your students—one-on-one or in small groups.

Three questions should be considered:

• Does the environment suit your personality and communicate the persona you
want your students to know?
• Is the space appropriate for your work?

• Will the setting encourage and facilitate student visits?

Surely, a professor’s office, in almost every way, is a very personal

setting. We do decorate our nests in most unique ways. Often, it’s a
theme from our discipline or a personal hobby. Sometimes it’s a poster
of encouragement, humor or wisdom. Sometimes, it’s mementos of
faraway places or student projects.

Our offices also communicate to students some subtle messages we

may not intend. A messy office with a desk that looks like an
archeological dig may suggest a disorganized or complacent teacher.
Of course, a busy day or a big project can cause things to pile up, but
chaos, while sometimes creative, isn’t always productive. On the other
hand, an office that sports spotless work surfaces and barren walls may
seem sterile, depersonalized or uninviting. The sage advice: Because a
professor’s office is a highly personal matter, do what works for you,
including creating a positive learning environment for your students.

34 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Many teachers routinely use conferences as an integral element in
teaching-learning process. Does your office provide the space, privacy
and furniture to support that strategy? If not, communicate that
instructional requirement to your supervisor.

Particularly sensitive topics–such as a student’s personal problem or

grades–require complete confidentiality. Make sure the student’s
individual right to privacy is maintained.

Certainly, there is no profit in having an ideal office setting if students

don’t use it. Some teachers ask their students to drop by for a “well
visit” early in the semester. Two goals are achieved—they locate your
office and are likely to visit later in the semester when they are
experiencing a crisis or need help.

Textbooks Learning hath

A textbook isn’t a place, or is it? How different are the dynamics of the
physical classroom and a textbook? Textbooks are written with two gained most by
audiences in mind—the teacher and the student. Just like with the
classroom, the needs of both must be accommodated. However, the
those books
advent of the “buy-back” market has placed tremendous financial by which the
pressure on publishers, resulting in “so-called” edition changes, reduced
graphics support and shoddy bindings. The buy-back phenomenon has printers have lost.
created not just used books but also “used-up” textbooks. The
underlining and marginalia of a former student owner reduces the
“active reading” potential for the new owner. Something to consider! Of Books
Is the textbook “user-friendly”? For many students who are not strong
readers, some textbooks are a wall of words. Do the authors provide Thomas Fuller
graphics, bulleted lists, useful apparatus including study questions
(some with answers) and suggestions for learning the material? Do
they provide clearly stated learning outcomes and competencies? Of (The first
course, the author’s competency, completeness and currency are
crucial criteria for any textbook adoption. A well-designed, effective
complaint about
textbook is, by no means, a dumbing down of the educational textbooks . . .
experience. A well-designed and equipped classroom does students no
good unless the door is open and they attend class. So too a textbook. almost 400 years
What innovative strategies can you employ to involve students in this
important artifact of the physical learning environment? Here are a few ago!)
• Make sure all students actually have the textbook.
• Ask students to “actively read” the textbook, underlining and annotating
specific pages and passages. Model the process and check student progress.
• Inform students about class periods that either require or do not require the
support of the textbook. Those bookbags get mighty heavy, so your students
will appreciate any lightening of their load.
• Ask students to write informal outlines and/or summaries of a chapter. Either
share in small groups or submit for ungraded perusal.
• Highlight the chapter before students read it, sort of a “coming attractions”
• Advise students about textbook security. Theft and loss do happen.
• Demonstrate how to read a chapter, “modeling a mind at work.”

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 35

Self-Test: Module 1-Unit 2

1. List and describe eight to ten elements of the physical learning

____________________ ____________________
____________________ ____________________
____________________ ____________________
____________________ ____________________
____________________ ____________________

2. List and describe the quality control steps a teacher can take
even before the first class period.

3. Describe quality control strategies for dealing with unforeseen

problems with the physical learning environment.

4. What is the “worst mistake” and why should it be avoided?


36 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

5. In your opinion, why is radical innovation often the only answer
to solving a problem with the physical learning environment?

6. List the three purposes of a faculty office and describe some of

the criteria or factors that support those purposes.

7. Discuss the two major challenges faculty face with textbooks—

the effects of the “buy-back market” and promoting active

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 37

Personal Reflection and Workshop Preparation

1. Visiting your classroom(s), evaluate them, checking on each of

the 10 elements of the physical learning environment.

2. In light of your visit and evaluation:

a. What information do you need to communicate to your

program administrator to improve the physical learning

b. What innovations can you make to improve the physical

learning environment?

3. What changes do you want to make to your office (if you have
one) to fulfill the three purposes listed in the unit?

4. Considering the value or role of student conferences in your

teaching method and style, what innovations in procedure can
you make to support this strategy?

5. What are the strengths and weaknesses of your adopted

textbook(s)? How well do your students use the text resources
to support their learning?

38 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Did Your Responses Match Ours?

1. List and describe eight to ten elements of the physical learning

Room size and style Temperature
Air quality Furniture style
Furniture arrangement Lighting
Viewing/visual elements Environmental/external noise
Equipment Class scheduling issues
General cleanliness Setting availability

2. List and describe the quality control steps a teacher can take
even before the first class period.
Communication—Letting the right people know about any problems or potential
problems. I’m not only helping students and myself but also helping
administrators do their job. PLAN—Include the physical classroom in my
planning/preparation for teaching. Consider the “teaching/learning stage” as I
develop my syllabus. TEST—In the actual classroom, try out various modalities
of instruction I have planned for the course.

3. Describe quality control strategies for dealing with unforeseen

problems with the physical learning environment.
BE PREPARED—Anticipate problems, be somewhat of a cynic and have “Plan B”
ready, just in case. Backup materials, teaching aides and learning activities, even
alternatives to the classroom, can save a class period. Another issue is my
response—instead of blaming others, use humor and empathy to reduce stress
and model effective behavior.

4. What is the “worst mistake” and why should it be avoided?

The worst mistake is canceling a class. Why? Because students have paid for and
prepared for this instruction. Furthermore, the less than professional message it
sends to students is in direct opposition to the character goals teachers have for
their students.

5. In your opinion, why is radical innovation often the only answer

to solving a problem with the physical learning environment?
Because the physical classroom fails in some way and there is no fixing it.
Because some problems administrators simply cannot overcome. Because some
disruptions of the physical learning environment demand a radical, if risky,

6. List the three purposes of a faculty office and describe some of

the criteria or factors that support those purposes.
• A place to prepare instruction and evaluate the results of that instruction.
• A sanctuary where you can think, mentally prepare for or recover from the
frenetic pace of the teaching life.
• A meeting place to confer with your students—one-on-one or in small groups.

Mostly, the office has to be a good fit for the teacher’s personal style—way of
working, reflecting and conferencing with students. The more comfortable the
setting, the more likely the teacher will spend productive and enjoyable time in the
office. Two additional results—less work to take home and more availability for

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 39

7. Discuss the two major challenges faculty face with textbooks—
the effects of the “buy-back market” and promoting active
Reselling used textbooks deprives publishers of operating capital to invest in
developing learning resources with the necessary, but expensive, features that
help students learn. These books are also “used-up” because their owners must
often wade through the underlining, highlighting and annotations of the former
owner, depriving them of the opportunity to practice “active reading.”
Compounding the problem is the fact that some of the previous owners’ markings
are incorrect or misleading. As for promoting active reading, maybe professors
should teach students how to read in their discipline (along with reinforcing some
overlooked put powerful reading strategies any successful student would use).

40 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment


The Instructional
Unit 3: The Instructional Environment

Unit Competencies

The next environment we will examine is a little harder to define but is

often easier to influence. Welcome to the instructional environment.

Upon completion of Unit 3, you should be able to:

1. Define the instructional environment.

2. Identify the four subgroups of this environment.

3. Discuss strategies for enhancing each of the subgroups


Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 43


Within the instructional environment, the teacher communicates through

learning goals, pace of instruction, organization, instructional methods,
work ethics and written outcomes. The students enter into this
environment expecting that the teacher will be well organized and make
it clear to them what they are expected to learn. If we do not instruct in
a clear, organized fashion, or have clear learning outcomes and
expectations of our students, then we will be perceived as poor teachers
and the services we perform will be inadequate.

The instructional climate encompasses a wide variety of issues. For

ease of discussion we have broken this climate into four subgroups: the
management of a course, the content we teach in the course, the
delivery strategies and the reinforcement and monitoring of student
progress. Of course there are many areas where these overlap.

Again, consider the Law of Service:

Perception = OR > Expectation Satisfaction

because I PERCEIVE . . . and I EXPECTED . . . I FEEL . . .

• The course content will • Clear goals and specific SATISFIED

help me meet my for learning outcomes for
vocational goals the course
• I know the evaluation • Clear expectations–I
procedures to be know what I have to do
employed and the to succeed and how I
standards I must achieve will be evaluated
• The teacher has high • A knowledgeable,
standards and will put current and well-
systems in place to help organized instructor who
me achieve them can help me meet my

• I am not clear on the • Clear goals and specific DISSATISFIED

learning goals for this learning outcomes for the
course; I am not course
receiving adequate • Clear expectations–I
preparation know what I have to do
• I don’t know what I have to succeed and how I will
to do to succeed or I feel be evaluated
“the deck is stacked • A knowledgeable, current
against me” and well-organized
• The teacher is not instructor who can help
competent or has low me meet my goals
expectations of me

44 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Classroom Management

Your students need to understand certain operational policies and

specific expectations pertaining to your classes. Your expectations or
policies regarding attendance, punctuality and homework need to be
clearly communicated to the students. Students will model their
behavior after yours. Frequent cancellation of classes will not
encourage a good attendance record from your students. If you expect
students to be on time, you must ensure that you arrive before the
appointed time and stay until the end. If you expect students to
complete assignments on time, you must ensure that you return graded
assignments promptly. If you procrastinate, they will procrastinate. It is
not enough to talk the talk, you have to walk the talk.

There are many small but important things you can do to maintain a Getting
positive learning environment. For example, if your students know what
to call you and how you can be reached out of class, they are much started . . .
more likely to find you approachable. Most teachers agree on the
importance of learning their students’ names as early in the term as
possible. You may be finding this difficult to do as class sizes increase,
but it’s worth it to keep trying. The students feel recognized as
individuals and it gives you the opportunity to draw them out and
communicate respect.

There are some tried and true methods for learning your students’
names. You can call attendance at every meeting for the first few weeks
to help you associate names and faces. Some teachers ask students to
put their first names on the front and back of tent cards which sit in front
of them on the desktop. This way both you and the other students can
learn each other’s names. These cards can be collected after each
class and distributed again in the next one. It’s an easy way to do a fast
attendance check; any cards not distributed indicate absent students.

A more elaborate method, if numbers and time allow, is to play a “name

game” in the first or second class. One version is to have the students
say their names and something of interest about themselves, e.g., “I’m
George and I like to ski.” The next student follows suit and then repeats
the previous name(s), e.g., “I’m Sue from New York City and he’s
George and he likes to ski.” As this goes around, it gets harder, so you
need to allow people to supply good-natured reminders. Of course, as
the teacher, you volunteer to go last and have to name everyone in the

Most elaborate of all, but very efficient, is the practice of taking a

camera into class and asking the students, in groups of two or three, to
let you take their picture. Be sure they are holding a name card that can
clearly be read in the picture, and then you can create a “rogue’s
gallery” to consult whenever you need to.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 45

With the above suggestions in mind, here is a checklist of ideas
for you to consider to facilitate your classroom management
• Provide your office phone number, office location and office hours to students
on the first day of classes.
• Provide a small notepad on your office door so students can leave messages if
you are not in.
• Early in the term, have students fill out an index card with name, address,
telephone number, goals and other personal information you or they think is
• Get to know the students’ names promptly.
• Conduct a full instructional period on the first day of classes. This sets a
positive tone for the learning environment you are creating.
• Provide a course outline for each student on the first day of classes.
• Tell the students your attendance policy. Make them aware of your deep
concern for attendance and remind them periodically of the policy and the
• Insist that students contact you or the divisional secretary if they are going to
be absent for more than one class period.
• Explain clearly the students’ responsibilities for missed classes, exams, late
papers, etc.
• If you have to miss a class, explain why and what you will do to make up the
time and/or materials.
• Get to class before the students arrive and be the last one to leave.
• Distribute an outline of your lecture notes before class starts. This assists
students in organizing the material you are presenting and forces you to
present your material in an orderly manner.
• Start and end classes on time.
• Clarify and have students understand what is acceptable and unacceptable
behavior in the classroom. Be consistent in enforcing your rules.

Class Planning
Almost all effective teachers organize their classes, anticipating the
topics to be covered and the material they will present, including any
media. Whether you call it a “lesson plan” or a “class outline,” such
documentation improves the quality of the teaching-learning experience
for everyone involved. However, some teachers overlook two essential
elements of learning—tasks and time.

Lesson plans that neatly outline the teacher’s tasks are certainly a good
first step but overlook the student learner. Even minimal planning for
routine events such as student questions, collecting homework and
distributing handouts call our attention to our audience. But if our goal
is student-centered learning (a very big assumption!), then planning for
activities emphasizing learners should be included. For example, a
“minute paper,” a short cooperative group discussion of a question or
issue, a “practice” quiz, a brief debate—all these and more (covered in
Module 3—Selecting Teaching and Learning Strategies) shift the focus
and require documentation for a well executed class period. In fact,
documenting student-centered class activity frequently requires more
planning than outlining the teacher’s performance.

46 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Time is one of the most important variables in planning and student But at my back
success. First, different students learn (and perform) at different rates.
The sage advice has been to “teach to the middle.” But it doesn’t hurt I always hear
to have ready something additional for the quick and a strategy for
dealing with the slow. Second, time on task can vary for qualitative
reasons. A small group discussion may take longer than you planned Times winged
because the students are engaged and exploring the depths and chariot
nuances of the topic. Or it may take considerable time because student
group skills are weak. Conversely, a 10-minute group event may end hurrying near
after only five minutes because the students are especially skilled and
prepared or they have reached impasse.
To His Coy
Planning for time and tasks also helps you consider the variety and Mistress
reinforcement during a single class period. In any case, just the act of
preparing a concrete, visual document of what you plan to do during
class can trigger important reflection and insight, leading to more
effective coverage of content and student learning.
Andrew Marvell

Course Content
In today’s learner-centered environment, teachers frequently take the
role of coordinator of a variety of learning experiences in which they do
not take center stage. Effective teachers vary classroom presentation
with field trips, guest speakers, cooperative learning exercises in which
students work together to achieve learning outcomes, hands-on practice
and a variety of other strategies which are discussed in greater detail in
Module 3–Selecting Teaching and Learning Strategies. However,
at times when teachers do present course content in the traditional
lecture and class discussion format, several guidelines will make the
experience more rewarding for the students. Relevance
Effective teachers must have much more than expertise in the subject
is a key
matter of the course. While this is obviously essential, we must also consideration . . .
be able to show our students the relevance of the content. It is
important to demonstrate the significance of the subject matter to their
lives and to their chosen career path. Try to use numerous examples
and analogies to illustrate your key points. Use the students’ interests
and experiences to facilitate this process. Students come to class with
a wealth of their own life experiences which have helped to shape
their attitudes. You can highlight and incorporate these experiences
into the learning process to help students gain a sense of relevance
about their learning.

As you teach your subject matter, be sure to share with your students
the history or origin of what you are teaching. Whenever possible,
explain where and how the information was originally acquired and how
the information is related to other concepts. Clearly present the
patterns, themes and interrelationships between your subject matter
and other disciplines. Try to go beyond simply giving your students
information. Tell them how you acquired it and how you came to

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 47

understand the content. Give your students tips to help them remember
and comprehend the subject. Explain how you make use of this content.
If the students can see that you had to work to acquire and understand
the content, it creates a bond between you and the class as the
students realize you were once like them.

Provide the students with the opportunity to expand their thinking

beyond simple memorization. Entice their minds with notions of
judgment, assumptions, inferences, ambiguity and biases. Allow the
students to be exposed to various viewpoints or interpretations. Let
them see the significance of altered or omitted information. Push the
students to form their own opinions or judgments, and encourage them
to make a commitment to their informed opinions.

Modeling While we want to encourage our students to exercise their minds and
explore new ideas, we cannot let them lose sight of the course goals
a mind at and objectives. The learning outcomes of the course must be clearly
presented to the students.
work . . . Use this checklist to enhance the delivery of your course content:

• Use your background, experience and knowledge to interrelate your subject

matter with other academic disciplines. Show your students how things fit

• Show enthusiasm for your subject matter and for your students, passing on the
excitement you have for the course content.

• Be well prepared to discuss the topics scheduled for your class.

• Use examples that include the experiences and diversity of the students in
your class.

• Use as many different analogies and examples as possible to emphasize key


• Develop supplementary reading lists which complement course content.

• Place study guides and lecture notes in a file in the library and/or study skills

• Stress important topics, explain your rationale for choosing them and illustrate
their value.
• Stay on topic. Try not to follow too many tangents.

• Try to remain current and accurate in your content. Don’t be afraid to admit
that you may not know all the latest advances in the field. Ask students in the
class if they have read anything new which pertains to the topic being

• Discuss controversial issues. Take a controversial point of view. Stage a

carefully organized debate to make the class thought-provoking and to foster
critical thinking skills in the students.

• Point out practical applications of the concepts. Ask students to share their
practical experiences or applications of the content.

• Explain subject matter in familiar, colloquial language.

48 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Delivery Strategies
In our role as teachers, we must always remember some basic facts Variety is
about students:
• Students learn at different rates.
the spice of . . .
• Students’ abilities vary greatly.
• Students learn in different ways.
To be effective teachers, we must devise delivery strategies which
address these diversities. We need to be aware of the different learning
styles and the best teaching strategies for these styles. A variety of
learning strategies is discussed in Module 3–Selecting Teaching and
Learning Strategies.

When you present material in a lecture format, you must make every
effort to do so in an organized and logical fashion. The pace of
instruction should be appropriate. The students should be able to keep
up, but on the other hand, you don’t want anyone going to sleep! Be
sure that you have everyone’s complete attention before you begin the
class. Make it clear that you are not going to compete with or talk over
others in the class.

Try to make your voice loud and clear enough to be heard by all
students in the class. Although it’s not always easy, try to direct your
speech toward the class, not toward the blackboard. Use various voice
modulations. Frequently vary the volume, pitch and tone of your voice.
Let your voice demonstrate the excitement you have for your material.
Altering your voice can help to emphasize key points or to capture the
full attention of the class. Also, vary your choice of words and the
duration of your speech.

Often silence is the best communicator available. Silence after a

statement suggests the importance of that statement. Silence after a
student’s question suggests that you are considering the question and
formulating your answer. Silence after you ask a student a question
suggests patience and opportunity for student success.

Silence is often most effective when it is used concurrently with non-

Silence is
verbal physical cues. These cues can include movements of the head
(nods, shakes), movements of the hands such as pointing (you’re right), golden.
palms up (anything else), palm out (stop), circular motions (continue)
and index finger to lips (quiet).

Non-verbal cues can act as effective reinforcers. Physically moving

around the classroom and changing your posture provide some
animation to your class. Smiles, nods of approval and even applause–
all support student progress. Non-verbal cues can also be used as low-
profile interventions in the class. Moving physically closer to a student
who is not listening will refocus the student’s attention, and interjecting
a student’s name into a sentence will draw the student back to the task
at hand.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 49

While it is important to be physically animated during classroom
presentations, we need to be aware that certain mannerisms may be
distracting or disturbing to the class; jingling coins in a pocket, tapping
fingers on a desk, frequent “ums and ahs,” sighing or constant pacing
are all examples of these behaviors. Sometimes our mannerisms or
habits are so ingrained that we are not even aware of them. Many
teachers have found it helpful to videotape one of their own classes and
review it privately as a self-critique. Give it a try. You may be surprised
to see what the students see!

Use this checklist to facilitate your delivery strategies:

Productive • Vary your instructional techniques–lecture, discussion, debate, small groups.
Present case studies to spark interest in course content.
possibilities . . . • Incorporate appropriate audiovisual aids as much as possible.

• Be prepared to use an alternate approach if the one you’ve chosen is not

working. Once you have gained enough confidence in presenting your
material, you will be able to alter the format of your instruction to suit the needs
of your diverse student groups.

• Always remember that an approach which works well with one group may not
work with another. Each class generates its own “personality” and leadership.

• Create opportunities for student leaders to emerge in class. Use these

leadership skills to improve student performance.

• Encourage students to report their experience if they have used support

services such as peer tutoring, counseling, placement, etc.

• Use small group discussions in class whenever feasible.

• Identify a goal to be achieved through the discussion and assign specific roles
to each member of the group to increase accountability and participation.

• Engage in periodic (bi-weekly) self-evaluation of each class. What was

accomplished? How did students react? Random student evaluations could
also be used.

• Set up special tutoring sessions and extra classes. Specifically invite students
who are doing poorly and explain to them the benefits of these sessions.

• When presenting, try not to speak constantly; allow for periods of silence to let
students digest ideas and to check comprehension.

• Keep students alert by moving around in the classroom: don’t sit on the desk
or constantly hide behind the podium.

• Make use of non-verbal cues to strengthen communication: eye contact, facial

expression, gestures, postures, tone of voice.

• Become aware of and try to reduce any annoying mannerisms.

• Consider making a videotape of yourself presenting to your class. An

opportunity to analyze yourself “in action” can be very revealing.

50 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Reinforcement and Monitoring of Student
Another vital component of the instructional environment is the feedback We need to
that we give to students. We need to monitor student progress
consistently and reinforce learning that has occurred. An initial step monitor
toward this goal may be to assess students’ skills and knowledge before
beginning instruction. If we find out what the students already know, we student progress
will be in a better position to set goals and evaluate progress throughout
the course. consistently and
Formal monitoring of student progress is usually achieved by tests and reinforce learning
assignments. By offering these opportunities frequently, we can clearly
map the student’s development, allowing both the student and the that has occurred.
teacher to identify potential weak areas before too much time has
passed. We can then offer remediation options to assist students in
these weak areas while reinforcing their strengths. It is important to
ensure the students understand that the testing conducted is criterion-
referenced, not norm-referenced. That is, the students will be evaluated
against a set of clearly outlined expectations, not against each other.
We should regularly reinforce the idea that all students are capable of
achieving an “A” grade in our class if they choose to work toward that

It is important to grade tests and assignments promptly, and hand them

back as soon as possible for the most effective feedback. Also, we can
encourage students to acknowledge the problems which we identify in
evaluating their work. Consider having them resubmit their corrected
work, and discuss difficulties and corrections with the students.

Informal monitoring of student achievement can be achieved daily by

asking frequent questions of the students. This will allow early
recognition of confusion and facilitate early intervention. Through skillful
questioning, we can encourage the students to think and apply the
knowledge they have gained. Ask questions frequently and allow ample
time for the students to work out their answers. It is important to show
patience when asking questions by pausing after posing the question. If
we always jump in with an answer, the students will know that they do
not really need to answer our questions themselves.

Avoid asking students close-ended questions such as “Does everyone Any questions?
understand?” or “Have I made myself clear?” or “Are there any
questions?” These questions are simply perceived as teacher rituals
by the students and they know that no answer is required. Replace
your temptation to ask these broad questions with more focused
questions which will really tell you what learning has occurred.
Questions such as “What is your understanding of . . . ?” or “How
would you evaluate . . . ?” or “Why was . . . included in the lecture?”
will allow you a better interpretation of student progress. When
students question you, encourage them to ask precise questions. Avoid
being drawn into statements such as “I don’t understand Chapter 20.”
Instead, ask them to explain to you what they do understand, or what

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 51

they think something means, so that you have a starting place for your
answers. A more detailed discussion of questioning techniques appears
in Module 3– Selecting Teaching and Learning Strategies.

Use the following checklist to enhance your reinforcement and

monitoring of student progress.

• Conduct a personal conference with each student sometime during the


• Provide some means to establish quick, positive reinforcement of students

within the first few class periods.

• Devise the first test of the semester to cover a small, manageable unit.

• Where appropriate, use a pre-test to determine student knowledge,

background and expertise.

• Throughout the course, but especially during the first few classes, stress a
positive “you can handle it” attitude.

• Be sure your tests cover the most important aspects of the unit and course.
Explain your philosophy and purpose of testing.

• Advise students how to prepare for tests or exams.

• Provide sample test questions prior to testing so students know what to expect.

• Ensure that your grading is impartial and follows the course outline.

• Return tests as soon as possible. Include written comments as often as

possible. If you can, find something encouraging to say. Comments such as
“much improved” or “keep up the good work” let the students know you are
monitoring their progress.

• Instead of returning tests and quizzes in class, ask students to drop by your
office to pick them up. This presents an opportunity to talk informally with
students about their progress.

• Ask students to evaluate your test, either at the end of the test or during the
next class.

• Ask regularly for short verbal or written responses from the students to check
their understanding of key concepts and get feedback on your effectiveness in
teaching the material.

• Look at your record book periodically to determine student progress and

discuss this with them.

• Help the students feel free to ask questions. When you answer a student’s
question, be sure he or she understands your answer.

• Give a respectful answer to any question a student may ask.

• Ask thought-provoking, open-ended questions in class.

• Respond to questions with related questions to stimulate responses and

expand critical-thinking skills.

52 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Self-Test: Module 1-Unit 3

1. Name and briefly outline four broad areas which help to organize
the instructional environment.

2. In each of the four categories, think of at least five things you

could do to enhance the instructional environment for your





Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 53

Personal Reflection and Workshop Preparation

1. Look over your current syllabus and course outline (which may
be included in the syllabus). In light of the discussion in the first
three units of this module, what policies, procedures and
philosophy could you add to increase student awareness now
and reduce repetition later?

2. As you look over your syllabus, can you identify specific class
sessions that require a detailed lesson plan, taking into account
tasks and time?

3. How will you begin your course–the first five minutes, the first
class session, the first weeks?

4. How will you conclude your course–the last few weeks, the last
class period, the final exam session?

Did Your Responses Match Ours?

1. Name and briefly outline four broad areas which help to organize
the instructional environment.

The instructional climate encompasses a wide variety of issues. For ease of

discussion we have broken this climate into four subgroups: the management of a
course, the content we teach in a course, the delivery strategies we choose, and
the reinforcement and monitoring of student progress.

2. In each of the four categories, think of at least five things you

could do to enhance the instructional environment for your

See checklists on pp. 46-52.

54 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment


The Psychological
Unit 4: The Psychological

Unit Competencies

The psychological environment is the most challenging of the three

environments and is certainly the most subjective in nature. This
environment is full of subtleties, and the smallest of factors can make
significant differences in your students’ ability to learn.

Upon completion of Unit 4, you should be able to:

1. Identify teacher characteristics which help to initiate or nurture a

student’s desire to learn.

2. Identify the three components of student support in the

psychological environment.

3. For each component, list examples of teachers’ actions which

encourage or enhance the student learning experience.

4. Explain learned helplessness as it applies to education.

5. Differentiate between an internal locus of control and an external

locus of control. Explain how this personality variable influences
student success.

6. Discuss how positive reinforcement contributes to student


Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 57


Most students Within the psychological environment, teachers communicate through

their attitudes, enthusiasm, values and ethics. Most students enter into
the educational process expecting their learning will be encouraged and
enter into the facilitated. The psychological environment contributes to perceptions
surrounding freedom to express ideas, opinions and attitudes, to ask
educational questions and to explore issues in the classroom.

process expecting Through the psychological environment, teachers can reflect their
interest in students and enthusiasm for their subject and for teaching.
their learning will Students who encounter these positive reflections are more likely to
perceive the learning environment as one where they are safe to be
be encouraged themselves and to stretch their minds. If students perceive the learning
environment as falling short of their expectations, their satisfaction with
and facilitated. the learning experience will be reduced, and their likelihood of success
may suffer as a result.

Again, consider the Law of Service:

Perception = OR > Expectation Satisfaction

because I PERCEIVE . . . and I EXPECTED . . . I FEEL . . .

• I am free to express my • An open, welcoming, SATISFIED

ideas in an atmosphere non-threatening, risk-free
of mutual respect atmosphere in which to
• I am free to question and learn
to hold a dissenting
• I am acknowledged as an
individual and
encouraged and assisted
to meet my goals
• An open, welcoming,
• I am shut out from full non-threatening, risk-free DISSATISFIED
and equal participation in atmosphere in which to
the classroom because of learn
my gender, race or other
physical attributes
• I am not free to question
and to hold a dissenting
opinion, without fear of
humiliation or ridicule
• I am not acknowledged
as an individual or
encouraged and assisted
to meet my goals

58 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Students enroll in college for a variety of reasons. Some students are
pursuing career choices, others regard this as the next step in their
educational goals, and a few students enroll because of family or peer
pressure. More and more students are attending college because they
simply don’t know what else to do with their lives, as employment
opportunities are not readily available. Regardless of their motivation,
most students will come to college with fears and uncertainty. Students Some students
fear academic failure (“Am I going to pass?”) and they worry about peer
acceptance (“Am I going to fit in?”). Some students are nervous about associate higher
asking or answering questions in class for fear of looking “stupid.” For
similar reasons, some students are also very tentative to express their education with
opinions or ideas. As teachers, it is our job not only to deliver the
content of a course, but also to provide an environment that will nurture high anxiety.
our students’ desire to learn, develop new skills and encourage a
willingness to risk in a psychologically safe environment.

How do you think your students would rate your skills at initiating or
nurturing their desire to learn? Imagine you are a student in your own
class and use this check list to see how you are doing!

The teacher:

Yes No
■ ■ believes in me.

■ ■ believes that I can succeed.

■ ■ shows concern for me as a student and as a person.

■ ■ respects me.

■ ■ is energetic and enthusiastic about what he or she teaches and

about teaching itself.

■ ■ values the learning process.

■ ■ allows me to speak in class without risk.

■ ■ never humiliates or demoralizes anyone in class.

■ ■ never calls attention to mistakes, teases or is sarcastic in class.

■ ■ encourages me to express my ideas or opinions even when I’m

not sure of them.

■ ■ uses humor which is non-threatening and appropriate.

■ ■ makes me want to learn more.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 59

How did you do? Remember, as a teacher you have great power to
influence your students’ behavior. You can produce the desired effect in
ATTEND, your student by modeling behavior which can be respected and
imitated. You can encourage your students to be accountable and
RESPOND, responsible by first demonstrating these traits yourself.

MODEL Get your students excited about learning by showing them that you are
excited about learning. Ask yourself: “Am I teaching anything of value
or interest to anyone today?” If the answer is no, then the students will
be asking “Will I miss anything if I’m not in class today?” Teachers are
often taken aback when students ask this question and wonder why
they would ask it. Perhaps we should look to ourselves for the answer.
How can we expect students to get excited about our content if we
cannot make it relevant to them or if we aren’t really excited ourselves?

We need to continually support our students in order to enhance and

encourage their learning experience. This support can be broken down
into three components: attending, responding and modeling. Here are
some suggestions for cultivating each of these areas:

To build an environment of support, instructors must first pay attention
to the class in a variety of ways:
• Give each student your attention.

• Don’t always call on the most capable student or your favorite.

• Learn and use your students’ names.

• Develop some knowledge of their interests.

• Pay attention to their questions or concerns.

• Practice positive non-verbal attending behaviors: making eye

contact, smiling, nodding encouragement.

Support is also measured by the type and appropriateness of
responses we give to our students after our careful attending.
• Monitor the quality of your response after attending; maintain good eye contact
and be aware of your facial expressions and gestures.

• Repeat and respond to student ideas so they know that what they say is

• Provide a thoughtful, unhurried response.

• Be conscious of your reaction to being “bothered” or interrupted.

60 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Instructors can be powerful models who can make it clear that what
happens in the classroom really matters.
• Be aware that students pattern their behavior on the role model you present.

• Demonstrate punctuality.

• Demonstrate organizational skills and preparedness.

• Set clear expectations.

• Demonstrate an enthusiasm for learning.

• Demonstrate responsibility and accountability.

• Demonstrate fairness and equity.


The greatest compliment that was ever paid

me was when one asked me what I thought,
and attended to my answer.
Henry David Thoreau

Barriers to Student Success

Internal vs. External Locus of Control

Most teachers report that in nearly every group, a few students seem to
display self-defeating behaviors. They are frequently absent from class,
fail to buy or use the textbook, and regularly attend class unprepared.
In fact, it almost seems that these students do not make any connection
between how much effort they make and whether or not they are able
to succeed in meeting their learning goals. Most of us find these
students very frustrating to work with and wonder what we can do to
motivate them to try harder.

Rotter (1966, 1971) identified a personality variable, “locus of control,”

which refers to whether people consider themselves responsible for
what happens to their lives (internals) or attribute these events to luck,
chance, powerful people or forces outside of themselves (externals).
Not surprisingly, research evidence suggests that an internal “locus of
control” is much more likely to result in academic success, whereas
“externals” do not seem to make much connection between effort and
likelihood of success.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 61

Why do students
act the way Students who have an external “locus of control” are more likely to
display these tendencies:
they do? • Reduced self-esteem

• Apathy

• Less initiative and self-reliance

• Higher incidence of self-defeating behavior

• Higher levels of anxiety and depression

• Lower achievement levels

• Tendency to attribute success or failure to luck, fate or “whether the

teacher likes me”

As college teachers, most of us are “internals” by nature or by

experience. We have come to realize that our efforts are usually
rewarded by some degree of success. So we find students who display
an external “locus of control” hard to deal with. We wonder why they
pay good money to come to college and then appear to be unwilling or
unable to put out the effort necessary to succeed.


As a group, students who have an internal “locus of control” are

more likely to display these tendencies:

• Heightened self-esteem

• Independence

• Realistic goal setting

• Flexibility and openness to new learning

• Self-reliance

• More initiative and effort in controlling their environment

• Less anxiety

• Greater academic success

• Higher levels of interest in intellectual achievement

• Increased tendency to attribute success or failure to their own efforts

or to things they can change

62 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Learned Helplessness

The theory of “learned helplessness” provides at least a partial “I can’t help

explanation of how locus of control develops. The profound implications
of feelings of helplessness to control our environment were it . . . that’s just
demonstrated by the work of Seligman (l975). In his experiments,
laboratory animals were exposed to painful stimuli from which they the way I am.”
could not escape. Typically, after a period of vigorous struggle, the
“trapped” animals gave up and submitted passively to the pain.

What was even more striking was that when the barriers were removed
and the animals were free to escape, they did not move and had to be
coaxed, and in some cases bodily removed, from the source of their
discomfort. It seemed that the animals were acting a lot like depressed
people do when they feel that nothing they can do will make any
difference to the outcome, so why try.


1. Do you believe that most problems will solve themselves if you just don’t fool
with them?

2. Do you believe that whether or not people like you depends on how
you act?

3. Do you believe that if someone works or studies hard enough, he or

she can succeed in just about anything?

4. Do you feel that if things start out well in the morning that it’s going to be a
good day, no matter what you do?

5. Do you feel that when you make a mistake or do something wrong,

there is very little you can do to make it right?

6. Are you the kind of person who believes that planning ahead makes
things turn out better?
7. Are some people just born lucky?

8. Do you feel that the best way to handle most problems is just not to
think about them?

9. Do you feel that when good things happen, they happen because of
hard work?

10. Do you believe that when bad things are going to happen, they are
just going to happen, no matter what you might do to stop them?

11. Do you feel that if someone doesn’t like you, there’s little you can do about

12. Do you think it’s better to be smart than to be lucky?

Items 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10 and 11 indicate an external locus of control.

Items 2, 3, 6, 9 and 12 indicate an internal locus of control.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 63

Seligman concluded that when people or animals repeatedly encounter
situations in which they perceive the outcome not to be affected by
What can anything they do, significant changes in behavior can be observed.
These behavioral changes occur in three areas which have obvious
teachers do implications for education:

to help? • Impaired motivation to respond to positive encouragement

• Impaired ability to learn new behaviors

• Emotional disturbance

Helping Our Students to Reduce Feelings of

Helplessness and Take Control of Their Learning
“Locus of control” seems to be a personality variable that is relatively
resistant to change once a person has attained young adulthood. There
is evidence, however, that some behaviors that are typical of external
“locus of control” can be positively affected by learning environments
which consistently reward students who gradually take on more
responsibility for their own learning successes. Early identification of
this group of “high-risk” students may help us to intervene early enough
in the semester to avoid the inevitable failures that accompany self-
defeating attributions. Here are some strategies worth considering:

Create early opportunities for success

• Try giving a quiz in the first two weeks (perhaps covering details of your course
outline or evaluation guidelines) on which everyone can succeed. You can
include sample questions which mirror the sort they will face on a “real” test.

• Give student practice quizzes which don’t count for grades, or include “self-
tests” as part of homework assignments so students can practice on their own
without losing grades.

Teach to the strengths of the group

• Encourage students to contribute their own examples and expertise to
elaborate on the concepts being taught.

• Consider a contract grading scheme which allows students some say on what
grade they want to shoot for, and what they have to do to achieve it.

• Where appropriate, involve students in choosing their own topics for

discussion/papers, so that they can focus on areas of particular interest.

Develop “collaborative learning” opportunities

• Create group tasks where each individual has a clearly defined role, and group
success depends on the contributions of each member.

• Have students collaborate to develop test questions, and use the best ones.

64 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Increase motivation, and reduce the risks associated with failure
• Develop “user-friendly” review programs and drills in the form of computer

• Try games such as “Jeopardy” or “Trivial Pursuit” to review course content.

• Write encouraging comments on students’ work, particularly if you can

acknowledge improvement. (Some students have never had a teacher say
anything nice about their work.)

Reward desirable behaviors instead of punishing undesirable ones

• If you want students to arrive on time and stay to the end, be sure you model
those behaviors yourself. Starting on time, and NOT stopping to review for the
latecomers, rewards students who are punctual.

• Consider rewarding good attendance instead of punishing poor attendance.

• Never embarrass or humiliate a student in front of his or her peers. If behavior

is unacceptable, speak to the student alone.

Dealing With Classroom Behaviors

Some familiar
We have all encountered student behavior which has been
disruptive or frustrating in the classroom. Every teacher employs problems . . .
various strategies to minimize the effect these behaviors have on
the rest of the class. These strategies must tread the delicate balance
between addressing the problem presented and being sensitive to the
and some
student causing the problem. Students who are embarrassed or
humiliated are unlikely to develop more positive attitudes and behaviors.
At the same time, other students may become nervous that you will
embarrass or humiliate them in the future. These situations must be
handled sensitively, never losing sight of the positive environment we
are trying to create.

The following is a short compendium of behaviors you are likely to

experience from time to time in your class and some suggestions of
coping strategies.


OVERLY TALKATIVE This person seems to be • Resist the temptation to

eager to show off how use sarcasm to
much he knows. He may embarrass this kind of
be exceptionally well student into silence.
informed and anxious to • Try slowing this person
show it . . . or just naturally down with reflective
wordy. questions.
• Interrupt with “That’s an
interesting point, now let’s
see what the group thinks
of . . . “
• In general, let the group
take care of this type as
much as possible.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 65


HIGHLY This person seems to • Resist the temptation to

ARGUMENTATIVE display a combative use sarcasm to
personality and, at times, embarrass this kind of
makes rude comments. student into silence.
This person may be • Try slowing this person
normally good-natured but down with reflective
upset by personal or job questions.
problems. • Interrupt with “That’s an
interesting point, now let’s
see what the group thinks
of . . .”
• In general, let the group
take care of this type as
much as possible.

QUICK TO RESPOND This person is really trying • Cut across this type
to help, but actually this tactfully by questioning
behavior makes it difficult others.
by keeping others out. • Thank the person, then
suggest “we put others to
• Use this person for

RAMBLER These students talk about • When this type stops for
everything except the a breath, thank them,
subject at hand. They use refocus their attention by
farfetched analogies and restating the relevant
get lost in insignificant points, and move on.
details. • Grin, tell this person their
point is interesting and in
a friendly manner
indicate “we are a bit off
the subject.”
• As a last resort: glance at
your watch.

PERSONALITY CLASH Two or more members • Emphasize points of

clash. This situation can agreement; minimize
divide your group into points of disagreement.
factions. • Draw attention to the
goals of the class.
• Bring another person into
the conversation.

COMMENTS THAT MISS This person is NOT on • Take blame: “Something I

THE POINT track for some reason. His said must have led you
remarks are just off base. off the topic; this is what
we should be
• Restate the point.

66 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment


SIDE CONVERSATION This person starts another • Don’t embarrass the

conversation. It may be student(s) involved.
related to the subject, but it • Call one of them by
is distracting the other name, then restate the
members of the group and last opinion expressed
you. and ask his opinion of it.
• If possible, walk over and
stand casually behind the
members who are talking.
Say, “Let’s have one
discussion please.”

MISINFORMED This person comes up with • Say, “I can see how you
a comment that is feel” or “That’s one way
obviously incorrect. of looking at it, but
research shows . . .”
• Say, “I can see your
point, but can we
reconcile that with the
true situation?”
• This must be handled

OBSTINATE This person won’t budge • Open his/her view to the

or seems to be locked into group; have group
one viewpoint. This type members help.
doesn’t seem to • Remind the group that
acknowledge your time is short, you’ll be
comments or those of glad to discuss it later.
• Acknowledge differing
others in the group.

GRIPER This person seems to have • Listen to the point, but

a pet peeve or perhaps he don’t lead this person to
has a legitimate complaint. expect that you or the
other members of the
group will be able to
solve the problem.
• Indicate you’ll discuss the
problem privately later. If
it continues, have
another member of the
class respond.

THE SILENT This person seems bored • Your action will depend
STUDENT or indifferent. Such upon what you think is
students appear to feel motivating this person.
• If this is the “superior”
superior, but perhaps they
type, ask for his or her
feel timid or insecure. view after indicating
respect for experience.
Don’t overdo this. The
group will resent it.
• If the timid won’t talk,
create opportunities for
them to express their
views in small groups
(less intimidating).
• Compliment them
sincerely the first time
they do.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 67

The Mysteries of Motivation
If we could just What motivates students to succeed? Why are some students so much
more highly motivated than others? Can anyone really motivate anyone
encourage them else, or is it strictly a do-it-yourself project? Most teachers ask these
kinds of questions continually and the answers vary greatly from one
to make a greater viewpoint to another. Some teachers take the position that it is their job
to come to the classroom well prepared and teach as well as they can,
effort . . . but the problem of motivation to learn belongs to the student. These
teachers may feel there is nothing they can or should try to do about it.

We take the view that teachers can and should concern themselves
with student motivation. We can “set the conditions for success” in our
classroom which combine to create a positive climate for learning.
That’s what this module has been all about.

Motivational Nutrients

People who study human behavior tell us that there are two major
conditions that act as motivators of voluntary behavior:

• People are likely to act in ways that make good things happen for them.

• People will also voluntarily engage in behaviors that make bad things stop

Either of these two conditions will act as reinforcers, but they don’t have
the same degree of satisfaction attached to them, and they aren’t as
likely to contribute to that positive state of “internality” that we discussed
earlier in this module. Let’s take the first situation:

“Good things happening” can be thought of as “positive wins.”

Where do you stand on the question of whether
it is possible to motivate another person?

68 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment


. . . make a sale . . . come up with a . . . study hard for a test

good idea


. . . you get a bonus . . . you feel satisfied . . . you achieve an


POSITIVE WINS are called

. . . rewards, carrots . . . affirmations . . . pats on the back,


In the second case, “avoiding bad things happening” can be thought of

as “negative wins.”


exists or is threatening,

. . . you have a headache . . . you feel unprepared for . . . the family is not
an exam cooperating


. . . take an aspirin . . . stay away on test day . . . tell them “shape

up, or else!”


. . . the headache stops . . . you’ve postponed the . . . the family is

“moment of truth” more helpful, but
(yet still feel anxiety) only temporarily

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 69

Of course, the outcome of all this is that you feel better. It’s easy
to see, however, that the quality of the good feeling is very different with
the positive wins, than with the negative ones. Both conditions will result
in “motivation,” but in the first case, students want to recreate whatever
behavior resulted in a positive win because they feel empowered,
affirmed and “in charge of their own fate.” They can be proud of their
achievements because they didn’t have to compromise themselves to
achieve them.

Negative wins also motivate, not because people really want to behave
the way they do, but because they want the unpleasant condition to
stop. Many students don’t particularly enjoy the solutions they come
up with, and they may be quite troubled and self-critical about the
ways they are letting themselves down. So although they may feel
temporarily relieved, they don’t really feel good and their self-esteem
takes a beating.

The Teacher as Motivator

So what has all this got to do with you? Well, the point is that you have
a great deal of control over whether your classroom is going to be a
place where students are motivated to make good things happen for
themselves, or one where most of the energy goes into trying to avoid
negative consequences. You can motivate by setting clear and
reachable goals and encouraging success, or by instilling a fear of
failure. You can tell them, “Everyone in here can potentially get an A,” or
“Don’t make too many friends in here, because half of you will be gone
by midterm.”

You can operate on the Darwinian theory of “educate the best and
shoot the rest,” or you can regard each student as having potential,
which perhaps you will be in a position to unlock and help to flower.

We hope that this unit has provided you with some useful suggestions
for creating and maintaining a positive classroom environment. We think
that your students will have more success and more fun learning in this
kind of atmosphere, and so will you.

70 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Self-Test: Module 1-Unit 4

1. As teachers, it is our job not only to deliver the content of a

course, but also to provide an environment that will nurture our
students’ desire to learn and develop new skills. What are some
of the general teacher behaviors that nurture this positive

2. Support for students can be expressed in three groups of

behaviors: attending, responding and modeling. Explain the
significance of each term and describe some positive teacher
behaviors in each of these three categories.

Attending: _________________________________________


Responding: _______________________________________


Modeling: _______________________________________


Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 71

3. How does the theory of “learned helplessness” connect to and
explain how someone might develop an internal or external
locus of control?

4. Discuss at least five strategies that could help students reduce

feelings of helplessness and take control of their learning.

5. Explain how “positive wins” (reinforcers) and “negative wins”

(negative reinforcers) affect student motivation differently.

Personal Reflection and Workshop Preparation

1. “Learned helplessness” seems to cause two radically different

student behaviors–either flight or fight. Which has been more
common in your experience? Do you think a brief classroom
discussion of “fight or flight” might help?

2. Obviously, there is a direct and dramatic correlation between

attendance and success in a course. If some students can
achieve perfect attendance, what commonplace as well as
somewhat radical strategies might encourage and support that
lofty goal?

3. Even if students have not mastered productive behaviors and

attitudes in their secondary schooling, can you justify the time
and effort away from the content of your course to address
these issues? Why?

72 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Did Your Responses Match Ours?

1. As teachers, it is our job not only to deliver the content of a

course, but also to provide an environment that will nurture our
students’ desire to learn and develop new skills. What are some
of the general teacher behaviors that nurture this positive
Refer to the checklist on p. 59.

2. Support for students can be expressed in three groups of

behaviors: attending, responding and modeling. Explain the
significance of each term and describe some positive teacher
behaviors in each of these three categories.
Attending: Build an environment of support by paying attention to individuals and
to the group.

• Give each student your attention.

• Don’t always call on the most capable student or your favorite.
• Learn and use your students’ names.
• Develop some knowledge of their interests.
• Pay attention to their questions or concerns.
• Practice positive non-verbal attending behaviors: making eye contact,
smiling, nodding encouragement.

Responding: Support is also measured by the appropriateness of the verbal and

non-verbal feedback we give to our students after our careful attending.

• Monitor the quality of your response after attending; maintain good eye
contact and be aware of your facial expressions and gestures.
• Repeat and respond to student ideas so they know that what they say is
• Provide a thoughtful, unhurried response.
• Be conscious of your reaction to being “bothered” or interrupted.

Modeling: Instructors can be powerful models who can make it clear that what
happens in the classroom really matters.

• Be aware that students pattern their behavior on the role

model you present.
• Demonstrate punctuality.
• Demonstrate organizational skills and preparedness.
• Set clear expectations.
• Demonstrate an enthusiasm for learning.
• Demonstrate responsibility and accountability.
• Demonstrate fairness and equity.

3. How does the theory of “learned helplessness” connect to and

explain how someone might develop an internal or external
locus of control?

People who have learned early on in their lives that there is little connection
between their behavior (“being good”) and the consequences they experience are
more likely in adulthood to attribute control over their lives to luck, chance,
powerful people or forces outside of themselves (pp. 61-63).

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 73

4. Discuss at least five strategies that could help students reduce
feelings of helplessness and take control of their learning.
• Create early opportunities for success.
• Teach to the strengths of the group.
• Develop “collaborative learning” opportunities.
• Increase motivation, and reduce the risks associated with
• Reward desirable behaviors instead of punishing undesirable ones.

5. Explain how “positive wins” (reinforcers) and “negative wins”

(negative reinforcers) affect student motivation differently.

Both conditions will result in “motivation,” but in the first case, students want to
recreate whatever behavior resulted in a positive win because they feel
empowered, affirmed and “in charge of their own fate.” Negative wins also
motivate, not because people really want to behave the way they do, but because
they want the unpleasant condition to stop. Many students don’t particularly enjoy
the solutions they come up with, and they may be quite troubled and self-critical
about the ways they are letting themselves down. So although they may feel
temporarily relieved, they don’t really feel good, and their self-esteem takes a
beating (pp. 65-67).

74 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment


The Challenge
of Diversity
Unit 5: The Challenge of Diversity

Unit Competencies

Upon completion of Unit 5, you should be able to:

1. Describe and explain the potential impact on the learning

environment of a range of variables related to student
diversity, specifically:

• Personal bias

• Students’ academic level

• Language/dialect

• Gender

• Age

• Physical disabilities

• Learning disabilities

• Learning styles

• Class/culture/socioeconomic status

• Reasons for coming to college

• Ethnicity

2. Compare the issues raised above to your personal experiences

with your own students.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 77


How can I ensure Any college teacher is aware of the enormous diversity of needs
represented by the students in today’s college classrooms. The range of
that each and clients to whom college educators hold themselves responsible
every one of my • Recent high school graduates preparing for their first entry into the labor
students has an • Fully employed workers who require retraining or upgrading.

equal opportunity • The under skilled, high school dropouts or others who need another
opportunity to develop viable work skills.

to succeed in • The under-serviced adults of all ages who have previously been denied access
to equal opportunity, including students with special needs, visible minorities,
students with disabilities, displaced workers, etc.
the learning • Transfer students who require a stepping stone from high school to university.

environment • A host of adults of all ages, particularly the elderly, who look to their community
college as a source of affordable avocational and recreational programs.

I create? In addition, our students represent diversity in gender, ethnicity, class,

culture, religion, sexual orientation, abilities, age and learning styles.

Our students frequently look different than we do. But diversity issues
also lie below the level of surface appearances. In many cases, their life
experiences have been different from ours and so have their learning
experiences. They come with a range of learning styles and
assumptions about learning.

It is easy for us, as teachers, to fall into the trap of assuming that our
approach, our learning style and way of interpreting reality are the
norm. Of course, these biases, which may be completely unintentional,
can greatly influence the way we create learning environments and
assess our students’ learning–the words we choose, the examples we
present, the learning activities we design and the evaluation tools and
processes we adopt.

For example, when student responses to our test questions take us by

surprise, we need to examine our evaluation instruments and practices
to see if they may inadvertently be working against the success of a
particular individual or group of students.

78 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment


“Bias is an attitude or prejudgment about specific groups of people, Each student has
practices or things, usually in favor of those familiar to us, as opposed
to those which are unfamiliar. Due to an imbalance of a power
relationship, bias results in the unfair treatment of an individual because
a right to receive
of his or her identity” (Wells, 1994).
a fair, unbiased
For some of our students:
assessment of
• Materials or references we routinely use in class may be offensive.

• Participatory learning activities that we design may be unfamiliar and, perhaps,

his or her
uncomfortable for some of our students.

• References to “common” objects or ideas may be unfamiliar. (If the object or

idea is part of the material to be learned, it needs to be specifically taught.)

• Assessment items may represent one group, learning style or “test-taking

style” to the exclusion of others.

• Examples we use in class may reflect stereotypes.

If individuals are unfamiliar with, or offended by, the vocabulary and

ideas discussed in class, it will be more difficult for them to demonstrate
their abilities or their knowledge. By carefully considering the words and
examples we select, teachers can maintain fair and equitable content
when developing evaluations.

Many students are not familiar with teaching practices, cooperative

learning activities or evaluation methods that we take for granted as
part of our repertoire. Many factors seem to affect their experience,
including age, gender, when and in what language they were taught and
the culture in which they gained their educational experience.

As conscientious teachers, we need to become aware of our own

assumptions and guard against acting out our own biases, not only in
teaching but in assessing our students’ learning. The following are
some of the variables that can affect our students’ success in
participating in and demonstrating their mastery of the subject matter
we teach.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 79

Academic Level

How can I be sure We are all familiar with the tremendous range of academic skill levels
represented in our classes. Students in any one group may range all
that I’m being the way from those with a university degree to those with less than
Grade 12 graduation. Some students’ literacy and numeracy skills are
definitely below the level required to succeed in college courses.
fair to the
Meeting the needs of this diverse group is an ongoing challenge for
students who have college teachers. Do we direct our efforts to the least able students in
our group, perhaps insulting the university-educated? Do we address
difficulty with the the more highly educated, leaving those with only minimal Grade 12
skills behind? Do we have different standards of evaluation for these
English different groups? Different expectations?

language? Clearly, the design of learning environments is complicated by the

diversity of ability among students. If learning outcomes must describe
the desired exit abilities of students who have completed the course of
study, it follows that assessment must be keyed to demonstrable
evidences of achievement of learning outcomes, so that ALL students
will have clear benchmarks to work toward. Teachers should review the
language of instruction and assessment to ensure that non-content-
related language is at an appropriate level.

Language / Dialect

Difficulty using English (whether the difficulty is in the receptive,

expressive or written domain) is experienced by a larger proportion of
our students than ever before. Language barriers create many
challenges for students in the classroom, in the lab, in computer-
assisted learning and in the field.

Many students have gone through English as a Second Language

(ESL) classes at the secondary level without gaining proficiency in
English. Real gaps can exist between what a student knows and his or
her ability to communicate that knowledge in a learning situation.

ESL students typically have a narrower range of experience with

different varieties of learning activities than English-speaking students
have. Be aware of the ways in which instruction and assessment may
discriminate against the students with language barriers. Clearly, if we
teach or test in only one style, we will reward those students who are
comfortable with that particular method and discriminate against those
who are not. When it comes time to evaluate learning, our tests will not
be valid measures of the range of abilities represented. See Module 7–
Evaluation Tools and Processes for specific strategies.

80 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Are men and
The issue here is one of comfort with the classroom atmosphere and
self-confidence in situations where students are being asked to women regarded
participate in learning activities and demonstrate what they know.

Women in non-traditional programs or men in feminist-oriented

differently in
courses of study may be made uncomfortable by expressed or covert
negative attitudes based on gender. learning
The language or examples used in classroom discussion or assessment situations?
instruments may represent the experience of men and women
Do they respond
Particularly where a degree of subjectivity enters into evaluation of
student achievement, teachers need to be particularly introspective differently?
and aware of the different expectations they may have of men
and women students.


Cross (1988) suggests that older adult students may have slower
reaction times, therefore slowing down the learning process. On
the other hand, older students may have the advantages of clearer
educational goals, higher levels of inner motivation and broader
life experience.

Learning activities and assessment procedures which are time-

pressured may discriminate against older adults. Sometimes, time-
limited tests interfere with a student’s ability to demonstrate content
mastery and end up evaluating skills that are not part of the learning

Furthermore, younger students may have a better handle on how to

respond in different kinds of learning situations. Students under the age
of 25 report having a wider range of educational experience with all
kinds of learning formats than their older peers (Wells, 1994).

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 81

Students With Physical Disabilities

How can I be Any significant impairment of vision, hearing and/or mobility, however
minimal, may affect a student’s ability to learn and/or be evaluated.
more helpful to Other physical conditions (epilepsy, asthma, etc.) may not be readily
apparent to the teacher, but may interfere with a student’s ability to
participate in learning activities or demonstrate mastery of course
my students with learning outcomes.

special needs? Conversely, when a physically challenged student enters our class, it is
important that we do not assume a barrier that may not exist. As
teachers, we need to enter into a partnership with the student and the
services for special needs within the institution (where available and
appropriate) to determine how best to assist the student to learn and to
be evaluated fairly.

In designing learning activities and evaluation procedures, it is important

that we separate what we are teaching or assessing (which is essential
to achieving the learning outcome) from how achievement is to be
measured. Our usual tools and processes may be inappropriate for the
physically challenged student. Learning outcomes which stipulate the
mode of achievement (when it is not critical) may disadvantage
students with special needs.

There are many alternative avenues now open for the teacher to work
with the physically challenged student. The teacher can collaborate with
the student and the Special Needs or Counseling Office to discover
what resources are available, and what seems practical, efficient and

In a few cases, there may be courses for which alternative learning

activities or types of assessment are not appropriate and would not
meet the core learning outcomes. Physically challenged students
interested in pursuing physically oriented courses–such as dance,
theater or athletics–should be assisted to identify courses which are
specifically oriented to meet their needs.

82 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Students With Learning Disabilities

Most students emerging from the secondary school system know So many of my
if they have been diagnosed as having a learning disability. The
enrollment process is designed to identify these students and students seem to
encourage them to come for extra help. Many students already know
how to help themselves.
have “invisible”
There is always a possibility that an older student does not know that
he or she has a learning disability. There are some common barriers to
manifestations of learning disabilities, and teachers need to seek out
help to become familiar with them. Teachers can then work with learning. How
services for students with special needs (if any) within the institution to
identify and provide adequate support for these students. can I ensure that
To create positive learning environments for students with special they have a fair
needs, it is essential to:

• Establish whether or not the student requires special accommodations.

opportunity to
• Learn about the alternatives that exist for designing instruction and evaluating
the student’s achievement.
• Design appropriate assessment strategies to allow the student to demonstrate
mastery of the learning outcomes without compromising course standards.

Diverse Learning Styles

Review of the literature (Kolb 1985, Myers 1980, et al.) indicates

that individuals and, in fact, some groups have unique learning styles.
Rodriguez (1991) and Smith (1989) indicate that these, too, may
influence the processes and outcomes of evaluation.

It is a truism that teachers tend to teach and assess in the ways that
worked best for them as students. Many of our students do not learn
best in the passive lecture mode that was the norm when we went to
school. As well, many paper and pencil forms of evaluation discriminate
against students with language difficulties and may not even be the best
measure of the desired learning outcomes. With this in mind, if possible,
find a variety of assessment procedures in order that each student has
a fair chance to succeed.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 83

Culture/Class/Socioeconomic Status

In today’s learning institutions, many students’ ancestors have their

origins in a different country and language than the one in which they
are now receiving instruction. How do our students identify themselves
with respect to culture, heritage or ethnic background? How does their
cultural background, and the social milieu in which they received their
education, influence their ability to demonstrate what they know?

An increasing number of our students completed their highest level

of education in another culture; the number is higher for part-time
and evening students.

Research indicates there is a relationship between the culture with

which students identify themselves and their experience with specific
learning environments and evaluation formats (Wells,1994). Some
cultural groups report having a wide range of experiences with various
evaluation formats, while others report limited exposure.

• Do our learning environments discriminate in favor of middle-class, locally

educated students?

• Does instruction contain language, examples and references that may be

unfamiliar to those who do not fit that description?

• Do we assume that all of our students understand what they have to do and
how they have to do it to meet the learning outcomes of our course? (For
example, research of high-school graduates’ understanding of the term
“plagiarism” revealed that many students thought that extensive reference to
“expert” sources–with or without acknowledgement–was the “proper” way to
write a paper.)

There may very well be circumstances where the cultural needs or

requirements of an individual clash with those of the established
culture. Each case will, perhaps, need to be examined individually
in hopes of achieving an acceptable solution.

84 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Diversity of “Intent”

Students vary widely in the motives and goals that bring them into post- Why do my
secondary education. Our students come to us for a range of
experiences to meet a variety of needs: students come to
• Post-secondary education (university transfer)
college? How will
• Post-secondary education (career program)

• Adult retraining these different

• Career decision-making

• Accelerated post-secondary education (through coordinated programs with high

motives affect the

• Leisure/personal enrichment
Such diverse academic intentions affect relevancy and evaluation in
your courses. Some students may be “majors” while others only seek
fulfillment of some personal interest. Some students require
certification of learning outcomes mastered; others require nothing more
than the social/cultural pleasure of learning with other human beings.

Having faculty who are aware of, and sensitive to, the increasingly
diverse needs of our learners will be essential to support the changing
mandate of the colleges.


Like so many elements of diversity, ethnicity is as much an opportunity

as a challenge. After decades of consciousness-raising civil rights
activism to right wrongs, and a sustained, dynamic dialogue about race,
we—all of us—have learned to accommodate and celebrate our
differences. Of course, all schools articulate a very clear, assertive
policy regarding non-discrimination and equal opportunity. But
educators today go far beyond the legal minimum.

Why? Because we recognize diversity can no longer be defined as all

those who don’t fit the historical tradition of young, male, white, hetero,
middle-class, English-speaking, etc. In other words, to define diversity
from the perspective of the traditional norm is, inherently, discriminatory.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 85

We also realize our classes are not merely melting pots. Even though
we strive to provide equal opportunity, our purpose is not to view and
make all people the same. Each ethnic group has a rich tradition and
heritage, each has a history of both struggle and achievement, and
each has a right to its own identity. "Melting pot" suggests a
homogenization where a legalistic, polite, even expedient harmony is
the goal. Although "color-blind" can be an admirable behavior and goal,
it can gloss over the needs and dreams of everyone involved. Maybe a
"salad bowl" is the more realistic and honorable metaphor. We are
together—cooperating and synthesizing where we can, yet
acknowledging and celebrating our differences. That’s the challenge for

Drawing attention to a student’s ethnicity can either damage or enhance

the educational experience. Probably the best path is to create a
positive learning environment, where personal comfort, mutual respect,
consistent encouragement and genuine interest define the classroom

Many resources and strategies are available on most campuses for

enhancing the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic classroom, including guides
and books, videos, staff and faculty development centers, and faculty
mentors who provide one-on-one assistance. And don’t overlook your
own students, who should be encouraged to contribute not only what
they know, but also what they feel.


All of the variables included in this discussion of student diversity have

implications for creating a positive learning environment. The key point
is that we, as faculty, need to explore our own assumptions and
consider how our life experiences and cultural origin have contributed to
biases that may affect the way we teach and assess our students.

Conscious awareness of diversity among our students will help us to

establish tools and processes to design learning activities and assess
achievement of learning outcomes in ways that allow each student to
participate and demonstrate mastery without unnecessary physical,
intellectual or cultural barriers.

86 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Self-Test: Module 1-Unit 5

1. List eight of the 11 variables related to student diversity.

_______________________ _______________________
_______________________ _______________________
_______________________ _______________________
_______________________ _______________________

2. Explain the difference between “melting pot” and “salad bowl” to

describe the reality of ethnic diversity.

3. List several examples of services available to overcome diversity


Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 87

Personal Reflection and Workshop Preparation

1. Think of a class that you are teaching this semester. Identify the
different cultural and social backgrounds represented among
your students.

2. Identify any special needs you are aware of among the students
in this group. Could there be some students who have special
needs of which you are not aware?

3. Review your curriculum materials. To keep this manageable,

start with one major unit in one of your courses. Review the
learning outcomes for that course. Analyze the learning activities
you use to engage the students in achieving the learning
outcomes. Do they reflect a range of methods designed to
appeal to the diversity of learning styles among your students?

4. Select one test, assignment or other assessment practice you

use. Choose one which covers at least two or three of your
important course learning outcomes. Examine this tool for any
evidence of bias. Is there anything that might discriminate
unfairly in favor of some students in your class or against

5. List several different teaching methods and assessment

practices that you use currently to accommodate the different
learning styles of the students in your class.

88 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Did Your Responses Match Ours?
1. List eight of the eleven variables related to student diversity.

personalities learning disabilities

students’ academic level learning styles
language/dialect class/culture/socioeconomic status
gender intent
age ethnicity
physical disabilities

2. Explain the difference between “melting pot” and “salad bowl” to

describe the reality of ethnic diversity.

“Melting pot” suggests the complete elimination of individual diversity, as if one

student’s ethnicity (race), another student’s age, or yet another student’s hearing
impairment simply did not exist. Conformity and some bland soup reduce the
richness, even spice, of the class. On the other hand, “salad bowl” implies each
student IS who he or she is. Although we are all expressions of a common humanity
(the salad), we maintain our identity (tomato, onion, lettuce, green pepper, etc.). We
take delight in each element (ingredient) on its own while enjoying the whole
experience. (Or something along those lines.)

3. List several examples of services available to overcome diversity

writing and math centers
special services and counseling offices
international students organizations/programs
individual faculty members

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 89

Fish Story
I lived this story, but somewhere in my past I also read a similar account of teaching and learning at its
best. Someday, I'll find that vignette; maybe you will.

As a college sophomore, I had enrolled in Comparative Anatomy, an advanced biology course involving
extensive lab assignments. In addition to the three hours of lecture, we had a four-hour lab. Our weekly
lab assignments and a semester-long special project kept us in the lab well beyond the four hours.

I’ll never forget Dr. Ludwig Herrshener. A world expert in crustacean eye research, Dr. Ludwig
Herrshener was also a fine teacher. Motivated, even excited to be in his course, I was determined to
finish my semester lab project weeks ahead of schedule. Our work consisted of dissecting a rather large
specimen and writing our findings (including very detailed drawings) in a bound notebook.

After six weeks, I announced to “Herr Dr. Professor” that I was finished, done. He looked at me, half
amused and half irritated. “Mr. Klarner, that can’t be, but let me see your notebook.” After three
minutes, he returned my work with “You’re not done yet.” That was it. No commentary; no expression.

Another two weeks of effort and I was ready to resubmit my notebook. Same response– “You're not
done yet.” Week 10–same results. However, at week 12, Dr. Herrshener flipped through the pages
briefly and said, “Mr. Klarner, leave the notebook with me. Come back tomorrow at noon.” Excited, I
waltzed out of the lab, expecting the response I had hoped for this last month and a half.

Promptly at noon, I knocked on Dr. Herrshener’s office door. “Enter.” He offered me a chair and began.
“Walter, there is some good work here. The quality of the drawings is superior and the descriptive notes
are detailed and accurate. Good. But you’re not done yet.” Case closed; I was doomed. I couldn't
imagine finding anything else about that damned five-pound sea bass!

Dr. Herrshener was a gentle man, a perceptive man . . . and a maddening stickler for details!

After two weeks of staring at the pile of fish parts, I inserted a few descriptive details in the notebook and
resubmitted. Dr. Herrshener, sensing my frustration, asked me to point out any additions. I did, and he
immediately responded, “You're almost done.” Then, he extended the notebook to me. I took it and
returned to my lab table.

Nothing happened in those final two weeks of the semester–not one addition to the notebook, which now
exceeded one hundred pages.

On the last day of the semester, I meekly approached Dr. Herrshener and offered him my notebook. He
said, “Well?” I responded, “I couldn't find anything new. Well . . . except that the scales above the
pectoral fins in this particular sea bass are different from the scales in all other species.”

He looked at me and slowly said, “Now two of us know! You're done.”

I learned from, not leaned on, this teacher who would only tell me when I was done. What did I
learn? To look, to see, to persevere. Mostly, I learned to learn. Thirty-five years later, I wonder if
this man has another lesson for me.

Walt Klarner is Professor Emeritus at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas 66210. He can be reached at
(913) 236-5383, e-mail:

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 93

Why Do I Teach . . . and How?
by Shudong Chen
Why did I become a teacher? I became a teacher “semi-gods”–the way tradition demands. Like my
because of the culture I was born into, the family fellow students, I respected and resented them for
that raised me, the philosophers whom I respect, being too strict or demanding with their
the good teachers whom I didn’t particularly like authoritarian ways of teaching, especially from
and, ultimately, the mysterious sense of destiny – American perspectives.
just to name a few fish that I have caught so far
from the deep sea of my unconscious. Due to I have become a teacher, perhaps, because I
various complicated cultural and historical wanted to live up to the social expectations, to
reasons, teachers in China have enjoyed very high please my parents, to avoid trouble by obeying the
social status for thousands of years; they have Chinese government and/or simply to follow my
been regarded as “semi-gods,” to borrow the destiny through the old rut of tradition and culture.
accurate term from an article on Chinese But I did find it a great honor to be a teacher
education from the Christian Science Monitor. because all the great thinkers I respect as “semi-
Teachers should be respected and loved as your gods” are primarily great teachers, such as
own parents, says one of many Chinese idioms Socrates, Plato, Hegel, Confucius and Chuang
that emphasize the importance of teachers. Tzu. How could I make a different choice against
Parents, rationalizes another, only give you life, all these irreversible influences? Could I have
but teachers give you the indispensable chosen not to be a teacher?
knowledge and skills to make your life meaningful
and productive. Therefore, you should respect and As to the familiar question, “Who is the teacher
love your teachers, emphasizes a different idiom you admire most in your educational experience?
with similar tones, as you would respect and love Why?” I should honestly say, “None.” Probably
your own father for all your life even if some might because of my cultural upbringing, I always find it
teach you for only one day. Most of these idioms hard to respond to such a question. Participating
owe something to Confucius, the quintessential in this year's Master Teachers Workshop, I came
teacher and the ultimate source of influence on across a similar kind of question, “Which is the
this teacher-worshiping culture. For Confucius, book that influenced you most?” Instead of
unlike the “small men” or businessmen who know picking one, I gave a list, which includes Chuang
only how to make evil money for themselves, Tzu by Chuang Tzu (369?-286? BCE), Plato's
teachers are true “gentlemen” or “noble men” who Dialogues, Confucius' Analects, Melville's Moby
devote themselves to making decent people for a Dick, the Bible, all of Dostoyevski, in addition to
decent society. Ludwig Feuerbach and The End of German
Philosophy by Marx and Anti-Dühring by Engels.
To be or not to be a teacher, for me, was not a As there are too many books that have influenced
matter of choice but rather an issue of destiny. me as a person and as a teacher, I am also
Born into a culture that worships teachers, I was indebted to too many good teachers–whether I like
also raised by two parents who taught. After my or dislike them. Often, I find, again in retrospection,
graduation from the university, I was first assigned those teachers I disliked most were, ironically, the
by the government to teach and then went to the ones from whom I have benefitted most.
most prestigious normal university in the nation for
my graduate education. Having become a teacher As a result, I find the following question not easy
myself, I also married a teacher whose family was to respond to: “Describe the methods used by this
primarily teachers. My decision or destiny was teacher. Are your methods similar to this teacher's
irreversibly shaped, in retrospection, by all my methods? Why or why not?” But I am also quite
good teachers since primary school; I didn't sure that successful teaching, as I observed from
particularly like them but respected them all as the all the teachers who have shaped my life, results

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 95

from no particular methods. Good teachers teach All these teachers have truly convinced me
with “methodless method,” as Theodore Adorno that to be a good teacher is to be yourself.
would argue; they simply teach from their heart Methods, therefore, are uniquely personal; they
and soul. To echo Montaigne, “The style is the are not to be imitated but to be cultivated from
person,” the true method is the person. Teaching, your heart and soul. As composition teachers,
for me, is not about methods; it is primarily about we may, for instance, often unconsciously tend to
devotion. Often, methods do not make a good believe or want our students to believe that as
teacher; devotion does. Teaching is still an old- long as we know certain methods and practice
fashioned art that demands determination, hard accordingly we may become good writers.
devotion, love and sacrifice. To teach is not a Unfortunately, many good college composition
choice you make, but a mission you are born to teachers are themselves unsuccessful or mediocre
accomplish. As no one can teach a chicken to fly writers. In one way or another, they are just rule
as high as an eagle, no methods can make a good givers, process describers or merely talkers. For
teacher. The best teachers who have truly the same reason, the millionaires or billionaires
influenced me taught not through any given who have made fortunes in the stock market are
method but rather through the power of their often not the stockbrokers, the professionals who
unique personality. Their methodless devotion seem to know the market better than ordinary
to education was, indeed, awe-striking. investors. There is something quite similar here
that connects teaching with stock brokering–the
Here I can single out retired KU Professor power of personality, which we easily miss when
Habegger as an example. Technically, Professor we are all too enthusiastic about methods. Chuang
Habegger might not be considered a great, or Tzu, the ancient Chinese Taoist philosopher, once
even good, teacher. He was not popular among told a story about a vain young man who went to
students. His teaching was methodless and learn the beautiful ways of walking in another
perhaps quite boring for some. He talked straight country but had to crawl all his way home because
and graded hard. Before I decided to take his he neither learned the beautiful steps he desired
class, I received various warnings and advice from nor remembered his old ones. This is why, for
friends and fellow students. But he was such a Nietzsche's Zarathustra, Emerson, and Confucius,
reputed Jamesian scholar and specialist in 19th their best disciples are the ones who learn least
century American literature, I couldn't afford not to from them. For Lu Xu, the well known Chinese
take his course on American realism. But it was writer of the '20s and '30s, the first person who
this methodless professor who revolutionized my compares a beautiful maiden to a flower is a
view of American literature, particularly of Henry genius but the second an idiot. True methods,
James. Before I took his class, I had no interest in indeed, defy, deny and deter imitations.
James. For me, he was just an ordinary novelist
who tended to make a fuss about nothing in his Then how can we measure success or failure of
fiction and whose literary values were our teaching? The methods of measurement
inappropriately exaggerated. But Professor certainly vary according to specific situations.
Habegger's teaching, along with his sometimes Success in teaching, for me, may often smell of
displeasing, undiplomatic criticisms and his failure. Technically, my class may go well–well
excellent scholarly works on James, immediately beyond my expectation with regard to my students’
changed my view of James. The most visible participation but far below my teaching standards
result of his methodless teaching is my concerning substance. I once, for instance, made
dissertation on Henry James. Like all the other in class a comparative reference to Japanese
teachers who profoundly changed my life, culture in order to highlight some subtle but vital
Professor Habegger impressed and benefitted me points of similarity and difference across cultures,
greatly with his methodless teaching that I have but it triggered an unprecedented, enthusiastic
cherished because it mirrored the pure sincerity class discussion–away from my intended coverage
and seriousness of his personality and his on Greek arts. Should I call it a success or failure
contagious devotion to his profession. when students demonstrated such a curiosity or

96 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment

eagerness in learning about materials not as I As teachers, we therefore have the responsibility
have planned? The answer can be both “yes” and to revitalize the indispensable sources of our
“no.” It just depends on how you look at it and knowledge, the narrative traditions, which, as
respond to it accordingly. It is definitely a failure in Walter J. Ong often deplores, have become sadly
terms of my plan. But it can also be viewed as a overlooked. If to teach means to inspire our
great success because it showed/taught me what students, not to bore them, we need to tell
my students are interested in, how (well) they will stories in the classroom. We respect Socrates,
respond to the issues that intrigue them, and how I Plato, Chuang Tzu and Confucius as great
might motivate or engage them for desirable philosophers because they are quintessentially
teaching results. great teachers who know how to enlighten their
readers through engaging narratives. Plato's
But as long as I try to be myself and know my Dialogues are full of stories. Chuang Tzu abounds
strengths and weaknesses as a non-native in fascinating narratives. In The Analects,
speaker and an experienced teacher, I discover Confucius demonstrates how to teach through
my own methods. For instance, almost every “relating.” The Hebrew Bible is also alive with
time I walk into my classroom, I start by telling a inspiring histories; Jesus, as recorded in the New
five-minute story related to the materials to be Testament, never speaks to the general public
covered. I tell stories from various resources, such without parables. In his Essays, Montaigne
as newspapers, books or personal experiences. I emphasizes the importance of narrative by saying,
often choose stories familiar to students but tell “I do not teach, I only relate.” For good teachers,
them in such a way as to encourage students to stories or narratives, as Montaigne would also
see different meanings in them, especially with emphasize, often exceed their simple need for
regard to the subject to be discussed in class. I, “example,” “authority” or “ornament” because they
for instance, re-tell the story of Jesus on the cross, “carry sometimes [,] besides what [the writers]
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” apply them to, the seed of a more rich and bolder
as an introduction to various paintings of Jesus on matter.” In classic rhetoric, we are all encouraged
the cross, such as the one by Rubens. Students to use digression for storytelling. People love
often volunteer their own stories and/or respond literature and movies because they love the stories
with various questions and explanations in them.
afterwards. From time to time, I also ask students
to prepare their own stories relating to the subject Telling stories in the classroom helps both
matter. This strategy works well for my class students and teachers live up to their potential as
because all humans, I believe, love stories. We learners and instructors. Stories are good
love stories as kids, as novel readers, and as analogies that inspire our imagination and
moviegoers. We grow up with stories; we are concretize our expression. All students in my
enlightened through them. Our civilizations bathe classes are potentially competent logicians or
in great stories, such as legends and epics; they rhetoricians because they use language to
record our heroic deeds, inspire our imaginations, communicate and to make arguments; similarly,
enrich our souls and strengthen our morals. We, they are also potentially competent storytellers
however, often take their importance for granted. because they, like all humans, are interested in
Everyone knows that we cannot live without the narratives and capable of sharing good movie
sun that shines on us, the earth that nourishes us, stories with their classmates or friends. Therefore,
the air that energizes us, the dew that refreshes telling stories and asking students to tell stories in
us, the rains that shower us, the mist that class will help them to become further conscious
refreshes us; but not everyone pays adequate of the dormant potential inside themselves; it will
attention to these wonderful daily blessings. make them eager to narrate what they feel and
Similarly, we tend to forget how important the think not only orally but also in writing. From
stories are in our lives simply because they are too merely listening to stories, my students are often
important. motivated to tell or to write stories themselves.

Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment 97

Teaching classes through narratives has a great
impact upon teachers, too. It sensitizes them to
the daily occurrences otherwise overlooked and
allows them to see the elements of their
disciplines in a more humane and more dramatic
fashion. Thus stories ultimately help break down
language barriers and the distance between
ourselves and our students.

Shudong Chen is Assistant Professor of Humanities at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas 66210. He can be
reached at (913) 469-8500, ext. 4591, e-mail:

98 Module 1 • Creating a Positive Learning Environment


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