How Students Remember



By Piper Fogg     From The Chronicle of Higher Education – Community Colleges, October 26, 2007, Volume 54, Issue 9, Page B12

For the majority of community-college professors, teaching is the most important part of their jobs. And it’s not easy. Community-college students are a diverse bunch but often face a particular set of challenges. Many entering students are not prepared for college-level work. And while some students plan to transfer to competitive four-year colleges, others struggle to complete remedial courses. Some students commute long distances, and many have jobs or families. In one class, a teacher may face an 18-year-old who is fresh out of high school, a single mother who works part time, and a first-generation college student who doesn’t speak English well.

Community-college students require teachers who are engaging, creative, responsive, and energetic – and who understand their students’ needs. Professors have to be up on the latest teaching methods, know which of them work for their students, and be flexible enough to change when something isn’t working. Here are a dozen tips – many from seasoned professors – for those just starting out, or for veterans who want fresh ideas.

  1. Remember that your students are freshmen and sophomores. One trap new faculty members fall into in their first jobs out of graduate school is to harbor inflated expectations, says Robin D. Jenkins, director of the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. “One new instructor in my department, for instance, asked students to write four lengthy essays during one 75-minute period,” he says, “because that’s the sort of thing she’d been expected to do in her graduate courses.” Mr. Jenkins advises new teachers to look at what their more-experienced colleagues are assigning, and to check out their syllabi. Even better, take them to lunch, he says, and pick their brains. “We all want to have the appropriate amount of rigor in our classes,” he says, but that doesn’t mean piling on the work when students aren’t ready for it.
  2. While setting realistic expectations is important, you must also share them with your students. If you are a stickler for grammar, let it be known on Day 1, advises Delaney J. Kirk, a professor of management at the University of South Florida at Sarasota-Manatee. Tell students if you give grace periods for assignments or if you will not tolerate tardiness. “Have a rationale so the policy is seen as reasonable,” says Ms. Kirk, the author of Taking Back the Classroom: Tips for the College Professor on Becoming a More Effective Teacher (Ti-berius Publications, 2005). After explaining your philosophy, take time to learn what students expect of you as well: Teaching is a two-way street.
  3. Take advantage of the technology-training courses your college offers, but don’t feel pressured to use technology for its own sake. Sample everything that interests you, find the applications that best fit your teaching style, and try to incorporate them into your teaching. Just because your college offers fancy technology with a big “wow” factor doesn’t always mean it will help you. “Experiment with what works for you,” says Georgia Perimeter’s Mr. Jenkins. “Feel free to ignore the rest.”
  4. Look at the whole experience – including the syllabus, the textbook, and the classroomfrom your students’ perspective. Are the books affordable or easy to find in the library? Is the classroom comfortable? Are assignments well spaced? It pays to think like your students, says Ellen J. Olmstead, an English professor at Montgomery College, in Rockville, Md., who was the 1999 Carnegie Foundation Community College Professor of the Year.
  5. Consider keeping a teaching journal. Verna B. Robinson, a professor of English at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland, says it’s a great way to keep track of your experiences, including successes and failures, challenges, aspirations, inspirations, expectations, and, yes, complaints.
  6. Be mindful of the pressures on students, some of whom have families, jobs, or long commutes. Use the Internet, for example, to make course material, assignments, and feedback available online, so students can log in any time from home.
  7. Know what services are available at your college to help struggling students. It’s great if your college offers tutoring, English-language help, or career counseling, but they’re useful only if students actually use them. Distribute a handout at the start of the term and approach individual students if they seem to need a hand. Have a counselor come and introduce himself or herself to the class.
  8. Make sure students understand why the subject matter of the course is worth learning, and how it relates to the real world. If you get students invested, they will put in more work, says Richard L. Faircloth, a biology professor at Anne Arundel. Mr. Faircloth, who teaches anatomy, asks students to find a topic in current events that relates to the week’s assignment and write a short essay on why the topic is relevant in everyday life. “I’ve always found these aha’s that occur outside of class, when we’ve learned something in class, help to reinforce it,” says Mr. Faircloth. Expanding students’ media diets, he says, helps them find those everyday connections. It also gives them fresh perspectives and “gets them out of their little circle of e-mail and their circle of cellphones and text messaging.”
  9. Encourage your students to give you feedback on your teaching. Anne Arundel’s Ms. Robinson suggests passing out index cards midway through the semester and asking students what they would like to see more of and less of. Or ask students to grade you in one or two areas of your teaching. “Students appreciate being asked,” she says. Listen to what they have to say and try to incorporate their reasonable responses.
  10. If you are concerned about plagiarism, consider increasing the load of in-class work, such as problem sets and essays. You will learn quickly who is struggling, and it helps procrastinators and those who might otherwise turn work in late, says Tiina Lombard, an associate professor of English at Miami Dade College. It also teaches students to work better under pressure.
  11. Develop at least one assignment that requires each student to meet with you, one on one, in your office. The meeting could be devoted to reviewing an essay or homework assignment. Then use that time to discuss the student’s progress and answer any questions. “You will be amazed at how beneficial even a brief face-to-face meeting can be for you and the student,” says Ms. Robinson.
  12. Identify at least one quality you appreciate in each student, and keep it in mind every time you come in to class. “It’ll make you smile when you walk in to the classroom and look around at everyone,” says Ms. Olmstead, of the English department at Montgomery College.

Ideas to Encourage Student Retention

The following ideas are a product of a faculty seminar at Jefferson Community College, Kentucky. Sixty-three ideas are presented for faculty use in dealing with retention/attrition. The 63 ideas are subdivided into four general categories.
Faculty/Student Interaction
This category contains elements directly related to the affective domain of student growth brought about by faculty/student interaction. Psych, ego, individual worth are all intricately bound within this framework.

  1. Learn the name of each student as quickly as possible and use the student’s name in class. Based upon the atmosphere you want to create:
    1. Call on students by their first names.
    2. Call on students by using Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms.
  2. Tell the students by what name and title you prefer to be called (Prof., Dr., Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms, First Name).
  3. At the end of each class period, ask one student to stay for a minute to chat (compliment on something: tell student you missed him/her if absent, etc.).
  4. Instead of returning tests, quizzed, themes in class, ask students to stop by your office to pick them up. This presents an opportunity to talk informally with students.
  5. Call students on the telephone if they are absent. Make an appointment with them to discuss attendance, make-up work, etc.
  6. Get feedback periodically from students (perhaps a select few) on their perceptions of your attitudes toward them, your personal involvement, etc.
  7. Socialize with students as your “style” permits by attending their clubs or social activities, by having lunch with them, by walking with them between classes, etc.
  8. Conduct a personal interview with all students sometime during the semester.
  9. Provide positive reinforcement whenever possible; give students a respectful answer to any question they might ask.
  10. Listen intently to students’ comments and opinions. By using a “lateral thinking technique” (adding to ideas rather than dismissing them), students feel that their ideas, comments, and opinions are worthwhile.
  11. Be aware of the difference between students’ classroom mistakes and their personal successes/failures.
  12. Be honest about your feelings, opinions, and attitudes toward students and toward the subject matter. Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know all the answers. If a student tells you something in confidence, respect that confidence. Avoid making value judgments (verbally or non-verbally) about these confidences.
  13. Lend some of your books (reference) to students and borrow some of theirs in return. You can initiate the process by saying, “I’ve just read a great book on _______, would anyone like to borrow it?”
  14. Give your telephone number to students and the location of your office.
  15. A first class meeting, pair up the students and have them get acquainted with one another. Switch partners every five (5) minutes.
  16. Have the students establish a “buddy” system for absences, work missed, assignments, tutoring, etc. Exchange telephone numbers; pair them by majors or geographical proximity.
General Classroom Management
This section focuses literally on the day-to-day operations of your classes. The items as a group emphasize planning, orderliness, and general good sense.

  1. Circulate around the class as you talk or ask questions. This movement creates a physical closeness to the students. Avoid standing behind the lectern or sitting behind the desk for the entire period. Do not allow the classroom to set up artificial barriers between you and the students.
  2. Give each student a mid-term grade and indicate what each student must do to improve.
  3. Tell the students (orally and in writing) what your attendance policy is. Make them aware of your deep concern for attendance and remind them periodically of the policy and the concern.
  4. Conduct a full instructional period on the first day of classes. This activity sets a positive tone for the learning environment you want to set. Engage in some of the interpersonal activities listed elsewhere.
  5. List and discuss your course objectives on the first day. Let students know how your course can fit in with their personal/career goals. Discuss some of the fears, apprehensions that both you and the students have. Tell them what they should expect of you and how you will contribute to their learning.
  6. Let students know that the learning resources you use in class (slides, tapes, films) are available to them outside of class. Explain the procedures to secure the material, and take them to the area.
  7. Have students fill out an index card with name, address, telephone number, goals, and other personal information you think is important.
  8. If the subject matter is appropriate, use a pre-test to determine their knowledge, background, expertise, etc.
  9. Return tests, quizzes, and papers as soon as possible. Write comments (+ and -) when appropriate.
  10. Vary your instructional techniques (lecture, discussion, debate, small groups, films, etc.).
  11. When you answer a student’s question, be sure he/she understands your answer. Make the student repeat the answer in his/her own words.
  12. Get to class before the students arrive; be the last one to leave.
  13. Use familiar examples in presenting materials. If you teach rules, principles, definitions, and theorems, explicate these with concrete examples that students can understand.
  14. If you had to miss a class, explain why and what you will do to make up the time and/or materials.
  15. Clarify and have students understand what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in a classroom. Be consistent in enforcing your rules.
  16. Good eye contact with students is extremely important both in and out of class.
  17. Allow students to switch classes if work schedules changes or other salient reasons develop. Cooperate with colleague if he/she makes such a request.
  18. Be prepared to use an alternate approach if the one you’ve chosen seems to bog down. You should be confident enough with your own material so that student interests and concerns, not lecture notes, determine the format of instruction.
  19. Throughout the course, but particularly during the crucial first class sessions:
    1. stress a positive “you can handle it” attitude
    2. emphasize your willingness to give individual help
    3. point out the relevancy of your subject matter to the concerns and goals of your students
    4. capitalize on opportunities to praise the abilities and contributions of students whose status in the course is in doubt; well-timed encouragement could mean the difference between retention and attrition
    5. utilize a variety of instructional methods, drawing on appropriate audio-visual aids as much as possible
    6. urge students to talk to you about problems, such as changes in work schedule, before dropping your course. Alternate arrangements can often be made.


  20. Distribute an outline of your lecture notes before class starts. This approach assists students in organizing the material you are presenting.
  21. If you require a term paper or research paper, you should take the responsibility of arranging a library orientation. Librarians would be happy to cooperate.
  22. Have the counselors visit your classes to foster an awareness of counseling.
Student-Initiated Activities
This category is based on the premise that peer influence can play a substantial role in student success. Age differences, personality differences, and skill differences can be utilized to produce positive results if you can get the students to work with one another.

  1. Have students read one another’s papers before they turn them in. This activity could help them locate one another’s errors before being graded.
  2. If the class lends itself to a field trip, have the students plan it and make some or all of the arrangements.
  3. Ask students to submit sample test questions (objective or subjective) prior to a test. The class itself can compose a test or quiz based on your objectives.
  4. Create opportunities for student leaders to emerge in class. Use their leadership skills to improve student performance.
  5. If students are receiving tutoring help, ask them to report the content and results of their tutoring.
  6. Have students set specific goals for themselves throughout the semester in terms of their learning and what responsibilities they will undertake.
Faculty-Initiated Activities
This section presents the greatest challenge to the ability and creativity of each faculty member. You must take the initiative to implement these suggestions, to test them, and to device them.

  1. Utilize small group discussions in class whenever feasible.
  2. Take the initiative to contact and meet with students who are doing poor work. Be especially cognizant of the “passive” student, one who comes to class, sits quietly, does not participate, but does poorly on tests, quizzes, etc.
  3. Encourage students who had the first part of a course to be in the second part together. Try to schedule the same time slot for the second course.
  4. Ask the Reading faculty to do a “readability study” of the texts you use in your classroom.
  5. Develop library/supplementary reading lists which complement course content. Select books at various reading levels.
  6. Use your background, experience, and knowledge to inter-relate your subject matter with other academic disciplines.
  7. Throughout the semester, have students submit topics that they would like to cover or discuss.
  8. Take students on a mini-tour of the learning resources center, reading/study skills area, counseling center, etc. If a particular student needs reading/study skills help, don’t send him/her, TAKE him/her.
  9. Work with your division counselor to discuss procedures to follow-up absentees, failing students, etc.
  10. Use your imagination to devise ways to reinforce positively student accomplishments. Try to avoid placing students in embarrassing situations, particularly in class.
  11. Create situations in which students can help you (get a book for you from library, look up some reference material, conduct a class research project).
  12. Set up special tutoring sessions and extra classes. Make these activities mandatory, especially for students who are doing poorly.
  13. Confer with other faculty members who have the same students in class. Help reinforce one another.
  14. Look at your record book periodically to determine student progress (inform them) and determine if you know anything about that student other than his/her grades.
  15. Team teach a class with a colleague or switch classes for a period or two. Invite a guest lecturer to class.
  16. Use the library reference shelf for some of your old tests and quizzes. Tell the students that you will use some questions from the old tests in their next test.
  17. Engage in periodic (weekly) self-evaluation of each class. What was accomplished this past week? How did students react?
  18. At mid-term and at final exam, your last test question should ask if a student is going to continue at the college or drop out at the end of the semester. If a potential drop-out is identified, you can advise the student to work with the division counselor.


From an Assessment Workshop presented at Honolulu Community College on August 31, 2004
by Dr. Mary Allen, The California State University System

In general a rubric is a scoring guide used in subjective assessments. A rubric implies that a rule defining the criteria of an assessment system is followed in evaluation. A rubric can be an explicit description of performance characteristics corresponding to a point on a rating scale. A scoring rubric makes explicit expected qualities of performance on a rating scale or the definition of a single scoring point on a scale

Rubrics are explicit schemes for classifying products or behaviors into categories that vary along a continuum. They can be used to classify virtually any product or behavior, such as essays, research reports, portfolios, works of art, recitals, oral presentations, performances, and group activities. Judgments can be self-assessments by students; or judgments can be made by others, such as faculty, other students, or field-work supervisors. Rubrics can be used to provide formative feedback to students, to grade students, and/or to assess programs.

Rubrics have many strengths:

  • Complex products or behaviors can be examined efficiently.
  • Developing a rubric helps to precisely define faculty expectations.
  • Well-trained reviewers apply the same criteria and standards, so rubrics are useful for assessments involving multiple reviewers.
  • Summaries of results can reveal patterns of student strengths and areas of concern.
  • Rubrics are criterion-referenced, rather than norm-referenced. Raters ask, “Did the student meet the criteria for level 5 of the rubric?” rather than “How well did this student do compared to other students?” This is more compatible with cooperative and collaborative learning environments than competitive grading schemes and is essential when using rubrics for program assessment because you want to learn how well students have met your standards.
  • Ratings can be done by students to assess their own work, or they can be done by others, such as peers, fieldwork supervisions, or faculty.
Developing a Rubric
It is often easier to adapt a rubric that someone else has created, but if you are starting from scratch, here are some steps that might make the task easier:

  • Identify what you are assessing (e.g., critical thinking).
  • Identify the characteristics of what you are assessing (e.g., appropriate use of evidence, recognition of logical fallacies).
  • Describe the best work you could expect using these characteristics. This describes the top category.
  • Describe the worst acceptable product using these characteristics. This describes the lowest acceptable category.
  • Describe an unacceptable product. This describes the lowest category.
  • Develop descriptions of intermediate-level products and assign them to intermediate categories. You might develop a scale that runs from 1 to 5 (unacceptable, marginal, acceptable, good, outstanding), 1 to 3 (novice, competent, exemplary), or any other set that is meaningful.
  • Ask colleagues who were not involved in the rubric’s development to apply it to some products or behaviors and revise as needed to eliminate ambiguities.
Suggestions for Using Scoring Rubrics for Grading and Program Assessment
  1. Hand out the grading rubric with an assignment so students will know your expectations and how they’ll be graded. This should help students master your learning objectives by guiding their work in appropriate directions.
  2. Use a rubric for grading student work, including essay questions on exams, and return the rubric with the grading on it. Faculty save time writing extensive comments; they just circle or highlight relevant segments of the rubric. Each row in the rubric could have a different array of possible points, reflecting its relative importance for determining the overall grade. Points (or point ranges) possible for each cell in the rubric could be printed on the rubric, and a column for points for each row and comments section(s) could be added.
  3. Develop a rubric with your students for an assignment or group project. Students can then monitor themselves and their peers using agreed-upon criteria that they helped develop. (Many faculty find that students will create higher standards for themselves than faculty would impose on them.)
  4. Have students apply your rubric to some sample products (e.g., lab reports) before they create their own. Faculty report that students are quite accurate when doing this, and this process should help them evaluate their own products as they develop them.
  5. Have students exchange paper drafts and give peer feedback using the rubric, then give students a few days before the final drafts are turned in to you. (You might also require that they turn in the draft and scored rubric with their final paper.)
  6. Have students self-assess their products using the grading rubric and hand in the self-assessment with the product; then faculty and students can compare self- and faculty-generated evaluations.
  7. Use the rubric for program assessment. Faculty can use it in classes and aggregate the data across sections, faculty can independently assess student products (e.g., portfolios) and then aggregate the data, or faculty can participate in group readings in which they review student products together and discuss what they found. Field-work supervisors or community professionals also may be invited to assess student work using rubrics. A well-designed rubric should allow evaluators to efficiently focus on specific learning objectives while reviewing complex student products, such as theses, without getting bogged down in the details. Rubrics should be pilot tested, and evaluators should be “normed” or “calibrated” before they apply the rubrics (i.e., they should agree on appropriate classifications for a set of student products that vary in quality). If two evaluators apply the rubric to each product, inter-rater reliability can be examined. Once the data are collected, faculty discuss results to identify program strengths and areas of concern, “closing the loop” by using the assessment data to make changes to improve student learning.
  8. Faculty can get “double duty” out of their grading by using a common rubric that is used for grading and program assessment. Individual faculty may elect to use the common rubric in different ways, combining it with other grading components as they see fit.

A Google search of ‘rubric’ brings up a tremendous number of websites discussing rubrics, with examples of rubrics and rubric generators. Some of the more useful ones include:

Using Scoring Rubrics
RubiStar Home
Rubric, Rubrics, Teacher Rubric Makers
Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators – Assessment Rubrics
ClassWeb Tools – – Linsk
The Rubric Bank
Rubric Template

Classroom Assessment Technique Examples

By Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross
From Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, 2nd Ed.


Background Knowledge Probe


At the first class meeting, many college teachers ask students for general information on their level of preparation, often requesting that students list courses they have already taken in the relevant field. This technique is designed to collect much more specific, and more useful, feedback on students’ prior learning. Background Knowledge Probes are short, simple questionnaires prepared by instructors for use at the beginning of a course, at the start of a new unit or lesson, or prior to introducing an important new topic. A given Background Knowledge Probemay require students to write short answers, to circle the correct response to multiple-choice questions, or both.Step-by-Step Procedure:


  1. Before introducing an important new concept, subject, or topic in the course syllabus, consider what the students may already know about it. Recognizing that their knowledge may be partial, fragmentary, simplistic, or even incorrect, try to find at lease one point that most students are likely to know, and use that point to lead into others, less familiar points. 
  2. Prepare two or three open-ended questions, a handful of short-answer questions, or ten to twenty multiple-choice questions that will probe the students’ existing knowledge of that concept, subject, or topic. These questions need to be carefully phrased, since a vocabulary that may not be familiar to the students can obscure your assessment of how well they know the facts or concepts. 
  3. Write your open-ended questions on the chalkboard, or hand out short questionnaires. Direct student to answer open-ended questions succinctly, in two or three sentences if possible. Make a point of announcing that these Background Knowledge Probesare not tests or quizzes and will not be graded. Encourage students to give thoughtful answers that will help you make effective instructional decisions. 
  4. At the next class meeting, or as soon as possible, let students know the results, and tell them how that information will affect what you do as the teacher and how it should affect what they do as learners.
Minute Paper


No other technique has been used more often or by more college teachers than the Minute Paper. This technique — also known as the One-Minute Paper and the Half-Sheet Response — provides a quick and extremely simple way to collect written feedback on student learning. To use the Minute Paper,an instructor stops class two or three minutes early and asks students to respond briefly to some variation on the following two questions: “What was the most important thing you learned during this class?” and “What important question remains unanswered?” Students they write their responses on index cards or half-sheets of scrap paper and hand them in.Step-by-Step Procedure:


  1. Decide first what you want to focus on and, as a consequence, when to administer the Minute Paper.If you want to focus on students’ understanding of a lecture, the last few minutes of class may be the best time. If your focus is on a prior homework assignment, however, the first few minutes may be more appropriate. 
  2. Using the two basic questions from the “Description” above as starting points, write Minute Paper prompts that fit your course and students. Try out your Minute Paperon a colleague or teaching assistant before using it in class. 
  3. Plan to set aside five to ten minutes of your next class to use the technique, as well as time later to discuss the results. 
  4. Before class, write one or, at the most, two Minute Paperquestions on the chalkboard or prepare an overhead transparency. 
  5. At a convenient time, hand out index cards or half-sheets of scrap paper. 
  6. Unless there is a very good reason to know who wrote what, direct students to leave their names off the papers or cards. 
  7. Let the students know how much time they will have (two to five minutes per question is usually enough), what kinds of answers you want (words, phrases, or short sentences), and when they can expect your feedback.
Muddiest Point


The Muddiest Point is just about the simplest technique one can use. It is also remarkable efficient, since it provides a high information return for a very low investment of time and energy. The technique consists of asking students to jot down a quick response to one question: “What was the muddiest point in ……..?” The focus of the Muddiest Pointassessment might be a lecture, a discussion, a homework assignment, a play, or a film.Step-by-Step Procedure:


  1. Determine what you want feedback on: the entire class session or one self-contained segment? A lecture, a discussion, a presentation? 
  2. If you are using the technique in class, reserve a few minutes at the end of the class session. Leave enough time to ask the question, to allow students to respond, and to collect their responses by the usual ending time. 
  3. Let students know beforehand how much time they will have to respond and what use you will make of their responses. 
  4. Pass out slips of paper or index cards for students to write on. 
  5. Collect the responses as or before students leave. Stationing yourself at the door and collecting “muddy points” as students file out is one way; leaving a “muddy point” collection box by the exit is another. 
  6. Respond to the students’ feedback during the next class meeting or as soon as possible afterward.
One-Sentence Summary


This simple technique challenges students to answer the questions “Who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why?” (represented by the letters WDWWWWHW) about a given topic, and then to synthesize those answers into a simple informative, grammatical, and long summary sentence.Step-by-Step Procedure:


  1. Select an important topic or work that your students have recently studied in your course and that you expect them to learn to summarize. 
  2. Working as quickly as you can, answer the questions “Who Did/Does What to Whom, When, Where, How and Why?” in relation to that topic. Note how long this first step takes you. 
  3. Next, turn your answers into a grammatical sentence that follows WDWWWWHS pattern. Not how long this second step takes. 
  4. Allow your students up to twice as much time as it took you to carry out the task and give them clear direction on the One-Sentence Summary technique before you announce the topic to be summarized.
What’s the Principle?


After students figure out what type of problem they are dealing with, they often must then decide what principle or principles to apply in order to solve the problem. This technique focuses on this step in problem solving. It provides students with a few problems and asks them to state the principle that best applies to each problem.Step-by-Step Procedure:


  1. Identify the basic principles that you expect students to learn in your course. Make sure focus only on those that students have been taught. 
  2. Find or create sample problems or short examples that illustrate each of these principles. Each example should illustrate only one principle. 
  3. Create a What’s the Principle?form that includes a listing of the relevant principles and specific examples or problems for students to match to those principles. 
  4. Try out your assessment on a graduate student or colleague to make certain it is not too difficult or too time-consuming to use in class. 
  5. After you have make any necessary revisions to the form, apply the assessment.

Core Abilities: Essential Workplace Skills Learned in the Classroom

Source: Based on Core Abilities: Bringing the Mission to the Classroom by Judith Neill, Project Director for the Wisconsin Instructional Design System.


Core abilities are essential workplace skills that cut across occupational and academic titles. Identifies as such by Wisconsin Technical College System, the core abilities align with other abilities, skills, or outcomes identified in Worplace Basics: The Skills Employers Want, the SCANS Report,and other other studies. They are broad, common abilities that students must possess to be prepared for the work force. They are “the broadest outcomes, skills, or purposes that are addressed throughout a course.” (Neill)Although educational institutions typically reflect the core abilities in their mission or philosophy statements, and although good teachers recognize the importance of communication, employability, information management, interpersonal, and problem solving skills, “core abilities are not stated at the course level and therefore not planned into the curriculum. … As a result, these essential skills, which may be the most important educational targets, have been overshadowed by content-specific competencies and objectives.” (Neill)

Core abilities are different than course competencies in that they are not course-specific. They are not taught in “lessons.” Instead, they are broader skills that run through courses and lessons. They “enable learners to perform competencies.”

Core abilities may be stated differently, and the number of abilities varies somewhat depending on how they are formulated in statements. Even the community colleges involved in the Wisconsin project defined the abilities differently from one college to another. The Moraine Park Technical College model may be the most popular, however. It identifies seven core abilities:


  1. WORKING PRODUCTIVELY— “an individual possesses and applies effective work habits and attituides within an organizational setting.” (Mielke) 
  2. LEARNING EFFECTIVELY— “an individual possesses necessary basic skills in reading, writing, and computing; applies skills in acquiring information; and uses learning tools and strategies.” (Mielke) 
  3. COMMUNICATING CLEARLY— “an individual is able to apply appropriate writing, speaking, and listening skills in order to precisely convey information, ideas, and opinions.” (Mielke) 
  4. WORKING COOPERATIVELY— “an individual is capable of working with others to complete tasks, solve problems, resolve conflicts, provide information, and offer support.” (Mielke) 
  5. ACTING RESPONSIBLY— “an individual recognizes an obligation to self and others for his or her decisions and actions.” (Mielke) 
  6. VALUING SELF POSITIVELY— “an individual applies the principles of physical and psychological wellness to his or her life.” (Mielke) 
  7. THINKING CRITICALLY AND CREATIVELY — “an individual applies the principles and strategies of purposeful, active, organized thinking.” (Mielke)

Mielke, Ann and Weber, Dave. Core Ability Project. Fond du Lac, Wisconsin: Moraine Park Technical College. May 31, 1989

Performance Evaluation Sheet
The rating sheet that follows may be useful in suggesting how the core abilities can be incorporated into coursework. 

Performance Evaluation SheetStudent: ______________________________________ Teacher: __________________________

Class: ________________________________________ Date: _____________________________


Rating Scale — Level of Achievement
3 = Always demonstrates this characteristic 1 = Meets minimum standards
2 = Demonstrates this characteristic in most situations 0 = Not satisfactory


Working Productively
Means that an individual possesses and applies effective work habits and attitudes within a classroom setting 3 2 1 0
1. Manages time and work load.
2. Recognizes and applies quality standards in performance.
3. Handles responsibility in a dependable manner.
4. Carries out instructions.


Learning Effectively
Means that an individual possesses necessary basic skills in reading and writing; applies skills in acquiring information; and uses learning tools and strategies 3 2 1 0
1. Listens carefully.
2. Uses learning resources appropriately.
3. Organizes information productively.
4. Demonstrates appropriate reading strategies.
5. Asks questions.



Communicating Clearly
Means that an individual is able to apply appropriate writing, speaking, and listening skills in order to precisely convey information, ideas, and opinions 3 2 1 0
1. Applies the English language correctly (spelling, grammar, structure).
2. Writes and speaks understandably.
3. Checks for accuracy.
4. Writes legibly.
5. Demonstrates ability to listen effectively.
6. Uses language appropriate to situation.




Working Cooperatively
Means that an individual is capable of working with others to complete tasks, solve problems, resolve conflicts, provide information, and offer support 3 2 1 0
1. Plans and works cooperatively with others.
2. Applies conflict management skills.
3. Applies group problem-solving strategies.
4. Establishes productive working relationships.
5. Demonstrates respect for others through word and action.
6. Provides feedback.
7. Receives and accepts feedback.


Acting Responsibly
Means that an individual recognizes an obligation to self and others for his or her decisions and actions 3 2 1 0
1. Applies appropriate work standards such as attending class regularly and punctually.
2. Assumes responsibility for own performance by completing assignments.
3. Performs assigned tasks to the best of his or her ability.
4. Shows concern for proper work habits.
5. Works productively and stays on task.


Thinking Critically and Creatively
Means that an individual applies the principles of purposeful, active, organized thinking 3 2 1 0
1. Demonstrates willingness to recognize others’ points of view.
2. Exhibits perseverance in accomplishing tasks.
3. Recognizes the difference between facts and opinions.
4. Articulates rationale behind ideas and opinions.

Grade: ______ Absences: ______ Tardies: ______


Student’s Signature: ____________________________________ Date: ___________________

Teacher’s Signature: ____________________________________ Date: ___________________

Associated Studies and Recommendations
  1. “… schools must return to practices that promote good work habits and develop such positive traits as responsibility, self-discipline, and self reliance.” (Owen Butler, Chairman of the Proctor and Gamble Company) 
  2. “… more than in the past, individuals will need to be able to acquire, organize, and interpret information. Workers will also have more direct interaction with their co-workers, and therefore will need more experience in general social skills such as problem-solving and negotiation.” (Sue Berryman and Thomas Bailey, authors of The Double Helix of Education and the Economy
  3. “At a minimum, teachers desiring to impart generic skills and work related attitudes to students must include them as instructional goals, along with domain-specific knowledge and skills.” (Cathleen Stasz, et. al., authors of Classrooms that Work: Teaching Generic Skills in Academic and Vocational Settings
  4. The Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) identified essential competencies associated with the use of resources, interpersonal skills, information systems, and technology. The importance of problem-solving, reasoning, writing, speaking, reading, behaving responsibly, and other generic skills were strongly emphasized. 
  5. The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) stated the importance of basic skills including “organizational effectiveness/ leadership, interpersonal/negotiation/teamwork, self-esteem/goal setting- motivation/personal and career development, creative thinking/problem solving, communication: listening and oral communication, reading/writing/ computation, and learning to learn.” (Anthony Carnevale, et. al., authors of Workplace Basics: The Essential Skills Employers Want
  6. The MidAmerica Vocational Curriculum Consortium identified skill groups — foundation skills (reading, writing, math, science), communication skills, adaptability skills, personal management skills, group effectiveness skills, and influence skills — and recommended that these academic and workplace skills be included in curricula.

Motivating Students

By Barbara Gross Davis, University of California, Berkeley.
From Tools for Teaching, copyright by Jossey-Bass.

Some students seem naturally enthusiastic about learning, but many need-or expect-their instructors to inspire, challenge, and stimulate them: “Effective learning in the classroom depends on the teacher’s ability … to maintain the interest that brought students to the course in the first place” (Ericksen, 1978, p. 3). Whatever level of motivation your students bring to the classroom will be transformed, for better or worse, by what happens in that classroom.Unfortunately, there is no single magical formula for motivating students. Many factors affect a given student’s motivation to work and to learn (Bligh, 1971; Sass, 1989): interest in the subject matter, perception of its usefulness, general desire to achieve, self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as patience and persistence. And, of course, not all students are motivated by the same values, needs, desires, or wants. Some of your students will be motivated by the approval of others, some by overcoming challenges.Researchers have begun to identify those aspects of the teaching situation that enhance students’ self-motivation (Lowman, 1984; Lucas, 1990; Weinert and Kluwe, 1987; Bligh, 1971). To encourage students to become self-motivated independent learners, instructors can do the following:

  • Give frequent, early, positive feedback that supports students’ beliefs that they can do well.
  • Ensure opportunities for students’ success by assigning tasks that are neither too easy nor too difficult.
  • Help students find personal meaning and value in the material.
  • Create an atmosphere that is open and positive.
  • Help students feel that they are valued members of a learning community.

Research has also shown that good everyday teaching practices can do more to counter student apathy than special efforts to attack motivation directly (Ericksen, 1978). Most students respond positively to a well-organized course taught by an enthusiastic instructor who has a genuine interest in students and what they learn. Thus activities you undertake to promote learning will also enhance students’ motivation.

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