Tag Archives: teaching

Teaching and learning inventories

Photo by inthepotter’shands

I am currently reading the second edition of Maryellen Weimer‘s excellent book titled “Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice“.

In it, she refers readers to a number of inventories relevant to post-secondary teaching and learning (many of these I have not heard of and would like to follow up on). Here is a list of all those she has written about up to page 158 (that is as far as I’ve gotten in the book), with links to some further information.

Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) -self-report instrument designed to measure students’ motivational orientations and their use of different learning strategies. (p.35 in Weimer’s book). See here for more information.  And/or, see here for article by Pintrich & De Groot.

Revised Study Process Questionnaire (R-SPQ-2F) – assesses students’ deep and surface approaches to learning. (p. 32 in Weimer’s book). See here for article by Biggs, Kember, and Leung (scroll to page 19 for questionnaire)

Approaches to Teaching Inventory – provides insight into how academics approach their teaching (p.32 in Weimer’s book). See here (PDF).

Classroom Climate Inventory – gives instructors input on the actual climate within a class in order to evaluate how conducive that atmosphere is to learning. (p.147-148 Weimer’s book). See here (Word version of inventory can be downloaded).

Autonomous Learning Survey – short survey that helps students assess themselves as autonomous (or dependent) learners.  (p.150 Weimer’s book) See here for a Faculty Focus piece with the inventory.


Please email me at isabeau.iqbal(at)ubc.ca or send me a tweet @isabeauiqbal if you have more I can add to this list!


Becoming better listeners

listen to me...

I recently read the textbook Communicating Mindfully by Dr. Dan Huston (@huston_dan) who has written a practical  resource for instructors in post-secondary education.  Though I was drawn to many ideas throughout the book, in this post I consider those from Becoming Better Listeners (Chapter 3) because of their relevance to the work I do with the Formative Peer Review of Teaching Program and in my other educational development work.

Why is active listening so rare in our lives?

Huston suggests that one of the main reasons active listening (sometimes called deep listening) is so rare in our lives is because of our wandering minds, which entertain regularly changing thoughts. Given that we typically function at high speed and on a tight schedule, efficiency is our priority. As such, we often allot a set time to conversations; this does not create the spaciousness needed for active listening. I have only to think about my Outlook calendar and typical work week: all my meetings (which are, in effect, discussions and/or conversations of one sort or another) have pre-determined start and end times.

Behaviours that interfere with active listening

In contexts where we do not create spaciousness for conversations, we may behave in ways that interfere with active listening. Such behaviours include:

  • denying how the other person is feeling
  • interrogating (e.g., “didn’t I tell you not to…?”)
  • giving unwanted advice and/or psychological opinions
  • asking questions that pull the speaker away from what they are trying to stay (i.e., steering the conversation in the direction we want)
  • blaming the person (‘x happened because you left things to the last minute’)

Huston notes that the above list has been adapted from Rebecca Shafir’s book The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction (p.123-129.)

Self-awareness improves deep listening

Though Huston recognizes that some of the behaviours above may be appropriate in specific conditions (e.g., asking questions to get someone back on a topic), he points out that it is our impatience which often leads to the interfering behaviours. This resonated with me. Huston suggests that when we feel strong emotions, such as impatience, as we are listening, we can learn to observe the emotions in our brains and body. Though it seems paradoxical, we can become better listeners when we are more self-aware. This sort of mindfulness recognizes that we cannot predict or necessarily choose how we are going to feel in a conversation, yet it can help us be more attentive to the present moment. By making “empathy a higher priority than getting things done quickly” (p.64), we can become better listeners. That empathy needs to be directed towards the conversation partner and towards ourselves when we experience emotions, as listeners, that make us potentially less skillful listeners.

Interested in practicing mindfulness and/or using it in your teaching or educational development practice?

Huston provides many do-able mindfulness exercises throughout his book (and he counters the fear that practicing mindfulness means having to do everything at “a snail’s pace”). These exercises can be applied in teaching and/or in non-teaching contexts.  The web also has countless sites with suggestions, and recordings, etc. See, for example:


The Peer Review of Teaching: Pre-Observation Meeting

Padlock 1 & Key 5

Much of my work and scholarship revolves around the peer review of teaching.  This morning I spent my time revising a resource on the formative peer review of teaching section of CTLT’s website. The resource is useful for any reviewer or reviewee  as it highlights many considerations and process-related questions; it also provides sample wording that a reviewer might use in a pre-observation meeting.

The 3-page PDF can be found here.  I encourage you to use it and adapt it for your own purposes.

My goal over the next few months is to update the formative peer review section of the site and share out these resources.


Photo credit: Brenda Clark. Flickr.Padlock 1 & Key 5. Creative Commons (Attribution 2.0 Generic)



Silent Socratic Dialogue


Anyone who teaches knows that, in a given class, there are students who talk readily and others who don’t.

As a way to “hear” the thoughts of those who don’t normally speak out loud, and as a means to find out what students were thinking about a topic/concept that I had introduced the class before, I decided to try an activity called the “Silent Socratic Dialogue”, which is based, of course on the Socratic Method.

In many resources on teaching and learning in higher education, you will find reference to The Socratic Method. Variously defined, this description works well for me:

“In the Socratic method, the classroom experience is a shared dialogue between teacher and students in which both are responsible for pushing the dialogue forward through questioning. The “teacher,” or leader of the dialogue, asks probing questions in an effort to expose the values and beliefs which frame and support the thoughts and statements of the participants in the inquiry. The students ask questions as well, both of the teacher and each other.” (Stanford’s “Speaking of Teaching” Newsletter, 2003. Theme issue on Socratic Method)

Silent Socratic Dialogue is a variation of the Socratic Method (also called Socratic Dialogue) in that the activity happens in silence (surprise, surprise!).  In my teaching, I used this activity because I wanted to:

(1) ‘Hear’ what students were thinking/wondering about a topic that had been introduced the previous class and which I thought might have spurred curiousity, frustration, doubt….or??

(2) Give students the chance to express their thoughts individually;  and

(3)  Provide the opportunity for some dialogue, but not in the forum of a large or small group discussion.

I conducted this activity as  follows:

  • I introduced the activity and explained the process. See here.
  • I asked each student to spend 3-4 minutes reflecting on a topic that had been introduced last class. Students hand-wrote their reflections on a piece of paper and also wrote their name on their paper.
  • Students switched papers and read their partner’s reflections. Then, each ‘reader’ posed a question that asked the writer to clarify or expand on their response.  The idea here was to probe in ways that would help both students gain further understanding of their assumptions, beliefs or values with respect to the topic. Responders also wrote their names on the paper.
  • Repeat for a few cycles.
  • Papers with responses were turned into me.

I found the reflections and responses illuminating  because they gave me a sense of what students were thinking/feeling/wondering in regards to the concept that had been introduced the previous class. The written dialogue showed me the variations of interpretations and also the remaining questions.  I was able to address several of these (without making reference to any particular student) in future classes.

Additional references on Silent Socratic Dialogue:

Silent Socratic Dialog (Teaching Strategies for Learner-Centered Classroom) (PDF)

The Silent Socratic Dialogue by “On Course Workshop”

Using Socratic Dialogue in online teaching (YouTube video)

Photo Credit, Flickr Creative Commons: Marc Wathieu  https: //flickr/p/5uiaEu

Immediate and Specific Feedback Helps Learning

Since attending the 2015 STLHE Conference last week, I have–once again– been thinking about the key role of feedback in promoting learning.  It was Marsha Lovett’s keynote, in which she spoke about deliberate practice, that has re-surfaced the importance of immediate, informal feedback, specifically as a way to improve one’s performance of a skill.

I’ll elaborate with a personal example of taking private singing lessons. This I started doing in the fall of 2014, after more than four decades of being terrified of singing (but being so moved by the power of a singing voice).  When I am in my lessons, I feel that I proceed without knowing what I am doing.  My teacher, George, plays the piano and  I put the words or sounds to the music.  He says things such as “that’s just fine” or “very nice” or “getting there” or “try that again” and I don’t have a clue of what he’s picking up on most of the time.  As a teacher and educational developer, I cannot help but think about our novice students and wonder whether they, too, are challenged at interpreting our feedback.  So, yesterday, I started asking George more questions.

George: You’re making progress!

Me: George, when you say I’m making progress, can you tell me what you were referring to specifically? What are the top 2 things I have made progress on?


George: You went into your head voice there.

Me: What do you mean when you say that I went into my head voice?  Is that good? bad? (Under what conditions, if any, is that desirable?)


You get the picture.

So, here is what I’ve learned and/or been reminded of in the past few days:

1. As a teacher wanting to improve my students’ performance of ________  skill , my feedback to them needs to be specific and immediate. As a feedback giver, I must do my best to ensure that they grasp the meaning of what I am saying and are able to apply it so their practice of ________ skill becomes more deliberate.

2. As a student, I need to ask questions of my teacher when the meaning of his/her feedback is not clear or specific enough for me to be able to apply it to my practice.

3. How I practice is more important than “just” practicing.  As Dr. Marsha Lovett said, it’s not “practice makes perfect” but a specific way of practicing that helps us, as learners, become more expert in a particular skill.

Dance Practice

photo credit: Dance Practice by Skyline College PR & Marketing (flic.kr/p/q99WgW)