28 November, 2008


By Matthew Weller, Los Angeles Business Journal, March 14, 2005

Basic principles of motivation exist that are applicable to learning in any situation.

1. The environment can be used to focus the student's attention on what needs to be learned.

Teachers who create warm and accepting yet business-like atmospheres will promote persistent effort and favorable attitudes toward learning. This strategy will be successful in children and in adults. Interesting visual aids, such as booklets, posters, or practice equipment, motivate learners by capturing their attention and curiosity.

2. Incentives motivate learning.
Incentives include privileges and receiving praise from the instructor. The instructor determines an incentive that is likely to motivate an individual at a particular time. In a general learning situation, self-motivation without rewards will not succeed. Students must find satisfaction in learning based on the understanding that the goals are useful to them or, less commonly, based on the pure enjoyment of exploring new things.

3. Internal motivation is longer lasting and more self-directive than is external motivation, which must be repeatedly reinforced by praise or concrete rewards.

Some individuals -- particularly children of certain ages and some adults -- have little capacity for internal motivation and must be guided and reinforced constantly. The use of incentives is based on the principle that learning occurs more effectively when the student experiences feelings of satisfaction. Caution should be exercised in using external rewards when they are not absolutely necessary. Their use may be followed by a decline in internal motivation.

4. Learning is most effective when an individual is ready to learn, that is, when one wants to know something.
Sometimes the student's readiness to learn comes with time, and the instructor's role is to encourage its development. If a desired change in behavior is urgent, the instructor may need to supervised directly to ensure that the desired behavior occurs. If a student is not ready to learn, he or she may not be reliable in following instructions and therefore must be supervised and have the instructions repeated again and again.

5. Motivation is enhanced by the way in which the instructional material is organized.
In general, the best organized material makes the information meaningful to the individual. One method of organization includes relating new tasks to those already known. Other ways to relay meaning are to determine whether the persons being taught understand the final outcome desired and instruct them to compare and contrast ideas.

None of the techniques will produce sustained motivation unless the goals are realistic for the learner. The basic learning principle involved is that success is more predictably motivating than is failure. Ordinarily, people will choose activities of intermediate uncertainty rather than those that are difficult (little likelihood of success) or easy (high probability of success). For goals of high value there is less tendency to choose more difficult conditions. Having learners assist in defining goals increases the probability that they will understand them and want to reach them. However, students sometimes have unrealistic notions about what they can accomplish. Possibly they do not understand the precision with which a skill must be carried out or have the depth of knowledge to master some material. To identify realistic goals, instructors must be skilled in assessing a student's readiness or a student's progress toward goals.

1. Because learning requires changed in beliefs and behavior, it normally produces a mild level of anxiety.

This is useful in motivating the individual. However, severe anxiety is incapacitating. A high degree of stress is inherent in some educational situations. If anxiety is severe, the individual's perception of what is going on around him or her is limited. Instructors must be able to identify anxiety and understand its effect on learning. They also have a responsibility to avoid causing severe anxiety in learners by setting ambiguous of unrealistically high goals for them.

2. It is important to help each student set goals and to provide informative feedback regarding progress toward the goals.

Setting a goal demonstrates an intention to achieve and activates learning from one day to the next. It also directs the student's activities toward the goal and offers an opportunity to experience success.

3. Both affiliation and approval are strong motivators.

People seek others with whom to compare their abilities, opinions, and emotions. Affiliation can also result in direct anxiety reduction by the social acceptance and the mere presence of others. However, these motivators can also lead to conformity, competition, and other behaviors that may seem as negative.

4. Many behaviors result from a combination of motives.

It is recognized that no grand theory of motivation exists. However, motivation is so necessary for learning that strategies should be planned to organize a continuous and interactive motivational dynamic for maximum effectiveness. The general principles of motivation are interrelated. A single teaching action can use many of them simultaneously.

Finally, it should be said that an enormous gap exists between knowing that learning must be motivated and identifying the specific motivational components of any particular act. Instructors must focus on learning patterns of motivation for an individual or group, with the realization that errors will be common.



BEGINNING: When learner enters and starts learning


ATTITUDES: Toward the environment, teacher, subject matter, and self

NEEDS: The basic need within the learner at the time of learning


-- Make the conditions that surround the subject positive.

-- Positively confront the possibly erroneous beliefs, expectations, and assumptions that may underlie a negative learner attitude.

-- Reduce or remove components of the learning environment that lead to failure or fear.

-- Plan activities to allow learners to meet esteem needs.


During: When learner is involved in the body or main content of the learning process.


STIMULATION: The stimulation processes affecting learner during the learning experience.

AFFECT: The emotional experience of the learner while learning.


-- Change style and content of the learning activity.

-- Make learner reaction and involvement essential parts of the learning process, that is, problem solving, role playing, stimulation.

-- Use learner concerns to organize content and to develop themes and teaching procedures.

-- Use a group cooperation goal to maximize learner involvement and sharing.


ENDING: When learner is completing the learning process.


COMPETENCE: The competence value for the learner that is a result of the learning behaviors.

REINFORCEMENT: The reinforcement value attached to the learning experience, for the learner.


-- Provide consistent feedback regarding mastery of learning.

-- Acknowledge and affirm the learners' responsibility in completing the learning task.

-- When learning has natural consequences, allow them to be congruently evident.

-- Provide artificial reinforcement when it contributes to successful learning, and provide closure with a positive ending.


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.

General Strategies
Capitalize on students' existing needs. Students learn best when incentives for learning in a classroom satisfy their own motives for enrolling in the course. Some of the needs your students may bring to the classroom are the need to learn something in order to complete a particular task or activity, the need to seek new experiences, the need to perfect skills, the need to overcome challenges, the need to become competent, the need to succeed and do well, the need to feel involved and to interact with other people. Satisfying such needs is rewarding in itself, and such rewards sustain learning more effectively than do grades. Design assignments, in-class activities, and discussion questions to address these kinds of needs. (Source: McMillan and Forsyth, 1991)

Make students active participants in learning. Students learn by doing, making, writing, designing, creating, solving. Passivity dampens students' motivation and curiosity. Pose questions. Don't tell students something when you can ask them. Encourage students to suggest approaches to a problem or to guess the results of an experiment. Use small group work. See "Leading a Discussion," "Supplements and Alternatives to Lecturing," and "Collaborative Learning" for methods that stress active participation. (Source: Lucas, 1990)

Ask students to analyze what makes their classes more or less "motivating." Sass (1989) asks his classes to recall two recent class periods, one in which they were highly motivated and one in which their motivation was low. Each student makes a list of specific aspects of the two classes that influenced his or her level of motivation, and students then meet in small groups to reach consensus on characteristics that contribute to high and low motivation. In over twenty courses, Sass reports, the same eight characteristics emerge as major contributors to student motivation:

* Instructor's enthusiasm
* Relevance of the material
* Organization of the course
* Appropriate difficulty level of the material
* Active involvement of students
* Variety
* Rapport between teacher and students
* Use of appropriate, concrete, and understandable examples

Incorporating Instructional Behaviors That Motivate Students
Hold high but realistic expectations for your students. Research has shown that a teacher's expectations have a powerful effect on a student's performance. If you act as though you expect your students to be motivated, hardworking, and interested in the course, they are more likely to be so. Set realistic expectations for students when you make assignments, give presentations, conduct discussions, and grade examinations. "Realistic" in this context means that your standards are high enough to motivate students to do their best work but not so high that students will inevitably be frustrated in trying to meet those expectations. To develop the drive to achieve, students need to believe that achievement is possible -which means that you need to provide early opportunities for success. (Sources: American Psychological Association, 1992; Bligh, 1971; Forsyth and McMillan, 1991 -1 Lowman, 1984)

Help students set achievable goals for themselves. Failure to attain unrealistic goals can disappoint and frustrate students. Encourage students to focus on their continued improvement, not just on their grade on any one test or assignment. Help students evaluate their progress by encouraging them to critique their own work, analyze their strengths, and work on their weaknesses. For example, consider asking students to submit self-evaluation forms with one or two assignments. (Sources: Cashin, 1979; Forsyth and McMillan, 1991)

Tell students what they need to do to succeed in your course. Don't let your students struggle to figure out what is expected of them. Reassure students that they can do well in your course, and tell them exactly what they must do to succeed. Say something to the effect that "If you can handle the examples on these problem sheets, you can pass the exam. People who have trouble with these examples can ask me for extra help." Or instead of saying, "You're way behind," tell the student, "Here is one way you could go about learning the material. How can I help you?" (Sources: Cashin, 1979; Tiberius, 1990)

Strengthen students' self-motivation. Avoid messages that reinforce your power as an instructor or that emphasize extrinsic rewards. Instead of saying, "I require," "you must," or "you should," stress "I think you will find. . . " or "I will be interested in your reaction." (Source: Lowman, 1990)

Avoid creating intense competition among students. Competition produces anxiety, which can interfere with learning. Reduce students' tendencies to compare themselves to one another. Bligh (1971) reports that students are more attentive, display better comprehension, produce more work, and are more favorable to the teaching method when they work cooperatively in groups rather than compete as individuals. Refrain from public criticisms of students' performance and from comments or activities that pit students against each other. (Sources: Eble, 1988; Forsyth and McMillan, 1991)

Be enthusiastic about your subject. An instructor's enthusiasm is a crucial factor in student motivation. If you become bored or apathetic, students will too. Typically, an instructor's enthusiasm comes from confidence, excitement about the content, and genuine pleasure in teaching. If you find yourself uninterested in the material, think back to what attracted you to the field and bring those aspects of the subject matter to life for your students. Or challenge yourself to devise the most exciting way topresent the material, however dull the material itself may seem to you.

Structuring the Course to Motivate Students
Work from students' strengths and interests. Find out why students are enrolled in your course, how they feel about the subject matter, and what their expectations are. Then try to devise examples, case studies, or assignments that relate the course content to students' interests and experiences. For instance, a chemistry professor might devote some lecture time to examining the contributions of chemistry to resolving environmental problems. Explain how the content and objectives of your course will help students achieve their educational, professional, or personal goals. (Sources: Brock, 1976; Cashin, 1979; Lucas, 1990)

When possible, let students have some say in choosing what will be studied. Give students options on term papers or other assignments (but not on tests). Let students decide between two locations for the field trip, or have them select which topics to explore in greater depth. If possible, include optional or alternative units in the course. (Sources: Ames and Ames, 1990; Cashin, 1979; Forsyth and McMillan, 1991; Lowman, 1984)

Increase the difficulty of the material as the semester progresses. Give students opportunities to succeed at the beginning of the semester. Once students feel they can succeed, you can gradually increase the difficulty level. If assignments and exams include easier and harder questions, every student will have a chance to experience success as well as challenge. (Source: Cashin, 1979)

Vary your teaching methods. Variety reawakens students' involvement in the course and their motivation. Break the routine by incorporating a variety of teaching activities and methods in your course: role playing, debates, brainstorming, discussion, demonstrations, case studies, audiovisual presentations, guest speakers, or small group work. (Source: Forsyth and McMillan, 1991)

De-emphasizing Grades
Emphasize mastery and learning rather than grades. Ames and Ames (1990) report on two secondary school math teachers. One teacher graded every homework assignment and counted homework as 30 percent of a student's final grade. The second teacher told students to spend a fixed amount of time on their homework (thirty minutes a night) and to bring questions to class about problems they could not complete. This teacher graded homework as satisfactory or unsatisfactory, gave students the opportunity to redo their assignments, and counted homework as 10 percent of the final grade. Although homework was a smaller part of the course grade, this second teacher was more successful in motivating students to turn in their homework. In the first class, some students gave up rather than risk low evaluations of their abilities. In the second class, students were not risking their self-worth each time they did their homework but rather were attempting to learn. Mistakes were viewed as acceptable and something to learn from.

Researchers recommend de-emphasizing grading by eliminating complex systems of credit points; they also advise against trying to use grades to control nonacademic behavior (for example, lowering grades for missed classes) (Forsyth and McMillan, 1991; Lowman 1990). Instead, assign ungraded written work, stress the personal satisfaction of doing assignments, and help students measure their progress.

Design tests that encourage the kind of learning you want students to achieve. Many students will learn whatever is necessary to get the grades they desire. If you base your tests on memorizing details, students will focus on memorizing facts. If your tests stress the synthesis and evaluation of information, students will be motivated to practice those skills when they study. (Source: McKeachie, 1986)

Avoid using grades as threats. As McKeachie (1986) points out, the threat of low grades may prompt some students to work hard, but other students may resort to academic dishonesty, excuses for late work, and other counterproductive behavior.

Motivating Students by Responding to Their Work
Give students feedback as quickly as possible. Return tests and papers promptly, and reward success publicly and immediately. Give students some indication of how well they have done and how to improve. Rewards can be as simple as saying a student's response was good, with an indication of why it was good, or mentioning the names of contributors: "Cherry's point about pollution really synthesized the ideas we had been discussing." (Source: Cashin, 1979)

Reward success. Both positive and negative comments influence motivation, but research consistently indicates that students are more affected by positive feedback and success. Praise builds students' self-confidence, competence, and self-esteem. Recognize sincere efforts even if the product is less than stellar. If a student's performance is weak, let the student know that you believe he or she can improve and succeed over time. (Sources: Cashin, 1979; Lucas, 1990)

Introduce students to the good work done by their peers. Share the ideas, knowledge, and accomplishments of individual students with the class as a whole:

* Pass out a list of research topics chosen by students so they will know whether others are writing papers of interest to them.
* Make available copies of the best papers and essay exams.
* Provide class time for students to read papers or assignments submitted by classmates.
* Have students write a brief critique of a classmate's paper.
* Schedule a brief talk by a student who has experience or who is doing a research paper on a topic relevant to your lecture.

Be specific when giving negative feedback. Negative feedback is very powerful and can lead to a negative class atmosphere. Whenever you identify a student's weakness, make it clear that your comments relate to a particular task or performance, not to the student as a person. Try to cushion negative comments with a compliment about aspects of the task in which the student succeeded. (Source: Cashin, 1979)

Avoid demeaning comments. Many students in your class may be anxious about their performance and abilities. Be sensitive to how you phrase your comments and avoid offhand remarks that might prick their feelings of inadequacy.

Avoid giving in to students' pleas for "the answer" to homework problems. When you simply give struggling students the solution, you rob them of the chance to think for themselves. Use a more productive approach (adapted from Fiore, 1985):

* Ask the students for one possible approach to the problem.
* Gently brush aside students’ anxiety about not getting the answer by refocusing their attention on the problem at hand.
* Ask the students to build on what they do know about the problem.
* Resist answering the question "is this right?" Suggest to the students a way to check the answer for themselves.
* Praise the students for small, independent steps.

If you follow these steps, your students will learn that it is all right not to have an instant answer. They will also learn to develop greater patience and to work at their own pace. And by working through the problem, students will experience a sense of achievement and confidence that will increase their motivation to learn.

Motivating Students to Do the Reading

Assign the reading at least two sessions before it will be discussed. Give students ample time to prepare and try to pique their curiosity about the reading: "This article is one of my favorites, and I'll be interested to see what you think about it." (Sources: Lowman, 1984; "When They Don't Do the Reading," 1989)

Assign study questions. Hand out study questions that alert students to the key points of the reading assignment. To provide extra incentive for students, tell them you will base exam questions on the study questions. (Source: "When They Don't Do the Reading," 1989)

If your class is small, have students turn in brief notes on the day's reading that they can use during exams. At the start of each class, a professor in the physical sciences asks students to submit a 3" x 5" card with an outline, definitions, key ideas, or other material from the day's assigned reading. After class, he checks the cards and stamps them with his name. He returns the cards to students at a class session prior to the midterm. Students can then add any material they would like to the cards but cannot submit additional cards. The cards are again returned to the faculty member who distributes them to students during the test. This faculty member reports that the number of students completing the reading jumped from 10 percent to 90 percent and that students especially valued these "survival cards." Source: Daniel, 1988)

Ask students to write a one-word journal or one-word sentence. Angelo (1991) describes the one-word journal as follows: students are asked to choose a single word that best summarizes the reading and then write a page or less explaining or justifying their word choice. This assignment can then be used as a basis for class discussion. A variation reported by Erickson and Strommer (199 1) is to ask students to write one complex sentence in answer to a question you pose about the readings and provide three sources of supporting evidence: "In one sentence, identify the type of ethical reasoning Singer uses in his article 'Famine, Affluence, and Morality.' Quote three passages that reveal this type of ethical reasoning" (p. 125).

Ask nonthreatening questions about the reading. Initially pose general questions that do not create tension or feelings of resistance: "Can you give me one or two items from the chapter that seem important?" "What section of the reading do you think we should review?" "What item in the reading surprised you?" "What topics in the chapter can you apply to your own experience?" (Source: "When They Don't Do the Reading," 1989)

Use class time as a reading period. If you are trying to lead a discussion and find that few students have completed the reading assignment, consider asking students to read the material for the remainder of class time. Have them read silently or call on students to read aloud and discuss the key points. Make it clear to students that you are reluctantly taking this unusual step because they have not completed the assignment.

Prepare an exam question on undiscussed readings. One faculty member asks her class whether they have done the reading. If the answer is no, she says, "You'll have to read the material on your own. Expect a question on the next exam covering the reading." The next time she assigns reading, she reminds the class of what happened the last time, and the students come to class prepared. (Source: "When They Don't Do the Reading," 1989)

Give a written assignment to those students who have not done the reading. Some faculty ask at the beginning of the class who has completed the reading. Students who have not read the material are given a written assignment and dismissed. Those who have read the material stay and participate in class discussion. The written assignment is not graded but merely acknowledged. This technique should not be used more than once a term. (Source: "When They Don't Do the Reading," 1989)


By Lana Becker and Kent N. Schneider, East Tennessee State University
becker@etsu.edu or kent@etsu.edu

Principles of Accounting has the reputation of being a "hard and boring" course. It is difficult to motivate students to invest the time and effort necessary to succeed in the course. To meet this challenge, we have assembled a list of eight simple rules for keeping students focused and motivated. These rules are not original, and they aren't just for those of us who teach accounting classes. Indeed, most of these time-honored suggestions apply to any course students find hard and boring, and we think that makes them broadly applicable.

Rule 1: Emphasize the most critical concepts continuously. Reiterate these concepts in lectures and assignments throughout the course. Include questions relating to these critical subjects on every exam, thus rewarding students for learning, retaining, and, hopefully, applying this knowledge in a variety of contexts.

Rule 2: Provide students with a "visual aid" when possible to explain abstract concepts. A significant proportion of today's students are visual learners. For these students, a simple diagram or flowchart truly can be more valuable than a thousand words in a text or a lecture.

Rule 3: Rely on logic when applicable. Point out to students which information is merely "fact" that must be memorized and which course material is based upon "logic." Show students how to employ logical thinking to learn and retain new information. For example, in the double-entry bookkeeping system, "debits" equal "credits," and debit entries cause assets to increase. These are "facts" or features of the system; they are not based on logic. However, once the student accepts the system, logic can be used to operate within the system. Continuing the example, if debit entries increase assets, it is logical that credit entries will cause assets to decrease.

Rule 4: Use in-class activities to reinforce newly presented material. After a new concept or subject has been presented via text reading, lecture, or class discussion, allow the students to put the concept into action by completing an in-class assignment. These assignments can be short, but they must be developed to ensure that the students understand the critical concepts underlying the new material. Typically, the most learning takes place when the students are permitted to work in small groups, to refer to their text and notes, and to ask questions of the instructor while completing the assignment. If these in-class assignments are part of the course grading scheme, class attendance also improves.

Rule 5: Help students create a "link" when teaching something new. If the student can "link" the new material to something already learned, the odds of learning the new material are greatly increased. Examples of possible links include: prior material learned in this course (e.g., the critical concepts described in Rule 1), material learned in prerequisite courses, and "real-life" experiences of the students outside the classroom.

Rule 6: Recognize the importance of vocabulary in a course. Students often struggle with new vocabulary in many courses, especially introductory ones. To succeed in these courses, students must become comfortable with the new terminology. As subjects are presented, new and/or confusing terms should be identified and introduced to the students. Present "real-world" definitions and alternative terminology, in addition to textbook definitions. One way to help students assimilate the course vocabulary is to create a "living" glossary on the instructor's website where new terminology is added, explained, and illustrated throughout the course.

Rule 7: Treat students with respect. Patronizing behavior may be expected in primary school teachers, and :drill sergeant" strategies may be effective in military book camps. However, most college student will not respond well to these techniques. Give students their dignity, and they will give you their best efforts.

Rule 8: Hold students to a high standard. If students are not required to maintain a specified level of learning and performance, only the most highly motivated students will devote the time and effort necessary to learn. In contrast, maintaining high standards not only will motivate student learning, it will also be the source of student feelings of accomplishment when those standards are met.

Each of these rules can help motivate even the most lethargic student, but Rule 7 and 8 are the most important. If students are not treated with respect and held to a high standard, scrupulously following the first six rules will have much less impact and might end up being an exercise in futility.


A teacher says: "I can accept my good students, those who behave and do good work, but I can't accept those who do not work, who have the wrong attitude and who cause me trouble." They forget that it's the acceptance of all that gives power to the teacher. In fact, it is in relation to students who are difficult that the teacher's true qualities are demonstrated. We all find it easy to accept those who lend themselves to our designs. It is in their relationship to those who cause them trouble, who are dirty and poorly dressed, and who fail to achieve that teachers prove their beliefs.

It is the essence of the point of view here presented that only a complete gift of oneself makes the teacher an artist. Teaching is a jealous profession; it is not a sideline. This is not only because of the problem of time, nor because of the impact of lesser efforts on pupils: it is because of the effect on the teacher himself. It is only as we give fully of ourselves that we can become our best selves. Thus halfway measures and attitudes of whatever kind reduce our effectiveness.

When we ask the teacher to give himself fully to his students, to his colleagues, to his community, and to humanity, we are thus only asking him to be maximally effective. Moreover, it is only as he gives himself that he can experience completely the joys and satisfactions of being a teacher. In this situation he is in the same position as any artist. Frustrated artists are often those who for one reason or another are unable or unwilling to make a complete gift of themselves to their art. Similarly, the unhappiest teachers are those who bemoan the weaknesses of their pupils and the conditions under which they work and who fail to sense that it is their own half-hearted efforts that defraud them.

One measure of the teacher's willingness to give of himself is his accessibility to his students, his willingness to spend time with them. One difficulty here is the narrow conception that often prevails about what it means to teach. To teach means more than to lecture or explain before a group of students. The best teachers influence their students more in their personal, individual contacts with them than in strict classroom situations. If teaching and learning are complementary processes, if the teacher is to teach by learning and if his teaching is to be directed toward an individual, he must know that individual. And how is he to know that individual if he spends little or no time with him alone?

Another illusion defeats us. It is that there is some magic in lecturing and in the hearing of recitations. We want as much time for this as possible. We begrudge taking time to work with individual pupils. Yet we know very little about the actual effectiveness of what we do. Is it not at least possible that our classroom work would be greatly increased in effectiveness if only we spent more time with our pupils as individuals? We seem to be obsessed with teaching. We know that no one can educate another person, that all of us must educate ourselves. The teacher's role is that of a helper in this process. The question is: How can we best help?

By Ernest O. Melby from his book
The Teacher and Learning, 1963
Available from the Center for Applied Research in Education, Inc.,
70 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10011

26 November, 2008

Keys to Being a Successful Teacher

The most successful teachers share some common characteristics. Here are the top six keys to being a successful teacher. Every teacher can benefit from focusing on these important qualities. Success in teaching, as in most areas of life, depends almost entirely on your attitude and your approach.

1) Sense of Humor

A sense of humor can help you become a successful teacher. Your sense of humor can relieve tense classroom situations before they become disruptions. A sense of humor will also make class more enjoyable for your students and possibly make students look forward to attending and paying attention. Most importantly, a sense of humor will allow you to see the joy in life and make you a happier person as you progress through this sometimes stressful career.

2) A Positive Attitude

A positive attitude is a great asset in life. You will be thrown many curve balls in life and especially in the teaching profession. A positive attitude will help you cope with these in the best way. For example, you may find out the first day of school that you are teaching Algebra 2 instead of Algebra 1. This would not be an ideal situation, but a teacher with the right attitude would try to focus on getting through the first day without negatively impacting the students.

3) High Expectations

An effective teacher must have high expectations. You should strive to raise the bar for your students. If you expect less effort you will receive less effort. You should work on an attitude that says that you know students can achieve to your level of expectations, thereby giving them a sense of confidence too. This is not to say that you should create unrealistic expectations. However, your expectations will be one of the key factors in helping students learn and achieve.

4) Consistency

In order to create a positive learning environment your students should know what to expect from you each day. You need to be consistent. This will create a safe learning environment for the students and they will be more likely to succeed. It is amazing that students can adapt to teachers throughout the day that range from strict to easy. However, they will dislike an environment in which the rules are constantly changing.

5) Fairness

Many people confuse fairness and consistency. A consistent teacher is the same person from day to day. A fair teacher treats students equally in the same situation. For example, students complain of unfairness when teachers treat one gender or group of students differently. It would be terribly unfair to go easier on the football players in a class than on the cheerleaders. Students pick up on this so quickly, so be careful of being labelled unfair.

6) Flexibility

One of the tenets of teaching should be that everything is in a constant state of change. Interruptions and disruptions are the norm and very few days are ‘typical’. Therefore, a flexible attitude is important not only for your stress level but also for your students who expect you to be in charge and take control of any situation.

24 November, 2008


By Richard Leblanc, York University, Ontario
This article appeared in The Teaching Professor after Professor Leblanc won a Seymous Schulich Award for Teaching Excellence including a $10,000 cash award. Reprinted here with the permission of Professor Leblanc.

One. Good teaching is as much about passion as it is about reason. It’s about not only motivating students to learn, but teaching them how to learn, and doing so in a manner that is relevant, meaningful, and memorable. It’s about caring for your craft, having a passion for it, and conveying that passion to everyone, most importantly to your students.

Two. Good teaching is about substance and treating students as consumers of knowledge. It’s about doing your best to keep on top of your field, reading sources, inside and outside of your areas of expertise, and being at the leading edge as often as possible. But knowledge is not confined to scholarly journals. Good teaching is also about bridging the gap between theory and practice. It’s about leaving the ivory tower and immersing oneself in the field, talking to, consulting with, and assisting practitioners, and liaisoning with their communities.

Three. Good teaching is about listening, questioning, being responsive, and remembering that each student and class is different. It’s about eliciting responses and developing the oral communication skills of the quiet students. It’s about pushing students to excel; at the same time, it’s about being human, respecting others, and being professional at all times.

Four. Good teaching is about not always having a fixed agenda and being rigid, but being flexible, fluid, experimenting, and having the confidence to react and adjust to changing circumstances. It’s about getting only 10 percent of what you wanted to do in a class done and still feeling good. It’s about deviating from the course syllabus or lecture schedule easily when there is more and better learning elsewhere. Good teaching is about the creative balance between being an authoritarian dictator on the one hand and a pushover on the other.

Five. Good teaching is also about style. Should good teaching be entertaining? You bet! Does this mean that it lacks in substance? Not a chance! Effective teaching is not about being locked with both hands glued to a podium or having your eyes fixated on a slide projector while you drone on. Good teachers work the room and every student in it. They realize that they are the conductors and the class is the orchestra. All students play different instruments and at varying proficiencies.

Six. This is very important — good teaching is about humor. It’s about being self-deprecating and not taking yourself too seriously. It’s often about making innocuous jokes, mostly at your own expense, so that the ice breaks and students learn in a more relaxed atmosphere where you, like them, are human with your own share of faults and shortcomings.

Seven. Good teaching is about caring, nurturing, and developing minds and talents. It’s about devoting time, often invisible, to every student. It’s also about the thankless hours of grading, designing or redesigning courses, and preparing materials to still further enhance instruction.

Eight. Good teaching is supported by strong and visionary leadership, and very tangible institutional support — resources, personnel, and funds. Good teaching is continually reinforced by an overarching vision that transcends the entire organization — from full professors to part-time instructors — and is reflected in what is said, but more importantly by what is done.

Nine. Good teaching is about mentoring between senior and junior faculty, teamwork, and being recognized and promoted by one’s peers. Effective teaching should also be rewarded, and poor teaching needs to be remediated through training and development programs.

Ten. At the end of the day, good teaching is about having fun, experiencing pleasure and intrinsic rewards … like locking eyes with a student in the back row and seeing the synapses and neurons connecting, thoughts being formed, the person becoming better, and a smile cracking across a face as learning all of a sudden happens. Good teachers practice their craft not for the money or because they have to, but because they truly enjoy it and because they want to. Good teachers couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

23 November, 2008

How to make your child a passionate reader?

Books widen the doors of imagination and stimulate the mind. Desire of Knowledge is a natural feeling. Lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel. Some read to think, some read to write but majority of them need to talk! Our mind is a wanderer as it creates thoughts, thoughts create intentions and intentions create reality! Thoughts rule the world! The mind in its own place and itself can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven.

One of the most neglected Educational snags in Schools is ‘Lack of Reading Habit’. Ask most of the kids and they seldom prefer Reading as a hobby. No wonder, most of the child’s school day is devoted to reading-skills instructions yet, words remain bookish and many kids can hardly read any other book other than the school Text. This is a major drawback, which is overlooked by many Educators and parents, which becomes a serious ‘stumbling block’ in the development of a child in the later stage. Here are a few ideas to motivate and encourage Reading Habits in your home whether the child is toddler or adolescent.

Bed Time Reading: Reading habits during Bedtime should be a family ritual that can begin virtually as soon as the child is able to recognize people and surroundings. Show the pictures and Words in a routine manner. This practice doesn’t have to stop when the children begin school or even may enter higher classes. Find out age appropriate books in Bookshops. You can read literature that ranges from nursery rhymes and counting books to fairy tales, fiction, mysteries or science fun. The time that you spend reading together will become a special part of the day for you and your kids.

Form a routine weekly habit of visiting a Library or a Book Shop that provide Reading facilities. Let the child browse through the shelves looking for books that interest him. Encourage your child to branch out to unfamiliar shelves to dig out to discover books that might arise his interest.

Set up Story hour’s session. Reading and narrating story will gradually make the child get interested in Books. Not only reading, the child improves on his speech skill and narration becomes easier with exchange of stories. Oral Book review session builds up speech forms and makes the child more confident too.

Make the Kids to write Book Reviews. Motivate the child to read and write down the Book reviews. Let them jot down the Name of the book, main characters, Best part of the story, New words and Moral or Opinion of the story. This will jump start them to use their own brains and write down the review in their own words as per their understanding. In process, the child would definitely read a book once he has to write down the review and also build up his vocabulary, own writing style and have a positive understanding power.

For many people, reading implies Books. But if you observe around, one finds words everywhere scattered like gems. Let the child form the habit of reading Advertisements, hoardings, signs and talk to them about what they tell people. Trucks, buses, even rickshaws or just about ‘Words’ anywhere while passing through the roads provide opportunities for reading and can help the child pass time in long drives too.

Newspapers and Magazines carry kids reading material. You and the kid can browse through the selection at a News-stand or Book store for ones your child may enjoy. Newspaper and Magazine subscriptions also make great gifts that can stimulate your child’s interest in reading throughout the year.

Encourage Pen-pals & E-pals. Let your kids write to friends in different countries by snail mail or email. Though telephone is a good communication tool, writing letters is a sure fire way to make the kids get interested in the ‘word world’

Making Reading Important is a sure fire way to make up your child’s Life. Just 15 minutes or half an hour a day or even just an Hour on Sunday, Let the whole family have a Reading session together in a Room with Books, Newspaper or Magazine. Or just stroll into a Library or a Club Library. A regular Reading session will instil the love of reading which will last for a life time forever.

A Lesson on Stress Management

By C. Radhakrishnan

In modern times Stress has become a Buzzword and legitimate concern for people of all walks of life. No one is immune from stress. Straight from birth to death an individual is exposed to various forms of stress. Stress has become such an issue, which can never be avoided from research and interaction in the 21st century.

The concept of stress was first introduced in Life sciences by Hans Selye in 1936. Stress acts as a force on body to produce strain. It is an adaptive response to a situation that is challenging to a person, like for some business man it is a frustration or emotional tension. It is a physical or mental pressure that restricts and acts as a hindrance in the performance of an individual. It is pressure, people feel in life due to their reaction to situation. Hans Selye defines stress as “adaptive response to the external situation that results in physical, psychological or behavioural deviation for organizational participants."

Types of Stress
There are two sides for stress – Eustress and Distress. A positive side is called a Eustress. It can be called as a pleasant or curative stress. We can't always avoid stress, in fact, sometimes we don't want to. Often, it is controlled stress that gives us our competitive edge in performance related activities like athletics, giving a speech, or acting. In short Eustress, which refers to healthy, positive, constructive outcome of stressful event. It is an experience that motivates people to achieve goals and attain success in every field of their life.

Distress is an unpleasant or disease-producing stress. Chronic, sustained, uncontrolled stress of a negative type may lead to a compromised immune system, illness, and even death. As a result, we all should become more aware of common or persistent distresses in our lives and initiate methods for managing them.

It is difficult to manage stress unless the individual experiencing stress is aware of the causes or sources of Stress. There are few common causes of stress namely the working environment, monetary satisfaction, Job profile, relationship with seniors and subordinates, family problems, etc.

There are many different ways that stress can be categorized. The three categories discussed below are just suggestions as to how you might view the sources of stress in your life. The important thing is whether your most common stressors would fall into any of the categories discussed below. If so, you will find several coping methods, which will be outlined later, that will be based on these categories of stress.

Situational Stress
Situational stress is caused by situational stressors in your immediate environment. An example would be sitting in an airplane as it is taxiing the runway for takeoff. You may be sitting, clutching the arm rests and hoping that you won't need to use the emergency instructions that the stewardess has just explained to you.

Your work environment, while you are working, is considered a situational stress. You are running back and forth, dealing with customers, counting change, answering phones, etc. When your workplace is real busy, you may experience a high level of situational stress. If your workplace is always busy, you may need some coping methods to help you function at high levels with the lowest possible negative reactions to the continual stress.
Keyword: it's happening NOW.

Body Stress
Body stress is stress that results in overt physical symptoms. Examples include abuse, such as consuming too much alcohol, abusing drugs, or exercising too much. On the other hand, some people neglect their bodies by not getting enough sleep or proper nutrition.

Many people view it as a simple hangover, but drinking too much alcohol is a stress to the body. It reduces the amount of REM or dream sleep that you experience and results in a series of problematic symptoms such as headache, fatigue and inability to concentrate. This is an example of body stress that is caused by abuse of alcohol. What is the solution to this kind of stressor? Not too much can be done about an aggressive hangover except to wait out the symptoms. The more serious problem facing you would be to ensure that this type of abuse does not become a regular feature of your life. Often, body stress is related to other sources of stress. For example, the reason that one abuses alcohol may very well have to do with stresses at work or with relationships. So, the abuse of alcohol and resulting body stress is really tied to a deteriorating relationship. In this case, your body stress is your first clue to look for other stress-related problems.
Keywords: abuse, neglect.

Mind Stress
Mind stress is caused by negatively perceiving life events. Some people have a tendency to exaggerate problems or even invent problems that don't exist. We sometimes say that these people make "mountains out of molehills". Try to catch you being pessimistic, taking things personally or jumping to conclusions.

Mind stress is very common. You could be reading a book, listening to your teacher lecture or watching a movie, and suddenly you are no longer listening but instead you are thinking about something that happened earlier that morning or something that will be happening later that day. To the extent that you are worrying or fretting over these details is an example of mind stress. People who frequently allow themselves to mentally worry or think negative thoughts are the most prone to the negative long-term effects of mind stress.
Keywords: negative thinking.

It is a proven fact that most Indian executives suffer from fatness and 44 percent of middle – level executives report that job stress drives them to high level of alcohol consumption.

Stages of Stress:
The Stress is a response of an individual to the pressure and anxiety. There are both Positive and negative occurrences which give rise to stress. There are generally three stages through which an individual goes namely: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. In Alarm, the stress act upon an individual and the defence mechanism is brought into action. The next is the Resistance here the individual adapts to new stressful situations. If the defence mechanism is not successful then the last stage the Exhaustion comes into operation. Here the individual's resistance collapses and the organism do not perform satisfactorily.

High level of stress also impairs ability to remember information, make effective decisions, and take appropriate action.

Negative Out Comes of Stress:
There are certain outcomes of stress. The stress is a hindrance for individual’s performance, his work profile, his ability to work, migraine, fatigue, heart diseases, miscarriage and also his personal life.

Recent researches show that most executives are in the advanced stages of stress. There are certain results which are shown below:

1. Emotional Instability
2. Digestive Problems
3. High Blood Pressure
4. Inability to Relax
5. Chance of worry
6. Sleeplessness
7. Absent-mindedness
8. Non cooperative Attitude
9. Feeling of Inability to cope
10. Excessive use of Alcohol or Drugs

Relationship between stress and performance:
The research evidence shows that stress is both helpful and harmful to task performance. We can also say stress is both a friend and an enemy. Absence and too low level of stress does not stimulate the employee to work more or and perform better. Recent research evidences show that increase in stress level till its mild level serves as a stimulus to activate employee to respond to the challenges of task and, in turn, facilitates employee's task performance.

At the Escorts Heart Institute in Delhi, India, routine cardiac screening indicates that most executives are in the advanced stages.

Newstrom and Devis "have compared the relationship between stress and performance with that of strings and music on a violin, just as either too little or too much tension on the strings does not produce suitable music and the violin strings need to be readjusted to accommodate the changing conditions, such as increased humidity either too low or too high stress level interferes with employees performance and thus stress needs to be periodically adjusted and moderated.

How organisations Manage Stress?

Most organisations understood the need for coping with stress. Stress is harmful, as it hinders the employee's health and his or her work performance. There are certain tactics to cope with stress, which depends upon demands and constrains in which it is used. There are different techniques used for Stress reduction like Yoga, Counselling Services, Stress Management Programmes, etc.

Yoga: Yoga and Meditation are traditional techniques used in Indian origin; Yoga is a suspension of the functions of mind. There affect the psychological well being of an individual. It is one's willingness to change and self-transformation it is a glorified form of physical exercise and relaxation therapy. Meditation is a psycho spiritual process in meditation both self and external world together.

Employees Counselling: It is proactive approach used by organization, helping them in identifying their strengths and weakness. Counselling helps employees in the matters like career planning, there health planning, vocational guidance questions concerning the company and their job.

Training Program: The purpose of the Stress Control Training Program is, to teach personnel effective coping skills for stress reduction in the work place. This training is available to employees, teachers, counsellors, social workers, administrators, and other staff.

Personal Management of Stress:
Suppose you are not working any where, what can you do personally to manage stress?

As I told previously, we will discuss it category wise here.

Dealing with Situational Stress:
The following techniques can be used to deal with stresses that result from your immediate surroundings, i.e. Situational Stress.

Make changes in your surroundings:
If you have a headache because you've been reading with poor light, move to another room where the lighting is better. Changing your surroundings can mean turning on lights, turning off loud music or raising or lowering your computer chair. Make a careful survey of the places where you spend a good deal of your time, your study place at home or your workplace for example. Check your surroundings carefully for potential situational stressors.

Caringly and Carefully Communicate:
You need to learn to communicate with those with whom you are having problems. Sometimes your situational stress is caused by people. This is a more complicated potential source of stress. Whenever there are problems, you owe it to yourself and to the other person to reach a mutually acceptable solution to the problem. This involves communication in a caring and careful way.

Learn how and when to say "NO":
Sometimes your stress is caused by taking on too many responsibilities. Some people have a habit of always saying "yes" to requests for help by others. Pretty soon they not only have all their own problems and responsibilities to attend to-they have everyone else's too! You need to become more aware of your limits and learn when you have reached them. The next step is to practice saying "no". Remember, your first responsibility is to your own health. You are of little use to others if you are not healthy.

Learn techniques for time management:
Situational stress often results from feeling like we don't have enough time to accomplish all we need to in a given day. In many cases it is not a lack of time that is the problem, but rather it is poor time management skills that lead us to this dilemma. Time management means different things to different people. For some, it will be something as simple as making lists of "things to do". For others, learning to use daily planners and organizers will help them to better manage their time.

Delegate responsibilities:
People with perfectionist tendencies have trouble delegating work. They have the attitude that, "If I want it done right, I have to do it myself". They fear that by letting someone else help them with a given task that they are losing control and that something will probably go wrong. We need to learn that there is more than just, "my way" of doing things. Learning to delegate responsibilities when they become overwhelming, will help you build more trusting relationships and will relieve your burden of too many stressors.

Dealing with Body Stress:
The following interventions can be used to deal with stresses that result from abusing or neglecting your body, i.e. Body Stress.

Practice relaxation training:
Relaxation equals energy. Because a relaxed body conserves energy, there remains more stored energy to be used on demand. Do you balance periods of activity with times of relaxation? It isn't a luxury, it's a necessity. Inner relaxation means being comfortable with 'who you are'. By becoming more aware of your patterns of behaviour and learning your reactions to stress, you may be able to learn how to approach pressure situations with a more relaxed attitude. The next time you encounter a stressful situation, be mindful of your reactions. As you relax, more choices open up to you, so you needn't react automatically in negative, habitual ways.

Dealing with body stress often simply means dealing with the evident symptoms that are seen in the body. For example, when you see rapid, shallow chest breathing, you can counter that with the practice of more relaxed breathing technique. Or when you notice tense muscles in various parts of the body, you can practice systematically relaxing the muscles by consciously loosening the muscles that seem to be tense.

Avoid common stress-inducing substances
There are several food items that are a regular part of the average Indian diet that may predispose one to stress and ultimately, a stress related physical disorder.
1. Decrease your intake of sugar especially refined sugar. Read labels.
2. Cut down your sources of salt to no more than 2200 mg/day. Fast, packaged, and canned foods are notoriously high in salt.
3. Drink no more than the equivalent of two cups of coffee per day (250 mg) or less.
4. Seek out and consume good sources of water-soluble vitamins and if you are unsure, take a vitamin supplement with amounts of the water-soluble vitamins equalling no more than 100% of the RDA.
5. Drink no more than the equivalent of two drinks of alcohol per day.
6. Don't smoke and if you do find a program to help you quit.
7. Get regular exercise.

Dealing with Mind Stress:
The following interventions can be used when your stresses result from negative thinking or from a tendency to mentally create problems or unrealistically exaggerate problems.

Develop and take "Star Treks"
A Star Trek is just another name for mental imagery, or visualization. Just as on TV when they "beam" people back and forth, you can mentally transport yourself to the most peaceful, relaxing place that you can think of. Imagine a beautiful beach scene or lying in an outdoor hot tub on a warm summer night. Whatever you imagine, be sure to pay attention to each detail. Take five or ten minutes out of your day for "Trekking".

Find health enhancing phrases and repeat them regularly:
Write little notes to you, which say, "Smile more today" or, "Don't take things too seriously", or whatever else might reinforce a relaxed state of mind. Post these little notes in places where you are likely to see them often (bathroom mirror, near the TV, etc.). Or perhaps, enlist the help of a friend. You can write these little notes to each other and leave them in places where they are sure to be found. This practice can help to remind you that you have a tendency toward mind stressing.

Practice meditation and/or prayer:
Our traditional techniques of meditation are often excellent to provide simple methods for focus and concentration. A by-product of this focus is stress reduction. Meditation techniques have been shown to be effective in reducing heart rate and blood pressure, two common indicators of stress. Prayer can be used by those who are comfortable in a religious context. Prayer also allows focus (on God or on specific words of wisdom) and, as a result, often leads to a reduction in stress levels. Even you can think of listening to Vedic chants or soft instrumentals.

Create Mandalas:
A Mandala is a drawing that is made inside of a circle (usually). It is essentially a vehicle for concentrating the mind. It is actually a Vedic technique, used successfully by many of our sages. You can trace a circle on a piece of paper. Then, just start drawing. You can draw shapes, lines and pictures. The Mandala is an expression of your subconscious thoughts and feelings, and therefore should be constructed with great care and concentration. It often helps to use colour pencils in order to more accurately portray your feelings.

The concept of Stress is from the natural sciences. Stress is a force which acts in a body to produce strain. It is becoming common in organizations because of increasing job complexity and economic pressure. There is a need to manage stress, which is both harmful and useful but ultimately affects the performance of an employee. In competitive and complex world implementation of strategies to manage stress, is a continuous process and a very essential aspect in every day life.

1.Kale Latif Ahmed (June 1998); "Management and Human Resource Development''; Manisha Prakashan, Mumbai.
2.Sharma AM (2005); " Personal and Human Resource Development"; Himalayan Publishing House, New Delhi.
3.Mamoria CB and Gankar (2002) ; "Personal Management"; Himalayan Publishing House.
4.John W. Newstrom and Keith Davis: Organizational Behaviour: Human Behaviour at work, Tata Mc Graw-Hill Publishing company Ltd., New Delhi.

22 November, 2008

Death of an Idea

We think, dream and sometimes even execute ideas into practice. But many times ideas do not survive. They are discarded or forgotten and never make it beyond the initial discussion stage. Do you ever thought, why many of our ideas go to the coffin? I believe many such ideas are really wonderful and can even change the world we live in. There are many and varied reasons why ideas die. Let us see some reasons:

1. When the idea is attacked by enough people.

2. When the idea fails to instil enthusiasm or passion.

3. When trying out the idea will prove expensive while there are other priorities demanding funds.

4. When there is too much of a risk attached to the idea.

5. When someone senior to champion the idea is absent.

6. When the idea does not seem feasible at the initial stage.

7. When there are people opposing the idea who have ego problems with those promoting the idea.

8. When the idea is deemed similar to or the same as an old idea or something that is already being done.

9. When circumstances change or strategy is switched to lessen the value of the idea.

10. When an idea fails after being tried out for the first time.

There could of course be many more reasons to add to the above list of why ideas die.

It is often the case that when new ideas die, they are assigned to a sort of graveyard where they might never be looked at again. But it might be worthwhile if they can be reviewed periodically.

If an idea really does offer value then it is always worth assessing it from time to time in order to see if that value can now be delivered or if the value is now even more significant.

There are concepts of delivery and concepts of value. As in all types of creative thinking, it is important to extract and define the concept that seems to be in use for the new idea.

If an idea 'dies', for whatever reason, the concept behind the idea need not die at the same time. The concept can survive while an effort is made to see how it might be delivered via a practical idea. If an idea does not survive then it is important to spell out exactly why that idea has died. Is it because of the cost of the idea or is it a matter of implementation? Is it because of a lack of feasibility and practicality, or is it a matter of risk? Perhaps it is a matter of low value?

In practice, it is often the case that an idea dies because of a combination of several different factors. It might simply be because there is low motivation for the idea. That is something that is always difficult to admit.

Softskills as a Vantage Point

Whom do I call educated? First, those who manage well the circumstances they encounter day by day. Next, those who are decent and honorable in their intercourse with all men, bearing easily and good naturedly what is offensive in others and being as agreeable and reasonable to their associates as is humanly possible to be... those who hold their pleasures always under control and are not ultimately overcome by their misfortunes... those who are not spoiled by their successes, who do not desert their true selves but hold their ground steadfastly as wise and sober -- minded men.

- Socrates BC 469-399, Greek Philosopher of Athens

It is strange but true that this quote by the greatest wise person this world has ever witnessed, sums up the dilemma that the contemporary teaching scenario is currently facing. Undoubtedly, today , there is a thorough need for soul searching , by the teaching fraternity to identify the scourges plaguing the brass tacks on the education imparted in our schools, colleges and universities. The words of Socrates comes to us in the form of the ancient wisdom that has stood the test of time and is seriously sounding a wake up call..

There is a lot of energy channelized by the thinkers in our country to galvanize the society on how to match the global economies, stride by stride in achieving economic progress. Undoubtedly it is the populace of the country that puts it on top. It is the human resource and the intellectual capital that a country can proudly claim to have, that propels it on a map of glory. There is no question that the education moulds and shapes the individual to meet the crunch in life and also face failures with fortitude and dignity.

So is it safe enough for the academic circles to rest on its past laurels of having produced innumerable count of brilliant brains and intelligence in the form of gold medalists and toppers or is there a need for a change in the thinking on how to re-channelise the classroom pedagogy and curriculum to meet the ever changing demands of the globalized business requirements. Or rather is it safe to assume that academic brilliance alone can be a measuring rod for success in life? If we look at the changes occurring in the society due to the advent of science and technology and the other ills that progress can bring with it, there is no doubt that the youths of today have changed radically and to some extent the changes are good but the flip side of this change is a startling one.

Knowledge cannot be equated with wisdom and wisdom necessarily need not come within the manifolds of knowledge. So are we producing knowledgeable young sophomores sans the ancient wisdom that Socrates professes? I am afraid that we are nimbly moving towards that direction. Presently the need of the hour lies in developing a steadfast and a resolute willpower to re navigate our thoughts in refining and refueling our cache with some improved techniques in training our present generation for a bring and promising career.

It is at this juncture that the significance of softskills comes to the fore. How can we educate our youth with necessary skills and the right attitude to become successful in their ventures ?. As we usher into the knowledge economy the traditional education that equips the students with a paper of degree is becoming redundant and null. Moreover what distinguishes the skilled talent from the raw talent is the presence of "softskills" which helps it to face challenges, pressures and demands of the workplace with considerable élan. So what are these softskills that everyone is so excited about? These skills set includes corporeal skills like communication skills, listening skills and subtle skills like creativity, flexibility, leadership skills, problem solving skills , team building skills etc. Now comes the question on why are they so important?

Personality is the sum of one's social, physical, emotional characteristics that are formed and developed during the lifetime of the person. Needless to add the share of personal values, beliefs, attitude and habits too generously contributes to the final product that emerges in the form of personality. But the surprising factor that springs out in this debate is that that these skills which we necessarily call " softskills" is existing in everyone, but may be lying dormant, unexplored and untapped for want of an opportunity. This is where the pedagogy comes into play. Can we teach these skills necessarily in the classroom? This is a nagging question that any adept teacher used to a conformist teaching style might ask and encounter endlessly. Like I said, at some point in our life, the above mentioned skills have emerged sporadically in childhood, may be in solving a conflict between two friends or in giving an out of the box suggestion to solve a problem, or displayed traits of leadership which might have gradually got slipped into the dark abyss of time due to the mundane grinds of the daily life .

While imparting knowledge the teacher should stress on interactive methods, that can enormously boost the confidence levels of the student. Further encouraging students to think freely and motivating them to speak freely within the precincts of the classroom would be an excellent step towards forging a deep bond with the students. The teacher could be a friend in the class who gently nudges and prods the students towards achieving knowledge. But in this process there is dialogue or a give and take which nourishes the young mind and enriches them with a deep desire to know more. It is to be borne in mind that theoretical concepts can only strengthen the domain knowledge of the student. However the challenges that life can throw at anybody has no boundaries or realms. Instilling these qualities in the roots can nurture healthy human beings who will have the ability to get along with diversity and appreciate diversity, for this world is very complex and diverse by nature.

There is a feeling that education teaches far too much, but most of it is useless. Further the understanding that education is completed once a student is in ownership of a paper which is proudly referred to as certificate that proclaims him to be bachelor or master in a certain stream, this stance is completely false as the education of a man is never complete until he dies. An educational system isn't worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn't teach them how to make a life.

Even in the IT language there is a reference to softskills, but there the terminology refers to the operating system that becomes superseded every now and then, if not upgraded and updated. When someone proudly says that his is an MBA or an MA or an M.Com specialized in Finance or Marketing or History or Accounts from a reputed college, this operating system is being used . So, no matter what applications you choose to specialize or run, the success or failure of the same will depend upon the sound background of your softskills. The same holds true about softskills (not as referred to in Information Technology). It already exists in us, however we need to upgrade and update it constantly and continuously to keep up with the changing times.

With the changing phase and pace of the world, these skills in bounty can help an aspiring young person to surge and savour the challenges and invariably conquer them. There is no substitute for knowledge and there is no easy gateway to success unless one masters or tries to master sufficient knowledge in an area of his choice. But to survive in a job or a career, more skills are mandatory. Like a Chinese proverb that proclaims- wisdom is as the moon rises, perceptible not in the progress but in result. As our knowledge is converted to wisdom, the door to opportunity is unlocked.

Soft Skills in your Resume

Examples of soft skills that you could integrate in your resume

* problem solving
* communication team player skills
* conflict management
* interpersonal skills
* planning and organization
* leadership and motivation skills
* initiative

Employers are realising how a candidate's soft skills can help them determine which potential employee should be offered the job. When you are short listed and there are two or three remaining candidates, your soft skills can give you that extra push that will win you the race.

Most job candidates do not emphasise their job skills nearly enough. Communication, team leadership and planning are all transferable skills and very useful to the candidates who are changing careers. Most job adverts specify 'soft skills' in their requirements.

When writing your resume for a specific job, include the soft skills required in the job description and design your other work accomplishments around them.

When marketing your soft skills, be sure to identify the specific soft skills the employer is requesting then build your resume around them. For example, when you begin describing your soft skills ask yourself questions like this, 'What are my specific problem solving skills? How do I use problem solving on the job? Why is problem solving important in my job?'

21 November, 2008

The Benefits of Group Study.

By Kenneth C. Petress

Group study in and out of the classroom is strongly advocated in this article. Group study improves students intellectually; when done effectively, it stimulates interest and increases confidence; effective group dynamics also improve classroom management strategies.Group study is typically resisted by students until they are exposed to, understand, and experience its benefits
(1) Group study involves sharing of: ideas, personal and collective time management, and task preparation; cooperation amongst group members; collective responsibility both for the group task and for each other's welfare; and a willingness to be an active group participant.
(2) These attributes are needed for truly successful group participation.Group study has benefits that fall into the cognitive [what we think and know] and affective [how we feel and express our feelings] domains.
(3) Such study enhances student social skills, helps bolster student confidence, and helps students practice assertiveness. Group study skills are transferable to other tasks. Learning quality group study skills prepares students to enter expanding work arenas where teamwork is demanded.
(4)Group study requires students to articulate what they know to fellow group members. It also requires students to listen to fellow members' ideas.
(5) These group activities sharpen members' communication skills as well as enhancing their cognitive skills. Well prepared group members likely will have read, observed, or thought about assignments in variant ways. Such diversity awareness, tolerance, and acceptance is another group study benefit. Being aware of, understanding, and applying diverse learning styles and learning outcomes implicitly prepares students for later vocational and community realities.Group study validates what students really know if they are required to articulate in the presence of others what they have learned. When they are able to clearly articulate what they know, are able to answer probing questions about their knowledge, and are able to withstand challenges to what they know, their knowledge is reinforced and verified. Such validation lessens stress related to examinations by lessening self doubt about what they know.High quality group study involves rotating study assignments within the group. Members should be assigned, at varying times, the following task dimension duties: goal setting and adjusting, data gathering and organizing duties, the job of summarizing group tasks, procedural and outcome assessment and probing responsibilities, and the agenda setting job. The following group maintenance duties also need to be rotated so as to broaden each member's group skill repertoire: giving each member a fairly equitable opportunity to participate,focusing/refocusing on the task, recognizing and breaking group tension, mediating member disagreements, celebrating success on tasks/subtasks, and caring for individual needs.A third role group beyond task roles and maintenance roles are called individual roles. These are behaviors asked for, demanded by, or offered to an individual group member that temporarily takes the group away from the group's task(s). Such behaviors as frequent exception to norm requests, the "group clown," whining, late arrivals/early departures from meetings, needing to "catch up" due to missed meetings, and other behaviors focusing on individual members' needs are examples of individual roles. All members, from time-to-time need individual attention, care, and forgiveness; however, no group can function successfully and harmoniously if such behaviors occur frequently. Effective group leadership is essential to limit these individual behaviors.Students who want to form successful groups need to find classmates who possess the following traits/characteristics:
(1) their major reason to join a study group is to learn;
(2) they are responsible and will attend group meetings regularly, on time, prepared, and in the mood for work;
(3) they are willing to and able to actively participate in group work [groups cannot afford to carry non-participating members; this burden causes eventual resentfulness and slower progress];
(6) and (4) they can be tolerant of others' ideas, learning styles, and conclusions drawn from group study. Successful groups normally do not exceed five members; exceptions can occur. Too large a group invites unfair and debilitating labor divisions, allows some members to shirk full responsibility, promotes sub grouping [cliques], and makes group management too high a priority for this type of group activity. It has been the author's experience both as a group member/leader and as an assigner of group tasks that effective group behavior is more likely when the monitoring and handling of disruptive behavior is handled from within with minimal external influence. It is recognized that in school environments--and some working world settings--that some external resolution to specific group problems becomes necessary; these need to be kept to a minimum, however. It has been found that successful study groups frequently dissolve the familiar reluctance to engage in group work. Success tends to feed on itself and acts as a motivator for future experiences. When classroom groups are formed, it is wise to see to it that at least some members who have precious positive experiences are in each group.Unsuccessful study groups occur due to:
(1) incompatible member goals;
(2) group study sessions deteriorate into social "bull sessions;"
(3) clear group goals remain unstated, vaguely or ambiguously stated, or change frequently;
(4) members do not come to sessions fully prepared;
(5) some members participate unequally, if at all; and
(6) all members do not fully respect each other.
It is crucial that students become aware and are frequently reminded that groups are not--and should not be--solely task oriented; that there is and ought to be a social dimension to group dynamics. Students need to understand that the social dimension is not the group goal but is a means to a task accomplishment.Group work is rewarding when it functions well. Not all tasks are appropriate for groups to accept. Some tasks are simple and short enough for individuals to do. Groups work best when idea diversity is needed/wanted, when division of labor is called for, and when feedback from fellow members is desired and useful. I recommend students seek out classmates and form a serious [but fun] study group. Your learning will improve with a quality study group; you will learn more this way, will learn more quickly, and will retain more of what you learn.

References(1.) This statement is based on the author's 30 years experience teaching the group communication course and teaching other classes where group dynamics were assigned.(2.) See John F. Cragan, David W. Wright, and Chris R. Kasch. (2004). Communication in Small Groups: Theory, Process, Skills, 6th ed. Thomson(3.) Isa N. Engleberg and Dianna R. Wynn. (2000). Working in Groups: Communication Principles and Strategies, 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin.(4.) Isa N. Engleberg and Dianna R. Wymn. Chapter 2.(5.) Isa N. Engleberg and Dianna R. Wymn. pp. 121-129.(6.) Ken Petress. (2001). The Ethics of Classroom Silence. Journal of Instructional Psychology, pp. 2-3.KENNETH C. PETRESSProfessor Emeritus of CommunicationUniversity of Maine at Presque Isle

20 November, 2008

Emotional Intelligence v. Cognitive Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence - Understanding your own emotions and those of others, and being able to use this information to bring about the best outcome for all concerned. Knowing where emotions come from and being able to manage your own and those of others. Knowing what emotions mean and what information they are providing. Being able to work well with others as well as alone. Being able to combine cognitive knowledge with emotional knowledge and use them in tandem.
Cognitive Intelligence - Intellectual abilities such as logic, reason, reading, writing, analyzing and prioritizing. These go on in your own head and utilize only the neocortex, not the emotional centres of the brain which also provide crucial information. These abilities do not require any social skills per se, i.e., you can solve a math equation by yourself, or write an essay, or balance a business’ books by yourself.

Being effective both alone and as a team player vs. only effective when working alone
Being able to manage your own emotions vs. having temper tantrums, sulking or withdrawing
Being able to empathize with others and knowing where they're coming from vs. not being able to grasp the feelings of others and understand how the emotions are affecting the situation
Using an emotional appeal to convince someone of something v. using an intellectual appeal to convince someone of something
Knowing that motivation is a feeling word v. Thinking that motivation is a thinking word
Bill was brilliant in his field and the best IT person in the office as to technical skills, but his people skills were very low. He was abrasive, arrogant, short-tempered, and a perfectionist. Other people didn't like to work with him, and he was unable to explain things in terms other people could understand.
Mary, who was also in the IT department, had good technical skills and a good education, though it was less than Bill’s. However, her emotional intelligence more than made up for this. She was able to handle herself and other people well and to explain things calmly and clearly. People loved to work with her and requested her by name. She received promotion after promotion because of her technical expertise and her high emotional intelligence.
Many people with very high IQs (cognitive intelligence) do poorly in work and relationships because they have low EQs (emotional intelligence). They sabotage themselves because they can't manage their own emotions or those of other people, and they sabotage projects because they may have all the logical, rational and analytical “answers,” but they don’t have the “soft” skills to move a project forward.
Emotional intelligence accounts for more success and happiness in life than intellectual intelligence.
Soft skills plus hard skills vs. Hard skills only
Knowing people v. Knowing facts
Thinking and feeling v. Thinking only
Learn to develop your emotional intelligence as well as your skills and technical expertise and you’ll do better in your career. Developing your emotional intelligence is also crucial for personal and family relationships. Hire a certified emotional intelligence coach and get started today. Your career and relationships could depend upon it.

18 November, 2008

Socratic questions

Socrates was one of the greatest educators who taught by asking questions and thus drawing out (as 'ex duco', meaning to 'lead out', which is the root of 'education') answers from his pupils. Sadly, he martyred himself by drinking hemlock rather than compromise his principles. Bold, but not a good survival strategy. But then he lived very frugally and was known for his eccentricity. His pupils, by the way, include Plato and Aristotle. Plato wrote up much what we know of him.

Here are the six types of questions that Socrates asked his pupils. Probably often to their initial annoyance but more often to their ultimate delight. He was a man of remarkable integrity and his story makes for marvellous reading.
The overall purpose, by the way, is to challenge accuracy and completeness of thinking in a way that acts to move people towards their ultimate goal. Don't waste time by doing it for your own gratification. Get your kicks vicariously, from the movement you create.

Conceptual clarification questions
Get them to think more about what exactly they are asking or thinking about. Prove the concepts behind their argument. Basic 'tell me more' questions that get them to go deeper.
• Why are you saying that?
• What exactly does this mean?
• How does this relate to what we have been talking about?
• What is the nature of ...?
• What do we already know about this?
• Can you give me an example?
• Are you saying ... or ... ?
• Can you rephrase that, please?

Probing assumptions
Probing of assumptions makes them think about the presuppositions and unquestioned beliefs on which they are founding their argument. This is shaking the bedrock and should get them really going!
• What else could we assume?
• You seem to be assuming ... ?
• How did you choose those assumptions?
• Please explain why/how ... ?
• How can you verify or disprove that assumption?
• What would happen if ... ?
• Do you agree or disagree with ... ?

Probing rationale, reasons and evidence

When they give a rationale for their arguments, dig into that reasoning rather than assuming it is a given. People often use un-thought-through or weakly understood supports for their arguments.
• Why is that happening?
• How do you know this?
• Show me ... ?
• Can you give me an example of that?
• What do you think causes ... ?
• What is the nature of this?
• Are these reasons good enough?
• Would it stand up in court?
• How might it be refuted?
• How can I be sure of what you are saying?
• Why is ... happening?
• Why? (keep asking it -- you'll never get past a few times)
• What evidence is there to support what you are saying?
• On what authority are you basing your argument?

Questioning viewpoints and perspectives
Most arguments are given from a particular position. So attack the position. Show that there are other, equally valid, viewpoints.
• Another way of looking at this is ..., does this seem reasonable?
• What alternative ways of looking at this are there?
• Why it is ... necessary?
• Who benefits from this?
• What is the difference between... and...?
• Why is it better than ...?
• What are the strengths and weaknesses of...?
• How are ... and ... similar?
• What would ... say about it?
• What if you compared ... and ... ?
• How could you look another way at this?

Probe implications and consequences
The argument that they give may have logical implications that can be forecast. Do these make sense? Are they desirable?
• Then what would happen?
• What are the consequences of that assumption?
• How could ... be used to ... ?
• What are the implications of ... ?
• How does ... affect ... ?
• How does ... fit with what we learned before?
• Why is ... important?
• What is the best ... ? Why?

Questions about the question
And you can also get reflexive about the whole thing, turning the question in on itself. Use their attack against themselves. Bounce the ball back into their court, etc.
• What was the point of asking that question?
• Why do you think I asked this question?
• What does that mean?
Source: http://changingminds.org


By Laura Greene, Augustana College
from "The National Teaching & Learning FORUM"
Volume 14, Number 2, February 2005

I sometimes think that students must feel as though they live in a world of questions not their own. Teachers often provide students with questions for a reading assignment in advance ("Here are some questions I'd like you to think about for next Wednesday's reading"); even more regularly, they assign questions to be answered in papers or on tests. Reasonably enough, most students conclude that it is the teacher's job to ask, and their job to answer. And if they get the answer right, they've learned something.

Most of us who teach make pretty different assumptions. We know that inquiry lies at the heart of every academic endeavor. The best professors don't want to teach their students the "facts" of the discipline so much as they want to help them construct knowledge by asking interesting questions within that discipline. We want our students to inquire - with energy, commitment, and passion.

My First Real Question
My own intellectual life only really began when, as a junior in college, I was finally forced to ask my own question for a paper on Jane Eyre. I had been a good and successful student, unusually perceptive at interpreting what kind of answers I thought the teacher wanted. But when my teacher forced me, terror stricken and crying, to formulate my own question in response to a text, the whole intellectual enterprise changed for me. I was no longer trying to solve a puzzle someone else had set before me. Instead, I was asking a question by myself, for myself. Because there was no hidden answer I had desperately to guess at, I suddenly became interested in how to build an answer that would satisfy me. For the first time in my college career, I learned what it was like to have an intellectual stake in something. After that, the world was different.

So when I became a teacher I would often ask students to generate questions in response to the readings they did. But I soon realized that most of my students didn't have any better sense of how to formulate a question than I did at their age - at least, not the kinds of questions that one associates with deeper intellectual inquiry. Thus, when I applied to Carnegie's Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), I decided to focus on whether and how good questioning could be taught. This seemed an especially pertinent thing to do because the study of student-generated questions still remains largely neglected in the scholarly literature. There are plenty of sources that analyze the questions teachers ask; there is little written about the questions students ask.

What Works vs. What Is
I later learned that the kind of study I was proposing is, in SoTL parlance, a "what works" project. You start out with a technique or a method that you think will improve student learning, and you test it to see if it does. So all I needed to do was come up with a way to teach questioning, and assess student learning to see if it worked.

During my first Carnegie residence, however, my project group's comments and questions helped me realize that I wasn't very sure myself of what a "good" question was, let alone how to teach it. And I was equally unsure about precisely why I was dissatisfied with the questions my students were producing. More experienced SoTL scholars suggested that I might need to study and really understand the questions that my students were asking before I tried to "fix" them. At their prompting, my "what works" project morphed into a "what is" project.

"What is" projects are primarily descriptive, providing rich detail about a behavior or phenomenon rather than trying to find ways to change it. Whereas my "what works" project sought to find ways to improve student questioning, a "what is" project would carefully describe and document what students do as questioners. My job was now to listen hard to the kinds of questions my students were asking, and to see if I could use these questions as a window into their thought processes, motives, priorities, and assumptions about inquiry. My goal was to provide an ethnography of student questioning, to describe what kinds of questions students ask and value - and from there, perhaps, to identify some things that might enable students to become more mature questioners. By seeing what students couldn't quite do yet, I hoped to be able to help myself define what good questioning was.

As an English teacher, I was most interested in seeing the kinds of questions students generated in response to texts. To collect and analyze student questions, I asked my school's ITS department to set up an online "question log." Students in my first-year composition class would read the assignments (primarily argumentative essays) and enter their questions about the texts into the online question log the night before class. Those questions were stored in a database that generated an anonymous list of all the questions the students asked about a given reading. (Anonymity was important, since the entire class would see the list of questions, and I wanted students to feel free to ask any question without fear of looking foolish to their peers. Students knew that ultimately I would have access to their names, but they also knew that their questions could not be graded.)

Kinds Of Questions
At the end of the course I had nearly 500 questions, which I grouped together inductively (a highly interpretive and no doubt error-ridden process). I came up with 10 categories or "kinds" of questions:
1. Basic Comprehension
2. Interpretive Comprehension
3. Elaboration
4. Challenging/Testing
5. Implication
6. Loose Implication
7. Significance
8. Integration
9. Self-Reflection
10. Non-Interrogative

My initial sense was that these categories do suggest a kind of hierarchy: that basic comprehension questions seem lower on the intellectual scale than, say, questions that explore implications or ask for integration. And, sure enough, the numbers suggested that these beginning students were much more likely to ask questions that helped them comprehend the text than they were questions that helped them explore the implications or significance of that text.

But what I learned most in coding and classifying these questions is that it's possible to ask very good or very bad questions in almost any category. Some basic comprehension questions - ones that focus on a particularly revealing detail, for example - can rapidly lead to complex areas of inquiry. And plenty of questions involving "higher order" skills were in fact broad, philosophical inquiries that students probably thought sounded smart ("Which is more important: duty to oneself or duty to one's community?"), but that in fact had very little to do with the text at hand. So no simple hierarchy would work here - or at least, it could only be a part of the story.

Kinds Of Motives
Although my categories were less useful as a hierarchical guide to good questioning, they did turn out to be extremely useful as a window into the motives that students have for asking questions. By examining the kinds of questions students were most likely to ask, I began to infer some of the assumptions that students have about what questions are for. In short, these categories enabled me to discern and describe a model of student questioning.

What are the outlines of this model? My data suggest that students see questions as useful for three main things: to seek information not in the text (gather facts), to resolve confusion and misunderstanding, and to oppose a text they disagree with, often dismissively. This seems natural, given that the classroom environment of most high schools encourages these types of questions. Teachers ask students factual and informational questions. When students are confused about something, their obvious recourse is to ask a question. And students like to voice their own opinions; they like to argue with texts (argumentative ones, not textbooks), especially if those texts make claims that seem particularly challenging or foreign to them.

Several different interactions with students over the course of the term gave added support to this model. One student, when I initially explained the question log project to the class, raised his hand and said, "But what if I understand what I read?" The implication was (and is) that if you understand the basics of something, if you aren't confused, then there's no reason to ask a question. The idea of questions that don't clear up confusion but promote deeper understanding and further intellectual inquiry seems not to have occurred to many first-year college students. (Or else, perhaps, such questions seem more trouble than they're worth). Another student assumption the response implies is that questioning is an automatic process: questions "come" to you naturally; they don't require effort.

Perhaps the most important implication of this model, however, is that students tend to see questioning as a process of closing down, rather than opening up. You want information? Here it is, finished. You feel confused? Here's the explanation, done. They tend not to see questioning as a process of opening something up; their emphasis is on getting the answer, getting it fast, moving on - analogous to the "banking model" of education that Paulo Freire describes.

A Process Model?
Can we challenge and reshape the prevailing model that students have for questioning - and if so, how? The next part of my project will be to try to answer that question, but I do have some preliminary thoughts. Composition theory tells us that writing is a process. We assume when students write first drafts they don't really know what they want to say; we assume they need to revise, clarify, re-think. Couldn't the same be true for questions - that on first attempts students may not yet know the real questions they want to ask, and that developing thoughtful questions is a process, one that would be forwarded considerably if students asked themselves, after each question they asked, "Why do I want to know this?" This would lead, almost inevitably, to a chaining process. Students often tend to see questions as largely isolated, one-time events; what if we taught them to use one question to build another, or begin an internal dialogue?

My ideas about good questioning are now very different from what they were when I began this study. I didn't discover any ideal, Platonic question (or set of questions) that I can train students to ask; I have come to think that developing a hierarchy of questions is at least partly beside the point. Listening carefully to student questions - asking myself "what is" before rushing to figure out "what works" - helped me formulate the problem of student questioning differently, and more usefully. I no longer think the problem is that students ask bad questions. I think the problem is that students stop too early in the questioning process and are slow to see that, at its best, it never ends.

Laura Greene
Augustana College
English Department
713 23rd Avenue Court
Moline, IL 61265
Telephone: (309) 794-7466
Fax: (309) 794-7702
E-mail: engreene@augustana.edu