A Field Guide to Taking Risk in the Classroom

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Photo: A.McKenzie

In Brookfield’s book, The Skillful Teacher (2015) the 9th maxim of the 16 he lists for skillful teaching is “Don’t’ be afraid to take risks (p 271).

For me, the word risk can invoke feelings of fear – fear of failing, fear of loss, fear of the unknown, fear of making a fool of myself, fear of adversely affecting of my bank account or health – overall, rather stressful stuff. But I also know that risk is the very thing that makes my life exciting: every time I head out for an adventure into the backcountry – which I love to do – I take risks because, according to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, an adventure “is an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks” (n.d., Adventure definition #1). So how can taking risks cause me both anxiety and excitement? Why are taking risks a part of skilful teaching?

To take a risk is to knowingly put yourself in a situation that will challenge your abilities. If your abilities meet or surpass the challenge, you will succeed and you may even say that it was fun. Csikszentmihalyi as cited in The Pursuit of Happiness (n.d.) states “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  (The Pursuit of Happiness, n.d., para1).

Risks will push us to success or failure; they define what level our abilities are at and, when we reflect on the situation, what we need to do to be able to succeed next time. Taking risks is, as Thorton and Harris (2015), state “ . . . how we learn, create, even adapt (para 1). They improve critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and give students more self-confidence (Thorton & Harris, 2015).

If the risk is greater than your abilities you will fail. Failing makes us feel awful. But it doesn’t have to stop there. “People shy away from risks because they fear failure — but what’s so bad about failing? Some of the greatest moments of understanding happen after we’ve “failed”” (para 6, Thorton & Harris, 2015).

“Risk is endemic to skillful teaching. Good teachers take risks in the full knowledge that these will not always work” (Brookfield, 2015, p 271). Just like in life, taking risks in the classroom means we will encounter success and we will encounter failure. We will have times when we will be in flow and times when we feel we are falling into the abyss: the times when we actually learn the most.

Taking risks will help everyone to learn, so as teachers we need to create an environment where we can all feel that these risks will make for a wonderful adventure and not a mission of self-destruction. As teachers we need to create a place where “ . . . kids take chances because risk is honored, because risks are taken from a comfortable platform, and because there’s always a soft spot to land” (para 5, Thorton & Harris, 2015).

Here are some tips I learned about how I (as a teacher and as a student) can ensure that my adventures in education will be a safe, exciting and filled with lots of great learning.

Model how to take risks

Develop the skills to be able to succeed at taking risks.

Critical thinking skills – “When people think critically they try to identify the assumptions that frame their thinking and actions and to check out how far these assumptions are accurate and valid. They do this by looking at their ideas and decisions from different perspectives. On the basis of this they then take what they hope are informed actions” (Brookfield, 2015, p 155).

Applications for me as an instructor:

  • Share scenarios from maternity where I did and didn’t apply critical thinking.
  • Share critical thinking steps with students.
  • When I encounter failure in the classroom, review my errors in critical thinking with students and what I could have done differently.
  • Review my assumptions about my abilities before I take a risk in the classroom like trying out a new instructional strategy.

Tips for me as a student:

  • Share with peers critical thinking steps for case studies.

Be confident and organized (Svinicki, 1989-90) – “When the students are convinced that the instructor is “in control” and knows where the class is going, they will feel more comfortable about taking risks”( para 7).

Applications for me as an instructor:

  • Know my material Make a plan A, plan B . . .

Tips for me as a student:

Ensure Soft Landings

Provide risk-taking opportunities (Svinicki, 1989-90) – “Allowing students to struggle and take wrong turns helps them learn something from the process” (para 11).

Applications for me as an instructor:

  • Ensure that I have created a positive learning environment where students will feel safe to take risks – show respect for them, make them feel valued for who they are and what they know. Value failure as a positive learning experience and opportunity for growth. Ensure privacy and confidentiality with students when discussing failures. Practice and foster a growth mindset.
  • Ensure that I have created a safe learning environment where students will feel safe with me taking risks like trying out a new teaching strategy.

Tips for me as a student:

  • Ask for formative feedback while learning is taking place.

Learn from each other

Applications for me as an instructor:

  • Before I try out something brand new in the classroom, talk to my colleagues and find out if they have tried it before. Some of the teaching strategies I used in my online course were exercises I did when I took the PIDP 3250 course online. By trying them out and watching how my instructor managed the class I was able to learn a lot about what worked and why.

Tips for me as a student:

  • Share presentations and problem solve in small groups first before having to go to a large group to share. Reid (2010) suggests having students break into small groups for Think-Pair-Share as a way to increase student interaction and risk taking behaviours.

Start with baby steps

“Not all students have the same level of risk tolerance. We can scaffold risk-taking behavior, beginning with risks most students can participate in (brainstorming questions) before we move to more complex tasks (proposing solutions)” (Reid, 2010, para 5).

Applications for me as an instructor:

  • Before I decide to radically change a class, start with a few changes first so that I can gain confidence with how the new changes will impact learning and classroom dynamics.
  • Take time to develop my skills and confidence working with new technologies by integrating them slowly into the classroom.
  • Ensure that the students have the skills to be able to manage the challenge of the learning.
  • Keep the stakes low as students are learning and then increase the stakes as mastery is gained.

Tips for me as a student:

  • Try taking risks when the stakes are lower so that I can develop the skill first before taking on risks with higher stakes. For example, before taking on a simulation that requires multiple complex skills to be successfully completed, start with one complex skill and gain proficiency before moving on.

Get in the flow!

Increased skill means increased opportunity to handle more challenges, which will create more opportunities to get into flow, which will increase learning!

Applications for me as an instructor:

  • Finding my own flow will lead to increased personal satisfaction with teaching which will lead to more passion and more enthusiasm which means more learning for students!
  • Provide the right amount of challenge for students and frequent formative feedback so that they can they can get into flow.
  • Provide a positive learning environment where students will feel safe and will be able to focus.

Tips for me as a student:

  • Take measures to create an environment where I can get into flow.


Taking risks are part of the adventure of learning. Critically thinking, planning, working together, taking baby steps and ensuring that there is a safe place to land will safeguard that no one gets hurt in the process.

Bring on the next adventure in learning!


Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Merriam- Webster Online Dictionary. (n.d.) Adventure definition #1. Retrieved from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/adventure

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (n.d) The Pursuit of Happiness. Retrieved from:http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi/

Reid, S. (2010) Teaching Risk-Taking in the College Classroom Faculty Focus Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magma Publications. Retrieved from:


Svinicki, M. (1989-90) If Learning Involves Risk-taking, Teaching Involves Trust-building Essays on Teaching Excellence Toward the Best in the Academy Volume 1, Number 2. A publication of The Professional & Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (www.podnetwork.org). Retrieved from: http://podnetwork.org/content/uploads/V1-N2.pdf


Thorton, M. & Harris, C. (2015) Creating Space for Risk Schools that work edutopia George Lucus Educational Foundation. Retrieved from:


Scaling the Wall of Student Resistance: Responding to Student Barriers in Learning (Part 2)

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Part 1 The Wall of Resistance: Understanding Student Barriers to Learning reviewed some of the underlying issues that may be the root cause of student resistance to learning.

In dealing with resistance, I think it is important that we keep in mind that “ . . . resistance can sometimes be contained, and its worst effects mitigated, but that is can never be completely overcome” (Brookfield, 2015 p 227).

Here are some ways we can contain and mitigate student resistance (Brookfield, 2015):

  1. Ask yourself if the resistance is justified (p 229).
    • Self-reflect – are there issues with the course content/ delivery of content/ learning activities/ disclosure of agenda, transparency with course expectations?
  1. Research your students’ background (p 229).
    • Learn about the students’ diversity and adjust “ . . .teaching approaches, assignments and forms of assessment accordingly” (Brookfield, 20115, p 229).
  1. When appropriate, involve students in educational planning (p 231).
    • “Consulting students about how the course will be run can also reduce their fear of the unknown and will increase the chances that your teaching will have some meaning for them” (Brookfield, 20115, p 231).
  1. Use a variety of teaching methods and approaches (p 231).
  1. Assess learning incrementally (p 232).
    • “Students have the right to resist but they also have the right to know what the consequences are of this resistance for them (Brookfield, 20115, p 232, 233).
  1. Check that your intentions are clearly understood (p 233).
    • Use feedback instruments to ascertain if explanations are clear. Rubrics help outline assignment expectations.
  1. Build a case for learning (p 234).
    • Provide rationale why the learning is important.
  1. Create situations in which students succeed (p 235).
    • Ensure that level of difficulty of learning matches with the learners’ abilities. Celebrate successes.
  1. Don’t push too hard too fast (p 235).
    • Allow time for the natural ebbs and flows of learning.
  1. Admit the normality of resistance (p 236).
    • Acknowledge the elephant in the room and talk about it.
  1. Try to limit the negative effects of resistance (p 237).
    • Try to minimize the impact the resistance has on learning.

Case Study

Susie is in her final year of nursing school. She is consistently late for the mandatory lecture based class, is known to challenge instructors during the lecture about the content or concepts being discussed, chooses controversial material to write the essays on, sits at the back of the class, chats with those around her during the lecture and rolls her eyes when chastised in class by her teacher for her troublesome behaviours.

In Part 1 The Wall of Resistance: Understanding Student Barriers to Learning, a list of some potential root causes for Susie’s behaviours was made. Let’s take look closer at how the teacher can help mitigate her resistance to learning integrating the 11 points listed above.

Perhaps Susie has a reason to be resistant. Course delivery is lecture based and classes are mandatory. No other teaching methods or approaches are being used. This one-size-fits-all approach does not address diversity issues. Finding out about Susie’s past learning experiences have been, her learning expectations and learning needs may help go a long way to reduce her resistance.

Susie is at the top of her class. Perhaps she could offer some tips on how the course might be improved.

Speak openly with Susie the barriers to learning you have noticed that she is demonstrating and how they may be impacting her and her fellow students. Explore what may be at the root of them if she is willing to discuss it. Focus on the issues and not personality differences. Work out a solution together so that learning can be maximized.

Learning how to mitigate and contain student resistance to learning takes self-reflection and a willing to be open on behalf of the teacher and a realization that sometimes, a harm reduction approach is all that can be done.


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Merriam, S.B. & Bierema, L.L. (2014) Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

The Wall of Resistance: Understanding Student Barriers to Learning (Part 1)

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Case Study 

Susie is in her final year of nursing school. She is consistently late for the mandatory lecture based class, is known to challenge instructors during the lecture about the content or concepts being discussed, chooses controversial material to write the essays on, sits at the back of the class, chats with those around her during the lecture and rolls her eyes when chastised in class by her teacher for her troublesome behaviours.

Susie’s behaviours are creating a barrier for learning – for her and possibly for the students around her. Although it would be easy to assume that Susie is struggling with content material this isn’t the case – turns out she is excelling in the clinical setting and is at the top of her class academically. What is going on?

Brookfield (2015) acknowledges that while some students may fit the stereotype of “ . . . individuals who just can’t be bothered to work and who have no natural aptitude for the struggle and tedium that learning sometimes entails . . . it’s a simplistic and somewhat lazy cop-out from taking resistance seriously. Resistance is a multilayered and complex phenomenon which several factors intersect” (p 219).

Let’s take a look at what some of the root causes of resistant student behaviour are (Brookfield, 2015):

  1. Poor self-image as a learner (p 219). This learner has a lack of confidence in their abilities as a learner and will resist efforts to move them forward (Brookfield, 2015).
    • Barkley (2010) describes these students as “failure avoiders” who will avoid tasks that are perceived as too challenging as a way to preserve their self-worth (p 12), or as “failure acceptors” who have resigned themselves to failure and are disengaged from learning (p 13).
  1. Fear of the unknown (p 219). This learner is afraid how the learning will affect their status quo and will therefore be resistant to learn.
    • Brookfield (2015) states that “(t)he ground zero of resistance to learning is the fear of change. And learning, by definition, involves change” (p 213).
  2. A normal rhythm of learning (p 220). Learning something new takes learners into uncharted lands and can lead to feelings of confusion during the process of integrating new concepts and/or skills. It is during this time that learning something new is overwhelming.
    • Interestingly, Brookfield states that while this processing state is temporary, it is “ . . .experienced as permanent until some external prompt reignites forward movement” (p 220).
  1. A disjunction of learning and teaching styles (p 220)
    • While teaching to the preferred learning style of the student has been shown to be ineffective for improved learning, it still can be a problem as Brookfield explains, “ . . . an anal-compulsive, extremely organized learner who is taught by an improvisational intuitive teacher will resist that teacher’s tendency to make changes in the middle of a planned activity because of some change in the classroom mood or teachable opportunity she detects” (p 220).
  2. Apparent irrelevance of the learning activity (p 221).
    • Knowles’ 6th assumption about adult learners that that they need to know the reason for learning something (Merriam & Bierema, 2014). If there is no purpose to the learning activity, adult students will be resistant.
    • Pink (as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2014) makes the case for humans as “ intrinsically motivated purpose maximizers” (p 147). According to Pink, purpose is one of the three principles that drive motivation along with mastery and autonomy (Merriam & Bierema, 2014).
  3. Level of required learning is inappropriate (p 222).
    • If the level of the learning is too hard, students will resist learning. “Enthusiastic teachers who travel too far, too fast, for their students and don’t’ regularly check in to see if students are keeping up with the pace, quickly leave learners behind” (Brookfield, 2015, p 222).
      • Interestingly, “ . . . students’ belief about their ability to succeed at a learning task is more important than their actual skill level or difficulty of the task. If a student is confident in her ability to perform a task successfully, she will be motivated to engage in it” (Barkley, 2010, pp 11-12).
  4. Fear of looking foolish in public (p 222).
    1. I really don’t think that there is anyone who isn’t horrified of making a fool of themselves in public. Brookfield states that “(s)tudents’ egos are fragile creations . . .” (p 222). I would suggest that all of us have fragile egos so it can hardly be a surprise if students resist engaging in situations where they fear embarrassing themselves.
  5. Cultural suicide (p 223).
    • Pairs with root cause #2- as the students’ status quo is challenged by the learning, cultural supports may lost. The realization that this is occurring may cause the student to resist any further learning.
  1. Lack of clarity in teachers’ instructions (p 223).
    • Students want transparency and full disclosure of expectations. Anything            less may feel to the student that they are “ . . . being set up for failure”               (Brookfield, 2015, p 223). This will lead to resistance.
  1. Student dislike of teacher (p 224).
    • These can come from personality mismatches (see root cause #4) or from             inappropriate behavior from the teacher (Brookfield, 2015).

11. Going to far too fast (p 224).

  • See root cause # 6.

Brookfield (2015) suggests that the first step to dealing with resistance is to sort out the cause. Let’s take a closer look at Susie’s case study to see if we can come up with a list of some of her potential causes of resistance.

  1. Poor self-image as a learner. Susie is at the top of her class. It does not appear that she has a poor self-image as a learner.
  2. *Fear of the unknown Susie may have a fear of the unknown. This is her last year of classes and she will be graduating soon. I wonder, have her behaviours been consistent like this for her entire undergraduate program or have they been escalating in the final year?
  3. A normal rhythm of learning Susie’s marks and clinical performance seem to indicate a solid understanding of the material. I think it would be safe to say that whatever challenges she has encountered with the normal rhythm of learning she seems to have been able to adapt to so far.
  4. *A disjunction of learning and teaching styles A disconnect between how Susie likes to learn and how she is being taught could be an issue here.
  5.  *Apparent irrelevance of the learning activity Susie is a strong student. Perhaps      she does not see a purpose to the mandatory class lecture. This may explain her rebellion by coming in late.
  6.  Level of required learning is inappropriate As Susie is a strong student, I do not think that the material is too hard. Perhaps it is too easy.
  7. Fear of looking foolish in public It does not appear that there have been any situations that would indicate that Susie is worried about embarrassing herself in front of the class.
  8. *Cultural suicide This could be an issue.
  9. *Lack of clarity in teachers’ instructions Has there been full disclose of class expectations by the instructor?
  10. *Student dislike of teacher There may be personality conflicts with the teachers.
  11. Going to far too fast Given that Susie has not attending class regularly but is still top of the class makes me think that the content is not over her head or that the pace is too fast.

Let’s go to Part 2 Scaling the Wall of Student Resistance: Responding to Student Barriers in Learning to see how the teacher could work with Susie to help overcome her resistance to learning.


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Merriam, S.B. & Bierema, L.L. (2014) Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Striking the Balance: Teaching with Credibility and Authenticity

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Photo: A. McKenzie

David-Lang (2013), summarizes John Hattie’s book, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning (2012) this way: “The big idea is – know thy impact! Expert teachers are not wedded to specific teaching strategies – rather, they regularly focus on evaluating the effects they have on students, and adjust teaching methods accordingly” (Summary of the Summary).

Of the influences that teachers can have on student learning which ones do you think are the top 3 of the lot? Interestingly, it isn’t feedback or metacognitive strategy programs (they rated highly but not the highest) and it certainly isn’t matching students with learning styles, which rated low – it is (David-Lang, 2013, p 10):

  • Providing formative evaluation to teachers;
  • Teacher credibility in the eyes of the student;
  • Student expectations.

I have already been reflecting on the importance of instructor feedback so that was expected but it was the “(t)eacher credibility in the eyes of the student” (David-Lang, 2013, p 10) that surprised me. Yikes! I had better get reflecting on teacher credibility!

Brookfield (2015) acknowledges the importance of teacher credibility and pairs it with another term – authenticity. So, in a nutshell, what exactly do these terms mean?


“Credibility is the perception that the teacher has something important to share and that whatever this “something “is (skills, knowledge, insight, wisdom, information), learning it will benefit the student” (Brookfield, 2015, p 43). Indicators of credibility include (Brookfield, 2015):

  • Expertise ( p 43) – “students say it is reassuring to know that the person in charge of their learning clearly knows, and can do, a lot” (p 43);
  • Experience  ( p 46) – the perception that the teacher is able to “ . . . draw on a substantial history of teaching the course” (p 46);
  • Rationale  (p 47) – sharing rationale behind classroom decisions- “Students say that it inspires confidence to see that teachers clearly have a plan, a set of reasons, informing their actions (p 48).

It certainly makes sense to me now why credibility is so important to students. When I reflect about teachers I think of as having high credibility, I would say I learned a lot from them because I trusted them; I focused on everything they said and did because I knew I would learn something. In other words, what they said and did mattered to me.


 “Authenticity is the perception that the teacher is dealing with students in an open and honest way” (Brookfield, 2015, p 43). Indicators of authenticity include (Brookfield, 2015):

  • Keeping your words and actions congruent (p 49) – walk your talk! Sometimes we may not even know that our actions and words are incongruous which is why it is so important that we obtain student feedback;
  • Full disclosure (p 50) – “ . . . find ways to communicate your criteria, assumptions, and purposes and then . . .keep checking in to make sure students understand them” (p 50);
  • Demonstrate responsiveness (p 51) – Respond to student concerns;
  • Disclosing Personhood (p 52) – “Personhood is most appropriately evident when teachers use autobiographical examples to illustrate concepts and theories they are trying to explain, when they talk about ways they apply specific skills and insights taught in the classroom to their work outside, and when they share stories of how they dealt with the same learning fears and struggles that their students are currently facing” (p 52).

I can certainly see how the 2 go hand in hand – I need to know my stuff, to share my thinking with my students, respond to feedback, model the behaviour that aligns with my expectations of students and share appropriate personal experiences. I can also see how striking a balance between credibility and authenticity can be challenging, for example being knowledgeable without being authentic could come off as arrogance, and being too frank about your flaws could affect your students’ perceptions of your expertise.

Here is a video featuring Stephen Brookfield  sharing his insights on credibility and authenticity.


Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass


David-Lang, J. (2013) The Main Idea current education book summaries: Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, Hattie, J., 2012 retrieved from: http://www.tdschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/The+Main+Idea+-+Visible+Learning+for+Teachers+-+April+2013.pdf


Flattening the Power Gradient: Brookfield’s Core Assumption #4

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It was when I took my first PIDP course 3250 that I learned that Knowles, who, 50 years ago, shifted the educational paradigm of adult education from that of pedagogy– “ . . . the art and science of teaching children” to that of andragogy “ . . . helping adults learn” (Knowles, 1973, as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p 46). Brookfield’s Core Assumption #4: “College Students of Any Age Should Be Treated as Adults” (p 23), reflects this key concept.

In his explanation of this assumption, Brookfield (2015) states that even college students who are still in their teens need to be treated as adults. When I reflect back upon my 17 years old college freshman self, I can certainly appreciate why this is a good reminder for teachers because I know that sometimes, I and my other teenage freshman college colleagues didn’t always act in ways that would make one think appropriate of an adult. Below is an explanation from Brookfield (2015) that I think provides a wonderful insight into why, however, this core assumption is so important:

The first is that as they move into early adulthood, 18-22 year old students are becoming increasingly self-aware of who they are as people, who they are as learners and who they are as moral beings. They use college to develop their independent identities (Jones and Abes, 2013) become self-authors of their lives (Baxter Magolda, 2004), find purpose (Nash and Murray, 2010) and create meaning (Daloz Parks, 2011) out of their experiences (p 25).

 The only way that teachers can help students make the changes Brookfield (2015) describes above is to flatten the power gradient and respect college students’ needs as adult learners, which according to Knowles are as follows (Pappas, 2013):

  1. Self-Concept
    As a person matures his/her self-concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being.
  2. Adult Learner Experience
    As a person matures he/she accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.
  3. Readiness to Learn
    As a person matures his/her readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his/her social roles.
  4. Orientation to Learning
    As a person matures his/her time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application. As a result his/her orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject- centeredness to one of problem centeredness.
  5. Motivation to Learn
    As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal (Knowles 1984:12).

As this is the last of Brookfield’s Core Assumptions for skillful practice (2015) I would like to conclude with this final statement: “These four assumptions of skillful teaching are deliberately proposed at a level of generality. How each plays itself out varies enormously from context to context” (p 26).

There is so much more to learn!


Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

 Merriam, S.B. & Bierema, L.L. (2014) Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pappas, C. (2013): The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy – of Malcolm Knowles eLearning Industry. Retrieved from: https://elearningindustry.com/the-adult-learning-theory-andragogy-of-malcolm-knowles

Teaching So They Learn: Brookfield’s Core Assumption #1

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Brookfield’s (2015) first core assumption about skillful teaching is: Skillful Teaching is Whatever Helps the Student Learn” (p 15). “At first glance this seems a self-evident, even trite, truism – a kind of pedagogic Hallmark greeting card,” (p 15) states Brookfield (2105). But perhaps, as the cartoon above illustrates, it is a bit more complicated than that.

What I have discovered so far is that learning isn’t just about being shown or told something. It is a complex interplay of cognitive and emotional factors, situational factors including how much sleep we get and when we get it in relation to the learning, and student motivation. It’s about using the right instructional strategies, shifting the paradigm to student centered learning and asking the right questions at the right time. As Brookfield (2015) states sometimes it’s about “ . . . do(ing) things as a teacher that you might otherwise avoid because you feel that somehow they are unprofessional or deviant” (p 17). For me, this assumption means taking risks, opening my mind to be curious about what and how I am teaching and to always be assessing if my students are learning: in other words “(a)dopt(ing) a critically reflective stance . . .” about my teaching practice – which just happens to be Brookfield’s Core Assumption #2 ( p 19).


Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Think-Pair- Share

What is it?

An instructional strategy where:

  • The instructor poses a question to the class;
  • Students take time to think about the answer or solution to the question on their own (for about 2 minutes);
  • Students pair up to discuss their answers and select the best answer to share with the class (2-5 minutes);
  • Pairs then share their best answer with the entire class. Answers can be written down so that students can once again evaluate and select the best answer.

Best Practices

  • Questions need to be open ended. Having a simple recall question or yes or no question will not engage the students in all of the cognitive processes (Think-Pair-Share, 2015).
  • Allow for enough thinking time for the students to review and share their answers with their partners and select the best answer between them or generate a new answer based on their collaborative problem solving. (Think, Pair, Share Cooperative Learning Strategy, n.d.).
  • Groups for the pair need to be small enough so that all the students can share their ideas with in the time allotted. Smaller groups (maximum 4) lead to increased student accountability – everyone has to participate. (Think-Pair-Share, 2015), (Think, Pair, Share Cooperative Learning Strategy, n.d.).

Role of the Instructor

  • Pose question.
  • Direct students when they need to move from think to pair to share.
  • Listen to the students are they discuss their answers with each other but do not interfere.
  • Write down answers on the board during the class share so students can evaluate for the best answer to the problem (Think, Pair, Share Cooperative Learning Strategy, n.d.).

Role of the Learner

  •  Students take an active part in their learning by explaining their thought processes and by listening and learning with their peers.

Pros of using Think- Pair-Share

  • It doesn’t require much prep work or time (Think-Pair-Share, 2015).
  • It engages the entire class in discussions (Think-Pair-Share, 2015).
  • Increases student motivation as there is personal interaction and peer learning (Think-Pair-Share, 2015).
  • Students are sharing ideas, evaluating them , selecting the best idea or answer or developing new ones. They are engaging in collaborative learning which has been shown to increase learning (David-Lang, J., 2013).
  • Trying out answers in a small group will also help students become more comfortable sharing their ideas (Think, Pair, Share Cooperative Learning Strategy, n.d.).

Cons of using Think-Pair-Share

  • Students need to be motivated to participate (Think-Pair-Share, 2015)

Ideas to motivate students when using Think-Pair-Share

  •  Pose interesting questions, use pictures, news articles, cartoons or quotes (Engagement Triggers and Tasks for Interactive Segments, 2011).
  • Integrate questions that have been generated by the students themselves.
  • Inform the students that some of the Think-Pair-Share questions will be on upcoming exams (Think-Pair-Share, 2015).

There are worksheets here and here available on line that can be used to help the students keep track of their ideas.

Below is my digital project about Think-Pair-Share. I hope you enjoy it.



David-Lang, J. (2013) The Main Idea current education book summaries: Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, Hattie, J., 2012 retrieved from: http://www.tdschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/The+Main+Idea+-+Visible+Learning+for+Teachers+-+April+2013.pdf

Coffey, H., (n.d.) Bloom’s Taxonomy Learning NC K-12 TEACHING AND LEARNING FROM THE UNC SCHOOL OF EDUCATION Retrieved from: http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/4719

Engagement Triggers and Tasks for Interactive Segments (2011) Starting Point Teaching Entry Level Geoscience Carleton University Retrieved from http://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/interactive/triggers.html

Shen, D., (n.d.) Pair and Share ablconnect Retrieved from:http://ablconnect.harvard.edu/pair-and-share-research

Think – Pair- Share (2015) Starting Point Teaching Entry Level Geoscience Carleton University Retrieved from: http://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/interactive/tpshare.html

Think, Pair, Share Cooperative Learning Strategy (n.d.) Teacher Vision Retrieved from https://www.teachervision.com/group-work/cooperative-learning/48547.html

Creative Thinking Strategies

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image source

At the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy is creating. Getting students creating in the classroom involves them in synthesizing information in a novel way and this “ . . process of discovery involved in creating something new appears to be one of the most enjoyable activities any human can be involved in” (Csikszentmihalyi,1996, page 113).

Really , it’s a win-win.

Win # 1 As teachers we need to get students engaging in activities that require the elements of metacognition – planning monitoring and evaluating – and by adding a learning activity that involves an active approach we can achieve the highest impact on learning (David-Lang, J. 2013).

Win #2 Having students engaging in something that makes them feel good “ (taps ) into student’s emotions can inspire them to put forth their greatest potential” (Barkley, 2010, page 35).

Before we examine at the various learning strategies let’s take a moment to see what creative thinking looks like. Here is a table that looks at the differences between critical and creative thinking.

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To facilitate creative thinking in the classroom, it is important that we create a safe learning environment so students will be willing to take risks as they explore multiple possibilities. Let the students know that divergent thinking creates feelings of ambiguity but is a vital part of the process for “. . .when people are open to different views, they will endure an unclear situation for the moment in order to avoid jumping to conclusions and making decisions too soon. In fact, this is beneficial for the quantity and quality of ideation” (Tsai, K., 2015, para 17).

Below is a short video that takes a look at the divergent thinking that is needed when being creative.



Lets take a look at some of the strategies we can use to get students engaged with creative thinking. Here is a wonderful digital presentation done by a previous PDIP student on poster sessions.

Key points for poster sessions are:

  • Work with students to determine topics and design parameters
  • Have a marking rubric

For example, for an online perinatal course for RNs students (either individually or as a group) would work with their instructor to decide which post partum patient teaching subject they would like to make a poster on. The intended audience would be for the woman and her family. Posters would be exhibited on the day of the hands on workshop.

Another great project would be to use a variation of role playing using digital storytelling. In the example of the online perinatal course, students could present a birth story through the woman and her family’s, the nurse’s, or the primary care provider’s eyes. This would provide the opportunity for reflective critical thinking as the students would “ . . . experience the emotional and intellectual responses . . .” (Barkley 2010, page 232) of the people involved with a birth.

Another activity that could be used is the creation of a class book. This is from Barkley (2010) SET 21. Student could volunteer to submit assignments for an online class book.

These are a few ideas I have about integrating creative learning into an online perinatal course. How are you going to incorporate creative thinking in your classroom?


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper/Collins Retrieved from: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic868772.files/1018CsikszentmihalyiCh

David-Lang, J. (2013) The Main Idea current education book summaries: Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, Hattie, J., 2012 retrieved from: http://www.tdschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/The+Main+Idea+-+Visible+Learning+for+Teachers+-+April+2013.pdf

How Does Creative Thought Differ from Critical Thought? (2015) Learning and Teaching Centre at Macquarie University Retrieved from: http://staff.mq.edu.au/teaching/curriculum_assessment/critical_creative/differences/

Tsai, K., (2015) A Framework of Creative Education e in education exploring our connective educational landscape Vol 21 (1) Retrieved from: http://ineducation.ca/ineducation/article/view/193/759

A lesson in engagement, motivation and active learning

Today I had an opportunity to live what I just learned during my readings for PIDP 3250.

Barkley (2010) noted that: “In our model of student engagement, motivation and active learning are twin helices that work synergistically ” (p 23). She goes on to identify 3 conditions that integrate these elements to promote increased level of engagement; creating a sense of community, helping students work at their optimal level of challenge, and helping students learn holistically (Barkley, 2010)

I must confess, I am by nature a very engaged and motivated student. I love a challenge, so when this opportunity to start a blog came with this course, I revved up my engines and took the plunge. Only I went in WAY over my head. Somehow I thought I needed to set up my blog on a local server. Ya, it wasn’t pretty. However, before jettisoning my computer off my deck and into the wilds of my back yard I stopped and did the next thing mothers of adult children do; they put in an emergency call to their sons and beg for help.

Unfortunately, even my chemical engineering son was reluctant to support my cause. “You sure you need to do this?” was the question I heard repeated over and over as he talked me through creating folders and linking it to my document root. After an hour he needed to go. The project was incomplete. I felt deflated and overwhelmed.

Condition 2: Teachers Can  Create Synergy by Helping Students Work at Their Optimal Level of Challenge (Barkley, 2010, p 27).

After, emailing our instructor, I learned that this was indeed unnecessary. Of course there is an online version. Sure, I still have to learn how to navigate this dashboard but I don’t require a computer program background.

Whew!  I am back in the saddle again.

What did I learn?

Even the most engaged student can become disengaged if the level of challenge is too high. I facilitate neonatal resuscitation workshops with a variety of health care professionals whose skills vary from novice to expert. I will ensure that I individualize learning for each participant so that it matches their skill level so they will feel the synergy of active learning and motivation.

Bring on the next adventure!!


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

woman running toward a peak