Reinert Center Pilots New Program on Culturally Responsive Teaching


by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Next week, the Reinert Center will launch a pilot for a new program focused on helping SLU faculty and graduate student instructors design and teach courses in ways that are culturally responsive.  While the particular emphasis for the pilot is on engaging international students more inclusively, the concepts of “culturally responsive teaching” are relevant for all teachers and aligned with the literature on effective pedagogical practice more generally.

The Culturally Responsive Teaching Academy

The Culturally Responsive Teaching Academy is an intensive instructional development experience for SLU faculty and graduate students who teach courses with high concentrations of international students or who just wish to learn more about working effectively with students from a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences.  It combines a four-day summer institute with monthly meetings of the Academy cohort during the fall semester and discussions as needed in the spring.

Participation is limited and by department chair / program director nomination only.  Faculty participants are designated Culturally Responsive Teaching Fellows; graduate student participants are designated Culturally Responsive Graduate Fellows.  The 2015 cohort has been set and begins its work next week.

So, what is “culturally responsive teaching”?

“Culturally responsive teaching” is teaching that demonstrates awareness of the ways in which the norms and values experienced in the classroom – by both teachers and learners – are shaped by culture.  Students come to our campuses with all kinds of experiences and only-half-understood “rules” for what teaching and learning look like in the university setting. From classroom engagement, to faculty/student interactions, to writing and research: the norms of academic culture look different depending on when and where the teaching and learning is happening.  And academic culture is a “culture” – though it’s easy for many faculty and graduate students to forget that because we are so steeped in it.  (Of course, for faculty and graduate students who come to American universities from other educational cultures, that fact is likely more visible.)

From design to implementation, culturally responsive courses make explicit and visible for all students the assumptions and expectations instructors have for those courses.  This is important, not just for international students, but also for first-generation and other students from traditionally under-represented groups, as well as returning adult students, veterans, and others who come back to the classroom after having been steeped in workplace, military, and family cultures.  The more inclusive and explicit we are at the point of designing courses, the more likely we are to be responsive – rather than reactive – to the differences among our students.

The concept of culturally responsive teaching (or pedagogy) was born out of educators’ desire for more truly inclusive learning experiences in increasingly multicultural classroom settings (especially in urban schools). Gloria Ladsen-Billings and Geneva Gay are the names most associated with its early years.  More recently, the concepts have begun to appear in the literature on international students’ experiences in Western / U.S. classrooms.

While there’s much more that may be said about culturally responsive teaching, there’s also just the simple fact that, as an early Ladsen-Billings article title proclaims, the practices are “Just Good Teaching!”


Gay, G. (2010). Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Practice, and Research. 2nd edition.  New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

Ladsen-Billings, G. (1995). “But That’s Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.” Theory into Practice (34:3). Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University. Pp. 159-165.

Lin, S. & Scherz, S.D. (2014). “Challenges Facing Asian International Graduate Students in the US: Pedagogical Considerations in Higher Education.”  Journal of International Students (4:1). Pp. 16-33.

Book Review: Teaching Intensive and Accelerated Courses: Instruction That Motivates Learning

by Sandy Gambill, Reinert Center, Instructional Developer

TIAC bookTeaching Intensive and Accelerated Courses: Instruction That Motivates Learning
by Raymond J. Wlodkowski and Margery B. Ginsberg

July is traditionally a time for the beach and BBQs. It’s also traditionally the time both teachers and students question their decisions to be in the classroom instead of the swimming pool. Students are often overwhelmed with content in a typical  6 or 8 week summer course, and faculty often bemoan the lack of student motivation. In Teaching Intensive and Accelerated Courses: Instruction That Motivates Learning, Wlodkowski and Ginsberg offer some practical suggestions to deal with both issues.

The content issue, a.k.a. coverage, can be a challenge even in a traditional 15-week course, especially if your course is a prerequisite to other courses or a key part of a certification exam. How do you fit in everything you think a student needs to know? This coverage model can lead to a broad but shallow course design, touching briefly on several concepts, but leaving time for exploration of few.

Wlodkowski and Ginsberg advocate instead for a narrow and deep design.  “For retention and transfer of knowledge, coverage is less important than focusing on the key concepts of a discipline that tie significant facts together and make them understandable and usable.”  (Wlodkowski and Ginsberg, 2010) They also present other research that indicates “narrow and deep” is the desire of students: “…too often, students said, intensive course instructors try to cover too much material, which creates information overload. Students preferred to delve into fewer areas in more depth and concentrate on major concepts rather than learning large amounts of seemingly inconsequential material.” (Scott , 2003, as cited in Wlodkowski and Ginsberg, 2010)

What would this mean for your course planning? Would narrowing your content down to a few key concepts help you better meet goals and objectives? Is this really how you teach students to learn how to learn in your discipline? How would you decide what stays and what goes?

In the second part of the book, Wlodkowski and Ginsberg tackle the motivation issue, with a framework establishing four scaffolding conditions for motivation: establishing inclusion, developing attitude, enhancing meaning, and engendering competence. While important in all courses, in an alternative timeline, consciously working to help students feel part of the group can positively impact their attitude, which in turn increases motivation to delve into course work.

In addition to outlining questions surrounding each condition (for example, in establishing inclusion, the primary question is “how do we create a learning atmosphere in which we feel respected by and connected to one another?”), Wlodkowski and Ginsberg suggest pedagogical strategies for each. (To extend the example of establishing inclusion, an instructor might use collaborative learning as a strategy.) The book features curriculum mapping tools instructors can use to help them design learning activities for each condition and correlating strategy.

Teaching Intensive and Accelerated Courses: Instruction That Motivates Learning is available in the Reinert Center’s collection of books on teaching and learning. Please contact us at if you would like to browse through the book or set up an appointment to discuss your accelerated course.

Summer Reading List

by Jerod Quinn, Instructional Developer

I have the good fortune to be in a place where there is an abundance of great reading and research available for my profession, instructional development. My co-workers point me towards exciting new ideas in the field along with keeping a list of the foundational writings. And with all that great information available to me right at my fingertips, I have to make a confession. There are several books that I have been referencing lately in my work that I have yet to work through in their entirety, front cover to back cover. I have read huge chunks, connected chapters, and even research cited by the authors, but I have yet to carve out time to read through every single page of the works. I know there is something to be said for being able to pull out what you need from a book, but I think these books deserve a deeper approach than I have given them to date.

But this is the summer where those books are finally going to get their day in the light. There are three books that I am going to read in their entirety. I hope my list can encourage you to pick up a book or two that you keep saying you need to read, and make it happen before the students return this fall. And if you are looking for something to read during these hot summer months while you relax by the pool, take a look at what I’m going to dive into for some inspiration.

Teaching tipsTEACHING TIPS, Wilbert McKeachie

Teaching Tips is the swiss army knife of teaching. McKeachie takes mountains of research on everything from course preparation, to active learning, to class discussion, to diverse learners, to experiential learning, to assessing all of those experiences, and everything in between and boils it down into around 15 pages for each topic of rich, evidence-based, practical application. I have already read at least half of this book because I go to specific chapters to get a strong overview on whatever topics I am working with in the moment. This is one of those books that deserves more than just the snatching of bits and pieces as needed.

cheating lessonsCHEATING LESSONS, James Lang

I have been fumbling with this book for a year now, ever since our director wrote a blog post about Cheating Lessons. While I have repeated the conclusions of this book to various people, I have yet to sift through the details of how James Lang gets to those conclusions. But the starting premise for the book is very intriguing. Instead of beginning with the question, “How can we stop students from cheating?” Lang takes a different approach that leans more towards the root causes of cheating. He begins with, “Why do students cheat in the first place?” Along that journey he digs into the research on cheating and manages to debunk some common myths like students are just lazier these days, and that they cheat more than in the past.

learningHOW LEARNING WORKS, Susan Ambrose, et. al.

This book has been on my “I need to read this” list longer than any other. How Learning Works is the effort to apply the science behind learning to the practice of teaching and education. The authors name seven overarching principles and then unpack and articulate how to apply that research on learning to the context of the college classroom. But their research doesn’t just stop at the classroom, but the seventh principle is about helping our students become self-directed learners. Metacognition (the process of reflecting on and directing one’s own learning) is something that many, if not most, students don’t naturally do. Some practical instruction in metacognition can go a long way in helping students become self-directed and lifelong learners.

That’s my list for the next couple months. Well, that and The Hunger Games. After all, it is summer. All work and no play…


Using Ground Rules to Support a Diverse Learning Environment

by Elisabeth Hedrick-Moser, Instructor 

When I was a college student, and before I thought about it more intentionally, I thought “diversity” in education was really code for “politically correct,” or just a way to prevent or correct racism or stereotyping.  I’ve since learned that diversity is, in itself, a positive force for education. Think about it:  if we are in a classroom with others who look like us, think like us, approach questions and seek answers from the same perspective, what are we going to gain by being in conversation with one another?  Attending to differences in the classroom can bring valuable perspectives to the conversation, ways of thinking about and answering questions that would be entirely absent if those differences were absent.  But…the work of hearing different perspectives is not necessarily easy, or natural, and speaking a different perspective is not necessarily safe.  We have to feel safe to in order to speak and in order to listen.  And we have to learn—and practice—both.

There are many obstacles to creating a space where people of different perspectives are open to speaking out and open to hearing one another.  For one thing, the ways that we perceive difference affect us in powerful ways, inhibiting us both from being able to speak and to listen to each other.  We may be injured by someone’s words, or fear speaking because we don’t know how our own words may be perceived.  We may see others as not understanding our particular situation, not credible to speak on a topic, or not likely to care about what we have to say.  There’s a mounting energy in our country for reaching across racial, gender, ethnic, sexual, and religious divides—trying to understand one another and heal centuries of wounding.  Students are eager to have these conversations.  But they, like us, are afraid.  Providing boundaries and guidelines for class discussion can help to stem some of that fear.

One way to guide class discussion is to create “Ground Rules” for how we engage with one another.  Such rules can help moderate conversation as we approach questions and topics that make us uncomfortable.

Here are some sample ground rules from the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence:

  • Listen actively and attentively.
  • Ask for clarification if you are confused.
  • Do not interrupt one another.
  • Challenge one another, but do so respectfully.
  • Critique ideas, not people.
  • Do not offer opinions without supporting evidence.
  • Avoid put-downs (even humorous ones).
  • Take responsibility for the quality of the discussion.
  • Build on one another’s comments; work toward shared understanding.
  • Always have your book/readings in front of you.
  • Do not monopolize discussion.
  • Speak from your own experience, without generalizing.
  • If you are offended by anything said during discussion, acknowledge it immediately.
  • Consider anything that is said in class strictly confidential.

Notably, active listening tops the list of rules for discussion.  Not interrupting one another, learning how to challenge each other respectfully, learning to build on something that someone said earlier, speaking from your own experience and not generalizing—these are the rules of civil discourse in broader society, not just in the classroom.  In teaching civil discourse, we are teaching students to be citizens, to engage civilly in a public domain.  The values that govern collaborative discussion in a classroom mirror the values of living in community in democratic society—“mutual respect, open-mindedness, the willingness to listen to and take seriously the ideas of others, procedural fairness, and public discussion of contested issues” (Colby 13).  As we open up our classrooms for discussions, we have the capacity to teach the highly transferable skills and values of democratic engagement.

As you incorporate ground rules into your class, take time to discuss the meaning and the purpose behind the rules.  For instance, you may have a conversation about the importance of “Critiquing ideas, not people.”  Why do people have the tendency to make a personal attack in an argument, and why is it fallacious to do so?  Ground rules demystify the traditions of scholarly conversation and help students mature in their ability to hear and share ideas—skills, which, we hope, students will take with them into their workplaces, communities, and social media worlds.

One strategy you may try to help students take ownership of the rules is to have the class write the rules themselves (“Teaching for Inclusion” 21).  Have a discussion about what constitutes fair and safe public conversation.  Have them write up a set of rules and share their rules with a group, revising a set that each group comes up with. Share the groups’ sets of rules and come to consensus about what the class rules will be.  Of course, as the teacher, you may notice gaps or problems in the rules.  You may guide the class to cover the gaps or point out why a rule may be problematic.  In the end, hopefully, you will have a set of rules that everyone agrees will make discussions an authentically collaborative endeavor.

See also our “Ground Rules” Resource Guide.


Colby, Anne. Educating Citizens: Preparing America’s Undergraduates for Lives of Moral and      Civic Responsibility. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003.

“Ground Rules.”  Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence, Carnegie Mellon University.    

“Teaching for Inclusion:  Diversity in the College Classroom.”  Center for Teaching and Learning,           University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  19-22.


Dealing with Classroom Management Challenges

14734962322_45d7fff3e9_zby Dipti Subramanium, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Reinert Center

Classroom management challenges are not uncommon; they are something that all instructors face at different levels and times. Below are some tips to address some common issues.

Dominating students: While dominating students are often eager, knowledgeable, and help keep the discussion going, they could also hinder other students from participating. At the beginning of the semester, let your students know that you would like to receive input and ideas from everyone from the class. Try calling on students who have not shared their ideas recently or don’t talk often, and ask frequent contributors to pause until others have had a chance to respond.

Disruptive students: Frequently, we have a subset of students who are pre-occupied with their own conversations and can bother other students.  Sometimes those conversations are about course material. Try breaking the class into groups while conducting discussions, have students formulate questions and discussion about course materials, and walk around the room asking students to share the key points of their discussion.

Uncivil students:  Often what instructors consider rude or uncivil behavior in class is surprising to students. Give your class a set of list of what constitutes as uncivil behavior. This can range from talking rudely to their peers, interrupting your lecture, or checking Facebook in class.  Create ground rules to demonstrate the unacceptable and acceptable behaviors. The overall goal here is to demonstrate to students the normative behaviors that are favorable to learning in your class.

Unprepared students: There are a variety of reasons why students come to class unprepared. Sometimes instructor’s ideas of being prepared differs from students’ ideas. So, help clarify to them what you mean about being prepared for assignments, exams, group projects and etc. Have clearly written expectations in your syllabus. Do not forget to communicate this verbally to your students.


  1. McKeachie, W., & Svinicki, M. (2013). McKeachie’s teaching tips. Cengage Learning.
  2. Braxton, J. M., Bayer, A. E., & Noseworthy, J. A. (2004). The effects of teaching norm violations on the welfare of students as clients of college teaching. In J. M. Braxton & A. E. Bayer (Eds.), Addressing faculty and student classroom improprieties. New directions for teaching and learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  3. Bjorklund, W. L., & Rehling, D. L. (2009). Student perceptions of classroom incivility. College Teaching, 58(1), 15-18.

*Image courtesy of Texas A&M University, via Flickr

OTLI 2015 Recap

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214On June 1st through June 4th, faculty from across the University attended the 6th annual Online Teaching and Learning (OTLI) Institute at The Learning Studio in Des Peres Hall.  The four-day institute provided an opportunity to explore effective teaching practices and pedagogy for teaching.  Members of the Reinert Center facilitated discussions on course design, assessment and assignments, creating online course material, and student engagement.  Kim Scharringhausen from Information Technology Services was also on hand to provide technical support for Blackboard.

Although the Institute is a great opportunity to learn more about effective course design, another benefit of OTLI is the cross-disciplinary dialogue that takes place throughout the week.  Faculty gain valuable insight from colleagues in other disciplines.  The conversations often help provide new insights into online and on-ground teaching as well as generate useful tips on how to engage students.

Afternoon breakout session provided an opportunity to address specific technical and course design questions.  At the end of the Institute, attendees leave with a plan for how to expand their online teaching presence.

Although the next OTLI session will not be until next summer, Reinert Center Instructional Developers are available to meet with faculty to talk about course design at any time.  To schedule a consultation, simply complete the consultation request form, which you can find using the following link:

Framing Assignments for Clarity

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by Jerod Quinn, Instructional Developer

I have known for a long time that I like to ramble when I talk, but it has been a recent discovery of mine that I also like to ramble when I write. While that’s not inherently a bad thing, it has been adding some undesirable tension between me and my students because my rambling habit has leaked over into my assignment descriptions. But it came from good intentions, I swear! When you teach online (which I do), you don’t have the opportunity to correct misunderstandings and add clarity in the moment like you do in the classroom. In the classroom if your assignment instructions are unclear, the students can protest and seek clarity while you’re standing in front of them. While clear written instructions are important in any context, they are especially important for online classes because there is no “in the moment” to course correct. Knowing this, I decided to write all of my expectations and directions in my assignment descriptions, but I didn’t think about how to frame all that writing in a readable flow. My assignment descriptions had become a big, jumbly mess. In my attempt to be overly explicit with my expectations for assignments I added a lot of confusion with unnecessary instructions without any real structure.

I have been actively working to correct my rambling assignment instructions, and some recent reading has encouraged me that I’m pursuing good practice. In Stavredes and Herder’s book A Guide to Online Course Design they address assignment instructions by stating that clear and organized instructions, “will enable learners to focus on the intellectual work associated with assignments such as critiquing a piece of music or creating a marketing campaign rather than interpreting what they are supposed to do” (pg. 148). I want my learners engaged in the assignment, not burning their energy trying to figure out what I am asking them to do. With that in mind I thought I would share the simple assignment structure I have been using for this past year with positive results. It’s a three-part structure that offers a framework for clarity of expectations and encourages my affections for alliteration. The three components I use to define my assignments are Purpose, Process, and Product.


Most of my students are future teachers or future instructors of some nature. Offering a space to explain why I’m inflicting these assignments upon my learners helps them to “see how the sausage is made” (i.e., the thinking behind the choices I’ve made). I want them to understand that my assignments are not random, but that they are intentional opportunities for content mastery. They are connected directly to our learning objectives, which are expressions of the course goals, which are designed to help them navigate their time as students as well as serve them as professionals. We don’t do busy work in my classes, and I want to make sure my students realize that the purpose of these assignments is tied to their growth as professionals. They may not like my assignments, but at least they can articulate why I am assigning them.


This section gives me space to explain how I expect my students to approach their assignments. This could mean encouraging them to work in groups, or explaining how I expect them to approach collaborative work. For a few of my assignments, I have my students breaking free from their computer screens and go out into the “real world” to document our course content as it is expressed in the wild. Having a section in our assignments that offers me the opportunity to explain how I expect the process of completing the assignment helps to clarify the route my students should take to get to the end of the assignment. And with those assignments where the process is more organic or ambiguous, offering a little direction on a suggested process can offer a starting point the students to begin to route their own path through those more independent projects.


The product is the deliverable. This is where I tell my students what they actually need to submit for the assignment, where they need to turn it in, and the time and date that assignment is due. This the where I lay out my expectations about their papers, multimedia projects, interpretive dances, or whatever I am asking them to create.

Purpose, Process, and Product is the format I have been using for my assignments for this past year. I get fewer questions about clarification now, and I feel like my students have a better understanding of not only what I am asking of them, but why I create the assignments I do. While I have found this structure makes sense to me and my context, I don’t think it is the structure that has been the benefit to my students. The benefit comes from me taking time to make my assignment instructions more clear, more direct, and less rambly.

The Assertion-Evidence Approach to Scientific Presentations

Scientific Presentationsby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

In his 2003 book, The Craft of Scientific Presentations: Critical Steps to Succeed and Critical Errors to Avoid, Associate Professor of engineering communication at Pennsylvania State University,  Michael Alley describes how an “assertion-evidence” approach to scientific presentations can create powerful and memorable learning experiences.  Instead of presenting information using bulleted lists and topical phrases, Alley demonstrates how to build presentations using succinct messages that are supported by relevant visual evidence (such as photos, drawings, diagrams, films, or equations).  For example, an assertion-evidence presentation on land erosion may use pictures of the causes and effects for land erosion instead of a series of text-heavy bulleted lists.  Handouts on each slide will include references and other supporting information in the “notes” section of the slide.  The picture-based presentation helps create a capacity for a more complex understanding of the material while also providing an opportunity for the presenter to break free from the restriction of text-based slides.

Now in its 2nd edition, the book offers many great examples of more engaging and less engaging presentations as well as some of the common mistakes made when presenting information.  The book also demonstrates how the assertion-evidence approach helps create presentations that are better comprehended, remembered, and believed (Garner & Alley, 2013).

Recommended for anyone looking to improve the way they present material by using visual aides (such as PowerPoint), the book is full of examples based on the assertion-evidence presentation model.  In addition to the book, there are a wealth of resources provided on the author’s website including a number of free online templates to help you get started using the assertion-evidence framework.

If you’re looking for a way to make your lectures more interactive, Alley’s approach to designing slides may be of interest.


Alley, M. (2003). The craft of scientific presentations. New York: Springer.

Garner, J., & Alley, M. (2013). How the Design of Presentation Slides Affects Audience Comprehension: A Case for the Assertion–Evidence Approach. International Journal of Engineering Education, 29(6), 1564-1579.

 Image courtesy of

Teaching Podcasts

Looking for an easy way to get in some professional development during your summer travels? Teaching in Higher Ed is a free podcasting site with episodes on topics ranging from How to Take a Break to Eliciting and Using Student Feedback.

Teaching in Higher Ed

Looking Back: Reaction or Response?

theRiverby Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

At the beginning of this academic year, I wrote about the importance of moving from reaction to response when teaching in a time of crisis.  That blog post, offered at the start of a new semester, recommended reflection as a means of helping students to avoid “reactive monologue” and to achieve “responsive dialogue.”  Given all that was happening in our region and on our campus last fall, that call to reflection turned out to be especially needed.  As we close out another academic year, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to reflect deeply on the year you’ve had – in the classroom, in the community, on our campus.

Try to discern when you’ve found yourself reacting (to feedback from students? to implicit biases inside yourself? to the pressures of balancing research, teaching, and service?) and when you’ve felt yourself responding (to students’ needs for support? to colleagues’ generosity? to reviewers’ feedback on a manuscript?).  Consider . . .

In what ways do reaction and response feel different?

When you were able to respond instead of react, why do you think that was? What were the situations?

What do you need in order to respond instead of react?

What are some practical actions you could take this summer to set the stage for more responding and less reacting next year?

As you tie up the loose ends of your semester, take time to reflect on your experiences from this year.  Identify one or two concrete things you can do – as a teacher, a scholar, a colleague – to increase your capacity to respond.  You can’t model responsive engagement with real-world problems if you’re always in reaction mode.

All of us here at the Reinert Center wish you rest (for those taking the summer “off”), productivity (for those spending the next few months researching and writing), or  transformative teaching (for those right back in the classroom once the summer sessions begin).  If your reflections lead you to creative ideas for new ways of engaging students, let us help you make it actionable!  Come brainstorm with one of our instructional developers or submit a proposal for a 2015 Try It! Summer Mini-Grant.  We hope to see you soon.