Using the Pomodoro Technique to Help You and Your Students Be More Productive

Pomodoro Techniqueby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

The Pomodoro Technique can be a useful approach to help dedicate time and energy to a specific task.  Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s, the technique has become a popular method to set goals, boost productivity, and improve concentration.

Named after Cirillo’s tomato shaped timer, the technique involves working in 25-minute intervals (or pomodoros), followed a 5 minute break. After the break, participants start another 25 minute pomodoro.  After 4 pomodoros are complete, a person takes a longer, 20-minute break.

Another key aspect to the Pomodoro Technique is keeping record of the the amount of pomodoros done to complete a specific task.   Cirillo states keeping inventory provides an “objective metric” that helps identify what activities need to take priority and what activities can be amended, combined, or eliminated (2009).

For faculty, the Pomodoro Technique can be a useful time management tool to help balance the amount of time spent on each students’ work.  Using the technique can help faculty prioritize feedback on assignments and prevent grading “burn-out.”

As self-regulated learning becomes a bigger focus to help today’s learners (Goleman, 2006; Nilson, 2013; Tough, 2012; Zimmerman, 2002), faculty can incorporate the technique into class assignments.  Students can record the amount of pomodoros needed to complete class assignments in order to assess their writing and studying habits.   The process can help students with goal setting and self-monitoring as well as help students develop useful time management skills.

Over the last couple of years, I have found the technique helpful to help prepare for comprehensive exams, write research articles, and to remain mindful of how much time I am staring at a computer screen.

Although the Pomodoro Technique has been discussed on many websites and “lifehack” blogs, there has been a rapid growth in the amount of apps and tools devoted to the approach.  While I prefer to simply use the timer on my iPhone, below are a few examples that are free, easy to use, and aesthetically pleasing:


For iPhone:

Flat Tomato – Time Management:

For Android:

Clear Focus – A Pomodoro Timer:

For Apple OS:

Add a Pomodoro time to the taskbar on your computer:

Tips for Sustaining Collaborative Learning

by Dipti Subramaniam, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Reinert Center

Implementing collaborative learning in the classroom is an exciting process. However, one can quickly learn that incorporating new efforts can be a daunting task for many instructors, especially for first timers. Here are four useful tips for sustaining collaborative learning in the classroom:

1. Plan

  • Think about when and how you would like to introduce a specific type of group work (e.g., large group discussions, small group panels, partnering, mind-mapping, etc.) during each phase of the course.
  • Example: For example, in an instance when an instructor is interested in gauging students’ understanding of the topic and the type of connections they are making, mind-mapping can be a useful collaborative activity. For mind-mapping, pick one topic and ask students to write up/list as many ideas connecting to the main topic. Take at least 20 minutes (depending on size of class) to list their ideas on a large white board.

2. Experiment

  • Do not be afraid to try new approaches early on in the semester. This generally will also give you an idea of what keeps the students interested, engaged, and involved.
  • Example: Do not wait until mid-semester to start using group activities. Change one traditional lecture to incorporate a different type of group activity within the first few weeks of class. Be sure to prepare students with expectations beforehand, especially if they will need to come to class with specific preparation.

3. Set rules

  • Establish appropriate guidelines and evaluation tools for contribution and participation for group activities as well as assignments.
  • Example: Ask students to sign a contract (i.e. Memorandum of Agreement) stating that they will be responsible in completing the specific duties expected for their particular role in the group activities. Also, using evaluation tools such as self-assessment and peer assessment forms helps student learning and accountability in collaborative learning.

4. Reward

  • Create a structure that allows students to be recognized for their contributions and accomplishments.
  • Example: Take the time after group activities to acknowledge students’ effort and work. As the instructor, you can acknowledge your students by providing specific feedback, words of encouragement, and support to motivate them as they work together.

groups of students working together with a marker board full of different colored post it notes.

Image source:

“Teamwork Win.” Flickr. Yahoo! Web. 22 July 2014. <>.

Reimagining What You Already Use

linotype pressby Jerod Quinn, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

The summer can offer a little extra time to look around at what’s going on in the greater teaching and learning community. And because of my personality, I am drawn to new technology like a mosquito to a bug zapper. That may be why I have been thinking about gadgets in the classroom more than usual lately, but I also think it might be because in the past few weeks I have been involved in several conversations that go something like this: “Is there technology out there in the world that can help me and my students have a better classroom experience?” It’s at this point I look that faculty member straight in the eye and give the confident, unwavering reply of, “Maybe.”

Read more…

The Reinert Center Welcomes Our 2014-2015 Post-Doctoral Fellow and Graduate Assistants

The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning enthusiastically announces our new Post-Doctoral Fellow and two Graduate Assistants on our staff for the 2014-2015 academic year. The Post-Doctoral Fellow and Graduate Assistants in the Center assist in the administration of the Certificate in University Teaching Skills (CUTS) program, conduct research on teaching and learning topics, consult with graduate students about teaching, conduct teaching observations, and assist Center staff with the implementation and assessment of programs.

The Post-Doctoral Fellow and each of our GAs this year is hard working and committed to the mission of the center, and each brings her own teaching experiences and pedagogical knowledge.

Post-Doctoral Fellow: Dipti Subramaniam

A recent graduate of SLU’s College of Public Health and Social Justice, Dr. Dipti Subramaniam, joins the Reinert Center this year as our first Post-Doctoral Fellow. Previously, she was graduate research assistant and a teaching assistant for public health courses, in addition to also having served as a graduate assistant in the Reinert Center. Throughout these experiences, she has worked with displaced and underserved individuals such as Burmese and Nepalese refugees and also grassroots organizations for community empowerment in the city of Saint Louis. She also has experience assisting faculty with course development and teaching for undergraduate and graduate students on the topics of research methods, global health and health theories. Dipti’s research interests include qualitative and mixed methods research, predictive modeling, contemporary issues in global health, and the socio-cultural and psycho-social aspects of health promotion and behavior.

Graduate Assistant: Elisabeth Hedrick-Moser

Returning for a second year as a GA in the Center, Elisabeth Hedrick-Moser is a doctoral candidate in English, with a concentration in Transatlantic Modernism and Trauma Theory. She has taught several courses in the English Department, from Advanced Strategies in Rhetoric and Research to Women in Literature. She also earned a graduate minor in Women’s and Gender Studies and has taught Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies at the Frost campus as well as Feminism in Action at the Madrid campus.

Graduate Assistant: Kelly McEnerney

Joining us for her first year, Kelly McEnerney is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Psychology, developmental concentration. She has collaborated with the Center for Service and Community Engagement, assisting in the implementation and assessment of a reading partnership and diversity awareness program for children. In addition to her research experiences, Kelly has taught sections of General Psychology and Developmental Psychology.

We look forward to the contributions that Dipti, Elisabeth, and Kelly bring to all those the Reinert Center serves this year.

Fostering Self-Regulated Learning

Self-regulated learnersby Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

So many of our frustrations with “today’s students” stem from their not-yet-well-developed ability to function as self-regulated learners.  We could debate the reasons – cultural, generational, developmental – why many undergraduates have not yet cultivated a strong sense of self-regulation in their approach to education, but it may be more fruitful to explore ways we can contribute to their development in this important area.

This is the basic premise of Linda Nilson’s Creating Self-Regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students’ Self-Awareness and Learning Skills (2013), and it’s well worth a read this summer as you work to develop new courses and reimagine old ones.

At once “a handy compendium of activities and assignments” and “a call to weave self-regulated learning into course design” (107), this book offers specific guidance on ways faculty can help students cultivate strong self-assessment and meta-cognitive abilities.  Nilson explains that self-regulation “encompasses the monitoring and managing of one’s cognitive processes as well as the awareness of and control over one’s emotions, motivations, behavior, and environment as related to learning” (5).  As such, it demands that learners develop their ability to effectively plan, monitor, and evaluate their own learning.

At just over 100 pages, the book is packed with usable, relevant, common-sense activities, ranging from readings to assign students (like Learning (Your First Job), Learning to Learn, and Study Guides and Strategies), to pre-and post-reading activities (chapter 3), to in-class activities to promote engaged learning during lectures (chapter 4).

If you are looking for concrete ways to help students take more responsibility for their own learning, Creating Self-Regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students’ Self-Awareness and Learning Skills is worth a look.


Share your own strategies for promoting self-regulated learning in the comments section.  To discuss ways you might make self-regulation a goal in your own courses, come and see us.


Book image courtesy of

Online Teaching and Learning Institute

PrintOn June 2nd through June 5th, faculty from across the University attended the 2014 Online Teaching and Learning Institute (OTLI) at The Learning Studio in Des Peres Hall.  The four-day institute examined effective practices and pedagogy for teaching online.  Members of the CTTL staff facilitated discussions on course design, assessment tools, and university-supported academic technologies.  KimScharringhausen from Information Technology Services also presented an overview of Blackboard’s quiz tool tool.

While the Institute is a great opportunity for faculty to learn more about online course design, another benefit of OTLI is the cross-disciplinary dialogue that takes place throughout the week.  Faculty gain valuable insight from colleagues on what online practices work well in other academic disciplines.  The conversations often help provide new perspectives on teaching as well as generate useful tips on how to engage students online.

Afternoon breakout sessions provide 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 won’t be until next summer, Reinert Center Instructional Developers are available to meet with faculty to talk about online course design at any time.  To schedule a consultation, simply complete the consultation request form, which you can find using the following link:

“You say Tomato, I say Tomato…”

3843988724_180a4462a8_mby Sandy Gambill, Senior Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Are you spending some time reflecting on your spring semester and wondering why the group projects you spent so much time designing fell short of your goal?

We may think we’re designing collaborative projects where students are working together towards a common goal, however, students often view these group projects as cooperative, splitting up tasks and then merging the individual work into a final product that can seem disjointed.

Here are a couple of resources to help you better strengthen the collaborative objective.

Cooperation vs. Collaboration

Towards Better Group Work: Seeing the Difference Between Cooperation and Collaboration.”

Photograph available via Flickr.

One More Thing Before Summer


by Jerod Quinn, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

I’m going to hold off declaring that summer is officially here for just one more moment. I know the residence halls are empty, the grades are all turned in, dissertations have been defended, and that course evaluations are arriving in our mailboxes. But before officially diving headfirst into summer I want to encourage you to do one more, very important thing before locking your office for the next couple months. Now is the perfect time to reflect on the just ended semester and think about next fall. I can audibly hear your collective groan of disapproval, but hear me out.

Read more…

From Cheating to Learning

Lang bookby Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

It’s easy to assume that student cheating and violations of academic integrity norms are on the rise.  With students’ increasing use of technology and the increasingly blurry lines around re-use of existing creative works in our broader culture (just look at musical “sampling”), many worry that students’ understanding of “ownership” and “original” intellectual work is deteriorating.  Certainly, pass through any academic department on any college campus, and you’re apt to overhear someone say things like, Students today just have no regard for academic integrity! Or, We just live in a cheating culture now, and there’s nothing we can do about it.  But the good news is, there are things we can do about it.

In his new book, Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty, James M. Lang (SLU alum, faculty member at Assumption College, and regular columnist for the Chronicle of Higher Education) provides a rationale and a roadmap for doing just that.

The book is driven by a powerful message: shift your focus from activities that prevent cheating to those that promote learning, and you create a learning environment that can reduce cheating.  Lang begins by exploring the recent literature on cheating (students are not, by the way, “cheating more” today than they did in the past) and placing that literature alongside research about how learning actually works (for one thing, learners have to be involved in their learning).  This leads him to four broad categories of practice that can result in what he calls “The (Nearly) Cheating-Free Classroom”:

1 Fostering Intrinsic Motivation

2 Learning for Mastery

3 Lowering Stakes

4 Instilling Self-Efficacy

The middle section of the book is devoted to these categories of practice.  For each, Lang offers concrete examples of strategies and activities used by actual faculty members to promote learning and reduce cheating.  Finally, at the end, he broadens his focus to include larger-scale initiatives and campus-wide approaches to creating a culture that privileges learning over preventing cheating.

If you’re interested in shifting your own focus from preventing cheating to promoting learning, come see us in the Reinert Center.  We’d be happy to help you explore small, concrete strategies that can have a large impact.

Book cover image courtesy of

Upcoming Initiatives related to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)

PrintThe Reinert Center is currently accepting proposals and nominations for two important SoTL initiatives.  Please see below for more information.


The Paul C. Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Symposium

Deadline: Friday, May 23, 2014

We invite faculty and graduate students to submit a 500-word proposal for a poster
presentation on a current (in-progress) or recently completed Scholarship (or research) of
Teaching and Learning project. New research as well as research already presented at
national or local conferences is welcome.

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) involves researching questions about
teaching activities and student learning by formally studying the teaching and learning
activities of one’s course; answering those questions by assessing student learning and
effectiveness of teaching strategies; and publicly sharing results of this inquiry in a setting
that invites peer review, such as a publication or conference presentation.

The goal of the symposium is to showcase the SoTL work being conducted by Saint Louis
University faculty and graduate students, and to promote a community of SoTL

For more information on the symposium and participation guidelines, please visit our website.



James H. Korn Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award
Deadline: Friday, May 23, 2014

The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning is pleased to invite nominations for the 2014 James H. Korn Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award.

One of the goals of the Reinert Center is to promote faculty inquiry and scholarly research on teaching and learning. In 2006, the Center established the James H. Korn Award for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in recognition of Psychology Professor Emeritus Jim Korn’s many contributions to research on teaching and learning.

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) involves researching questions about teaching activities and student learning by formally studying the teaching and learning activities of one’s course; answering those questions by assessing student learning and effectiveness of teaching strategies; and publicly sharing results of this inquiry in a setting that invites peer review, such as a publication or conference presentation.

For information on award criteria and nomination procedures, please visit our website.