Instructional Moves for Dealing with Practical Challenges


Table of Contents:

Part I: Fostering Independent Thinking in Classrooms
Part II. Supporting Unevenly Prepared Students
Part III: Strategies for Addressing Instructional Time Constraints

Part I: Fostering Independent Thinking in Classrooms

The excerpt below is taken from Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond

Dependent Learners. “Classroom studies document the fact that underserved English learners, poor students, and students of color routinely receive less instruction in higher order skills development than other students (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 1989; DarlingHammond, 2001; Oaks, 2005). Their curriculum is less challenging and more repetitive. Their instruction is more focused on skills low on Bloom’s taxonomy. This type of instruction denies students the opportunity to engage in what neuroscientists call productive struggle that actually grows our brainpower (Means & Knapp, 1991; Ritchhart, 2002). As a result, a disproportionate number of culturally and linguistically diverse students are dependent learners.”

Here are some concrete strategies to help faculty support student movement from dependent to independent thinking:

Teach Through Problems:

  • Problem-Based Learning (PBL): Present students with real-world or simulated problems requiring application of STEM concepts. This forces them to analyze, research, and develop solutions independently.
  • Case Based Collaborative Learning (CBCL): Have students analyze real-world or fictional scenarios together, fostering critical thinking and independent analysis through peer discussion and problem-solving.This strategy initially provides a collaborative framework to dissect problems, then gradually increasing individual responsibility through tasks like independent solution development and peer review.
  • Case Studies: Analyze real or fictional scenarios relevant to the course. Students will need to interpret data, identify core issues, and propose solutions, fostering critical thinking and independent analysis.
  • Simulations: Immerse students in dynamic scenarios where they apply STEM concepts and make consequential decisions. This strategy fosters independent thinking by requiring students to navigate challenges, analyze data, and formulate solutions within a simulated environment.
  • Team Based Learning: Structure group activities where students build upon individual preparation to then solve problems collaboratively. By encouraging students to explain their reasoning to peers, evaluate different approaches, and refine solutions within a supportive team environment students, students take on more higher-order thinking skills..

Enhancing Assessment:

  • Open-Ended, Multi-Step Problems: Move beyond basic calculations and formula application. Design problems that require students to explain their reasoning and approach, showcasing their understanding beyond memorized steps.
  • Project-Based Learning: Assign term-long projects requiring independent research, data collection, analysis, and presentation. This fosters critical thinking, problem-solving, and independent learning skills.
  • Peer Review and Self-Assessment: Emphasize peer review of assignments and projects. This encourages students to critically evaluate their own work and that of their peers, honing independent judgment.

Promoting Metacognition:

  • Reflective Journals: Encourage students to reflect on their learning process, documenting challenges, successes, and strategies that worked (or didn't). This promotes self-awareness and independent learning habits.
  • Learning Objectives with "Why" Clauses: Frame learning objectives not just with "what" students will learn, but also "why" it's important. This helps them understand the bigger picture and how to apply knowledge independently.
  • Metacognitive Prompts: During class or in assignments, incorporate prompts that encourage students to question their thinking and problem-solving approaches. This fosters self-awareness of their learning process.

Technology and Resources:

  • Interactive Simulations: Utilize online simulations that allow students to experiment, observe, and analyze results. This provides a safe environment for independent exploration of scientific principles.
  • Online Research Tools: Provide access to research databases and scholarly articles relevant to the course. This empowers students to explore topics independently and develop their research skills.
  • Concept Mapping Tools: Encourage students to use concept mapping software to represent their understanding of complex topics. This helps them visualize relationships and identify gaps in knowledge. Contact LDDI for Milanote accounts for your class. 

Collaborative Learning with Individual Accountability:

  • Jigsaw Activities: Divide students into groups with specific information to learn. After independent study, students come together to share and build a complete understanding. This promotes both collaboration and independent learning.
  • Group Projects with Individual Assessments: Structure projects where students work together but assess individual contributions to the project. This fosters accountability and independent learning within the collaborative environment.


  • Scaffolding: Provide initial support and guidance, gradually decreasing it as students develop their skills. This will help them gain confidence for independent learning.
  • Feedback: Offer constructive feedback on assignments and projects, focusing not just on answers but on problem-solving approaches and reasoning.
  • Modeling: Show students how you approach problems as a scientist or engineer. Model critical thinking, research strategies, and independent analysis.

Part II. Supporting Unevenly Prepared Students

Here are some concrete instructional strategies to address the needs of unevenly prepared students to promote academic success for all learners:

Pre-Assessment and Differentiation:

  • Diagnostic Assessments: Utilize pre-assessments at the beginning of a course or unit to identify student strengths, weaknesses, and prior knowledge in specific STEM concepts.
  • Tiered Activities and Scaffolding: Design assignments with multiple difficulty levels or entry points. Offer tiered questions, activities, or projects that cater to various learning styles and skill levels. Provide clear instructions, examples, and scaffolding for less prepared students, gradually decreasing support as they progress.
  • Just-in-Time Support: Offer targeted mini-lessons, online resources, or peer tutoring opportunities to address specific learning gaps revealed by pre-assessments or ongoing formative assessments.

Building Foundational Skills:

  • Spiral Curriculum: Review and revisit foundational concepts throughout the course, not just at the beginning. This reinforces understanding and helps build upon prior knowledge for more complex topics.
  • Alternative Approaches to Assessment: Structure learning so students can become proficient at a concept before moving on using strategies such as specifications gradingcontract grading, and "ungrading". Consider using checkpoints, practice problems, and formative assessments to gauge understanding. Offer targeted interventions or support for students who struggle. 

Promoting Active Learning and Collaboration:

  • Think-Pair-Share: Incorporate this strategy to encourage individual reflection ("think") followed by peer discussion ("pair") and class-wide sharing ("share"). This allows students to activate prior knowledge, learn from peers, and clarify their understanding.
  • Group Projects: Well-designed group projects can promote collaboration, communication, and peer learning. Structure projects with clear roles and individual accountability to ensure all students participate actively.
  • Peer Tutoring: Implement peer tutoring programs where stronger students can support their peers. This provides valuable practice and explanation opportunities for both parties.

Utilizing Technology and Resources:

  • Online Tutorials and Simulations: Offer access to online resources like video tutorials, simulations, and interactive learning platforms to provide additional explanation and practice opportunities for struggling students.
  • Concept Mapping Tools: Introduce concept mapping software or graphic organizers to help students visualize relationships among concepts, identify knowledge gaps, and solidify understanding. Contact LDDI for Milanote accounts for your class. 
  • Adaptive Learning in Nexus: Nexus settings, activities, and resources can be combined to create long-term learning experiences across the course duration or for short modules or individual projects/assessments. For example, consider creating adaptive learning lessons in Nexus that adjusts the difficulty level of learning materials based on student performance, providing targeted practice and support.  
  • Explore AI Powered Personal Tutor and Teaching Assistant–Khanmigo: Khanmigo is a versatile tool for teachers, acting as both a teaching assistant and a personal tutor chatbot for students. As a teaching assistant, it helps can help you refine lesson plans, refresh your knowledge, and monitor your class's progress. For students, Khanmigo offers tailored support, providing specific prompts based on the content they're working on, and standalone educational experiences that cater to a variety of interests. In April 2024, a free tier of "Khanmigo for Teachers" was made available to educators, where you can create up to 5 classes with up to 35 students. Before beginning, read Khanmigo Usage Guidelines, as well as What Teacher Tools are Available on Khanmigo?

Formative + Summative Assessment and Feedback:

  • Frequent Formative Assessments: Utilize quizzes, exit tickets, short writing assignments, or clicker questions to get real-time feedback on student understanding. Adjust instruction or provide targeted intervention based on the results.
  • Descriptive Feedback: Offer specific and actionable feedback on assignments and projects, focusing on both strengths and areas for improvement. Guide students on how to bridge knowledge gaps and improve their learning strategies.
  • Making Grading Student Work More Efficient: Incorporate strategies to decrease the stress of grading while making the process of grading less arbitrary, more transparent, and effective.

Supporting a Growth Mindset:

  • Emphasize Effort and Improvement: Celebrate effort and progress, not just perfect answers. Encourage students to view challenges as opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Metacognitive Prompts: Incorporate prompts that encourage students to reflect on their learning process, such as "What strategies worked well for you?" or "How could you approach this problem differently?"
  • Growth Mindset Activities: Use activities that encourage students to develop a growth mindset, such as reading articles or watching videos about the power of perseverance and learning from mistakes.

By implementing these strategies, faculty can create a more inclusive learning environment that caters to the diverse needs of their students. Remember, it's important to continually monitor progress, adapt these strategies based on student performance, and celebrate the successes of all learners.

Part III: Strategies for Addressing Instructional Time Constraints

Assessment Strategies

  • Focus on learning outcomes: Align assessments directly with learning objectives. This helps you create targeted assessments that require less grading time.
  • Adopt More Efficient Grading Techniques: Consider stopping grading homework (for correctness) (no, really!), and use different grading scales for different types of assignments.
  • Peer grading & self-assessment: Utilize peer review or self-assessment activities for homework or problem sets. Provide clear rubrics and guidelines to ensure consistency. You can set up peer review of papers in Perusall. You can also set up peer assessment using the Workshop activity in Nexus. Consider implementing exam wrappers for self-assessment, which gets completed and graded complete/incomplete.
  • Formative assessment: Integrate low-stakes formative assessments (e.g., clicker questions, minute papers) that provide immediate feedback and allow you to adjust your teaching approach in real-time. Reduce reliance on high-stakes, time-consuming summative assessments.
  • Grading efficiency tools: Explore using Nexus rubrics or Gradescope–both can streamline the grading process. Gradescope is integrated with Nexus as well. Khanmigo (see above) can help you co-create rubrics you can use in Nexus rubrics or Gradescope. It is part of the "Activities" page, which also includes other teacher-focused activities that can assist with things like refining lesson plans, refreshing knowledge, focusing learning objectives, as well as spark ideas for engaging introductory activities to grab and hold attention (i.e., "hooks").

Inclusive Techniques with Reduced Time Investment:

  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL): Focus on UDL principles that offer multiple means of engagement without significantly increasing workload. Examples include providing diverse learning materials (text, video, audio) or offering different pathways to complete assignments.
  • Group projects with clear roles: Structure group projects with clear roles and responsibilities for each member. This fosters collaboration, peer learning, and reduces individual grading burden.
  • Concept maps & visual representations: Encourage students to use concept maps, diagrams, infographics, or visual representations to demonstrate understanding instead of lengthy written responses. This saves grading time while assessing their grasp of concepts. Contact LDDI for Milanote accounts for your class. Students may also use Adobe Express, which they can login to through MyApps.
  • Open-ended questions with clear criteria: Frame open-ended questions with clear criteria and specific rubrics for grading. This allows for diverse responses while offering clear guidelines for evaluation. Explore using the Question, Formulation, Technique in your class. If you want to have students explore argumentation, debating the sides on an open ended inquiry, check out Kialo.
  • Pre-recorded lectures & flipped classroom approach: Record key lectures beforehand to free up class time for in-class activities like group work or problem-solving sessions that promote inclusivity and deeper learning. Panopto is available and integrated into your Nexus course.

Remember, inclusive pedagogy doesn't have to be a time drain. By focusing on high-impact strategies and leveraging technology, faculty can create more inclusive learning environments while maintaining their busy schedules.



Article ID: 160939
Wed 3/13/24 3:55 PM
Mon 4/29/24 3:42 PM