Grading as Pedagogical Act: Three Methods for Assessing Writing That Work


lisa at gc

Lisa Hoeffner, Ph.D.

Lisa Hoeffner earned a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis in rhetoric from the University of Houston. She teaches English and Integrated Reading and Writing at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas. She is the author of two developmental education textbooks, Common Places: Integrated Reading and Writing (McGraw-Hill, 2015) and Common Ground (McGraw-Hill, forthcoming) and speaks nationally on issues related to developmental education reform.

Anyone who has taught writing knows the dread that attends grading a stack of essays. Research suggests that grading can be a pedagogical act—an act that teaches students how to improve their writing—if practitioners take care to use effective assessment methods. Three methods are particularly commendable.

 1. Start the course with assessment. Starting with a focus on assessment helps students internalize writing standards and use them as benchmarks for their own writing (Defeyter & McPartlin, 2007). Supplying students with a rubric is not enough. One way to have students understand assessment criteria is to challenge students to verbalize the qualities of good writing. This active construction of criteria puts students in the role of participants rather than passive recipients of a rubric. Once students have articulated the criteria, they can create rubrics. Orsmond, Merry, & Reiling (2002) suggest that students can better understand the assessment process by using rubrics to score sample papers, assist in peer editing, and facilitate self-assessment.

 2. Provide effective feedback. The most effective feedback in terms of seeing growth in students’ writing skills is formative feedback (Frey & Fisher, 2013). Nonetheless, many instructors provide mainly summative feedback, such as comments on a final draft. Good feedback is also timely, understandable, personalized, positive, and capable of providing a pathway for improvement (Li & De Luca, 2014). Effective feedback can be given in any number of ways. For example, in class, instructors can offer over-the-shoulder suggestions to students engaged in writing; outside of class, students can receive brief, formative feedback by texting their proposed thesis statements to their instructors. Instead of making writing assessment one onerous, summative task that happens after the product is submitted, instructors should rethink feedback so that the bulk of it occurs during the writing process. Instructors might expect to see greater improvements by using formative micro-feedback more frequently.

 3. Finally, provide a way for students to map improvement. Grading is not a pedagogical act when graders edit their students’ papers. This is especially true for developmental writers, for these students can rarely articulate why an edit was made. Even if students can identify the reason for an edit, they do not necessarily acquire the skills they need for improvement. A more successful way to mark papers is to assess via an ongoing dialogue between student and instructor so as to facilitate improvement on future writing assignments (Rust, O’ Donovan, & Price, 2005). One way to do this is to identify two to three recurrent errors to master before the next writing assignment. Students and instructors jointly keep a writing progress log on which goals are recorded and monitored. For instance, a student may be prompted to master paragraph development and subject/verb agreement before submitting the next paper. After grading the next paper, progress is recorded on the log and goals are revised. This kind of carry-through provides accountability and allows students to map improvements in a measurable and quantitative way.

By using pedagogical grading methods, the time spent on assessment can become a valuable part of the teaching and learning process.


Defeyter, M. A., & McPartlin, P. L. (2007). Helping students understand essay marking criteria and feedback. Psychology Teaching Review, 13(1), 23-33.

Frey, N., & Fisher, D. (2013). A formative assessment system for writing improvement. English Journal, (1), 66.

Li, J., & De Luca, R. (2014). Review of assessment feedback. Studies in Higher Education, 39(2), 378-393.

Orsmond, P., Merry, S., & Reiling, K. (2002). The use of exemplars and formative feedback when using student derived marking criteria in peer and self-assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 27(4), 309-23.

Rust, C., O’Donovan, B., & Price, M. (2005). A social constructivist assessment process model: How the research literature shows us this could be best practice. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 30(3), 231-240.


How to Contextualize Math Using Infographics

bio pic Patricia Helmuth2 (2)

Patricia Helmuth

Patricia Helmuth is an Adult Numeracy Consultant and Educator. She teaches two HSE classes, does one-on-one tutoring (in partnership with the Center for Workforce Development), and is a Professional Development Team Member for the Adult Program at Sullivan County BOCES, NY. In addition to working with students, she enjoys sharing her “numeracy adventures” at the regional, state, and national level by presenting at conferences and writing for adult education web-based resources. She currently serves as the newsletter editor for The Adult Numeracy Network.

In a traditional math classroom, where math topics may be taught in isolation, students watch the instructor model a procedure on the board and then students are expected to memorize, repeat, and practice the procedure. The trouble is, many students have difficulty connecting the procedure to real-life applications. This disconnect that students experience is evidenced in ABE/HSE classes, as well as on college campuses in developmental math classes. According to Models of Contextualization in Developmental and Adult Basic Education, “…students who want to be nurses, EMTs, firemen…. are stuck in a course that doesn’t work.” Conversely, when math is contextualized, students can develop conceptual understanding of the math.  “Research supports the fact that students understand math better when it is contextualized. It motivates and increases the students’ willingness to engage (Tabach & Friedlander, 2008) and provides concrete meaning to the math (Heid et all, 1995).” – (2015 Center for Energy Workforce Development)

In light of this research, and the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the release of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, adult education instructors are being called upon to make changes in classroom practice that will adequately prepare students to pass new high-stakes exams and enter college and the workforce with marketable skills. How can adult educators do all this given the short amount of time that adults typically spend in class?

A great place to start is by using a variety of authentic infographics that connect to the social studies, science, or career readiness that you are already teaching. By using infographics, you are combining content knowledge, math skills, and analyzing and interpreting graphic information into one lesson! While infographics may be new to some of us in adult education, they are not new to our students. They see them all the time in the real world so it is imperative that they develop skills to decode them. Besides all that, they are fun! Students are drawn into a conversation when you display an infographic and simply ask:

  • What do you notice? What do you wonder?

Students at all ability levels can participate in a lesson that is introduced like this. Furthermore, when students share out their observations and questions it serves as a formative assessment and enables the instructor to connect what students already know with the whatever math concept the instructor has in mind to draw out of the infographic.

For specific lesson plans and ideas on how to do this, go to:

In the Adult Education classroom today, we need to do more than present our students with workbooks that include traditional examples of maps, charts, and graphs.  We need to use what our students see all around them every day: infographics.


Center for Energy Workforce Development (2015). Contextualized math for the energy industry. Retrieved from

Education Development Center (EDC). (2012). Models of Contextualization in Developmental and Adult Basic Education. Retrieved from EDC website:


Program Improvement in Adult Education through Professionalization

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David Borden

David Borden,, currently works at Austin Community College as the Director of the Career Accelerator, a program dedicated to moving non-traditional students through career pathways–associate degree programs faster and with more supports. He holds a Master’s Degree from UNT. He has taught and managed programs in the U.S. and abroad. This article is adapted from a forthcoming book titled, Unrig the Game: A Proven, Systematic Approach to Successful College Transitions for Adult and Developmental Education Students, with co-author, Charlene Gill.

Payne et al. (2012) show that full-time Adult Basic Education instructors achieve better student performance results than part-time instructors. Unfortunately, very few program directors believe they can afford the expense of hiring full-time instructors. During my nine year tenure as the adult education director at ACC, I oversaw the increase of salaried instructors with health insurance and retirement increase from 9 to 22. During that period, we made significant investments in instructor salary and benefits, but also witnessed significant enrollment increases and performance improvements.

I believe the path to professionalizing the industry is not found in low pay and/or encouraging regions to use more volunteers. Rather, the path is by providing teachers with stable employment, health insurance, retirement plans, and sustained and systematic professional development; by engaging them in decision-making; and by moving away from a seniority system to one that rewards excellence in teaching.

Raising teacher salaries is a long term solution that is difficult to implement in the short term. In our case, salaried instructors cost 30% – 50% more than hourly instructors when you factor in health insurance and retirement plans. This expense can be hard on a limited grant budget, and impossible on a small budget. We have a large enough program (about 4,000 students served per year) that I could find places to reallocate resources. I shut down classes with low enrollment, even with long-standing, high-profile partners that didn’t appreciate being sacrificed for the greater good. Every four classes closed generated a twenty-hour-a-week, salaried instructor with full benefits. Average class sizes grew, but we still capped enrollment at 20 per class.

This strategy created a core faculty that often accrue between 30 and 50 hours of professional development per year. These faculty are engaged in curriculum development, mentoring hourly instructors, and leading workshops. Over the years, hourly and salaried instructors have seen our commitment to them, and they have returned that commitment to the program. These changes have increased our ability to recruit teachers because salaries are more competitive with staff jobs at the college; thus, our ratio of teachers with master’s degrees has doubled. In addition, we’ve reduced costs associated with attrition and training.

In conclusion, we only hire the highest quality instructors into the core faculty. We do not follow a seniority system, but rather look to fill these positions with teachers who not only are effective with students, but also demonstrate a belief in the mission of the division by collaborating well with their colleagues to make considerable contributions.


Payne, E.M., Reardon, R.F., Janysek, D.M., Lorenz, M., Lampi, J.P. (2012). Impact on student performance: Texas Adult Education Teacher Credential Study preliminary results. Report for The Texas Adult Education Credential Project, Texas State University


Doing Different in the Mathematics Classroom


Stephanie Cockrell Andrews, Ed.D.

Dr. Stephanie Cockrell Andrews is a mathematics professor and the mathematics department lead faculty at Lone Star College-Kingwood (LSC-K).  She has earned degrees from East Texas Baptist University, Stephen F. Austin State University, and Sam Houston State University. This is her 28th year in education, where 15 of those years were in public education as a secondary mathematics teacher and counselor.  Stephanie was a 2006 Project ACCCESS fellow with the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (AMATYC). She has received the Faculty Excellence Award at LSC-K and the Educational Leadership Doctoral Award at Sam Houston State University.  She is a member of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International for Key Women Educators. 

In the report, Closing the Gaps by 2015: 2009 Progress Report, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB, 2009) stated, “Texas must take bold steps for the future success of its people” (p. ii). Being the math chair, my president was always stressing to me that we needed to increase student success (A, B, or C) in our developmental courses, to get more students to and through our gateway mathematics course—and to do it all faster! Add in the definition of insanity—attributed to several, including Einstein (Howes, 2009)—of “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” and I was determined to do something that was bold and different.

So, during 2013 – 2014, I taught Foundations of Mathematical Reasoning (FMR) and Statistical Reasoning (SR) using the curriculum from The Dana Center at The University of Texas in Austin, and it rocked my academic world. I am a dedicated, traditional algebra teacher, and I have received awards for teaching, but when I taught these courses, my life and the lives of my students changed. The New Mathways Project (NMP) courses are based on principles including to provide relevant and rigorous mathematics, help students complete college-level math courses faster and use intentional strategies that help students grow as learners (The Charles A. Dana Center, 2013).

I have always been told that, while I am teaching, I should include real-world problems, interdisciplinary activities, collaborative work, active learning, productive struggle, reading and writing. I could not get all of this included much less included well, but NMP incorporates all of these skill—all based on proven practice! I did it with NMP!  I saw it work for me and be transformational for my students.

Even though this is controversial, I believe what I experienced teaching these courses is a strong rationale that this can be done and should be done. The courses are rigorous, involve collaborative learning; are saturated with real-world problems that the students get excited about (e.g., blood-alcohol-level formula for order of operations); teach students to be much better college students and well-informed citizens; and are much more closely aligned with degree programs than college algebra for non-STEM majors.

Testimonials from students include a video from Holly at

And an article by Kaleena Steakle at

I have been working the last two years for The Dana Center helping other professors in our state and nation implement the NMP materials, but this week, I started back in the classroom! I have three, full FMR classes, and I am extremely excited to see how the students will grow this semester and be propelled to the next steps of their careers.


Howes, Ryan. (2009, July 27). The definition of insanity is…perseverance vs. perseveration. Retrieved from

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. (2009). Closing the gaps by 2015: 2009 progress report. Retrieved from

The Charles A. Dana Center. (2016). The New Mathways Project curricular materials. Retrieved from


Part-Whole Study Improves Memory for Science Information

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Michelle Kiser, Ed.D.

Dr. Michelle Kiser received her Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts, and Doctorate of Education at Texas Tech University.  Michelle completed her dissertation on the “Developmental Students Sources of Self-Efficacy and the University Academic Support Program Impact.” Michelle worked as the Assistant Director of Texas Success Initiative (TSI) Developmental Education Program for five years prior to being promoted to the Director of Support Operations for Academic Retention (SOAR) in May 2009. Michelle manages four programs within SOAR: The Learning Center, Supplemental Instruction, Texas Success Initiative, and Programs for Academic Development and Retention. Michelle has been employed by Texas Tech University for over 14 years. In addition, Michelle is an adjunct instructor for the College of Education at Texas Tech University teaching Teacher Education courses in Content Area Reading.  In her spare time, Michelle volunteers for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).

Segmentation of information has been shown to increase comprehension and retention of multimedia materials (Mayer & Chandler, 2001; Mayer, Dow & Mayer, 2003; Singh, Marcus & Ayres, 2012). We wondered if memory for science text could be improved by studying information in pieces and then all together.

In a part-whole study method, the person studies the text in several parts and then as a whole, rather than being presented immediately with the whole text. We conducted an experiment to determine whether a part-whole method would enable non-developmental and developmental readers to recall more from a science text compared to using a whole-text method.

Forty-three developmental college readers and 52 non-developmental college readers studied a science text about sea otters. The complete text was about 300 words and had a readability level at approximately an 8th grade level. Half the students in each group were presented with the whole text, and half were presented with the text using the part-whole method. All students studied the text for 10 minutes total. The text was presented on a computer screen, and the timing was controlled by the computer. After studying the text, students were asked what percentage of the text they thought that they comprehended, and what percentage of the text they thought they could recall. They were then asked to recall as much of the text as they could using the computer. Recall was measured using the number of idea units from the passage that each student was able to recall.

The study showed the superiority of the part-whole method when studying science texts. The non-developmental students recalled more idea units than the developmental students, but importantly, both non-developmental and developmental students recalled more idea units when using a part-whole method instead of a whole-text method.

Developmental students who used a part-whole method compared to those who used a whole-text method reported that they comprehended a greater percentage of the text.

Developmental students who used a part-whole method compared to those who used a whole-text method predicted that they would recall a greater percentage of the text—and they actually did!

Overall, the findings suggest that developmental and non-developmental readers are not qualitatively different. Rather, they engage in similar processes, but differ in the skill and effectiveness with which they apply those processes.

As Nist and Simpson point out, “[T]he complexity of learning and studying…cuts across all college students, not just developmental students or students who are struggling” (quote from Stahl, 2006, p. 21).


Mayer, R. E., & Chandler, P. (2001). When learning is just a click away: Does simple user interaction foster deeper understanding of multimedia messages? Journal of Educational Psychology93(2), 390.

Mayer, R. E., Dow, G. T., & Mayer, S. (2003). Multimedia learning in an interactive self-explaining environment: What works in the design of agent-based microworlds? Journal of Educational Psychology95(4), 806.

Stahl, N. A. (2006). Strategic reading and learning, theory to practice: An interview with Michele Simpson and Sherrie Nist. Journal of Developmental Education, 29 (3), 20-24, 26, 27.



Teaching Writing to Students in Transition: Models for Success

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William J. Barry

While researching how robust technology use can improve students’ first-year experience, William J. Barry teaches academic research and writing at Concordia University.  He also trains adult educators in partnership with the Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy and Learning (TCALL) and teaches first-year seminar at Texas State University, where he is a Ph.D. candidate in developmental education.

Writing helps students learn and persuade (Graham, Gillespie, & Mckeown, 2013), while supporting lifelong literacy, but learning writing challenges learners and involves a complex process.  Along the way, developing writers pass through stages, including telling only what they know, transforming the text to their own benefit, and adjusting the text for the reader’s benefit (Kellogg, 2008).

As writers acquire competency, they emphasize prospective beliefs regarding the reader’s understanding of the text (Kellogg, 2008), and they target their audience by applying elaborated strategies to structure and content problems (Hayes et al., 1987).  As per Spivey’s (1990) academic writing skills–selecting, organizing, and connecting sources–Schriver (2012) described using genre knowledge, arranging non-related text parts into a coherent document, and balancing the appropriate mix between content and target audience, according to community-specific expectations as essential skills.

Creating text, which reflects a clear understanding of reader perspective, structure, and content, requires writers to use a diverse toolkit of knowledge, skills, and strategies (Hayes & Flower, 1980).  One of the challenges educators face involves helping students acquire those tools and the ability to employ them effectively, and meeting the challenge means first explicitly teaching the skills, strategies, and knowledge relevant to academic writing.

Several supported models, including cognitive apprenticeship (Collins et al., 1989) and the socio-cognitive model (Schunk and Zimmerman, 1997) suggest sequences of learning by first observing before doing.  In other words, students must first observe a model (Zimmerman and Kitsantas, 2002), either a mastery model or a coping model (Bandura, 1997; Schunk, 1991).

Since academic writing includes building a macrostructure of the text as a first step, students need training on how the text should appear (Graham et al., 2012).  In particular, they need to learn and apply the text structure of the key genre in their community, which, for students in transitional roles, tend to be the various essays and term papers expected of a liberal arts education.  Starting by familiarizing students with the components, structure, and function(s) of such writing provides them with the essential framework within which to apply later process and skill training, translating to higher retention, better outcomes, and overall satisfaction.


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: Freeman.

Collins, A., Brown, J.S., & Newman, S.E. (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the crafts of reading, writing, and mathematics. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.) Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser (pp. 453-494). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Graham, S., Gillespie, A., & Mckeown, D. (2013). Writing: importance, development, and instruction. Reading and Writing, 26(1), 1–15.

Graham, S., Mckeown, D., Kiuhara, S., & Harris, K. R. (2012). A meta-analysis of writing instruction for students in the elementary grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(4), 879–896.

Hayes, J. R., & Flower, L. S. (1980). Identifying the organization of writing processes. In L. W. Gregg & E. R. Steinberg (Eds.) Cognitive Processes in Writing (pp. 3-30). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hayes, J. R., Flower, L., Schriver, K., Statman, J., & Carey, L. (1987). Cognitive processes in revision. In S. Rosenberg (Ed.) Reading, Writing, and Language Possessing (Vol. 2, pp. 176-240). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kellogg, R. T. (2008). Training writing skills: A cognitive developmental perspective. Journal of Writing Ressearch, 1(1), 1–26.

Schriver, K. (2012). “What we know about expertise in professional communication,” in Past, Present, and Future Contributions of Cognitive Writing Research to Cognitive Psychology ed. Wise Berninger V., editor. New York: Psychology Press.

Schunk, D. H. (1991). Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective. New York, NY: Merrill.

Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (1997). Social origins of self-regulatory competence. Educational  Psychologist, 32, 195–208.

Spivey, N. N. (1990). Transforming texts constructive processes in reading and writing. Written Communication, 7, 256–287.

Zimmerman, B. J., & Kitsantas, A. (2002). Acquiring writing revision and self-regulatory skill through observation and emulation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 660.


Acceleration in Mathematics (AIM)

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JP Anderson, Ph.D., & Kristen Foxley

JP Anderson (Ph.D., Rice) and Kristen Foxley (M.S., University of Houston—Clear Lake) have been teaching math for over 20 years. They share not only a passion for teaching, but for running as well, and have been running together for the past 10 years. Both JP and Kristen were part of the original design team for AIM and have been co-teachers since its beginning in 2012.  In addition to working with students, they enjoy providing professional development for faculty on ways to incorporate active learning in the classroom and presenting on AIM at conferences at the local, state, and national level. 

Nationwide, over 40% of students enter college needing one or more developmental courses. Unfortunately, traditional methods of remediation are not successful in preparing students for success in credit-bearing courses. In Texas, for example, only 12% of community college students who begin in developmental math courses will pass a gateway math course, such as college algebra, within 2 years (Complete College America, 2016). Although counterintuitive to some practitioners, many colleges have improved success through accelerated course offerings (Jaggars, Edgecombe, and Stacey, 2014), with corequisite models showing particular promise (Complete College America, 2016).

After implementing such a model, Acceleration in Mathematics (AIM), in Fall 2012, San Jacinto College has seen a significant improvement in student success. A study of seven long semesters’ data showed that 64.1% of AIM students passed college algebra with a grade of C or better, compared to 44.8% in traditional college algebra classes. This is especially notable since the majority of AIM students who are placed into developmental math courses are one or two levels below college algebra. Moreover, AIM narrowed the success gap for Hispanic students—approximately half of our student population—from 6% to less than 1%. In addition to AIM’s impact on students’ cognitive learning and academic success of students, a separate study showed improvements in their attitudes, feelings, and mindset regarding their mathematical abilities (Campbell, 2015).

Acceleration in Mathematics is a one-semester corequisite pairing of math courses that allows students who are not college ready in mathematics to complete all developmental requirements as well as college algebra in a single semester. Students who take AIM sign up for two classes: a three-contact-hour developmental course and a four-contact-hour college algebra course.  A typical AIM section meets Monday through Friday for a total of seven hours each week. AIM is team-taught by two instructors, one experienced in teaching traditional college algebra and one who specializes in developmental math instruction, both of whom are in the classroom for all class meetings and who share equally in the teaching duties.

  • Just-in-Time Remediation. Unlike traditional multi-semester or accelerated sequential remediation models, which teach basic skills weeks or months before they are needed in college algebra, AIM integrates these skills right before they are needed in the college algebra curriculum. For example, simplification of radical expressions is introduced just before the quadratic equation.
  • Streamlining. AIM focuses on learning objectives prescribed by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Some skills that have been part of the traditional developmental math curriculum, but which are not needed for college algebra, such as rationalizing the denominator, have been eliminated.
  • Active Learning. Daily lessons alternate brief lectures with small-group practice activities. To maximize student interaction and foster a sense of community, instructors use a technique called “clock partners” to pair students with a different practice partner each day.
  • Low-Stakes Assessment/Prompt Feedback. AIM students turn in daily homework assignments of approximately 25 questions. A portion of the problems are graded, and the assignments are returned the following day. Answer keys are available online for the ungraded problems. Students are tested every other week, for a total of seven unit tests and a final exam. Each unit test counts only 9% of the semester grade, making it possible for students to recover from one or two setbacks.
  • Cumulative Review. Every homework assignment and exam contains review problems to help students maintain essential skills throughout the semester.
  • Learning Resources. AIM students have online access to instructor-authored videos providing examples of all topics and worked-out solutions to the exam review sheets. San Jacinto College’s Student Success Center has a designated AIM table for on-campus tutoring. Also, thanks to the strong sense of class community, AIM students often form study groups on their own.

AIM has proven most successful for students required to take college algebra for their associate’s degree. To support students who would benefit from an alternative math pathway, however, the college has begun offering corequisite courses for developmental students seeking credit in a statistics or quantitative reasoning course. Early results show that these pathways show similar promise.


Campbell, P.S. (2016). Self-Efficacy in a Co-requisite Model of Developmental Mathematics and College Algebra: A Qualitative Analysis of Student Perceptions (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from

Complete College America. (2016). Corequisite Remediation: Spanning the Completion Divide. Retrieved from

Jaggars, S. S., Edgecombe, N., & Stacey, G. W. (2014). What we know about accelerated developmental education. New York, NY: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center.


Motivate Learning Through Online Games

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Holly Lutze, Ph.D.

Dr. Holly Lutze is an Assistant Professor in Business and Economics at Texas Lutheran University with 12 years of experience teaching Operations Management. She holds a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management from Oklahoma State University. Her M.S. in Engineering-Economic Systems and Operations Research and Ph.D. in Management Science and Engineering are from Stanford University.

Professors often have students demonstrate classroom learning through simulation games. Textbook publishers underscore the need for high quality, meaningful, and practical experiences to exercise new knowledge (Barko & Sadler, 2003). These simulation games are wonderful but are often applied only after the instruction takes place (Squire, 2003).

Simple, free, online games can effectively introduce ideas and provide playful examples for use later in a semester. My students may play with Legos, throw paper wads, or dig through my garbage. However, their interest is piqued when I ask them to bring laptops or tablets to class.

Video games can be used to stimulate learning in the classroom. Some instructors resist this practice due to time constraints or because they believe the strategy conflicts with their traditional teaching methods (Kirriemui & McFarlane, 2014; Squire, 2003) The challenge of engaging students with different interests, backgrounds, learning styles, and aptitudes is one we all face (Barko & Sadler, 2003; Kelly, 2005; Bowman, 1982).

While my classes may teeter on the edge of chaos at first, pulling a classroom into productive discussion fits well with my pedagogical strategy.  I want to form an environment where all students feel comfortable interacting with classmates and with me (Kelly, 2005). My instruction frames what students observe in a game and expands upon it (Squire, 2003). Sometimes concepts relate immediately, and sometimes I refer to the games later in the semester, as examples.

One game I use effectively in Operations Management is Patient Shuffle, available through GE Healthcare Partners. Used to introduce the differences between production organizations and service organizations, the premise of the game is to run a hospital. Patients follow different sequences of treatments, spend varying amounts of time in each room, and leave by either foot or helicopter. Student performance is measured by the number of patients treated and the general mood of the patients.

Students audibly express frustrations throughout the game, but these frustrations are exactly what I am looking for. To elicit student engagement, I follow up five rounds with the following four questions.

(1) What made this game difficult? Comments lead to discussions of measuring productivity, customization in a process focus, and resource limitations.

(2) What would have made the game easier? Comments lead to discussions of capacity planning, scheduling, and strategies for process-oriented layout.

(3) What did you do to improve over time? I point out that they already demonstrate problem solving skills that can help them be successful operations managers.

(4) Who did the best, and what was the secret to his/her success? We talk about benchmarking and, time permitting, allow students to try to improve performance at the end of the fifty-minute class.

Finding free online games that relate to my teaching goals can be tricky. If a game elicits relevant answers to the above four questions, I know I have found a good one. Bottling the magic of Pac-Man in a productive and educational learning environment (Bowman, 1982) is not impossible. 


Barko, T., & Sadler, T. (2013). Practicality in virtuality: Finding student meaning in video game education. Journal of Science Education & Technology, 22(2), 124-132.

Kelly, H. (2005). Games, cookies, and the future of education. Issues in Science & Technology, 21(4), 33-40.

Bowman, R. F. (1982). A pac-man theory of motivation: tactical implications for classroom instruction. Educational Technology, 22, 14-17.

Squire, K. (2003). Video games in education. International Journal of Intelligent Games & Simulation,  2, 49-62.


Metacognition: Critical Start for Literacy Instruction

Tasha Vice bio pic

Tasha Vice, Ph.D.

Tasha Vice studied at Eastern New Mexico University, where she received a M.Ed. in Secondary Education and M.A. in English. She continued to study Curriculum and Instruction at Texas Tech University, where she earned a Ph.D. with an emphasis in Language and Literacy.  Currently, she is an Associate Professor of Reading and Education at South Plains College, where she teaches Developmental Reading as well as Integrated Reading and Writing. In addition, she instructs Learning Frameworks courses with a focus on cognitive neuroscience and psychological theories of learning. Her research interests include content literacy, critical literacy, and cognitive or metacognitive factors related to reading success. She can be reached by e-mail at

Core literacy skills are necessary for success. Yet, students lack the reading skills for literacy (ACT, 2011). Improving literacy is the responsibility in all content areas. However, colleges rely on developmental education to address the needs of literacy students (Boylan, 2001; NADE, 2011). Many developmental students believe they don’t need literacy improvement (Vice, 2013) and are resistant to learning (Lesley, 2001; Lesley, 2004). How can faculty help these students succeed?

Direct and explicit instruction of cognitive and affective strategies, content knowledge, and contextual skills are key. Responsive pedagogy addresses some components:

  • Advising, counseling, and support systems (NADE, 2011),
  • Opportunities to deconstruct negative feelings about learning (Lesley, 2001),
  • Activities to reconstruct or develop literacy identities (Gee, 2002),
  • Self-analysis of skill and attitude over time (Moje, 2008),
  • Social, emotional, cultural, and ideological contexts in the classroom (Chiu-hui and Cody, 2010).

Each of these is important, but none solely guarantees success. To increase success, educators should introduce metacognition, thinking about thinking (Flavell, 1979). Accurate metacognition is required to maintain focus, attention, motivation, and self-efficacy (Conley, 2005). Metacognition also includes a personal understanding of one’s performance and persistence (Conley, 2007).

Developmental students’ inaccurate perceptions are rooted in their personal beliefs about their abilities (Lesley, 2004). Dweck (2006) argues those students who believe their skills and abilities cannot change suffer from a fixed mindset. Students with a fixed mindset lack motivation for learning and cannot cope with failure. Students with growth mindset and who believe they can change are likely to embrace learning. Instructing students on the concept of mindsets can help them reduce resistance and embrace change as literacy learners.

“A growth mindset is telling yourself or someone else that you can do anything, no matter the challenge, with time, attention, and practice.” (Literacy Student, Fall 2015)

Duckworth (2016) argues that grit (persistence and perseverance) is the only determining factor of success. Students should reflect on their failures and develop plans to monitor, regulate, and direct their own thinking. Challenging students to go through these processes can help them increase their grit and succeed.

“Set up your mind. Believe. Make your brain work! Tell your mind ‘never give up’. Don’t let falling down, someone, or something affect you!” (Literacy Student, Fall 2015)

Mindsets theory provides insight into students’ inaccurate perceptions and may help them focus on growth while grit helps students to understand and persist as they perform literacy tasks.

“Metacognition is important because it helps us be successful! When we have a growth mindset, we are ready to grow and accept mistakes. With grit, we get through it and learn new things even if we fail. This helped me believe in myself, and I think I can do it!” (Literacy Student, Fall 2015)

As a critical starting point for literacy instruction, educators should explore practices and investigate the possibilities of using Mindsets and Grit theories that address students’ metacognition.


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Beyond Pro and Con: Re-thinking MOOCs

william j barry profile 2016 (1)

William J. Barry

While pursuing his research interests, which include effective technology use, especially among students in transition, William J. Barry teaches developmental reading at St. Edward’s University.  He also trains adult educators in partnership with the Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy and Learning (TCALL), and teaches first-year seminar at Texas State University, where he is a PhD candidate in developmental education.

Questions of access and affordability remain at the heart of the developmental education discussion (Braun, 2016; Floyd, Felsher, & Ramdin, 2016), and as the results of Moore’s Law continue to bring the world increasingly powerful technology, stakeholders turn to ones and zeroes for answers.  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) represent one such proposal enjoying ample coverage in the literature (e.g., Bastedo, 2016; McClure, 2016).  Advocates say MOOCs increase the accessibility of high-quality education while decreasing the costs (Carey, 2012; Teo, 2015), and critics point to the low academic rigor of MOOCs, while suggesting they profit at the expense of faculty and students (Axmann & Atkins, 2016; Marshall, 2014).

Despite this crucial debate, MOOC critiques rarely consider college students’ perceptions and attitudes.  While administrators, faculty, and media argue apace, it remains unclear how students view MOOCs.  As an educator in the developmental space, I consider students the primary stakeholders.  As such, I expect MOOC policy to benefit students first.  I expect researchers and faculty interested in MOOCs to focus on how students perceive these issues.  After all, their education faces significant transformation in the face of widespread MOOC implementation.

Such expectations drew my attention to a recent study (Cole & Timmerman, 2015), which examined students’ MOOC perceptions.  Using thematic analysis, Cole and Timmerman (2015) suggested students believe MOOCs hold the potential to augment lifelong learning, even though they serve as inferior alternatives to traditional coursework.  Students made their determinations based on several interesting criteria (see Figure 1), which suggest a deeper appreciation for what works in education.  These kinds of nuanced student responses also suggest the value of asking deeper questions regarding MOOC utility, rather than yielding to seductive pro/con binaries.  Answers to such questions inform decisions with regard to the place of MOOCs in higher education, and those decisions stand to affect each one of us in yet unseen ways.

Figure 1.

bill barrys infograph

Click on image to enlarge.


Axmann, M., & Atkins, R. (2016). Online community-based practices for massive open online courses (MOOCs) at Open Universities Australia: A case Study. User-Centered Design Strategies for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), 83.

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Braun, H. (2016). The dynamics of opportunity in America: A working framework. In The Dynamics of Opportunity in America (pp. 137-164). New York: Springer International Publishing.

Carey, K. (2012, September 7). Into the future with MOOCs. Chronicle of Higher Education, 59(2), 29.

Cole, A. W., & Timmerman, C. E. (2015). What do current college students think about MOOCs? MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 11, 188-201.

Floyd, D. L., Felsher, R. A., & Ramdin, G. (2016). A retrospective of four decades of community college research. Community College Journal of Research and Practice40(1), 5-22.

Marshall, S. (2014). Exploring the ethical implications of MOOCs. Distance Education, 35, 250-262. doi:10.1080/01587919.2014.917706

McClure, M. W. (2016). Investing in MOOCs: “Frenemy” risk and information quality. In Globalisation and Higher Education Reforms (pp. 77-94). New York: Springer International Publishing.

Teo, T. H. (2015). Just-in-time teaching visual instruction for cohort base interactive learning for engineering course. GSTF Journal on Education (JEd)3(1).