Opening Lines of Communication to Get Students to Take Responsibility for Their Actions


By Megan Wagaman
Math Department
Delaware Technical Community College
George Campus

Recently, the research discussion group of the Stanton/George Instructional Innovation Committee met to discuss an article by Scott Gaier titled Understanding Why Students Do What They Do: Using Attribution Theory to Help Students Succeed Academically. In this post, I wanted to share some highlights from the article as well as a the fruits of our group discussion.

One of the greatest challenges in helping students learn is identifying why they do what they do.

Scott Gaier, 2015

Attribution theory, developed by Bernard Weiner, was extensively investigated throughout the 1970s, and is still used today, partly in an attempt to meet this challenge.

The main idea behind attribution theory is that we naturally attribute causes to behaviors we observe; these “attributions” we make about students affect how we handle issues. Attributions made by students (their explanations for their own failure or success) affect how they handle these same issues. Attributions can be a factor in motivation and willingness to expend effort.

The article emphasized that to best help students, teachers need to understand to what a student attributes his or her success or failure, so that the teacher can guide a student to perhaps a better understanding of the situation, and appropriate interventions. As Gaier notes, “ … the more a teacher understands the cause for a student’s behavior, the more likely and able the teacher is to influence the student’s future behavior and decision making.”

For example, if a student thinks he fails all the tests in a class because the class meets at 8:30 and he is not a morning person, the teacher could help the student understand that, morning person or not, the student needs to study, do homework, and thoughtfully review class material — maybe at a time of day when he can better process it.

Essentially, we can push students towards success by helping them get past faulty attributions and take responsibility.

The article emphasized communication and caring as the keys to help students and teachers understand actual reasons underlying observed results.

Our discussion centered on the implications of this idea. How can we help students take responsibility for their learning? How can we find out what students think are underlying causes of lack of success (what students are attributing low achievement to)? How can we help students make the right sort of effort for success?

We did not arrive at one fail-safe method, but we kept coming back to the importance of keeping communication lines open, and how to best do this. It may be by stopping class 5 or 10 minutes early every session so that students know that is an easy time that they can talk to a teacher.

It could be by collecting an “exit ticket” at the end of each class that students hand to you personally, so you have at least a brief personal interaction with each and every one of them.

It could be sending check-in emails to students who have missed class or fallen behind — maybe with a “hope everything is OK” or something that could open the door for them to say more, without opening the door for excuses.

It could be though a quick Google Form survey to see how the each member of the class is doing with course content and expectations.

It could be just finding those casual moments to say hi or have a brief conversation with students, and being sure they realize that coming for help is not a sign of weakness. I

Or, it could simply be remaining ready and aware to not let those teachable, communication-opening moments pass by. Once communication begins, we can help students focus on the factors they can control, help them understand what constitutes effort, and let them know we care.

Gaier concludes with three key take-aways. First, he stresses that “Just having an awareness of attribution theory … is important for teaching and learning.” Second, once we have developed this awareness, “… it is very important to have student-teacher interactions that encourage and foster good communication… teachers need to genuinely care about students and the students’ learning.” Finally, during these interactions, “we need to be willing to be wrong,” and change our beliefs about the reasons for students’ behavior.

Students are ultimately the ones who set their own goals and priorities, and establish their study methods, but by keeping our minds open to their attributions for events, we can help students learn to better manage their situations to find success.


Gaier, S. E. (2015). Understanding why students do what they do: Using Attribution Theory to help students succeed academically. Research and Teaching in Developmental Education, 31(2), 6 – 19.

Student-Centered Learning for Librarians

Student-Centered Learning for Librarians

By Michelle Marshall
Delaware Technical Community College
Owens Campus

As a librarian, it is my hope to apply what I learn about teaching and instruction to the informal learning environment in which I work every day, namely, the library.  The challenge has become how to apply concepts such as “student-centered” and “active learning” to a reference interview or to a one-shot information literacy session.

In my search for examples of how to do this, I recently read an article titled Authenticity and Learning: Implications for Reference Librarianship and Information Literacy Instruction by Kevin Michael Klipfel. Continue reading

Get Your VERB On!

Get Your VERB On!

By Dr. Richard Kralevich
Associate Vice President for Information and Instructional Technology
Delaware Technical Community College

In 1956, Benjamin Bloom and a few of his colleagues had a thought.  Their idea – develop a framework that educators and student alike could leverage to better organize and understand the learning objectives associated with their shared educational experience.  Since that faithful day, educators like you and me have devoted countless hours discussing, debating, and deliberating over how to find the right verb for the job.

Recently, I came across a few visual representations of Bloom’s Taxonomy that might help to make that deliberation a little easier. Hopefully, these resources will come in handy the next time you’re struggling to pen that perfect instructional objective.

So get out there and get your verb on!

A 3 Dimensional Model Of Bloom’s Taxonomy
Source: teachthought

Take Action: Verbs That Define Bloom’s Taxonomy
Source: MindShift | KQED News

Bloom’s Taxonomy Overview
Source: Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching

To They or Not To They

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

My sharing of this video, created by the Baltimore Sun’s John McIntyre, is simply an attempt to gauge how many English teachers and grammarians read this blog. I know you’re out there, and once you watch this you simply won’t be able to keep your fingers from typing in the comment box. Continue reading

Captivating the 21st Century Learners

Captivating the 21st Century Learners

By Jason Silverstein
CIS Department
Delaware Technical Community College
George Campus

In my educational career I have been enlightened on how education is perceived in comparison to how an effective educator engages their students. Many educators teach with the philosophy if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. We are in a different day and age than we were in even 5 years ago let alone the days 20 – 30 years ago of good old skill and drill. Continue reading

Are you Principal Joe Clark or Professor John Keating?

Are you Principal Joe Clark or Professor John Keating?

By Denise DeVary
Paralegal Studies
Delaware Technical Community College
Owens Campus

Ah, the ‘80s – arguably the best decade to be a kid.

Not only was the style so fashion forward (okay – maybe not), but there is no mistaking that the best movies of all time came from that wonderful decade.  Films like The Goonies, Karate Kid, Back to the Future, and Gremlins kept us going to the movies every weekend.   Who can forget the “Brat Pack” who dominated the screen with teenage angst.

As a teenager in the late 1980s, these movies were a rite of passage.  Then, there were the compelling stories about special teachers who forever changed the lives of students.  Never in a million years did I ever think that I would learn anything from them at that time, let alone 27 years later. Continue reading

Reflections on Drones for Delaware

Reflections on Drones for Delaware

by Dr. Richard Kralevich (@rickkralevich)
Associate Vice President for Information and Instructional Technology
Delaware Technical Community College

A week or so ago, I had the opportunity to work with and learn from the very innovative (and very smart) people from Ryan Media Labs and Realbotics.

To be perfectly honest, I really don’t know much about drones.  To be brutally honest, most of what I do know about drones I learned from the Terminator movies.  (Author’s note: I’m not really sure if that is something I should be admitting to… hmmm.  Oh well – it is what it is!)

Anyway, I wanted to share a few of my personal thought regarding the College’s recent Drones for Delaware event.  So, here goes. Continue reading

What I Learned from CCIT


By Catherine Lombardozzi
Director of the Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College

March 2 marked my first anniversary as director of CCIT. (Or maybe it’s March 3; March 2, 2015 was actually a snow day!) It has been quite the whirlwind, and I hope I have brought something to the table. I know that I, myself, have learned quite a bit. Continue reading

Building Community for Active-Learning Pedagogies


By Al Drushler
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
George Campus

I recently attended a 3-day workshop on Problem-Based Learning (or PBL) at the University of Delaware. The main sponsor of the workshop was University of Delaware’s Institute for Transforming Undergraduate Education, started in the 90s by a group of professors who wished to use more active learning strategies in their courses. Continue reading

Backward Design: Articulating the Results


By Alison Randall
English Department
Delaware Technical Community College
George Campus

It is odd that sometimes you can spend ages planning a lesson and it is dull. You are bored. Students are not engaged. How could all of the work backfire?

Other times, a simple exercise gets everyone in class talking. Students are asking questions, arguing with their peers, going online to prove their points, answering your questions, changing their opinions etc.

What happened? Sometimes it is beyond your control. Sometimes the students in the class are just hard to motivate, while another class with the same lesson is lively. As a teacher we learn to adapt to those unforeseen circumstances. But other times, we know we might need to adapt our lesson plans.

I recently shared an article with the Instructional Innovation Committee Research Group which I think has given more focus to my classes and my instruction. The article is actually Chapter 1 “What is backward design?” from Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Although it is from 2005, it can help teachers rethink their work.

Rather than using the old: What will I teach today? What is the final assignment? How will I assess it? the new model asks instructors to think very clearly about results, then assessment, then instruction.

Delaware Tech has CCPOs and MPOs, and they certainly help us clarify our goals, but identifying desired results asks instructors to apply filters (I prefer the word criteria, and our research group had a good discussion about the differences in these terms).

The filters or criteria help the instructor determine what is worth understanding. As the instructor thinks about this, the process moves from general content standards to a specific desired result you want from that class. Maybe that is why Wiggins and McTighe call them filters: you filter your results until you get to a distilled goal.

For example, you might go from: Students will think critically, students will learn about context, students will address the issue of artistic freedom through a cultural lens to…What do I really want them to get from this class? Students will use their understanding of context and apply it to a specific problem to show how contextual awareness can impact one’s interpretation of a situation.

With my focus so specific, my activities become more focused, and so does my assessment. How will I know they have understood these concepts? Will I provide a sheet which prompts responses? Will I ask students to discuss the issue and present their findings to the class?

Finally, I plan my learning experience. This is hard because even as I am planning my goals and assessment, how I am going to teach it is always at the back of my mind. Clearly, I am not completely immersed in backward thinking yet; however, working backward has informed my instructional plan.

For example, now that I know the specific skills I want from this lesson, I can think about ways they can demonstrate this. They will need to know what contextualization is? They will need to know some key critical thinking skills. They will need to know what Freedom of Speech really means. They will need to know if private schools are subject to the same rules as public schools. They will need to see how other educational institutions have dealt with offensive art.


I am going to need to design a class that addresses an issue, has some time built in for students to respond immediately, and then some time for them to do research. I can divide them into groups with each group researching a different prompt and reporting the results to the class, then revisit the solution and see if the research offers a more meditated position on it. This will necessitate a class discussion about how the political and cultural context has reshaped their position. Class participation will be assessed, and so will understanding of the cultural context.

I know I need to focus on desired results and put the instructional design on the back burner, but I am finding the refinement of outcomes, goals, and results is producing more focused classes where students are engaged in understanding specific meaningful topics rather than a generic rush to complete the course assignment.