Ten powerful concepts for inspired teaching and learning

Ten powerful concepts for inspired teaching and learning

Anyone who works in education knows we have our own lingo that isn’t familiar to all. What do these terms mean, and why are they important for teaching and learning in the modern classroom?

As the Academic Technology Specialist for the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, I’m regularly seeking effective and inspired ideas to improve teaching and learning. Here I’ll introduce and define ten powerful teaching and learning concepts with the potential to change the way students and teachers think about themselves, the process of teaching, and the path to learning.

How’s your Teaching and Learning Vocabulary?

Active learning

Active learning means engaging students in an active exchange in which students aren’t passively listening and taking notes during lectures but are actively contributing their thoughts and ideas to a relevant collaborative discussion or activity often guided by the instructor. [1]

Examples: A classroom engaged in active learning might be filled with voices in dialogue or divided into groups collaborating at computers or at the board. Or it might be a class on a scavenger hunt.

Hybrid learning

Hybrid learning (also known as blended learning) uses a combination of in-class active learning and out-of-class online learning through digital media. [2] [3]

Examples: Outside of the classroom, students may be asked to watch online video lectures through a class website or complete other online activities.  In class, students may be asked to participate in active learning discussions or activities informed by their work outside of the classroom.

Meta-cognitive awareness

Student at whiteboard, thinking, using sticky notesMeta-cognition means thinking about your own thinking or knowledge and how you have come to know a subject. Meta-cognition is a form of introspection and serves an important role in deep learning and critical thinking. [4] [5] [6]

Examples: Written self-reflections and concept mapping (also called mind-mapping) are two strategies to increase students’ meta-cognitive awareness. Instructors can ask students to write self-reflections assessing how they did on an assignment or what was learned during class, or they can ask students to create visual mind-maps that show the development of their thinking on a given subject and how their thinking has evolved over time.

Meta-affective awareness

Similar to meta-cognitive awareness, meta-affective awareness means being able to recognize one’s own emotions and then process and harness them. Meta-affective awareness is akin to emotional intelligence. This term may be the least familiar of those I’ve listed here. Meta-affective awareness has been a topic of interest in math education for some time, but interest in the subject is growing among composition scholars.  

Examples: Both teachers and students stand to benefit from developing meta-affective awareness. Teachers might see how their own feelings on a subject are affecting their ability to teach it. Students who recognize their emotions might be better able to manage them. For example, a student who realizes he is bored might be able to develop strategies to keep himself engaged.

Self-regulated learning

This term means having awareness of one’s own learning challenges and regulating personal behavior to address those challenges. Self-regulated learners actively seek solutions to improve their own learning. [8]

Examples: Instructors might encourage students to be aware of their own learning strengths and weaknesses and address areas that challenge them. For example, students who are self-aware of the fact that they have a hard time finishing assigned readings can develop strategies to address the challenge and regulate their own reading practices.   

Growth mindset

Growth mindset is a way of thinking in which students believe that they can learn through working toward improvement and achieving a goal, as opposed to a fixed mindset in which students believe they either have the talent to do well or they don’t. The concepts of growth and fixed mindset were developed by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck and have been shown to have a great impact on student performance.

Examples: Encouraging a growth mindset through interventions in the classroom reminds students that learning, growing, and succeeding is an unending and ongoing process not simply achieved by innate talent.

Stereotype threat

Stereotype threat is a phenomenon in which individuals who are negatively stereotyped experience more stress during testing than individuals who do not feel stereotyped, causing them to significantly underperform. Stereotype threat can impact anyone but poses a particular danger for minorities and women. This phenomenon was first observed and named by Stanford Professor Emeritus Claude Steele and colleagues, and independently verified by a number of other researchers. This Teaching Commons article and video of Professor Steele, and this Frontline interview provide an excellent introduction to stereotype threat.

Examples:  There are a variety of techniques to mitigate stereotype threat and reduce its impact on students in the classroom including reassuring students that tests are fair, emphasizing that diversity is valued, and encouraging a growth mindset.

Community engaged learning and service-learning

Suzanne Gaulocher, a Stanford Director of Community Engaged LearningStudents gain valuable real-world experience through community engaged learning in which students complete volunteer projects developed with community stakeholders and guided by instructors. This approach promotes student learning and benefits the community organizations. Stanford faculty interested in trying it should talk to the VPUE Directors of Community Engaged Learning. [9]

Examples: Community engaged learning projects might be a specific project, possibly interdisciplinary, or may take a variety of other forms.

Rhetorical situation

In Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric and other rhetoric-focused writing programs, students learn how to analyze the rhetorical situation, attending to audience, purpose, and context. This approach helps students become more effective communicators in both written and spoken language.  Making a habit of assessing the rhetorical situation provides a life-long roadmap for effective communication in the classroom and beyond. [10]

Examples: To introduce students to analyzing specific rhetorical situations, an instructor might ask students to consider the similarities and differences between communicating with and persuading high school students, a corporate board room, or their writing teacher.

Grade norming/norming session

The idea of a norming session is to limit bias and encourage consistency of grading on writing assignments (or other types of assignments) by groups of instructors or teaching assistants across sections or programs.

Examples: In norming sessions, graders meet and agree on the standards they will use to grade. This is often done by having each grader pre-grade a set of written assignments and then comparing results and developing a clear and agreed upon grading rubric for each grader to use as a reference.

Take your teaching to the next level

These ten terms contribute to a shared language for instructors and students to discuss critical teaching and learning concepts. I encourage instructors to take their teaching to the next level by learning more about these concepts through the provided links and through further reading so that every teaching opportunity is inspired and every student exceeds expectations.

Headshot, Megan O'ConnorMegan O’Connor is the Academic Technology Specialist for Stanford Introductory Studies.




[1]Teaching Commons article: Promoting Active Learning

[2] Teaching Commons article: Blended Courses

[3] http://olc.onlinelearningconsortium.org/publications/survey/blended06

[4] Flavell, John H. "Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive–developmental inquiry." American psychologist 34.10 (1979): 906

[5] Metcalfe, Janet Ed, and Arthur P. Shimamura. Metacognition: Knowing about knowing. The MIT Press, 1994.

[6] Tanner, Kimberly D. “Promoting Student Metacognition.” CBE Life Sciences Education 11.2 (2012): 113–120. PMC. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.

[7] http://ife.ens-lyon.fr/publications/edition-electronique/cerme6/wg10-13-moscucci.pdf

[8] Zimmerman, Barry J. "Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: An overview." Educational psychologist 25.1 (1990): 3-17.

[9] from the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford: Service-Learning

[10] A Rhetorical Approach to Writing at Stanford