Reduce Student Stress Through Course Design

Decorative: The word "Stress" in very large letters weighing down and crushing three students underneath the word


A. "Keeping Stress from Evolving into Distress: A Guide on Managing Students Stress Through Course Design" (postpdf) outlines the following:

  • "Defining Stress, Distress, and Their Origins" (post & pdf)
  • "How Distress Manifests in the College Setting" (Behavioural, psychological and emotional signs; post & pdf)
  • "Why Make an Effort to Reduce Distress Among Students?" (post & pdf)
  • "Reducing Stress in the Classroom" (covered thoroughly in the post, in outline only in the pdf)

B. Overview

This post focuses on the final topic, "Reducing Distress in the Classroom," and offers tips for the following:

  • "Syllabus Construction"
  • "Making Office Hours Productive"
  • "Providing Meaningful Feedback to Students"
  • "Email Office Hours"
  • "Course Management"
  • "In-Class Meetings"
  • "Course Communication" 
  • "Exam Preparation"
  • "Teaching about Learning"

C. Tips

1. "Syllabus Construction"

a. Assignments

  • "Stagger due dates for course assignments."
  • "Include low stake assignments that help identify students who may need additional instruction early in the semester."
  • "For course-long assignments, incorporate periodic 'check-ins' during office hours or cancel regular classroom sessions to meet with students one-on-one."
  • "Allow students to have one 'do over' that provides students with an opportunity to either correct missed test questions or resubmit a revised paper draft for partial credit."
  • "Provide a clearly written explanation of your late assignment and extension policies."

b. Assessment

  • "Describe and/or model 'unsatisfactory,' 'sufficient.' and 'satisfactory' classroom participation for students."
  • "Incorporate multiple methods of assessing student participation in courses where it is a component of students’ final grade (e.g. completing a worksheet of main concepts, themes, etc. and turning in for a grade)."

c. Grading

  • "Provide students with a grading rubric prior to giving assignments or at the beginning of the semester." 
  • "Provide grade and feedback for assignments before the next assignment is due."

2. "Making Office Hours Productive"

  • "Advise students on how to prepare for meetings with you."
  • "[I]nstruct them to bring appropriate materials, such as their lecture notes, books, homework problems, drafts of their papers, or readings with troublesome passages marked."
  • "[T]ell them to write out their questions or points of confusion to help clarify and prepare before meeting with you."
  • [R]emind them that office hours are not an opportunity to receive a recap of a lecture or lesson."
  • "Make your sessions with students a chance to continue teaching them, by helping them work through their own confusions or problems."
  • Perhaps "respond to their questions with further questions that will lead them to their own conclusions."
  • "Provide guidance toward problem-solving rather than simply giving students the answer."

3. "What Does Class Participation Look Like?" (see a participation rubric

Sample Participation Rubric Criteria

  • "Voluntarily and frequently offering appropriate, relevant, and creative or original responses/interpretations/observations beyond the obvious"
  • "[C]onsistently offering plenty of effective textual support for observations"
  • "[I]nvolving others in class discussion by asking questions, seeking others’ responses, etc."
  • "[E]agerly and thoughtfully attempting to answer questions"
  • "[O]ffering follow-up responses"
  • "[T]reating classmates and the professor respectfully"

4. "Providing Meaningful Feedback to Students"

  • "Use your comments to teach rather than to justify your grade, focusing on what you’d most like students to address in future work." 

  • "Link your comments and feedback to the goals for an assignment."

  • "Comment primarily on patterns — representative strengths and weaknesses."

  • "Avoid over-commenting or “picking apart” students’ work."

  • "In your final comments, ask questions that will guide further inquiry by students rather than provide answers for them."

  • "Post exam answer keys so that students can learn from their mistakes."
  • "Communication Policy: Clearly articulate communication practices and preferences (i.e. email response policy, etc.)."

5. "Email Office Hours"

  • Let students know "when they might expect a response to an email message about the class."
  • "The notice here could be something rather general (e.g., 'I generally check email only once a day') or specific (e.g., 'I will respond to student email messages between 2:00 and 3:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays')."
  • You can "respond at other times ... [b]ut it’s important for students to know when they can reasonably expect an answer to an email message."

6. "Course Management"

  • "Allow students to select which date(s) they will take on a leadership role in class (i.e. leading discussion, presenting their work, etc.)."
  • "Consult with other faculty members in your department about due dates and assignments they have implemented on a regular basis."
  • "Ask students to communicate days/weeks that are especially packed with assignments in their other classes at the beginning of the semester."

7. "In-Class Meetings"

  • "Interact with students with an awareness of the effect of one’s body language (i.e. frowning, smiling, etc.) on student behavior and performance."
  • "Use affirming language when students provide correct answers, but more importantly, when they make an effort to contribute in class."

8. "Course Communication" 

  • "Provide students with a syllabus that includes complete course readings, assignments and due dates the first day of class."
  • "Promptly return student emails, particularly prior to assignment due dates and major exams."

9. "Exam Preparation"

  • "Organize review sessions outside of class prior to tests."
  • "Hold extra office hours the week prior to an exam or paper due date."
  • "Establish work groups for students at the beginning of the semester and encourage collaboration when preparing for major exams."

10. "Teaching about Learning"

  • "Schedule periodic workshops that impart skills and information needed to successfully demonstrate learning (i.e. how to construct a thesis statement, how to structure a analytical essay, etc.)."
  • "Post templates of model work on assignments in conjunction with providing students with feedback on their submitted work."
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