CATL Teaching Guides

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These guidelines are intended to help you establish a teaching improvement plan so that you know whether you are improving, i.e., whether you achieve your improvement goal(s) can use whatever feedback from students, colleagues, or your own notes to improve further, e.g., you identify additional ways to improve your teaching can provide good evidence about the improvement and effectiveness of your teaching for purposes of retention, merit, promotion and tenure.

Write a brief statement of your improvement goal(s).

To be able to recognize, monitor, and document improvement it is important to start with improvement goals that identify specific aspects of teaching and learning you want to improve. What do improvement goals look like?

Suppose I use small group learning activities in class. I haven't done a formal study in my class, but the informal evidence I have points to some gaps. For example, student performance on group assignments isn't as good as I expect it to be. Classroom observations of students and student feedback about group work indicate group activities are not working as well as they should. Overall, I don't see the kind of interactions I expect, students' work is not very good, and students have several strong objections to working in groups.

Depending on how I construe the situation, my goal may be specific or general. If a lot of students are marginally involved or free loading in groups, my goal may be to increase the meaningful participation of students in groups. If I have only a general sense that the groups are not working well, my goal may be stated more generally as improving the effectiveness of group learning activities.

Here are several possible improvement goals related to this scenario. These are based on different interpretations of the evidence, hunches about underlying causes of problems, or just an undifferentiated sense that I need to work on how I use group learning in class.

My improvement goal is to . . .

  • use group learning activities more effectively in my class
  • improve student engagement in group activities
  • improve the quality of student learning and thinking in group activities
  • design better group activities
  • facilitate group discussions more effectively
  • increase the amount of constructive interaction and reduce the amount of free loading behavior in groups

Write a brief rationale for each goal.

Summarize your reasons for the goal in terms of the evidence you have or the problems you have observed with group learning in your class. Does not need to be elaborate – go with the evidence at hand or a principle of effective teaching

Describe the change(s) you intend to make.

Describe the strategies you plan to use, e.g., new strategies you have never used or modifications of ones you already use.

Describe how you will measure improvement.

Improvement implies that something changes for the better, and that we have some criteria, standards and evidence for judging what makes something better. Depending on your goal, you most likely will focus on some aspects of student learning, thinking and behavior.


If my goal is to improve students' ability to transfer knowledge and skills to new situations, I can

  • evaluate students' performance on a series of application assignments
  • evaluate student performance on an assignment or on selected test items in a follow up course [collaborate with instructor of the follow up course]

If my goal is to teach a difficult concept more effectively, I can

  • evaluate student learning with an assignment or test items and compare their performance to a previous class
  • evaluate student understanding of the concept several times during the semester and identify patterns of performance or difficulty
  • do several think aloud activities with students to get a better understanding of what makes the concept difficult for them

If my goal is to improve students' cognitive engagement during lectures, I can evaluate student thinking during class by using

  • several clicker questions
  • 1-2 think-pair-share activities
  • a minute paper in the middle of the class period
  • a short quiz at the start of class and asking students to revise their answers to the quiz questions at the end of class

If my goal is to increase the use of active learning strategies in large lecture classes, I can evaluate my teaching by

  • conducting a self-assessment using the Teaching Practices Inventory or an equivalent tool appropriate for your discipline.
  • asking a colleague to observe my class several times during the semester by using the Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM, the Student Engagement Observation Protocol (Behavioral Engagement Related to Instruction), or an equivalent tool appropriate for your discipline.
  • a pre-/post- test to measure changes in students' attitudes toward learning in your field such as one of these Learning Attitudes About Science Surveys, or an equivalent tool appropriate for your discipline.

If my goal is to improve students' attitudes toward my subject area, I can

  • administer an attitude survey to students at the start and end of the course

Examples related to improving group learning:

If my goal is to improve the quality of student group projects, I can

  • use a rubric to evaluate the projects and compare these to a standard I have developed
  • use a rubric to evaluate the projects and compare these to projects from a previous class
  • use a rubric to evaluate projects done during the course and determine whether the quality improves during the semester

If my goal is to improve the type and level of discourse in groups, I can

  • observe students working in groups and use a checklist to note the frequency of different types of productive and counterproductive interactions [ask a colleague to help by observing in your class]
  • ask students to use a checklist to monitor their own interactions in their group

If my goal is to improve how I facilitate group work, I can

  • use a checklist to monitor my use of desirable techniques
  • ask a colleague to observe how I facilitate groups

Teach your class using the new strategies and collect evidence.

Develop the course materials and procedures for teaching the new strategies and for collecting evidence.

Write a summary.

After you have collected and reviewed your results, draft a 2-page summary of your work that includes:

  • Improvement goal(s)
  • Strategies used to address goals
  • Results based on the evidence you collected
  • What you learned and how you will use the results

Cerbin, W. (2015). Teaching improvement guidelines. In Teaching Improvement Guide. University of Wisconsin at La Crosse Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from