teaching tips

Photo depicts vintage, wooden chairs facing forward in an empty lecture hall. It is edited from a CC0 image courtesy of Wokandapix on Pixabay.

From Whence We Came

At some point, we realized that a classroom could be an interactive environment for learning, and that students should be more centered. We could still lay out our learning objectives and share from our content expertise, but the classroom itself would be their place to shine, not ours. Our time and efforts shifted from preparing our lectures to strategizing lesson plans that would engage students in working towards those learning outcomes. In a way, we were drawing the maps but they were driving the cars.

Photo of happy people sharing a high-five gesture. Image courtesy of Pexels, CC0.

The importance of this student-centered approach to teaching became more apparent with research on trauma and trauma-informed classrooms. We realized that trauma affected students’ brains and their very DNA. We needed to not further traumatize students who were taking our classes, and we needed to remove racial violence from our curriculum, an essential consideration beyond the scope of this piece but hopefully something you are already mindful of. 

For example, avoid teaching about race differences through a deficits-only model that makes students of color experience trauma so that white students can experience learning. One common case of this in the classroom is the so-called “privilege walk” exercise, which typically leaves students physically sorted, with those who have darker complexion literally at the back of the room when you are done. That exercise is likely traumatic to Black students and other students of color, who already know they will end up in the back, and do not appreciate their bodies being used to model that disadvantage yet again so that white students can learn something that day which they have lived their whole lives. There are other class exercises, beyond the scope of this article, that should be revised and reviewed. The bottom line on this? We must remove racial violence from the curriculum and minimize the extent to which we further traumatize our students.

Trauma-informed teaching places relationships at the center of our job as educators. There are several frameworks and sets of principles on how to do this.

The Multiplying Connections Model (Perry 2009; Walkley and Cox 2013) says that school has five tasks: stay “Calm,” be “Attuned” and “Present” while remaining “Predictable” as possible in an otherwise unpredictable world, and basically “Don’t let students’ emotions determine your own. Their acronym is CAPPD.

The Australian Childhood Foundation’s model (2010) has SPACE as an acronym, which summarizes their take on the five basic principles of trauma-informed classrooms. Their approach includes a lot of practical suggestions, such as, “Provide impromptu fun experiences which are not defined as a reward” because playfulness is a resource for students experiencing trauma.

The popular “Compassionate Teaching” model (Wolpow et al. 2009) offers thorough overviews on building trauma-informed learning environments.

Researchers at Boston University (Atallah et al 2019) have published findings that support the benefits of trauma-informed learning environments, welcoming and inclusive classroom environments, in which educators attend to students’ social and emotional needs, led to improved academic outcomes.

Where We Are Now

And now here we are in the present, and our classrooms have a decidedly uncertain future. Some faculty are going with face-to-face (F2F) instruction. Some are teaching synchronously online or asynchronously-only; others are trying to offer or a bit of each. Some educators are teaching “HyFlex” which means they are going to be doing every single option simultaneously.

And through whatever medium one is teaching, something essential might be lost. We are planning, and getting training on how to lecture in this time. In doing this we risk reverting to that era in which we would talk and they would write down what we say.

Take a step back outside of the classroom and scan the globe for a moment. Perhaps now more than ever, we recognize the presence of racial trauma, poverty trauma, and natural disaster (pandemic) trauma. Now, as much as ever, our classrooms must be trauma-informed spaces that are student-centered.

We do not need to reinvent this wheel. We just need to remember that it’s a really important wheel, and keep it in the forefront of our planning. Since we all have been traumatized to some extent by recent events, acknowledging that burdens are not equally shared in our society, our hearts should naturally go in this direction anyway, towards creating trauma-informed classrooms, wherever and whatever those classrooms may look like.

How to be trauma-informed

It is not a quick and easy thing to be trauma-informed. Trauma is an experience, which means that it is a response to a situation or event, not the situation or event itself. Not all students experience an event or situation the same, because students have different resources and baseline stressors to begin with, and therefore trauma differs among them. Having a trauma-informed classroom is thus about listening and centering the actual students you have in your classroom. It is about communication, trust, and relationships, which means you will have to build and maintain this as you go.

Here are some broad, trauma-informed teaching strategies that should work across disciplines, drawn in part from the following references.

Strategy #1: Empower your students

Empowerment is an ongoing process through which those who do not have an equal allocation of resources gain increasing access to resources. In the classroom, you can offer choices to students about how they will participate and meet learning objectives. By handing over some controls, you can help students feel like not everything in their life is out of their control. This can be very motivating for students, helping them beyond your class.

Strategy #2: Check in with students

Make it a ground rule in your classroom that students’ emotional safety is important to you. And it should be, because it is necessary for learning. Pay attention to your students so that you will notice when something is different, and then reach out. You cannot know what is going on in any student’s mind or life, but you know what you observe, and so that is what you share. For example, you might say, “I noticed that you were late this week, and you are not usually late.” If that does not lead to an explanation, follow it with, “How are you?” This lets your students know that they are not invisible and that they matter, which can help them beyond your class.

Strategy #3: Avoid idealizing trauma in your content

Avoid idealizing trauma narratives in subject content. Make sure your lecture content does not romanticize trauma. What this does is that it skips the healing process, showing only the end points of the tragic event and the triumphant survivorship. This can serve to inhibit coping and healing for students, who need more freedom to express real lived experiences and pain, as appropriate and if it is related to your course content.

Strategy #4: Identify social supports

Make sure you are aware of institutional peer supports and mentor supports available to your students, and how to connect students to these resources. If possible, be a conduit of mentoring connections yourself. I keep in touch with former students for the sole purpose of connecting them with current students, a practice I highly recommend. Few things are as useful to a current student struggling as an outreach from a former student, now ten years out and living the dream the current student hopes to reach. I find that former students welcome the chance to support current students in this way, even during a pandemic. If you have never done this before, you could begin by reaching out to a few former students now and asking if they would be willing to communicate with a current student who has similar career aspirations. In my experience, I have never had one decline this invitation, and it can be a form of meaningful social support for your current students in need, a connection that, after you make it, does not involve you.

A stressed-out woman holds her head and looks at her computer.
Teaching Assistants have experienced an increased workload during the transition to online learning. Photo via PickPik.

In the last few months, higher education institutions have faced the challenge of moving in-person coursework to various online platforms in response to COVID-19. During this unprecedented time, a graduate level course at the University of Minnesota called “Teaching Sociology” launched a project to evaluate how instructors were handling the transition. The graduate students administered a survey to the Sociology department’s instructors and teaching assistants and issued a final report highlighting broad trends and making recommendations for the department to consider as the crisis continues and planning for the fall begins. Given how widespread these issues and challenges are, we thought it might be useful to share some of those ideas here on TSP, with particular focus on the experience of teaching assistants.

The survey found that, much like their instructors, nearly all TAs experienced an increased workload with the transition online. This increased workload was due to both technological learning curves and increased overall time demands. In addition to the extra emails, students expected TAs to respond more quickly and have increased availability outside of already extended office hours. Yet perhaps most salient is the proportion of TAs who noted an increase in emotional labor. TA’s provided anecdotes of dealing with students’ panic and anxiety over the rapid transition online and students’ upheaval in their personal lives. They also reported being on the end of increased student frustration and emotional outburst. In a more extreme case, one TA noted that they had received aggressive emails from students, but many more reported students’ frustrations being communicated directly.

While the survey was meant to provide reflections on the rapid transition to online teaching, the findings suggest some important considerations regarding the roles of and challenges faced by teaching assistants during unsettled times. Borrowing from the literature on workplace harassment, we find that individuals in low- to mid-level supervisory positions, such as TAships, often experience such challenges in their roles.

TA weekly hours worked pre- and during COVID, Spring 2020 

Note: this includes both 25% and 50% appointments.

The literature on workplace harassment suggests that, unfortunately, backlash against low and mid-level supervisors is not uncommon. Although many would view the authority of a supervisor as providing a protective measure from harassment, research suggests that it provokes backlash from subordinates. As a result, workers in supervisory roles are more likely to experience harassment, and that likelihood increases even more if they are female. 

In contrast, in the United States, people in higher supervisory positions such as an executive or department head are less likely to experience sexual harassment. Given that women in low- or mid-level supervisory positions are often on career tracks for these higher level positions, it is somewhat surprising that they are the most likely to experience workplace harassment.

While this literature focuses on women and sexual harassment in the workplace, these frameworks are useful for understanding the harassment faced by others in low-level supervisory positions, such as TAships. TAs may receive more “blowback” from undergraduates who hesitate to make demands or express frustration with professors, and this backlash is likely to fall more heavily on TAs who are women and/or people of color.

Because TAs often have a lot of responsibility but relatively little power, our findings suggest that instructors consider the following recommendations: 

  1. In designing remote courses, reconsider assignments and expectations for students and TAs. This may require giving TAs ample time to deal with technological challenges, as well as additional training in how to provide tech support to students.
  2. Both instructors and TAs reported a significant increase in extensions and accommodations. Consider creating a shared document so that TAs may better manage a range of deadlines and accommodations.
  3. Establish and reinforce norms and expectations for respectful communications with students throughout the semester. 
  4. Recognize and discuss responsibilities around emotional labor. Discuss which student comments or emails should go directly to the instructor and which should be handled by the TA.
  5. Put explicit email and office response hours in the syllabus to help manage and bound TA work hours.

Works Cited

Olle Folke, Johanna Rickne, Seiki Tanaka, and Yasuka Tateishi. 2020. “Sexual Harassment of Women Leaders.” Daedalus 149(1): 180-197. 

Heather McLaughlin, Christopher Uggen, and Amy Blackstone. 2012. “Sexual Harassment, workplace Authority, and the Paradox of Power.” American Sociological Review 77(4):1-23.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation on May 14, 2020 and has been republished under a Creative Commons license.

College students don’t have to appear in person to do good.
Tom Werner/Getty Images

At Troy University in Alabama, students went online to help a county with a high infant mortality rate in the state of Georgia to analyze health disparities and develop solutions.

At Cornell University, where I teach, law students are providing legal services online to death-row inmates in Tanzania and children and young farmworkers in upstate New York.

At five state universities in the U.S. heartland, students are helping Michigan towns create government websites.

These are all examples of “e-service learning” – that is, service learning that takes place online. Service learning refers to a wide range of student experiences meant to help a community organization, local government or business.

I am an education researcher and – along with my colleague Yue Li – I am investigating the best ways to engage students in e-service learning, both here in the U.S. and around the world.

Even though colleges and universities have shut down their campuses due to COVID-19, e-service learning shows how college students can still do their volunteerism in the virtual world. Students need not be physically present to help support local government, local nonprofits and vulnerable individuals like farmworkers, all of whom have a greater need for the help of volunteers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vast benefits

Service learning is not meant only to help community organizations, governmental agencies and businesses. It’s also meant to advance the student’s individual academic goals.

A key part of service learning is for students to reflect on the service they actually do and how whatever they are studying – whether it be health, law or the environment – relates to the real world. Reflection also helps students clarify their personal values and gain a sense of civic responsibility.

Better outcomes

Compared to peers who didn’t do service learning in college, graduates who did participate in service learning report higher levels of civic-mindedness. That is to say, they are more likely to work with others to achieve public goals.

For community organizations, the benefits of having college students help
with their work are vast. Students can offer companionship for elderly clients, become role models for high school students or simply serve as an extra hand to tackle a nonprofit’s back-burner project.

Research applied

Through e-service learning, communities can gain access to the latest university research. For instance, residents of Gracias Lempira, Honduras, and Rohne Village, India, used engineering research to build electricity-free water purification systems. And in Louisville, Kentucky, students from several universities created models to help residents decide where to plant trees to cut down on air pollution.

Each partnership has unique benefits. For instance, an official at an international climate action group – Team 54 Project International – remarked on how a Cornell University student played a key role in gathering information for a tree-planting guide. The guide will be used to help plant trees in Serbia that are suited for the region. The guide will also serve as a template for similar tree-planting projects around the world.

Is virtual the same?

Can students still have a meaningful service learning experience in cyberspace?

A study of business marketing students shows that students who engaged in online service learning gained the same skills, such as the ability to work well with others and understand cultural and racial differences, as those who worked alongside their partners in person.

Back in 2013, some university scholars predicted that online technologies would disrupt in-person university teaching as it was known, including service learning.

What I have found is instead of disrupting in-person teaching, e-service learning has enhanced it. It does this by offering opportunities for any student and any nonprofit with an internet connection to form a partnership on short notice. E-service learning has also added new opportunities for busy students to help NGOs overseas, U.S. nonprofits and local governments in other states. Students help with everything from disaster planning to food waste and hunger issues.

Ever since colleges and universities have been forced to move their instruction online due to COVID-19, critics have worried about whether or not they’re doing a good job. But as schools continue to teach online for the summer and possibly even the fall, similar attention should also be paid – in my view – to how well they are engaging students in service learning online.

Especially with employees working from home due to social distancing, e-service learning may prove itself as one of the most effective ways to prepare students to solve the kinds of problems they will encounter once they start their careers.

[Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter.]The Conversation

Marianne E. Krasny, Professor of Environmental Education and Civic Ecology, Cornell University

A young woman sits in a beanbag chair while participating in an online class on her laptop. Photo by pxfuel.

In this unprecedented time of suddenly teaching courses online that were designed to be taught on campus, and as we look ahead to the upcoming semester, we are now solidly in the realm of online teaching and learning. Neither you nor your students signed up for this. No matter what you chose to do early on in the response to COVID-19, what are you going to do looking ahead? What have you learned that can help you decide? Are you going to teach synchronously or asynchronously? What’s better for your students? What’s better for you? 

Teaching synchronously involves holding “live” sessions that generally allow interactions in real time. Teaching asynchronously means you are probably producing little movies of what you wish you could be teaching in the in-person classroom environment where we all thought our classes would be taking place, and you upload these little movies for students to view on their own schedule. Acknowledging that there are strongly-held beliefs about the superiority of the method on each side of this debate, let’s walk through the key strengths and drawbacks of each option.

What’s so great about teaching synchronously?

This category of online learning allows students to see and interact with one another and with you, to give and receive real-time feedback on their ideas, to brainstorm and collaborate with peers, to ask questions of you as a lesson is being shared, and to be reminded that we are community members, separated physically but not in spirit. With real solidarity, synchronous classes can remind all of us that we are not alone even as we negotiate our changed landscape amidst the novelty that is physical isolation.

You can be creative in nurturing a sense of community in your synchronous classroom. You are a team, on a shared mission. You are in this together. Making eye contact and having conversations at your regularly scheduled class times is priceless as a preventative measure for mental health outcomes, and for increasing engagement with the course materials. Whether students are in your class to complete requirements of a major, or to earn elective credits or specialty skills and knowledge, in the synchronous online classroom you can readily help students remember why they registered for your course to begin with, which can be very grounding. 

So the benefits of teaching “live” include improved communication efficiency and clarity, increased sense of community, fostering solidarity with and among your students who might deeply value the peer support and shared experience of being together for your class. 

Image shows grid view of 25 students in Erika Sanborne’s Social Research Methods discussion/lab section on March 18, our first suddenly-online synchronous gathering. We all wore University gear, to remind one another that we are in this together. Students gave expressed permission to share this class photo. Photo by Erika Sanborne.

What is good about teaching asynchronously?

The most popular reason for choosing this option for your teaching is flexibility regarding when work is done. You can make your little lecture movies whenever you have the time and space to do so, recognizing that your own obligations have likely increased for now as well, so this flexibility can be invaluable. Also, of course, your students can watch those recordings at their convenience. Students’ life circumstances have likely changed. They did not plan to be where they physically are right now while they are completing your course. They might be sharing technology and not have unlimited access to it. They might be across the globe in an incompatible time zone. They might not want to let you and their entire class into the space where they are living right now. This unprecedented social intimacy may have unknown effects on their emotional well-being, and an asynchronous class lets them receive lecture information without that intimate reciprocity of audio and/or video from the place that’s currently home to them.

Asynchronous classes have pedagogical benefits too. They allow students to literally “pause” your class when they are confused or need a break, something only possible in their dreams for in-person and synchronous online classes, which go at a pace not set by them at all. Also, the technology requirements to take in an asynchronous class are lower, and this is therefore more accessible to more students. Watching or downloading a video can happen on the most basic internet-capable devices. Asynchronous lectures can even be mailed on DVDs, or transcribed and printed out with captioned graphics as needed. They can also be closed captioned for accessibility. 

What have you learned so far teaching under these conditions?

You need to set up mental scales of your own, to weigh out and determine what really matters to you, and what is best for you and for your students. I’ve spoken with many individual faculty members at several universities while consulting on this topic, and in every conversation, we’ve decided the best option is to offer some combination of both synchronous and asynchronous offerings in a class. This is not necessarily ideal or superior. It’s just one way of trying to maximize the benefits of both options, while using each to cover the shortcomings in the other. Perhaps thinking through this example will help you refine your own plan as we look ahead to more of this sort of course design, of teaching classes online that were slated to have taken place in person.

An example of “doing both”

Suppose you were scheduled to teach your class twice a week, Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:00 am – 11:15 am local time. For this example, you can now meet synchronously (live) Mondays and Wednesdays at 10 am local time, for about 30 minutes. Keep it briefer to minimize the fatigue that results from too much continuous video conferencing, for them and for you. After revisiting your course’s learning objectives and determining what’s most essential, cover the associated lecture topics live, interactively. Remain, or reclaim if you’ve steered apart, the community that you were before everything shifted online. Invite your students to your live classes assuring them of both your accompaniment and your realization that they likely have new burdens and expectations. Use some simple measure of classroom participation (i.e. three short questions that you introduce throughout the 30 minute class, and that can be answered typing on a smart phone); offer them some various live office hours each week, and teach your class. Give them whatever is most important for your course.

What about those students who cannot make it to the live classes? There are valid reasons. If at all possible, do not expect them to share the reason with you. Asking them to justify why they cannot attend your class online, when they had not planned to be an online student right now, is a bit unfair. Trust your students when they say they cannot make it to your synchronous class. Their reasons may include time zone difference, lack of technology, no free space in their home, no quiet space, less time to be a student because of shifted family responsibilities such as caregiving, etc. Some are working jobs to make up for parents’ lost wages now. Some are homeless because student housing was their solution for where to live right now. For students who have never had an online class before, they might have anxiety about how it all works. There are many reasons why one might not be present for synchronous classes.

The solution for them is simple. Record those 30 minute live classes, and make them available to those who cannot attend at the regularly scheduled class time. Make sure they can complete the same simple measure of classroom participation in a way that is no more or less taxing whether one is live or one is watching the video later. Make sure you follow FERPA regulations and basic copyright laws for recordings, and that you only make public your own face and your own thoughts. You can also restrict access to these videos with passwords, time-limits and other means depending on your platform. Check with your institution for these details. 

Which option is better for you and your students?

That is the question we have answered on the fly, and may be reconsidering as we look ahead to plan future semesters, and only you can answer. I am in favor of the “doing both” option as in the example above. I have had the most success with, as have faculty I’ve helped figure some things out. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary. No matter the option you go with, do your best to be truly present with your students, and to let them see that, either as they make eye contact with you themselves, or otherwise when they see you offering your accompaniment as they view the recording later. If you are choosing to go strictly asynchronous, do what you can to connect with your students and to allow them to share the experience of your class with one another. One pro tip: Talk to the camera, not to your screen, to convey eye contact. It is worth practicing this skill.

You are probably doing great. If possible, consider synchronous classes such as in the example, with a recording offering a comparable experience for the students who cannot get to the live class. If you offer no synchronous classes, try to have some optional synchronous time in general, whether that’s office hours or something else. You’re reaching out through the physical distance between us, to show them that you care about their learning and their struggles. 

If you are personally juggling too many unforeseeable stressors, or you need to do exclusively asynchronous instruction for whatever other personal reasons, that is valid, My hope is that you find nothing but institutional support for you doing the best that you can. If you are struggling with the fatigue that comes from too many video conferences, all while trying to hold your concerns about the world and your loved ones in check, please hang in there and be kind to yourself. You are not alone either.

Photo depicts a modern office work space with two tables and two white boards. Photo via Pixabay.

This article is reposted with edits from an original post made 3/11/2020

Erika Sanborne is a TSP Graduate Board member who has received various awards for teaching and often serves as a teaching & technology consultant for faculty and graduate instructors. Her research interests include the life course, race, and religion. Her favorite course to teach is statistics.

Many of us are a week or two into teaching a suddenly-online course that we had designed to teach in person. Having taught about 50 undergraduate class sections in person, and about 50 undergraduate class sections online, I am duly familiar with both options. To be clear, when I have taught the same subject online and on campus even during the same semester, they are very different courses. Yet here we are with this current situation, so let’s deal with it as best we can. In this write-up, I’m inviting you into “round 2” following all the big changes you have made in the past few weeks to get to this moment.


Lit-up sign by the road that reads, US Border Patrol.
Photo by Jonathan McIntosh, Flickr CC

Teaching about immigration can be tough because students come to our classrooms with the battle lines already drawn and believing their minds are already made up. We know, for example, that “the border” occupies a large conceptual space in our collective minds and that certain racialized populations suffer from perceptions of illegality. I have successfully re-centered my classroom conversation in a more constructive direction by starting with something most students seem to have a complete lack of information about: how the U.S. immigration system actually works.

Below I share some resources and ideas for leading an hour long discussion on “everything you wanted to know about the immigration system but were afraid to ask.” The activity below would be a great fit for any course where you are going to spend several class days on migration in the United States: Global Sociology, Social Problems, Migration, Race & Ethnicity, or Crime & Deviance. This activity is intended to take advantage of the fact that a classroom is a special place designated for learning, where everyone (including the instructor) can always learn something new without feeling embarrassed of our ignorance.


Photo of a sign marking the historical site of the Stewart Indian School (1890-1980). Photo by Ken Lund, Flickr CC

*~* “Teach with TSP” Contest Winner, 2018 *~*

One of the ways that The Society Pages can be really useful for teaching is for finding ways to connect recent events in the news to larger sociological conversations in the classroom. Today’s suggestion shows one way to use “There’s Research on That!” to do just that: without necessarily assigning any of the readings to the students, the instructor can find a topic of relevance and use the academic resources included in the TROTs post to quickly catch themselves up to speed on the recent sociological literature in order to facilitate a stronger class discussion. This is a great way to keep classes relevant and to keep ourselves current in the field.

Recently a Texas court ruled the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) unconstitutional. This topic would be of interest in a variety of sociology courses: Family, Law and Society, Race and Ethnicity, Social Problems, and Intro to Sociology units on institutions.


You bring:

  • Projector/internet/resources to show a streaming film in class
  • Link to the documentary
  • Read the TROTs resources ahead of time
  • Prepare and print copies of a worksheet with some questions (suggestions below) connecting the ICWA with contemporary and historical experiences on Native people in the United States
  • Paper copies of a news article about the Texas court decision striking down the ICWA (unless you want to assign it in advance or have students read together in class)

Students bring:

  • Any reading you want to assign in advance


  1. Ask students to read a news article about the Texas court ruling that the ICWA is unconstitutional. You can either have everyone do this together at the start of class or assign this to be read in advance, but in all cases ask students to take written notes on anything they don’t understand or have further questions about.
  2. Ask students if they have any immediate comprehension questions about the news article. For example: if they didn’t understand a word or basic concept, then those questions should be answered. Otherwise, tell students to keep their questions in mind during the documentary. The questions should help the students connect the contemporary to the historical.
  3. Show the first 40 minutes of the PBS Documentary “Unspoken: America’s Native American Boarding Schools.” The documentary streams for free online. Its full length is 56 minutes but I don’t recommend the last 16 minutes for this activity as it is not focused on boarding schools and will probably distract class discussion. Ask the students to complete the worksheet while they watch the documentary, which will again help make broader sociological connections between the historical experience of boarding schools and contemporary foster care systems and schooling. Actively using the worksheet also teaches students to be more active watchers of content.
  4. Use the answers on the worksheet AND the questions students wrote on the news article to launch a discussion. A good prompt for starting a discussion after an emotional video like this one can sometimes be to first let students just react to the content (ex: “how did it make you feel?” or “what did you think?”) before trying to get them to think too analytically.

Worksheet Question Suggestions

  • Did the documentary answer any of the questions you wrote beforehand?
  • What is the Dawes Act?
  • List 3 dates you heard and what happened on those dates. (You as the instructor can use these to have students construct a timeline later for a more extensive activity if you want. These can be a really useful for active learning and to really have students visualize how long certain periods lasted in relation to how little time has passed since then.)
  • How long did American Indian boarding schools run? When were they closed?
  • Give one example of resilience from the documentary.
  • What surprised you?
  • What does assimilation mean? How does it relate to American Indian boarding schools? To the Indian Child Welfare Act?
  • There are more ideas for discussion on the PBS website of the documentary.

Additional Resources


 A special thank you to Bret Evered for her invaluable pedagogical knowledge and assistance with this activity.

Dr. Meghan Krausch studies race, gender, disability, and other forms of marginalization throughout the Americas and in particular how grassroots communities have developed ways to resist their own marginalization. Read more of Meg’s writing at The Rebel Professor or get in touch directly at meghan.krausch@gmail.com.

A scene from "The Road from Crime"
A scene from “The Road from Crime”

In our volume Crime and the Punished, we featured our interview with sociologist-filmmakers Shadd Maruna and Fergus McNeill. This activity builds from their film:

How and why people stop committing crime is an important question. “Discovering Desistance,” by Sarah Lageson and Sarah Shannon describes how two social scientists “co-created” “The Road from Crime,” a film about desistance from the perspective of former prisoners and the practitioners who work with them. Watch the 50-minute film as you consider these discussion questions:

  1. In what ways might the criminal justice system promote reoffending?
  2. According to the filmmakers, desistance is both an “internal” and an “external” process. Where do you see internal and external processes in the film.
  3. What punishment policies might be changed, added, or abandoned to better promote desistance?
  4. Most people who work in the criminal justice system have never been convicted of serious crimes. How might the system be different if it incorporated more input from people who had been punished under it?

After watching the film, imagine that you are a social worker in a community to which many ex-prisoners return. What resources do you think you’d need to address community needs and help former inmates desist from crime? What community leaders or organizations would you need to enlist for support? Discuss your thoughts in a group and draw up a list of the “stakeholders” whose voices are critical for designing your policy.

Trayvon Martin’s death has drawn a great deal of attention from people throughout the United States.  Our own Sociological Images has written about the tragedy in three distinct posts (all found here).

This event occurred while my introduction to sociology courses were discussing race.  My students, logically, brought up his murder when we were discussing racial formation and racial stereotypes.  This turned into the most engaged, energetic and lively discussion we had all semester.

Students were, as they should be, angered.  They were frustrated with a society that allowed such tragedies to happen and disappointed that more people were not demanding Zimmerman be prosecuted.  I’m willing to go on a limb, however, and suggest not all students will feel the same way.

Despite my students’ passion, they brought up a variety of questions I believe their peers (and broader society) will have:

1) If Zimmerman is latino, is the case still about race?

Absolutely.  This question led our class to have a great conversation about the internalization of racial stereotypes and the impact of institutional and interpersonal racism on individuals.  We watched “A Girl Like Me” and discussed Kenneth Clark‘s original doll experiment.  (A group of my students are even setting out to do the same activity with children who are not black.)

2) Why would Zimmerman suspect Trayvon of suspicious behavior at all?

This question led to a great conversation about the impact of stereotypes on the perceptions we have of one another.  Using labeling theory, our class was able to discuss the way in which society ascribes particular labels to people based on the variety of statuses we embody.  These labels affect the way that people perceive us and the ways in which they interpret our behavior (such as the wearing of a hoodie).   In order to lead a discussion on labeling by race and gender, we watched the following clips from my favorite teaching show, “What Would You Do“: the bike theft, and racism in America (parts one and two).  Students immediately connected the material to the Trayvon case and their own lives (I had them do an in class writing on how they have been effected by labeling).

3) Why isn’t Zimmerman being charged?

Students, particularly those from states that do not have “Stand Your Ground” laws, are particularly puzzled by the fact that Zimmerman was not arrested.  Teachers who wish to discuss this topic can explore the history of these laws here.  My students, generally, were appalled by the interpretation of these laws (as addressed in that article) and their expansion.  Many expressed personal fear, and others remarked that, had Zimmerman been black, he would have been arrested immediately.

I encourage you to have conversations about Trayvon Martin in your classroom – not to exploit his death but to make students aware of the prevalence of such cases.  Hopefully, our students will one day be in positions in which they make and enforce laws and policies that will treat all people equally.

Managing conflict with students in the classroom is something that many instructors struggle with. Both new teachers and those with years of experience often express anxiety and frustration about how to address some of these issues. The following tutorials are provided by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

Why is it important to address these issues?

Managing a classroom well–balancing your instructional authority with your students’ concerns–comes with experience. Sometimes painful experience! Small problems poorly handled can distract you from teaching well and cast a pall on the semester. And while many are ready to complain about situations, we don’t often engage in constructive talk about how to manage and minimize the troublesome issues when they arise.

These scenarios help instructors think about what to do when a student complains about a great, doesn’t think s/he will ever ‘get’ the concept, misses work because of a sick child, disputes classroom or assignment directions, or asks you to meet off campus.

How to use the tutorial:

Select a scene (see below) and you’ll have a chance to view an encounter between a student and an instructor.

Following the clip, you’ll likely want to think about how you might have handled the situation—there’s no single correct approach. After you’ve formulated an opinion, you can choose to listen to several teaching consultants to see how they might have worked with the student to resolve the conflict.

Transcripts of both the scene and the advice are available on every page and further resources can be found on the workshop’s resources page.

Take a look at the scenes below…

Scene 1 – Why Did You Take Points Off?
Scene 2 – I’ll Never Get It!
Scene 3 – Could You Talk to the Professor for Us?
Scene 4 – It’s a Zoo in Here!
Scene 5 – Let’s Meet for Coffee
Scene 6 – I Had to Go to a Funeral
Scene 7 – Sorry, but I Don’t Always Understand You
Scene 8 – Do the Problem for Me!
Scene 9 – I Had a Sick Child!
Scene 10 – You Never Told Us That!