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Interested in the psychology of sports? Ever wondered if athletes really have something to prove when they play against their old teams and teammates? If so, check out this new blog post! psychstudentrss

In an article I had written on interteaching (2015), I wrote,


I was working harder on the course than they appeared to be. I was reading the textbook; my students were not. I was trying to find good examples of concepts covered in the textbook; my students were not. I was scoring perfectly on the exams; my students were not.


The basic premise of interteaching is that students answer instructor-prepared questions before they come to class, discuss in pairs or small groups while in class, tell the instructor where they’d like some clarification, and then the instructor only lectures on that material. The students are doing the work of learning. The instructor is there to help the students.


I moved to this model in 2014, modified it to fit my pedagogical goals, and now I can’t imagine teaching any other way.


Setting the context


I teach primarily Intro Psych at a community college near Seattle with a student population approaching 80% ethnic minority. Many of my students are immigrants and refugees. Many of my U.S.-born students have had a lifetime of struggle.


My face-to-face classes cap at 38 and meet twice a week in 2.5-hour blocks. The interteaching format has also been used successfully in 50-minute class sessions. With the right resources, it could be used in larger classes. I use this same format in my online courses; the primary difference is that the discussions are more prescribed.


We are on the quarter system, so students are expected to spend 15 hours each week working on a typical course. The coursework is designed with that time commitment in mind. (Calculate how much work is in your course.) I am explicit with students about this expectation.


How I do it


By Sunday night, in preparation for a week of class starting on Monday, students answer 12 to 15 essay/short answer questions. The questions encourage students to apply what they have learned in the chapter to new situations. Responses are submitted via the course management system.


When students come to class, I assign them to small groups or no more than four per group. Students spend 40 minutes or so in their groups discussing their responses to the questions. Some students bring printed copies of their answers. Other students access digital versions. During this time, students are sorting out what content they know and what content they don’t know. What they don’t know, their fellow group members may be able to explain it to them. If they can’t, or if no one in the group knows either, the students in the group make a note of it. When the group is done discussing, a volunteer from their group goes to the board and writes down the content—not just the question number—that they would like me to cover in lecture.


Following discussion, we take a 10-minute break. During that time, I read what each group would like me to cover and formulate a plan.


You may be wondering, “You don’t know what you’re going to cover?!” Sort of. Remember, I’m the one who chose the questions in the first place. I am prepared to cover all of them with relevant and illustrative demonstrations at the ready. If you are teaching in 50-minute sessions, you could do discussion one day, then give a short lecture at the beginning of the next class session.


Students earn five points per class session for completing an “exit ticket.” The half sheet submitted at the end of each class session asks students for the most interesting thing they learned in class and for what questions they still have.

The next class session later that week, students get into their same groups for a short discussion. Were there things that were still unclear after the last class? Is there content that they decided I didn’t need to cover but have since changed their minds? In this class lecture, I address those concerns as well as cover whatever I didn’t get to last class session.

Using what they learned in class that week, students have until the following Sunday night to revise any or all of their assignment responses. I do not read drafts and provide feedback. Students are responsible for comparing their written responses with what others in their group are saying and with the lecture. At the end of the week, if students have any lingering questions, they are encouraged to ask me.


At the same time students are working on their revisions, they are preparing their initial draft responses to the next set of questions.


The questions


I change at least one question in each write-to-learn assignment each term. While a rare occurrence, I have had students submit assignments written by other students in previous terms. Students who handed over their files are often shocked to learn that their work was used in this way. It is an important lesson for them to learn. Changing one question doesn’t stop this kind of cheating, but it does make it easier for me to detect since the person submitting the file doesn’t bother to make sure that all of the questions are the same. By seeing the wrong question in the submitted file, I can narrow down the term based on when that question was used. And then it’s just a matter of flipping through the submissions for that assignment.


Here are some examples of assignment questions. Again, there are 12 to 15 of these for each week’s assignment.


Research methods


Hypothesis: If people are frequently interrupted by messages on their cell phones while studying, then they will do worse on a test. Design an experiment that would test this hypothesis. In your description, identify the independent variable (including the experimental and control conditions) and the dependent variable. Be sure to include operational definitions of both the independent and dependent variables. 




A friend says that she keeps falling asleep during the day. She wonders if she has a sleep disorder. What questions would you ask your friend to sort out if she might have insomnia, narcolepsy, or sleep apnea? Explain how each question would point toward a particular disorder or eliminate a particular disorder.


Sensation and perception

You and your friend Abdul are standing side by side. When you start to hear a low hum, you ask Abdul, "Did you hear that?" Abdul says, "No." As you hear the sound getting louder, Abdul says, "Now I hear it!" As the hum stays at a steady volume, neither of you can hear it any more. 

First, explain the difference between absolute threshold and difference threshold. Next, explain how absolute threshold, difference threshold, and sensory adaptation apply to this example.


Every time Cato talks to the woman he has recently fallen in love with, Julita, he feels all warm and fuzzy. He just created a ring tone just for her calls, an excerpt from Sam Smith's song Stay with Me. It won't take very many phone calls for that song to be enough to make him feel warm and fuzzy. 

  1. In this example, identify the unconditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, conditioned stimulus, and conditioned response. 
  2. Use this example to explain generalization and discrimination.
  3. What would need to happen in order to bring about extinction? What would spontaneous recovery look like?


It's been a week since you last saw your chemistry textbook. The last place you remember having it was in class the day you learned that got a perfect score on your biology exam. How could you use what is known about context-dependent memory and state-dependent memory to help you find it?


Read this article. Describe the different groups represented in this article. What superordinate goal has brought them together? Explain. 




Assignments are worth 60 points each and are not scored until the final revision is submitted.


I look at the first draft, and award up to twenty points for effort. To “exceed expectations” (20/20) students need to make a good faith effort to answer all parts of all questions. The responses do not need to be correct. Remember, students wrote this first draft using the assigned readings, including the textbook chapter, and any additional research students chose to do. At this point, we haven’t yet covered this content in class. To “meet expectations” (15/20) most of the questions need to be addressed. For a 10-point “needs improvement” score, students answered about half of the questions. Answering at least one question but less than half yields a 5-point “inadequate” score. Not submitting the assignment by the deadline results in a zero for the effort score. I take deadlines very seriously. Students need to have completed the initial draft to be active group participants who provide useful feedback to their group members and useful information to me on what content I need to cover.


Next, I choose two questions to score for correctness, each worth twenty points. I create a rubric specific to those two questions. No, students do not know what questions I am going to choose. In fact, I don’t know which two questions I am going to score until after the final revision deadline has passed, and I am ready to grade. Students are expected to have solid answers to each question, and there is no reason they can’t.


Some students struggle with the idea that they have written all of this stuff, but only two questions will be graded. I explain in the first week of class that this course is structured not unlike some work environments.


You have a task. To complete that task, you have at your disposable the resources I’ve given you, the assistance of your fellow workers (classmates), your ready-to-answer-any-questions boss (me), and whatever else you’d like to use, including phone-a-friend and the Internet. As your boss, I am going to spot-check your work. I am not going to listen in on every interaction you have with customers. I am not going to review each database entry you input. As your instructor, I am not going to score everything you write. In fact, in-class exams work the same way. You study everything in the assigned chapters, but only some of what you studied will be on the exam. The difference is that I’m telling you exactly what will be on the exam, and I’m giving you a couple weeks to work on it.


While you may choose to skip a question because it feels too difficult to figure out, the danger is that question may be one of the ones chosen. In this course, with everything that you have at your disposal, the expectation is that you can understand and apply all of what you are learning.


What about exams?


I no longer have exams. If that makes you nervous, you can call these assignments take home exams. When I moved to this format, I still gave in-class multiple-choice/short answer exams. Students who did well on the assignments, did well on the exams. The students who didn’t, didn’t. The in-class exams weren’t adding anything, so I removed them. We now have more in-class time to spend learning course content, and students can spend their time practicing important job and life skills, like reading, discussing, and writing, and less time working on their multiple-choice test-taking skills.


Not even a final exam?


Not even a final exam. Instead, I ask students to identify and rank order the ten most important things they learned in the course, describe what each thing is, and why each made their top ten list. “Important things” is intentionally ambiguous. A thing could be a particular concept, like operant conditioning. It could be a big content-related take-away, like the importance of sleep. Or it could be a more general lesson learned in the course, like “I learned how much I can get done when my phone is off.” In these examples, "important" was interpreted to mean what was important to this student personally. Some students interpret “important” to mean what is good for humanity to know, like “Everyone should know about false memories.”


During our final exam time, I ask a volunteer to share their number 1 thing learned and why they chose it. I write the item on the board, and then I ask if anyone else had it on their list. If so, I ask why they chose it. Then I pick another person to share their number one, and so on. This provides a wonderfully fascinating review of the entire course.


Why I like it


This course format turns the responsibility for learning back to the students. Students are working with the assigned readings, figuring out what they know and don’t know. They learn from their group members, and what they don’t get there, I am ready to support them. Our class time is spent focused on where students are struggling, and not on course content they understand.


Students are working with the course content and applying it to new situations. By writing the questions, I am directing students to the content that I think is most useful for them to know. This format makes it easy to bring in current events. Questions can direct students to read, say, a New York Times article, and then apply relevant course concepts to what they’ve read.


For the students who take the time to reflect on where they missed points and why, their writing improves. I recommend a reflections assignment such as an assignment wrapper. (Here I describe the one I use.) I explain to students that writing skills are ridiculously important. In whatever job they go into, if they write well, they will stand out, and that can lead to opportunities that can lead to promotions.





Frantz, S. (2015). Shifting responsibility. Psychology Teacher Network, 25(1).

How you and I feel about our lives depends greatly on our social comparisons. We feel smart when others seem dimwitted, and grateful for our health when others are unwell. But sometimes during social comparisons our self-image suffers, and we feel relative deprivation—a perception that we are worse off than others with superior achievements, looks, or income. We may be happy with a raise—until we learn that our co-workers got more. And it’s better, psychologically, to make a salary of $60,000 when friends, neighbors, and co-workers make $30,000, than to make $100,000 when our compatriots make $200,000.


Relative deprivation helps us understand why the spread of television—and exposure to others’ wealth—seemingly transformed people’s absolute deprivation (lacking what others have) into relative deprivation (feeling deprived). When and where TV was introduced to various American cities, larceny thefts (shoplifting, bike stealing) soon rose.


Relative deprivation also helps us understand the psychological toxicity of today’s growing income inequality. In communities with large inequality—where some people observe others having so much more—average happiness is lower and crime rates and other social pathologies are higher.


So should we assume it’s always better to be content and happy than to be frustrated by seemingly unreachable expectations? No—because relative deprivation can also be a force for positive change. People in the former East Germany had a higher standard of living than their counterparts in some other European countries, but a frustratingly lower one than their West German neighbors—and that helped spark their revolt.


At a recent gathering of the Templeton foundations, I heard grantee Thor Halvorssen explain how his Human Rights Foundation is working to unite the world against the tyrannies that underlie poverty, famine, war, and torture. One  “Flash Drives for Freedom” project responds to the North Korean people’s mistaken belief—enabled by strict censorship and the absence of Internet—that the rest of the world is worse off than they are.


This project is collecting tens of thousands of used and donated USB drives, erasing their content, and refilling them with books, videos, and an off-line Korean Wikipedia that counter Kim Jong-Un’s misinformation. (Yes, Wikipedia can fit on a flash drive—see here—and, yes, most North Koreans have access to devices that can read flash drives.) Finally, it is delivering the goods via drones and balloons with a timing device that ruptures the balloon over North Korean cities, raining down flash drives.


The implied psychological rationale: Lay the groundwork for a transformed and free North Korea by harnessing the positive power of relative deprivation.






(For David Myers’ other weekly essays on psychological science and everyday life visit

When I was in school, the first thing I did when I got a graded assignment or exam back was look at what I missed and why. I assumed that was what everyone did. False consensus effect, anyone?


In a webinar a number of years ago, Roddy Roediger pointed out that that is what the better students do—which probably describes a hefty percentage of people working in academia. Better students look at their exam/assignment mistakes, and they learn from them. Less-than-stellar students, Roediger said, generally do not do that. Because they found the exam/assignment so aversive the first time, the last thing they want to do is look at it again. The least painful thing to do is throw the exam in the trash. And ignore the instructor’s feedback on the assignment. Unfortunately, students who do not revisit the exam/assignment are doomed to repeat the same mistakes and miss the opportunity to clear up any lingering misconceptions about the course content.


The post-exam everything-available group exam


When I gave in-class multiple-choice exams, I wanted students to figure out what they missed and why as soon as possible. I did not want to give any missed multiple-choice questions an opportunity to solidify as facts in students’ memories.


After students had taken the exam solo and had turned in their answer sheets, students would take the exam again using a brand new answer sheet. This time, students could use their notes, their book, the Internet, phone-a-friend, and other students in the class to answer the questions. Some students worked alone. Other students worked in pairs or small groups, but would shout across the room to consult with a different group as debate raged about a particular question. I had the occasional class who chose to do the open exam as an entire class with one student taking the lead. In those cases, I would leave the room. I did not want my presence to stifle discussion. Consensus was not required. Each student had their own answer sheet.


The solo exam was 50 questions worth one point each. The open exam was counted as a separate exam with each question worth 1/5 of a point for a total of 10 points.


My face-to-face classes met in 2.5 hour blocks, so it was easy to have the solo exam in the first half of class and the open exam in the second half of class. It would, however, work to give the open exam during the next class session.


I no longer give in-class multiple-choice exams, but I held onto them for quite a while because the discussions students had about the exam questions was so valuable. Students could see how other students thought through the questions and the answer options, and then used the textbook, their notes, or the Internet to support or refute each answer option.


At the end of the class period, some students would stick around until all of the answer sheets were turned in to ask, “Okay, question 6. We had a lot of debate on this one between A and C. What is the answer?!” Then we would talk about it.


During the open exam, I noticed some students not engaging. Some students just bubbled in the same answers they put on their solo exam, turn it in, and leave. Other students just bubbled in the answers the group majority had. These students probably found the solo exam painfully aversive, and the open exam just prolonged their agony. It was all a reminder of how college was not for them. Well, that is most-decidedly not the message I want students to hear.


If I gave in-class multiple-choice exams, I would still do the open-exam, but I would add in an exam wrapper.


A common instructor frustration


“I spent hours writing comprehensive feedback on my students’ assignments, but they keep making the same mistakes. I don’t think they’re reading my comments.”


Some of your students may not be reading your comments. They are probably the ones who found the assignment so aversive, they are just happy it is over.  


One instructor self-preservation strategy is to use two-tiered grading. In the first round of grading, use a comprehensive rubric and type minimal comments. Invite your students to tell you if they would like a second round of grading with more detailed comments. Here, the instructor does not change the score but gives the student more explanation about their score. The instructor’s time goes to the students who will actually read their feedback. A solid rubric, though, can provide a lot of really good information on its own.  


Exam and assignment wrappers: The idea


Wrappers encourage students to look at the past, and then strategize for the future. Following an exam or an assignment, students are asked about how they prepared, what do they think worked well for them, and what do they think they need to do differently next time. Here are some exam wrapper examples from Carnegie Mellon University’s Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation. The idea is to help students further develop their metacognitive skills, use what they learned, and improve on the next exam or assignment.


The research conducted on exam wrappers to date, however tells us not to expect too much in the way of impact on exam grades or metacognitive skills (Gezer-Templeton, Mayhew, Korte, & Schmidt, 2017; Pate, Lafitte, Ramachandran, & Caldwell, 2019; Soicher & Gurung, 2017).


It is probably not reasonable to expect a short reflection to improve student grades or metacognitive skills. Too many students have too many other responsibilities. Even if students know what they should do differently, it does not mean that they have the time, the energy, or the motivation to make those changes. A student who is working two jobs while taking care of two young children and an elderly family member may be happy just to pass your class.


I want to know, however, that students know what they need to do, even if they may not be able to.


Assignment wrappers: My implementation and my goals


In my courses, students respond to 12 to 15 essay questions each week. After students receive their graded assignments, I ask students in a separate 5-point assignment to answer five questions:


1. Submit a screenshot of the rubric. I want to make sure that students can find the rubric in our course management system and that they have seen it. 


2. Approximately how many hours did you spend working on this assignment? I expect students to put about 10 hours into this assignment. If the student did not do well on the assignment and reports spending less than 10 hours on the assignment, I can reiterate those expectations.


3. Estimate the number of points you lost due to:

Trouble with definitions

Missing or not enough explanation of the concepts

Missing or not enough application to the examples in the questions

Didn't answer one or more questions

Didn't leave enough time to complete the assignment

Other (give a brief explanation of what you're thinking about here)


This question helps students think about where they missed points, so they can pay particular attention to that area on the next assignment.


4. What are you planning to do differently as you work on your next assignment? Students have control over their grades. There are changes they can make. Most students have some solid ideas on what they can do differently. Being able to make those changes can be hard, though. If students report on future wrappers that they are having a hard time doing what they think they need to do, I will recommend some basic behavioral change strategies. 


5. What worked well that you are planning to do again? This is a reminder to students that they are indeed doing some things well. These are strengths to build on.


My assignment wrappers ensure that students are looking at my feedback, even if they do not really want to. The reflection helps students see that they have agency—that there are things that they are doing that work and there are changes that they can make. Finally, the wrappers give me a space to be a cheerleader and offer support.


“You have the right strategies. Just give yourself more time to do the assignments. Block off some time in your calendar each day, and defend that time as yours.”


“The changes you are planning on making are excellent.”


“It can be hard to study with all of those distractions at home you talked about. Can you go to the college library, the public library, or a coffee shop? Even for a little bit?”


“It sounds like you might be able to use some financial support. Did you know that our college has emergency funds and a food pantry?”


For example


I had one student who reported that he left the assignment until the last day. He ran out of time and his grade reflected that. He vowed to devote a couple hours every day on the course. On the next wrapper, he reported that he was much less stressed. Not only did he finish the assignment with plenty of time to spare, he also had time to review and fine-tune his assignment before submitting it. He then added that he thought having his phone next to him while he worked was too much of a distraction, and that he would leave it in a different room while working on his next assignment. On the next wrapper, he reported that without his phone, he finished his work even faster. Yes, his changes were rewarded in his much-improved assignment scores.


This student may have made these observations and made these changes without the wrapper. But, with the wrapper, he stated his goals to me, and I was able to encourage him in his efforts. Now I can say to students, “I had a student who had the same struggles you are having. This is what he did that worked for him. Want to give it a try?”





Gezer-Templeton, P. G., Mayhew, E. J., Korte, D. S., & Schmidt, S. J. (2017). Use of exam wrappers to enhance students’ metacognitive skills in a large introductory food science and human nutrition course. Journal of Food Science Education, 16(1), 28–36.


Pate, A., Lafitte, E. M., Ramachandran, S., & Caldwell, D. J. (2019). The use of exam wrappers to promote metacognition. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, 11(5), 492–498.


Soicher, R. N., & Gurung, R. A. R. (2017). Do exam wrappers increase metacognition and performance? A single course intervention. Psychology Learning and Teaching, 16(1).

While I am still not close to retirement, I am certainly closer to retirement than I am to my first year of teaching. This August will be the 30th anniversary of when I stepped in front of a classroom as a person of authority. I was a graduate student leading discussion sections once a week for a social psych course. The following fall, I taught my own course for the first time. This anniversary has put me in a reflective mood. 


Here is what I know now that I wish I had known then.


Develop a teaching persona


Teaching is a performance. When you step in front of a class, you must consider who your students are and how you can best help those students understand your course material. In doesn’t matter how far over you are on the Big Five trait of introversion. You have a role to play. 


Do not take cheating personally


Some of your students will cheat. And some of those who cheat, you will catch. It will feel like a personal affront, but student cheating is not about you. When feeling overwhelmed—sometimes brought on by procrastination, but not always—students will go to what has worked for them, or their friends, before. They put their hands into their bag of shortcuts and hope that what they pull out works. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it does not. Make sure there are consequences for cheating. However, again, do not take it personally, because it is not about you.


Students earn grades


Instructors do not give grades. Instructors document the grades students earn.


Someday, a student will come to you begging for a few more points because if they do not get X grade in your course, they will lose their scholarship, financial aid, or something else important to them. If a student is in that position, your course alone was not enough to do that. A string of courses that came before brought the student to this point. Your course is just the latest one in the series.


Stick to your policies


Whatever policies you have identified in your syllabus, do not make exceptions to them—unless your policy says that you will make exceptions. If you are going to make exceptions, think very carefully about how you will decide who gets an exception.


If you have a clear no-late-assignment-with-no-exceptions policy, a student asks you to make an exception, and you do, that is unfair to all of the students who read the policy in your syllabus, took you at your word, and did not ask for an exception.


Do not obsess over that one negative comment in your course evaluations


What is especially frustrating about course evaluations is that the course is over leaving you unable to address your students’ comments. There is no closure.


Early in my teaching career, I had a student who wrote, “She should write more than just the outline on the board, because when it came time to study for the test, all I had was the outline.” In a 15-week semester, this student never figured out that they could write more than what I wrote. I had no way to tell the student.


When reading your course evaluations, remember that these are student perceptions. Find the patterns first. What are most students saying? What should you keep doing next term? What changes should you make? In some cases, for example, you do not need to change what you do, but, instead, make the rationale for what you do clearer.


Now you can look at the comments that did not fit into the patterns you found. If one student, for example, reports that you did not turn graded work back in a timely manner, but everyone else reports that you did, you can safely ignore this outlier. This student may have a different definition of “timely manner.” In fact, the student may have even thought that “timely manner” means you turned work back after a lot of time had passed. The only thing you know is that this comment is the polar opposite of what everyone else in your course said. Treat it as the outlier it is.


In anonymous course evaluations, student biases—both implicit and explicit—can affect how students rate their instructors. If you are young, female, or a person of color, you should be particularly cautious in interpreting your evaluations. More so if you are all three.


Students are responsible for their own learning

Just because you say it, does not mean that students will remember it. What is teaching? Teaching is not talking. Teaching is not “covering” content. Teaching is not flipping through presentation slides. Teaching is helping students do the hard work of learning.  

You are using a good textbook. Trust the authors to deliver the content. Your job is to help students with the content they are struggling with. Find out what they are struggling with and focus on that -- you can ask via your course management system before class, use a classroom response system, or just ask them in class (pairs or small group discussions for just a few minutes, then have each group report out).


I tell my students that the textbook is their first source of information. I am there to help the textbook.


It is okay to use your textbook in class


If a student asks a question about core content that you are still fuzzy about yourself, like the difference between positive and negative reinforcement, it is okay to say, "Let's walk through it together." Pull out the book, open to those pages, and put it under your document camera. Modeling the process of thinking through a question is just as valuable as having an answer at the ready. 


It is okay to guess, as long as you say that you are guessing


For something that is outside the book's core content, it is okay to take a guess—as long as you tell students you are guessing. Walk students through your thought process; pull in concepts you have covered before and introduce students to new concepts. And, no, after class you do not have to look up an answer and report back what you found at the next class session. If you want to know, look it up. If you think it will be of wide enough interest, post it to your course management system. 

Even after 30 years in the classroom, students still ask questions I have never heard before. You cannot anticipate them all.


Grading tips


As it may have been hard for your students to get started doing this assignment, it may be just as hard for you to grade them. To help you get started, remove barriers between you and your grading. Get everything out that you need.

Open your course management system to the right place. You may not be ready to grade, but you have set up everything so that when you are, you do not have to do anything except start.


Grade in spurts. Grade five student assignments, stand up and stretch. Grade another five. The last assignment you grade deserves the same attention as the first one.


Use a solid rubric and consider two-tiered grading. In the first round, you grade using just the rubric with minimal comments. Invite students who would like more feedback to ask for it. For those students who do, go back into their assignments, and write more detailed comments.


Finally, take care of yourself


Teaching takes a lot of energy. Sleep. Exercise. Eat well. Have fun.