Decoding Racist Language in Technical Writing

Yesterday’s Marketplace broadcast included a story that demonstrates the power of racist coding in less than 2.5 minutes. “Can changing home appraisal language help close the wealth gap?” examines how the word choice in home appraisals, which are essentially technical descriptions, communicates who lives in a neighborhood and impacts the value assigned to homes.

After listening to this story, technical writing students can look for similar coded language in other documents:

  • How are workplace locations described in job ads?
  • How are possible building sites described in proposals?
  • What descriptive words and phrases are used in incident reports?

These conversations can move beyond the language used to describe places to many other kinds of technical writing as well:

  • What coded language do you find in job ads? How is the kind of person wanted for the position described?
  • How are potential contractors described in RFPs and applicant analysis?
  • Is coded language used in dress codes or social media guidelines?
  • Does coded language appear in employee evaluation documents?
  • How are the words professional and professionalism used to communication information about race?

Listen to the story below or on the Marketplace website:

Making Outlines Work in Tech Writing

Beginning of an outline for a technical reportI am not a fan of outlines. I never could figure out how someone was supposed to know all the bits of their document before they wrote it. Sure you can make a working sketch of what you want to cover, but all that I. A. ii. a. stuff? How about no?

Since I have bad feelings about outlines, I didn’t ask students to do more than a jotted plan for the sections of their work. For shorter documents, I didn’t even ask for that. That all is, until recently. My experiences during spring semester and the summer term have changed my thinking. When I added a formal outline assignment to the technical recommendation report project, students were more likely to include all the required elements in their drafts.

Previously, students left sections out, combined sections, and added sections that didn’t fit the project. No matter how many times I suggested that they look at the sections in the textbook and examine the structure of the sample reports, I failed. I couldn’t consistently persuade students to use the structure appropriate for the genre.

Frustrated with the challenge, I tried explaining how I would approach such a project, providing step-by-step instructions for how to create an outline that would ensure structure of the project included all the required elements.

Whenever I am working on something with a specific structure, from a conference proposal to a formal report, I copy the required structure (or type it if it’s not something I can copy), and paste the information into my draft. Frequently, I copy any instructions, notes, or tips as well. As an example, If I were writing a proposal for the Call for Proposals: 2021 CPTSC Research Grants to Promote Anti-racist Programs and Pedagogies, I would copy everything in the “Organization of the Proposal” section, paste it into my draft, and then convert it to a formal draft with notes. The resulting outline would look something like this:

  1. Cover sheet
     Include applicant name(s), institutional affiliations, contact information for the project leader, and project abstract of no more than 200 words (this page does not count as part of the length requirements). After this cover sheet, please do not include any information that references your name or institution, so that entries can be peer reviewed without mention of names or specific institutions.
  2. Problem Statement
     Explain the problem or question that the research project is attempting to solve.
  3. Background
     Describe the significance of this question or problem by situating the proposed project in the context of current and previous program-based work in the field, drawing on field literature.
  4. Methodology
     Outline the proposed method(s) and methodology  
  5. Timeline
     Include an annotated project timeline that notes the various major research activities/tasks associated with the project, including IRB approval if necessary. (For applicable research, funding will not be released until an IRB approval or exemption has been obtained and submitted to the grants coordinator.)
  6. Budget:  Include an itemized project budget. Funds may be used for research expenses only, including materials, research assistants, travel to collect or analyze data, software, etc. Funds may not be used for salary, release time, or conference travel. Institutional overhead and indirect costs are not allowed. Proposals with matching or in-kind contributions are strongly encouraged.
  7. Statement
     Include a statement that the researcher(s) understand and are willing to adhere to the requirements of the grant recipient.

The assignment I set up has students Outline Their Recommendation Reports using the same basic strategy. The assignment asks them to customize the information to their report topics, with this instruction: “Revise the basic information you have copied to make it specific to your report. Just copying over the basic outline is not enough. You need to add details that demonstrate your plans for the report.”

The results of the assignment have been fantastic. Students who completed the outline activity went on to include the required sections and in the expected order. Other activities in the unit reinforced the structure of the reports. The outline assignment does not deserve full credit, but it certainly made a good start!

Midterm Course Progress Report Assignment

Large white poster on a bulletin board with the message: Don't stress about midterms...Just study until you're too tired to feel emotion...It feels like just yesterday I was setting up my course for the summer session–and now, suddenly, midterm is upon us as we begin the third week of this six-week course. By the end of the week, students will turn in a course progress report that reflects on their accomplishments. I’m using a new ungrading approach this term (more on that in a future post), so I need to revise my progress report assignment.

I used a similar progress report assignment in previous courses, requiring students to describe their work on a research report in a memo. In those courses, students typically struggled with accomplishing the goals of the progress report assignment. I provided examples, textbook explanations, and advice from journals and blogs. Among the difficulties students faced, a majority struggled with the requirements of memo format and document design. Over several semesters, I tried providing more support, even designing a  Memo Format Self-Review activity to help them get the format right. But they still struggled. I wanted to find supporting resources that worked.

The Midterm Course Progress Report Assignment I came up with for this term asks students to “Complete a progress report memo form that reports on what you have accomplished so far in the course and proposes the tentative grade you should receive for your work in the course up to midterm.” It goes on to urge students to “Use details and examples from your work logs and writing activities to support your argument.” The instructions for the assignment begin by having students gather evidence of their work in the course:

Review your work logs and gather your data. You are conducting primary research on your accomplishments in the course so far. You should find much of what you need in your Weekly Work Log. Consider these questions:

  • What work have you completed so far in the course?
  • If you have taken additional time on any assignments during the first half of the term, have you caught up? Are there still tasks that you need to complete?
  • Which document demonstrates your highest quality work so far? Why?
  • What work demonstrates that you have invested your best effort so far?
  • How have you supported classmates in your Feedback Discussions?

The rest of the assignment is probably what you would expect. It asks students to write a memo that describes and evaluates the work they have completed, proposes a tentative grade for their work so far, and outline the goals they have set for the remainder of the course. What the assignment still didn’t do however was provide a better strategy to help students with memo format and document design, the two areas I know they struggled with in the past.

I turned to the book I’m reading, James Lang’s Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning (Jossey-Bass, 2016). Lang examines small, research-based changes teachers can make to increase student learning. As I worked on the progress report, I decided to try some of Lang’s suggestions. The assignment already incorporated interleaving, the subject of Lang’s third chapter. Interleaving folds knowledge from previous course work into the current unit. As Lang explains, interleaving “involves two related activities that promote high levels of long-term retention: (a) spacing out learning sessions over time; and (b) mixing up your practice of skills you are seeking to develop” (p. 65). The progress report asked students to use the research skills from the second week to conduct primary research on their own work logs, spacing out and practicing the skills during the third week.

While it reinforced the skills from the previous week, the progress report assignment wasn’t doing any of the connecting work that Lang examines in his fourth chapter. Lang relies on an analogy to small, disconnected islands (borrowed from George Orwell) to describe the connecting challenges that students face: They have isolated bits of knowledge and must work to find and create connections among the information and skills. They need to build bridges and shipping routes among all those disconnected islands.

The expectations for my progress report assignments during previous semesters asked students to bring all their skills to bear on a single document. They had to determine the information to report, organize it in ways that work for the audience and purpose, use document design strategies to add headings and lists, and do it all while following the requirements of the memo genre. It’s no wonder students struggled to get it all right in a single project. They had all those skills to navigate and no pathways built among them.

To help students build the connections they needed, I adapted Lang’s model of providing a framework. In Lang’s use, the teacher provides a partial outline, or framework, for the material to be covered, and students build connections as they take notes, filling in that framework. My technical writing students aren’t taking notes on content however. Their job is to apply the different skills as they produce content. I created a framework, a Progress Report Form, that students fill in with the evidence they have gathered. The accompanying Form Instructions outline the information to provide in each section of the framework.

To ensure that they are more successful with memo format and document design, the Report Form includes standard memo headings. Students don’t have to worry about setting the memo correctly; they only have to provide the specific content in the provided framework. Likewise, the body of the memo in the form has ready-made headings for the information students need to provide. The primary document organization is already there. Students only need to organize the information that they include under each heading. Finally, the framework gives them a head start on document design too with headings in a larger, maroon font and the space for the information students will add in the normal, black font. Later in the term, I’ll have students write memos without the supporting template as well as to apply their own document design strategies.

I’ll find out at the end of the week if this new framework provides students with the support they need. If it works, maybe they can avoid that midterm panic that inspires posters like the one in the image above. I’ll let you know when I review their work.




Photo Credit: Midterm Advice by Eric E. Castro on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Rethinking the Structure of My Online Assignments

Maroon front cover of the book Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online ClassesFull of specific and practical suggestions, Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes (Jossey-Bass, 2019), by Flower Darby with James M. Lang, is a book I wish I had had when I first started teaching online. I’ve read the book twice, once when I bought it in Fall 2019 and again in January of this year as part of a book club I was participating in.

Early in the book, Darby urges readers to “Create assignment instructions that provide a clear rationale for the work your students will do, as well as clear directions for how they can accomplish it successfully” (p. 15). This advice holds for any teaching format: online, face-to-face, hybrid, flipped, hyflex–any of these teaching situations will benefit from clearly articulated directions and rationale.

When I read the book again this year, I rethought my assignment structure, based on Darby’s example. In the book, Darby describes the template she has designed for her assignments, using these three headings:

  • Here’s what I want you to do: I explain the task.
  • Here’s why I want you to do it: I explain the reason this task will contribute to the student’s success in class and beyond.
  • Here’s how to do it: I provide detailed instructions, rubrics, checklists, and exemplars to help students clearly see and understand my expectations. (p. 17)

I liked the directness of Darby’s headings, though I tweaked them a bit. After a bit of experimentation this Spring Semester, I have settled on these headings:

  • Goals: a list of the course objectives addressed in the assignment. (required in our program)
  • What I Want You to Do: a brief summary of the activity and its relationship to the rest of the course activities
  • Why I Want You to Do It: the reason I have designed the assignment and how it connects to larger course goals.
  • Where You Can Find Help: a list of references to the course textbook, and links to course webpages and other resources.
  • When to Do It: Relevant due dates and how they fit into the larger course schedule
  • How to Do It: the step-by-step instructions for the assignment.
  • How to Assess and Track Your Work: the assignment criteria, and details on feedback and revision.

Three of the headings correspond to Darby’s. I added Where You Can Find Help to make the resources in the textbook and other course materials easier to find. Previously, I added these materials in the step-by-step instructions, but students had to read through those instructions to find them. The change pulls those references out into a more visible location.

Our LMS (Canvas) adds details on the due dates and deadlines at the end of every assignment, but they are simple dates with no explanation. I added the When to Do It section so that I could explain the specifics of the suggested due date, the grace period, and the last day the work is accepted. All that information is in the LMS notation, but students have to understand the jargon that the system uses. I prefer to explain in plain English to avoid any confusion.

Finally, I added the section on How to Assess and Track Your Work, to provide links to activity checklists as well as peer review guidelines and assignments. Since I use an #ungrading approach, students need reminders on how the system works and what they need to do to track the work that they put into the course.

I know that is a lot of sections to develop for each writing assignment and class activity, but I hope it will guide students to the information that they need quickly. Now I just have to convert all my assignments so that they consistently use this structure before the Summer I Session starts on May 24!


White Paper Assignment Series

Black person typing on a laptop, at a wooden table with notebooks, coffee cup, and phoneI just updated a series of assignments related to writing a white paper, in response to a colleague’s request. The series includes a series of four assignments, which are listed and linked at the bottom of the Overview page. Students also wrote a short, informal progress report, which is not included.

Students worked through all of the assignments with few major challenges when I taught this series. The assignments connected relatively well, but the projects had the typical issues I see when assignments are not as authentic as possible. Specifically, the imaginary companies students created were not always an exact match for the projects. When I teach this series again, I will pay more attention to the Info Sheet assignment and ask students to change companies if they do not fit the expectations.

Another challenge, students were required to make up information for some of the writing projects. In more authentic writing scenarios, all the details would be established and known. If you choose to use this series, I encourage you to make the activities more authentic.

Photo credit: pxfuel, used under public domain

Do You Know Where To Find The Answers?

Students are accustomed to the campus classroom, where the teacher is available regularly to remind them how to find the resources that they need to complete activities in a course.

Instructure’s Trenton Goble suggests the five questions on this infographic “as the foundation for improving communication processes–wherever and however learning happens.” Goble is addressing K—12 teachers, so I adapted the purpose of the questions to address the needs of college students.

Every teacher uses Canvas differently. My answers to these five questions tell students how I use Canvas tools in my course.

Infographic: Do You Know Where To Find the Answers?
Click image for larger version.

You can use the infographic as is, if it fits the needs of your course. It’s shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial Share-Alike 4.0 International License.

If you need to tweak the infographic to work for your course, visit the template on Canva (a drag-and-drop web-based design tool). You will need to create a free Canva login to customize the image.

If you do use the infographic, remember to also provide a transcript for students who cannot view the image. I handle this transcript by repeating the text beside the image itself, as you can see on this page from my current Technical Writing course.

This text version of the infographic gives you another option for sharing these ideas with the students you teach. You can also skip the infographic altogether, copy and customize the text from the transcript (linked above), and publish the resulting version as an Announcement in Canvas.

Infographic ceated on Transcript at Images from The Noun Project Pro. Inspired by Trenton Goble’s “Fundamental Five: A Framework for Improving Communication Processes.” Content text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial Share-Alike 4.0 International License.

This post originally published on the Teaching Online 911 blog.

How to Restore Deleted Files in Canvas

My favorite hidden feature in Canvas is the ability to restore files and other resources that you have deleted.


  • Warning IconThe tool is not 100% effective, so be cautious when you remove information from your course.
  • The tool only restores your content. Any related student submissions or responses may not be restored.

Use these instructions to restore items in your course:

  • Navigate to the Home page of the course where the file previously existed.
  • Click in the address bar in your browser after the course number:
    Link in Browser Address Bar
  • Remove any other information in the address bar.
  • Type /undelete after the course number in the address bar:
    Browser Address Bar with /undelete Added
  • Press Enter, and the browser will load a page with files and other resources that have been deleted from the course:
    Restore Deleted Items Page
  • Find the item in the list that you want to restore.
  • Click the Restore button next to the item you want to restore:
    Restore button on Restore Deleted Items page
  • Click the OK button, and the item will be restored:
    Confirmation Dialog on Restore Items Page with OK button

This post originally published on the Teaching Online 911 blog.

Weekly Work Logs

Background and Goals

To support the anti-racist assessment system in my course, I am using Weekly Work Logs, where students track the work that they have done. The idea for these logs as they are used in anti-racist assessment comes from Asao Inoue’s explanations of contract grading and anti-racist assessment. Inoue (2014) calls these logs labor journals, describing them as

weekly journals that document time spent on activities, and the level of intensity of that work. Each journal entry may: (1)document how much time was spent on an assignment; (2) describe the intensity of the work; or (3) reflect upon the writing produced by that session’s time and intensity, connecting the labor to the expectations identified on the writer’s rubric. (p. 81)

My logs work similarly, asking students to track the time, intensity, and kind of work. They also include a description and reflection for each task they complete.

I have used various digital tools for these logs include spreadsheets that track the entire term and word processor documents that students create for each week of the term. This summer in my Technical Writing course, I am trying the Class Notebook feature in OneNote.

The student notebooks in OneNote’s Class Notebook appear to provide the benefits of both word processor documents and spreadsheets. Each week students complete a separate page in their student notebooks, similar to a separate word processor document. Because these pages are all collected in a single notebook, they function like a spreadsheet by allowing me to look back to previous entries to see how their work strategies are evolving in the course.

General How-To

The general instructions that I gave students ask them to go to the notebook in OneNote and then record the work that they have done for the week:

  • Track and reflect on the work you have done for the week.
    • Add specific details for all the work you have done this week. 
    • Add summary comments and reflections once the week is over and all your work is recorded.

Elsewhere in the course documents, I explain the ways that students will use the logs in the course. Specifically, students will use their entries to complete weekly self-assessments where they claim the points that they have earned for the week. At the end of the term, students will use the Weekly Work Log entries to write an overall performance review that summarizes and reflects on the work that they have done throughout the term.

Student Instructions for Log Entries

These are the instructions that I have included in OneNote for students:

Instructions, Start Here

This information explains how to fill out your log entries each week. You will log your work, noting what you do, how long you work, and how hard you worked.

Submitting your weekly labor log does two things:

  • It allows you to keep track of your progress in the class, making sure you are up-to-date on your work.
  • It allows me to learn what is working well for you and where you may need more support.

At the end of the term, you can use your logs to write a performance review (your final exam) that explains what you have accomplished overall and provides a self-evaluation of your work in the course.

Log of Your Weekly Work

You are graded on the work you do, so this log is critical to doing well because it tells me what work you do each week. I look for strong details and reflections on the various tasks you complete each week. 

For all the work that you complete, add a line to your log with specific information about the work that you did. The log pages for each week include the headings shown below:


Time Spent


Kind of Work (Reading, Writing, Feedback, Tracking, Other)

Description & Reflection






Under each of these headings, I expect to find the following information:

  • Date:  Just the numbers will work (e.g., 07/08)
  • Time Spent: Estimate the number of minutes or hours. Don’t stress about precision. A range will work here (e.g., 5–10 mins.)
  • Intensity: Use a word or two to explain how hard you worked. You can plan the words you will use so you can be consistent.
  • Kind of Work: Indicate the category that your work falls under, using the descriptions in the “Kinds of Work in the Course” section below.
  • Description & Reflection: Explain exactly what you did and why you did it. Use clear and specific details that show me the work that you put in. Here’s an example:
    • DON’T: Wrote my self-introduction.
      That is probably accurate, but it doesn’t show the work that went into what you did.
    • DO: Jotted out the details I wanted to cover. Rearranged the details into an informal outline. Wrote a rough draft in Piazza. Reread the draft, and added a few details. Double-checked spelling and grammar, and then posted my work.

Note that you can also break those tasks out info separate lines in your log. In other words, “Jotted out the details I wanted to cover. Rearranged the details into an informal outline.” could be one entry in the log, and you might add a reflection comment on why you adopted this strategy

Summary Comments & Reflections on the Week

At the end of the week, review all of the entries that you have recorded, and write a summary that synthesizes the work you have done during the week. Once you have your summary written, reflect on what you have accomplished. You can consider questions like these to get started:

  • What went well this week and why?
  • Conversely, what challenges did you encounter and why? How did you overcome them?
  • What can you apply from this week in the future?
  • What will you try differently next week and why?
  • What questions do you have about your work this week?

You don’t need to answer every question in your reflection. Just put in your best effort and answer the questions that make sense for this week.

Kinds of Work in the Course

Use these details on the different kinds of work in the class to categorize the work you do under the “Kind of Work” column in your log.


The reading work in this course is much like that in any other course you take. Examples of the things you will read in this course include the following: 

  • Information in this Course Manual
  • Chapters and specific sections in the course textbook
  • Announcements and pages in the Canvas site for our course
  • Drafts of your projects
  • Feedback Discussions posts in Piazza


The writing work in this course relates to both the projects and class activities that you work on and to the class communication and general class discussions. Examples of the writing you will do in the projects for this course include the following:

  • Gathering ideas on a possible topic by freewriting, brainstorming, or listing
  • Taking research notes
  • Completing audience analysis
  • Outlining a project
  • Drafting your ideas
  • Revising your project
  • Editing and proofreading your project

Giving, Discussing, and Responding to Feedback

The feedback work in this course consists of the feedback that you receive and the feedback that you give to others. Examples of feedback activities include the following:

  • Posting questions about a passage from your draft
  • Asking questions about a passage from someone else’s draft
  • Discussing feedback you receive by replying with questions or ideas
  • Responding to feedback you receive by rethinking a section of your draft

Tracking & Reflecting

The tracking and reflecting work in this course focuses on the process of recording the various kinds of work that you do in your Weekly Work Log and your Weekly Self-Assessments.  Examples of the tracking and reflecting you will do include the following:

  • Logging the different kinds of work that you do in the course
  • Summarizing your accomplishments for the week
  • Reflecting on which tasks went well and which were more challenging
  • Forecasting the tasks you will work on in the future and how you will do them

Read More

If you are interested in learning more about anti-racist assessment and how this kind of weekly log works, check out Asao Inoue’s Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity And Inclusion In The Compassionate Writing Classroom (2019), which you can download for free from the WAC Clearinghouse.


Inoue, Asao B. (2014). A Grade-Less Writing Course That Focuses on Labor and Assessing. In D. Coxwell-Teague & R. F. Lunsford (Eds.), First-Year Composition: From Theory to Practice (pp. 71–110). Parlor Press.


Making Memes to Protest Racism

Artist Daniel Rarela created a series of memes that juxtapose quotations from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s text with images of King from the time period and with contemporary images. Rarela’s goal, as explained in a January 2017 News.Mic article, “Artist creates ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ memes to stop people from whitewashing MLK.”

Rarela noticed people who had not protested the murder of black people by police, but who later spoke up about the death of police officers after a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, Texas. As these folks posted social media updates that invoked the words of Dr. King “without talking about the racial and economic justice he championed.” Rarela found their “selective compassion” troubling and designed his memes in response.

The memes that Rarela designed are no longer available in the News.Mic article nor on Twitter. Many have been archived by Caroline Yezer on ThreadReaderApp (also in this PDF). Among these archived memes is an image San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick overlaid with King’s statements. The meme pairs an image of Kaepernick, kneeling during the National Anthem as a protest against racism, with King’s comments on the purpose of direct action. Together, the words and image communicate a powerful message about Kaepernick’s direct action, about the on-going battle against racism in America, and about the timeless relevance of King’s words:

Rarela's Meme of Colin Kaepernick with MLK Jr quotation on direct action

Transcript of the Tweet and Meme

Memes as Models for Student Compositions

In the classroom, discuss the message Rarela’s memes communicate and the visual argument strategies he uses in his design. See Visual Argument Analysis from Colorado State University for questions you can use in analysis of the visual strategies.

After discussing Rarela’s designs, students can create their own memes, pairing images from current #BlackLivesMatter protests with relevant quotations from Dr. King and other civil rights leaders. Students can also use literary quotations from black authors, historians, journalists, and activists to illustrate or comment on the images.

As another option, students can use quotations from other texts that comment in some way on the actions in the image. Compare Rarela’s images to the meme below, showing President Donald Trump in front of St. John’s on June 1. Use the NPR article “‘He Did Not Pray’: Fallout Grows From Trump’s Photo-Op At St. John’s Church” for background information on the image, if necessary. In this meme, the overlaid text comments ironically on the image, using a biblical quotation to comment ironically on the image of Trump holding a bible in front of a church.

Meme showing President Donald Trump in front of St. John’s Church

Transcript of the Meme

Tools for Meme-Making

Students can use a free online tool like Canva or PicMonkey to edit their images. Spend some time in class demonstrating how to work with text and images in the software students will use. Show students how to find online help for the tools they use.

In particular, students need to understand how to create contrast between the image and the text that they add in the image editor. Rarela uses the stark contrast of the red background with white lettering to ensure Dr. King’s text stands out. As a class, you can explore other ways to highlight the text.

Original Example Following Rarela’s Design

To demonstrate the idea, I created a meme, matching comments from Coretta Scott King with a political protest photo. The NPR story “Activist Climbs Flagpole At S.C. Statehouse, Removes Confederate Banner” provides background information on the protest, which occurred after the shooting of nine members of a black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The image pairs a photo of Bree Newsome removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse in 2015 with a comment Coretta Scott King made on the Confederate flag.

Meme showing Bree Newsome removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse in 2015 with a quotation from Coretta Scott King

Transcript of the Meme


This post updates and revises “Making Memes to Illustrate Readings,” published in January 2017 on Bedford Bits in the Macmillan Community.

Preparing to Explore Racism

Multiculturalism by Pug50 on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 licenseBefore discussing racism, we must prepare students to ensure the classroom offers an inclusive and safe environment to explore these issues. We have to be prepared to guide students through fair but honest discussions in ways that avoid emotional or highly charged confrontations.

Fortunately, there are many resources available to help teachers prepare with these classroom discussions. The following resources suggest practical strategies you can use to guide these student conversations:

These resources emphasize the significance of ensuring that students are prepared for the conversations. Though we may wish to, we cannot force students to accept and support any particular viewpoint. We cannot require an ideology, but we can ask questions and encourage analysis that persuades students to consider the issues more clearly.

To prepare students for these conversations, create classroom discussion guidelines and practice following them in less contentious conversations before moving to more difficult subjects. Alternately, you can use the  Guidelines for Discussing Incidents of Hate, Bias, and Discrimination, from the University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. You cannot guess everything that can go wrong, but you can have classroom management strategies in place that will help you defuse problems before they spiral out of control. Additionally, choose activities that ask students to consider the factual aspects the issue they are exploring, but not to judge the facts or their presentation as good or bad.

Not only must students be prepared, but you must be prepared yourself. If you feel uncomfortable guiding these class discussions consult the articles How Should I Talk about Race in My Mostly White Classroom? from the Anti-Defamation League, and Know How to Talk about Race, from the Teaching Tolerance website. Both provide information that will help you build confidence about how to talk about race and racism in the classroom.

As you prepare, also read the AAUP article “Eight Actions to Reduce Racism in College Classrooms,” from the November–December 2016 Academe. The article provides a candid outline of typical ways that racism appears in higher ed and offers concrete suggestions for self-examination of teachers’ own attitudes and actions. It urges readers to “recognize your implicit biases and remediate your racial illiteracy,” to “meaningfully integrate diverse cultures and peoples into the curriculum,” and to “responsibly address racial tensions when they arise”—excellent suggestions all. These recommendations are supported by climate studies the authors conducted at the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania.


This post updates and revises “Preparing to Explore Racism and Racist Events in the Classroom,” published in August 2017 on Bedford Bits in the Macmillan Community.

Photo credit: Multiculturalism by Pug50 on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.