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4 Connections: Practice Paradox


To practice paradox means to simultaneously provide your students with structure and flexibility. Think of a suspension bridge withstanding high winds - it is purposefully built to provide stability but is also resilient when the need arises. When the weather is good and when the weather is bad, the bridge allows travelers to reach their destinations.

By practicing paradox, we design courses and assignments that are flexible enough to guide all students to successfully meet our learning outcomes. Just as no two bridges will be the same, practicing paradox will look different from instructor to instructor, and maybe even from class to class. Ultimately, the goal is to get our students from point A to point B, rain or shine.

Flexibility does not mean sacrificing rigor. In fact, rigor - or the expectation that all students can meet academic standards - is a key component of a truly inclusive classroom when it is purposeful and transparent. Instead of making a course hard for the sake of being hard, “learning is most rigorous when students are actively learning meaningful content with higher-order thinking at the appropriate level of expectations within a given context” (Draeger et al., 2013).

As instructors, we can empower students to learn and succeed by communicating our high expectations and providing them with the tools and resources to meet them.

Draeger, J., del Prado Hill, P., Hunter, L. R., & Mahler, R. (2013). The anatomy of academic rigor: The story of one institutional journey. Innovative Higher Education, 38(4), 267-279.


Transparent Teaching Methods

Transparent teaching methods help students understand how and why they are learning course content in particular ways. Learn more at 

  • Discuss assignments’ learning goals and design rationale before students begin each assignment
  • Invite students to participate in class planning or agenda construction
  • Gauge students’ understanding during class via peer work on questions that require students to apply concepts you’ve taught
  • Explicitly connect cognitive science data with course activities at the difficult transition points in the semester when students tend to struggle
  • Engage students in applying the grading criteria that you’ll use for their work
  • Debrief graded tests and assignments in class
  • Offer running commentary on class discussions to indicate what modes of thought or disciplinary methods are in use

Co-Creating Community

Working with students to create agreed-upon guidelines for a course and discussing what contributes to and detracts from inclusive learning environments contributes to sense of belonging among students and facilitate students’ ability to engage productively with one another across their differences.

By engaging students in discussions around policies and guidelines, they have the opportunity to think critically about their own learning preferences and motivations. You don’t need to turn your entire syllabus over to your class, but the more say students have in a policy, the more buy-in they’ll have. 

Areas that lend themselves well to co-creation include

  • Discussion guidelines
  • Technology use policies
  • Participation policies
  • Late work policies

Alternative Approaches to Grading

Many students prioritize grades over learning, resulting in undue stress and anxiety. By reconsidering their approaches to grading, instructors can encourage small, steady gains throughout the semester and shift the focus to learning outcomes. Here are some strategies:

  • Portfolio-based grading: Students submit a collection of coursework, designed specifically to show how outcomes have been met, at the end of the quarter. If the portfolio demonstrates their learning well, the instructor adjusts their overall grade to reflect where they emerged in their learning (thus, not penalizing students for struggling early in the learning process).
  • Standards-based grading: SBG directly measures the quality of students’ development towards achieving well-defined course objectives by including direct feedback, effective self-assessment, opportunities for improvement, and a focus on learning.
  • Un-grading: “Ungrading is an umbrella term for any assessment that decenters the action of an instructor assigning a summary grade to student work. While there are many ways to do ungrading, instructors generally provide students with formative rather than summative feedback, which may be combined with student self-evaluation and/or peer feedback, as well as dialogue with the student.”


Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Alternative Approaches to Grading

Flipped Classrooms

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  • Last Updated: Jun 5, 2022 7:52 AM
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