A concern often raised by instructors, especially in advanced courses, is the low level of their students in such seemingly basic academic skills as notetaking, reading comprehension, writing and presenting. Indeed, although students are expected, at least by their second or third year, to have mastered most of these skills, that is often not the case, whether for lack of proper training or simply for need of further practice. In what follows, I offer ways in which each of you, at a minimal cost to your time and effort, can do something to help your students develop their skills in every one of your courses.

1) Share! – Every one of you, by virtue of your experience and achievements, has over time amassed a set of practices that proved less and more effective. Offering your input on best practices will thus be insightful for students, whose views and experiences are much more limited:
- In the course of the semester/year, whenever entering new territory, so to speak, devote a few minutes of class to tell students about your own experiences – how you dealt with content and assignments. This adds a personal touch, which is much more effective than pure instruction.
- Based on these experiences, be specific about what you consider are the best ways to engage with the course format and materials: when and how should they take notes; how should they organize their time; what are the effective ways to study for quizzes and exams, etc.
- If possible, provide examples. These may be your own or those of former students, and examples are also available online.

2) Provide detailed instructions – While you may know exactly what you expect in terms of student engagement and production, the students often do not. They likely have a small reservoir of techniques from previous instruction and courses, but these may not align with your own:
- When assigning pre-class material, specify what it means. Reading, for example, may mean simply going over the words from beginning to end, or it may require memorizing some details, making comments, preparing questions or criticizing.
- If one of the above is relevant, offer best practices on how to scan a text, for example, or how to summarize basic information while reading. Offer students ways to deal with difficult or unclear parts of the text/material, in line with the previous notes on best practices.
- When assigning a paper, be specific about what it should include, how it should best be structured and what conventions it should adhere to. It is also important to offer a grade breakdown: what is being evaluated and how significant each aspect of the evaluation is. For example, what is the percentage for originality, coherence, research, etc., or how much weight, say, the introduction and conclusion carry. Consider working with rubrics, which is especially useful when working with teaching assistants.
- Once more, offer examples. These may be previous assignments and/or exams, or a simulation done along with the students in class. Make sure to review the examples in class, and that the students know what to focus on in each one.

3) Scaffold learning – In your mind, materials and requirements are neatly organized. You know what the whole is like. For students, details are often superimposed and scattered. When instruction or assignments are a mixture of numerous ideas, demands and practices, students tend to get lost in the fray. One way around it is gradual development:
- Offer low stake tasks throughout the course, leading to the main one. If students are expected to write a paper, have them practice writing. If they are expected to take an exam, have them take short quizzes. These may be ungraded or work on a pass/fail bases. Rewrites and redoes are also very useful to learn from mistakes.
- Make sure that the types of writing or answers in the low-stake, practice tasks are similar to those that the students will encounter in the high-stake
assignments and exams. If, for example, students are expected to write a research paper, they should write shorter papers or separate paragraphs and receive timely feedback, before tackling the larger paper. If students are expected to solve problems or produce code, they should be able to do so throughout the course. 
- The low-stakes assignments should be arranged in increasing difficulty and based on the material covered. If writing a paper or solving a problem has several elements or parts, these should be practiced in turn.

4) Scaffold assessment – like practice, assessment should likewise be gradual and focused. If students only know if they are right or wrong, they may not know what to work on for the next quiz or exam. If they receive a paper full of comments, they are likely to be overwhelmed, not knowing where to begin or which is more urgent:
- In line with the previous notes on best practices and detailed instruction, evaluation should also be focused, especially in the smaller assignments and quizzes.
- Either design each task to focus on a specific skill, or offer markings and comments that indicate to the student what, specifically in this task, needs improvement. For example, textual analysis may require several skills, but commentary and evaluation for that particular assignment could focus on, say, how to use evidence or how to provide an analytic introduction.
- The above does not imply that a seriously flawed product or answer is be graded based solely on one criterion, but that the chosen criterion for practice and evaluation receives a fair share of the grade and be the main focus of your comments to the student(s).
- Once again, examples, examples, examples!

5) Work in progress – one effective way of combining many of the above without drowning in a sea of grading and evaluation, while offering students focused advice, practice and evaluation, is to base the course around a single project, and have students add to it and revise it in line with the course material:
- Have students begin a project, either written or technical. They may choose when an interesting idea comes along (as long as it is early in the course) or they may have a list of topics to chose from.
- Whenever a new set of ideas, practices or materials are introduced, have the students integrate those into their paper or project. They may write a tentative introduction first, adding paragraphs as new ideas and useful materials are introduced. They may produce an outline, filling it in as they learn to read, think, research and provide evidence. They may write each part separately. For example, write a summary of previous research, then later work on their own claims, then later organize their ideas, then adding an introduction and a conclusion – of course, as each of these skills are explained, exemplified and practiced.
- Evaluation may then be limited to once or twice in the semester, to office hours, or to peer reviews, whereby students read each other’s work and comment based on the task and skill at hand. It may not be as precise as your own comments, but it reduces the obvious burden that so much work may create in addition to course content.
The above suggestions are, of course, open to as many additions and adjustments as there are disciplines, courses and staff members. But, hopefully, these suggestions offer a set of principles broad enough to allow each of you, if you so choose, to improve your students’ skillset and to align your expectations with their results.