The Work Matters

A Guide for New Faculty Teaching at City Tech


Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning (Ambrose et al., 2010)

Practice is any activity in which a student engages actively with knowledge and skills, and the organization and use (for example, creating an argument, solving a problem, writing a paper, building a circuit board, making a dessert). The practice opportunity is scaffolded to “refine a repeated set of skills” (Ambrose et al., 2010, p. 126, quoting Ericksson et al.). Deliberate practice more specifically can be defined as working toward a reasonable yet challenging goal.

The instructor creates practice opportunities as frequently as possible and provides feedback for each assignment. Learning accumulates gradually, over time, so multiple assignments of shorter length or smaller scope result in more learning than a single assignment (Ambrose et al., 2010, p. 146). This provides opportunities for the instructor to be more creative in the variety and number of shorter assignments.

Practice involves activity that is deliberate, focused toward a goal, and is repeated with more challenging components (Ambrose et al., 2010).

Deliberate: The amount of time someone spends in deliberate practice is what predicts continued learning in a given field, rather than time spent in more generic practice (Ericsson et al., 1993). Deliberate practice means working toward specific intermediate goals.
Examples: repeating practice on a musical passage, correcting grammatical errors, solving mathematical problems, remaking a dessert, reconfiguring a circuit board.

Focused toward a goal: The learner engages in demanding practice activities, continually mentoring her or his performance toward a particular goal. One can “monitor (and hence adjust) one’s progress toward that goal along the way” (Ambrose et al., 2010, p. 128).

Repeated with more challenging components: Once the goal is achieved, the student sets a new goal and strives for it, creating a continuous cycle of improvement.

Explicitly discuss your goals in your course materials: Articulate goals clearly in the course syllabus and with each specific assignment:

  • What should students be able to do at the end of an assignment and by the end of the course? (Ambrose et al., 2010, p. 145)

Create practice opportunities: Assigning smaller, weekly assignments that first provide opportunities for mastery on components of a larger project, then are integrated into a larger project, will support students’ learning of the course material, as well as providing strategies for effective learning. Such strategies include those noted in the prior knowledge exercises. Each class session can include a few minutes of practice, by asking for feedback at various levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, using questions from prompts.

Use a rubric to specify and communicate performance: “A common approach to communicating performance criteria is through a rubric, a scoring tool that explicitly represents the performance expectations for a given assignment. A rubric divides the assigned work into component parts and provides clear descriptions of the characteristics of high, medium, and low-quality work associated with each component” (Ambrose et al., 2010, p. 146).

Tip: Explain Goals for Performance*

Strategy: Providing explicit goals and criteria for performance

Objective: Prevent students from misinterpreting criteria or misunderstanding goals in what they need to do and learn


  • Provide concrete or directive instructions:
    • Recognize when a key concept is at issue
    • Explain the key concept to solve problems or understand a process
    • Explain the key concept to a particular audience
  • Create a rubric and share it with students.
    • Include the levels of the quality of work produced and
    • Extend students’ knowledge of the qualities associated with good work

Technique benefits:

  • Students gain understanding of the exercise or activity as knowledge acquired and skill practiced. The performance goals are defined in terms of challenges for students to do
  • Explanation of performance goals can lead to discussion of challenges that are normal, including understanding misconceptions
  • Students’ understanding of performance goals leads to more concrete specifications that students can more easily interpret correctly
  • Clearly specified performance criteria can help direct students’ practice and ultimately their learning (p. 129)


  • Students’ performance can be monitored and measured (by instructors as well as students themselves), which enables the provision of feedback to help students refine their performance or learning (p. 129).

* Based on strategies suggested by Ambrose et al., 2010

Tip: Develop a Rubric

Strategy: Students develop a rubric for an assignment. After the instructor has presented a rubric for at least one assignment, students can develop a rubric for a subsequent assignment.

Objective: Develop understanding of gradations of performance and standards of judgment

Process: For a given assignment, students work in groups of four, in class

  • Rows: Determine the major categories for the rubric
  • Columns: Determine the performance criteria headings

Each group then shares their draft with other groups (round robin) until all drafts have been reviewed and comments incorporated and agreed to

  • Discussion about inclusion of categories and performance criteria is open
  • A final version is agreed to
  • Comments by students who disagree with particular points are noted, and discussed again after the “Testing” step
  • Testing of rubric:
    • Students grade their next assignment using the rubric
    • Return assignment to instructor with the rubric and comments on issues they encountered with the rubric and comments on what they can do to improve the assignment.

Dreyfuss, A.E., Jordan, J., Rajaram, K., Caka, M. (2014). (2nd Ed.). The work matters:
A guide for new faculty teaching at City Tech. New York City College of Technology, CUNY.
Online at

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The Work Matters: A guide for new faculty teaching at City Tech. New York City College of Technology, CUNY by A.E. Dreyfuss is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.