Category Archives: Preparing to Teach

New Year’s Resolution: Do they make a difference?

It is time to wish everyone a Happy New Year! As we go through the transition of one year to the next, many people think about New Year’s Resolutions. Do they make a difference? If so, what is the best way to assure a New Year’s Resolution be fruitful?

Approximately 40 – 45% of people establish goals for themselves at the start of the New Year. The most common goals deal with health related issues like healthy eating, physical activity, or limiting unhealthy behaviors like smoking. The next common class of New Year’s resolutions are money related issues … like increasing savings or cutting down on spending or debt. However, a New Year’s Resolution can be on any topic, and there is good reason to believe making resolutions can help a person achieve a goal.

Norcross and others, have studied how people change their behavior, including the role of New Year’s Resolutions. In one study, they spoke with people at the start of the New Year and asked them about changes they hoped to see in the next year. Most people were able to express a personal hope for the following year. However, some of those people actively decided to make a New Year’s Resolution and some did not. After 6 months, the researchers followed up with each group and found that 4% non-resolvers were successfully working towards their desired goal whereas 46% of the resolvers were still actively striving to achieve their stated goal. Thus, making a New Year’s Resolution seems to increase behaviors associated with reaching personal goals.

What besides making a resolution increases goal achievement? Koestner found that self-regulatory strength is associated with goal achievement. Specifically, when a person has a sense that the goal they have established was done so for their own benefit and not as a result of pressure from others, they are more likely to implement a plan to reach that goal.

Now, what does a good implementation plan look like? I return to the tried and true research on expertise by Erikson.

  • Clearly state what we are interesting in achieving.

Remember, this has to be something you want … not something you are doing to appease someone else.

  • Specify a plan of how to achieve it.

You have to have a plan. That plan should include: Who, What, Where, When, and How.

  • Make sure the goal is attainable, yet causes us to stretch.

Select a goal and a plan that will fit with your life the way it really is, not the life you wish you had!

  • Establish a way of assessing our progress toward the goal.

Yes, you have to measure your success, which means you have to have a plan to measure your success. Again, sometimes the best way to do this is to seek out recommendations from experts. Often, though, you will have a clear cut goal that will have a clear cut measure associated with it.

  • Use the information from assessment to making changes to the plan.

Don’t just make measures, if you find the plan isn’t working, make changes based on these measures.

  • Deliberately Practice and revise along the way.

Deliberate practice is very targeted practice designed to help us get better. According to Erikson, deliberate practice individuals focus on developing areas of weakness. When faced with challenges or down right failures, people who have adopted a deliberate practice seem to have a laser focus on the area of weakness, and make targeted effort to bring about improvement. Duckworth and others have termed this behavior, Grit, that is the persistence and passion possessed by an individual directed at reaching a long term goal. Grit enables us to maintain interest and drive despite lack of progress, presence of obstacles and even complete and utter failures.

So, making a New Year’s Resolution can make a difference, but only if your personal goal is one that you want for you. Then, create a plan and be gritty as you deliberately practice toward your goal.

Here is hoping you and your family have a Happy, Healthy, and Grit-filled New Year!


Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087–1101.

Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1997). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363-406.

Koestner. (2008). Reaching one’s personal goals: A motivational perspective focused autonomy. Canadian Psychology, 49, 60 – 67.

Norcross, Mrykalo, & Blagys (2002). Auld lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and non-resolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58, 397-405.


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Great Resource for the Teaching of Applied Statistics

Hello All,

The Society for the Teaching of Psychology has an office dedicated to great, peer-reviewed resources for teaching called the Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology.

Two such (free) resources for those of us teaching applied statistics include the free on-line book, Teaching Statistics and Research Methods: Tips from TOPS.

Another such resource, is Statistical Literacy in Psychology: Resources, Activities, and Assessment Methods

The web site housing these two resources is filled with great ideas, all of which have been peer-reviewed. You can find teaching resources including example syllabi as well as article on how to maximize your students’ learning. Even if you are teaching applied statistics in an area outside of psychology, I encourage you to make use of this value set of tools. ( )

Happy Teaching!



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Filed under Applied Statistics, Curriculum, Engaging students, Pedagogy, Preparing to Teach, Professional Development

So you don’t like teaching …

Hello All,

I have spoken with many people who do not care for teaching, yet find themselves in a front of a classroom. I find many people in psychology, sociology, business, and the like who love teaching, just not teaching applied statistics.

If you are such an individual, it seems that you are not alone. I read an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education  where the author admits to not liking teaching, yet realizing you can not like something and still be great at it (

So, if as we enter into our break, you realize you do not like teaching … I suppose that’s OK. However, you owe it to your students to work at being great at it, nonetheless.

While on break,  here are my tips for preparing to become the best teacher you can be.

(1) Read about teaching. Obviously, posts on this blog are a great place for teachers of applied statistics. You can also review books that I discussed on a previous blog ( I also encourage you to look at the Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s web site.  One free e-book, in particular that I would like to bring to your attention is: This book, Teaching Statistics and Research Methods: Tips from ToP includes reprints of great articles on the teaching of applied statistics and research methods, and it’s FREE!

(2) Read about research, and look at the statistics involved. It is true that when I am teaching applied statistics, I have students come up with hypotheses to serve as examples for statistics problems. The only reason I am able to do this is I read a broad base of research in areas that not only interest me but also interest my students. My favorite journals for great examples for undergraduates are all Association for Psychological Science Journals, like Psychological Science, Current Directions, Perspectives in Psychological Science. APS has a new journal on clinical psychology that could also serve as a basis for great examples in the classroom. For people who are new to teaching applied statistics, write the information from the journal articles in the chapter or on your notes for a chapter. There is nothing more frustrating than standing up in the front of the classroom not being able to retrieve an example.

(3) Evaluate yourself and your students’ performance. Certainly it helps to take a couple of weeks off after grades are submitted, but it is important to evaluate how you did. What did your students learn well; what didn’t they? Examine, honestly and candidly … what happened, what coud you do that is better. Not surprising, I always find that if I get sick during a semester, even if I don’t miss any classes, my students just don’t do as well on the topics I covered while ill. We can’t be perfect, and we do need to be forgiving of ourselves, but we also have to be honest with our self assessment, and central to that self assessment is student performance. Here is a prior post on evaluating the teacher. 

(4) Revise your syllabus. I have discussed about syllabus revision in the past ( Please, don’t wait until the end of the summer to make the revisions. Your mind is fresh. You know what worked and what didn’t. If you are unsure how to make improvements, at least by identifying the areas where improvements are needed, you can start looking for new ideas. One of the best places to go (besides this blog, of course) is to colleagues who are teaching applied statistics, even in other departments. By discussing these ideas with each other, you both can benefit.

(5) Plan something new! Now everyone has to admit. We feel great when we get something new. Even a mundane pair of shoes or stockings can make a person feel better. So does trying something new when teaching. So, come up with a new pedagogical technique, completely revise your examples, or change a few activities in the classroom. Whatever you do, please … don’t start your next class doing everything just as you have in the past.
If you are looking for a “new” book and you have enjoyed reading these blogs, consider Kiess and Green (2010) Statistical Concepts for the Behavioral Sciences, 4/e with Pearson.

(6) You might as well have fun. In a previous post, I provided some tips to how to better enjoy the teaching of applied statistics(

Even if you don’t like teaching, you can have fun preparing to be the best you can be, and my guess is … you may even find yourself enjoying some of it.

Happy teaching!


Filed under Engaging students, Preparing to Teach