December 6, 2010

Things Effective Teachers Do

By: in Effective Teaching Strategies

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It’s been a while since I was an undergrad, but I still remember my two favorite professors. They had completely different personalities and teaching styles, they even taught in different departments, but they did some things in very similar ways. I think that’s what made them so effective. It really wasn’t the content — although that was part of it — it was more the classroom experience they created.

In the seminar 23 Practical Strategies to Help New Faculty Thrive, Ike Shibley, PhD, an associate professor of chemistry at Penn State Berks, talked about the importance of creating your own ‘teaching self’ that’s grounded in key best practices and teaching philosophies. It’s something that most beginning instructors get very little training on, if any.

“Unfortunately most of our graduate education is centered around this concept that if you know the content you can teach,” Shibley says. “That’s disappointing because the content, while critically important, really falls flat on its face if all you’re doing is sharing the content in a didactic fashion.”

During the seminar Shibley provided a comprehensive blueprint for instructors — from preparing the course syllabus and writing learning goals … to making effective use of class time and adopting efficient and effective grading strategies … to finding a work/life balance.

Here are four of the 23 strategies he shared:

1. Create multiple grading opportunities: Students have different ways of expressing their learning, and appreciate it when instructors offer a variety of grading opportunities rather than having their grade determined solely on a midterm and final exam. Shibley recommends a mix of high-stakes grading, such as exams, term papers and group presentations, and low-stakes grading such as participation, short writing assignments and quizzes.

2. Introduce and summarize: Most television series start each week’s episode with a recap of what happened the previous week. It’s a good strategy for faculty as well, and can help refocus students’ attention and get them ready to learn. Using minute papers is a good way to get students involved in the exercise, Shibley says.

3. Incorporate technology: When it comes to technology, each person has a different comfort level. But whether you’re an early-adopter who relishes in the opportunity to innovate with the latest tools or someone who takes a more cautious approach, incorporating technology into your teaching is an important aspect to engaging today’s students, and can improve your efficiency.

4. Find a mentor: Oftentimes, new faculty are assigned a mentor based on office proximity as much as anything else, but a mentor doesn’t even have to teach in the same discipline as you. While it’s good to have someone nearby to help you with some of the tactical issues, Shibley recommends finding a mentor who is truly interested in playing an active role in your development as a teacher, and will share teaching tips, reading lists and serve as an advisor and sounding board.

Finally, while the seminar was geared toward new faculty, Shibley talked about the importance of removing the stigma that can be associated with faculty development.

“Unfortunately, faculty development usually means remediation,” he says. “If you’re a good teacher, no one recommends you work with a faculty developer. If you’re getting good ratings, no one seems to think that you need to practice. This, in a big way, is a myth. I have yet to have a single class period go perfectly, let alone an entire course. Every day there are things to improve in big and little ways. Professional athletes practice, and professional teachers need to practice also.”

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