It’s been a privilege to teach over some two decades, and during that time, I’ve found a series of techniques that were successful in the classroom. Here, I will outline some of the instructional practices I used during a semester that concluded a long career as a professor at a small liberal arts college.
First, the topics I discuss are limited in number to help ensure they will be covered in greater depth. Additionally, the topics I select are representative of topics that are inherently motivating and relevant. Based on previous practices, when instructors find topics exciting to teach, their presentations become more energetic and engaging. Students, in turn, become more engaged and receptive to learning.
Second, to ensure a reliable assessment of student understanding, my selected topics are converted into measurable learning outcomes. For example, the topic The Components of Effective Lesson Planning became this learning outcome: Write an effective lesson plan that reflects the components of effective lesson planning identified in class.
Learning outcomes should not exceed more than five for an entire course. Therefore, combining similar topics is essential when formulating learning outcomes. Perhaps the most significant result of constructing learning outcomes is their impact on instruction. They present a definitive guide for instruction. In the example above, in preparing for the class, it becomes clear that the focus for instruction is teaching the elements of effective lesson planning.
Additionally, this provides a guiding framework for constructing valid classroom assessments. Instructors should review the learning outcomes addressed in previous classes and construct assessments that measure them. In the learning outcome identified above, students were required to write an effective lesson plan. They were graded using analytical rubrics that aligned with a specific learning outcome.
Third, plan alternative activities for specific classes that might address complex issues and concepts. These can serve as additional resources in class and further support learning when students are experiencing difficulty with understanding a concept/idea.
For example, when a particular PowerPoint presentation fails to communicate its instructional purpose during class, it is not beneficial for anyone to continue its use. Therefore, planning alternative instructional tools in the event of this happening would provide an immediate solution to this possible problem. Netflix, YouTube, group activities, and case studies are a few resources one could use. They offer students another opportunity to learn difficult material because they approach the topic using a slightly more supportive method of instruction.
Fourth, increase student accountability for learning in their classes. Achieving this change means limiting classes that rely on whole-class lectures in which students are passive learners. Instead, one should utilize the workshop model of instruction.
The workshop model consists of three distinct components. It begins with an overview of the class that consists of a detailed explanation of a concept, lasting a short period. An example of this would be a brief PowerPoint presentation outlining the topic with examples, followed by questions. Then, students would apply this knowledge to an assignment for an extended amount of time, either in groups or individually. The instructor is then free to monitor student learning by circulating and interacting with students as they try to apply the new information.
Instructors could also take observational notes as they interact with various students. These notes serve as an informal assessment of learning, and can also form the basis for later discussions with students.
The final step occurs when students share their findings. These findings serve as a kind of formative assessment and help guide and inform planning for the next class.
Fifth, Generation Z students are one of the primary groups of students attending college at this time. They were born in the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. Therefore, their reliance on smartphones and Wi-Fi is firmly rooted in their daily lives. Instead of labeling their dependence on technology as problematic, it might be more constructive to adapt instruction to include some of these same, useful devices/software in the classroom.
For example, smartphones can be used to complete surveys in the classroom using the software application Poll Everywhere. Submitting assignments can occur seamlessly at the end of class, not only with smartphones, but with laptops or even iPads. Expanding office hours can be accomplished with the use of FaceTime or with Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet.
Finally, wellness can be promoted in class by starting classes with a quiet meditative practice. Students are often stressed and overwhelmed due to the demands of their academic work. Adding to this anxiety is their need to supplement their income with part-time jobs. Meditation for several minutes at the start of class can help alleviate stress. Soft music in the background during an activity also promotes a stress-free environment. Numerous resources for this purpose are available online. Guided meditations by the Chopra Center has excellent resources, and the Calm app is a resource for appropriate music.
In closing, although academic work should be a primary concern, allotting time to explore and utilize innovative instructional practices should also be considered an integral part of our academic lives. After all, student learning and success are the primary goals of our classrooms.
Richard Giaquinto, PhD, is a retired professor of education at St. Francis College and was a New York City Public Middle School teacher and administrator for 30 years.