Faculty Focus


Five Things College Professors Can Learn from K-12 Educators

Unlike their college-level counterparts, those who teach at the K-12 level spend a significant portion of their education studying the “how” of teaching. What they learn can be invaluable to college professors who enter classrooms with vast content knowledge but little (or no) background in teaching and learning. As those who teach these teachers, we’d like to showcase five teaching strategies college professors can learn from those who teach younger students.

1) Multiple Intelligences. Howard Gardner’s groundbreaking book on multiple intelligences (MI) changed education by documenting that people learn in different ways. By introducing concepts like visual, spatial and bodily kinesthetic learning, MI made clear that only with a variety of teaching methods can instructors reach all learners. See Gardner, H. Multiple Intelligences (1993) and Intelligences Reframed (1999).

2) Assessment. College professors know that they must assess learning, a process they tend to loosely associate with exams or papers that test knowledge. Yet assessment and testing are not synonyms. K-12 teachers are taught to use three different kinds of assessment:

  • Early assessment—the informal information about students gathered through observation early in the semester, which provides practical knowledge about students and helps with course planning;
  • Instructional assessment—the circular process whereby teachers plan instruction, assess their teaching (based in part on student work, responses, attitudes, etc.), and use that feedback to revise instruction; and
  • Official assessment—the traditional process of giving exams; assigning papers; and, ultimately, grading student work.

3) Lesson Plans. K-12 teachers prepare formal lesson plans as a teaching and learning framework, and a road map for getting there. Successful lesson plans have five components:

  • Goals: “Why am I teaching this lesson?”
  • Objectives: “What should students know or be able to do after this lesson?”
  • Materials: “What supplies, media, and other equipment do I need to teach the lesson?”
  • Teaching activities: “What will take place during today’s instruction?”
  • Assessment: How will I know students have met these goals and learned the material?” See Airasian, P. Classroom Assessment, 2005.

4) Special Needs. Each year, beginning students arrive on campus with a history of diagnosed (and undiagnosed) learning challenges. Most college professors have little, if any, experience working with special needs students and can be quick to judge a weak student as failing rather than struggling to learn. K-12 teachers are trained to recognize, diagnose, and support a wide range of learning disabilities. They are also versed in the theories of cognition, memory, and differentiated instruction. Faculty can take steps to support these students without sacrificing standards. See Levine, M. A Mind at a Time, 2002.

5) Student Aspirations. Teaching and learning thrive when the conditions are in place that support student aspirations. When student-faculty relationships are strong, and curriculum is rigorous and relevant, students are more engaged, retain more information, and transfer what they learn to other areas of life. Education takes on a purpose that increases student confidence and achievement.

Excerpted from “What College Professors Can Learn from K-12 Educators,” written by Sara E. Quay, Anthony Pastelis, Kathleen McLaughlin, and Elizabeth Cain. The Teaching Professor, November 2006.