July 15th, 2010

Teaching—More than a Set of Skills


Ronald J. Markert captures the “more” in a set of principles. The context is medical education, but the principles he proposes are broadly applicable. Here’s a sample.

A good teacher wants to be a good teacher—“Teaching has to be its own reward.” (p. 809) Reward and recognition are fine, but they cannot provide the motivation necessary to achieve teaching excellence. The diligence necessary requires hard work—just as much work as research and clinical practice.

The focus of instruction should always be on student learning, not faculty teaching—Markert believes that faculty often get stuck on what they think students should know. They must go beyond that to ascertain what students need to know.

When instruction is focused on the accumulation of factual knowledge, learning is quickly extinguished …, but when teaching aims at a higher level of cognition, what is learned is organized and remembered in useful ways—“Learning is seen not as the storage of information but as the continuous process of filtering new knowledge through structures we have developed from prior learning and experience.” (p. 809)

Good teachers do not talk as much as their less effective colleagues do—Good teachers talk less because their students are talking more. Their students ask questions, have cases to solve, discuss in small group, and solicit the views of fellow learners. Additionally, both students and teachers are silent now and then as they pause to ponder and think.

Good teachers are always thinking about ways to improve what and how students learn—Good teachers are always working on questions like: “How can I give students more control over their learning?” “How can I encourage collaboration among students?” “How can I provide timely and effective feedback?” “How can I accommodate learners at various levels of sophistication?” (p. 809-810)

Good teachers create an atmosphere where students are motivated by the intrinsic rather than the extrinsic—“Students are motivated for intrinsic reasons when (1) the course of instruction is well planned, transparent, and fair, (2) the relationship between learning and real life is clear, and (3) they see that their teachers care about their disciplines and their students.” (p. 810)

Reference: Markert, Ronald J. (August 2001). What makes a good teacher? Lessons from teaching medical students. Academic Medicine, 76 (8), 809-810.