common teaching mistakes March 1

Four Horsemen of the Teaching Apocalypse

By:

Four problems account for the lion’s share of serious teaching problems:

  1. Misalignment
  2. Expert blind spot
  3. Content overload
  4. Over-identification

An overstatement? Perhaps, but over the many years we’ve worked with faculty in a wide range of disciplines, we’ve seen these issues undermine students’ learning, motivation, and morale in insidious ways. Easy to fall prey to, they compromise the effectiveness of even seasoned teachers. Here’s some advice on recognizing the problems, avoiding them, and preventing the host of headaches they can cause.

Misalignment
Three important elements characterize any well-designed course: objectives (what students should know or be able to do by the end of the course), assessments (the means used to gauge students’ progress toward those objectives), and instruction (the methods and materials employed to help students acquire the knowledge and skills articulated in the objectives). A solid course design requires that these elements be aligned, each dovetailing with and supporting the others.

Misalignment occurs when these three elements are not in sync, in particular when the knowledge and skills being taught are not the same as those being assessed. “I’d never do that!” you might be thinking. And of course, no one ever means to. But it can happen more easily than most of us realize. All too often, we teach the whats (terms, definitions, formulae) and the whys (concepts, principles) of a subject but assess the hows (procedures, methods) and the whens (conditions of application).

Think of how we learn to drive. We study the whats and whys of the rules of the road in order to pass a written test. Then we have to pass a test of actual driving. Would studying for the written test prepare us adequately for the driving test? Of course not. Actual driving requires other knowledge, skills, and practice, for which road rules are necessary but not sufficient. If we prepared for the driving test solely by learning road rules, it would constitute misalignment: the instruction and assessment don’t line up.

This is a Teaching Professor Article

To continue reading, you must be a Teaching Professor Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[wppb-login register_url="https://www.teachingprofessor.com/subscribe/" lostpassword_url="/lostpassword"]

Professor smiling, students hands raised January 3

Harness the Power of Emotions to Help Your Students Learn

By:

I’ve been thinking a lot about emotional presence in our online and face-to-face classes. There seems to be an enduring sense that emotions have no place in the lofty halls of academia. Our pursuit of knowledge should be rational, detached, unaffected by such trivialities as our emotions.

But I don’t think that’s right. Our emotions are a central part of our humanity. To deny them is to deny the essence of who we are.


students working on a problem in class October 2, 2017

Incorporating Principles in Cognitive Psychology to Improve Student Learning

By:

At the 2017 STEM FIT Symposium at Washington University in St. Louis, Mark McDaniel, PhD, Professor, Psychological & Brain Sciences, co-director of CIRCLE, and co-author of Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (2014), presented a plenary address on how research in cognitive psychology can support effective teaching practices and improve learning. Supported by laboratory and field experiments, many of the techniques McDaniel presented from the book can be applied to most academic subjects in order to promote student learning.

Henry L. Roediger, McDaniel’s co-author, previously grouped many of these same techniques into three general principles to enhance educational practice (Roediger & Pyc, 2012). Each principle offers an opportunity to consider how to incorporate research-supported practices for sustained learning. Brief summaries of the three general principles are listed below. I have also included a few examples found within the literature of how you may incorporate these principles into your teaching:


brief moments of inquiry in college classroom October 1, 2017

Using Brief Moments of Inquiry to Enrich Student Learning

By:

Who discovered Pluto?

 A colleague described this brief exchange he had with his young daughter as they crossed Tombaugh Street in Flagstaff, Arizona. My colleague, ever the professor, pointed out that the street was named for local astronomer Clyde Tombaugh who had discovered Pluto in 1930. His daughter promptly informed him, “Walt Disney discovered Pluto.”

This is a Teaching Professor Article

To continue reading, you must be a Teaching Professor Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[wppb-login register_url="https://www.teachingprofessor.com/subscribe/" lostpassword_url="/lostpassword"]

student multitasking when studying July 26, 2017

Four Student Misconceptions about Learning

By:

“Efficient and effective learning starts with a proper mindset,” Stephen Chew writes in his short, readable, and very useful chapter, “Helping Students to Get the Most Out of Studying.” Chew continues, pointing out what most of us know firsthand, students harbor some fairly serious misconceptions that undermine their efforts to learn. He identifies four of them.


student struggling with test June 2, 2017

Too Much Jargon: A Barrier to Learning?

By:

The language of our disciplines is complex—it has to be. What we study is specific and detailed, and it needs to be described with language that precisely captures essence and nuance. However, for students being introduced to our disciplines for the first time, it’s all new language, and it’s mostly new language for students now learning about our fields more in depth at the postsecondary level. Moreover, many students now come to college with limited vocabularies. They might be learning in a second language, or simply not had educational backgrounds that promoted vocabulary development.

Most introductory courses contain literally hundreds of terms that are unfamiliar to students. When learning a foreign language, students are helped by knowing what the new word refers to. When they learn that the French word chat means cat, they know what a cat is. But when it’s a term like sidereal time or pyrimidine, not only is it a new phrase or word, it refers to something also unknown to students.


students collaborating on project May 3, 2017

Actively Learning to Teach

By:

Today I had an interesting experience while teaching my biochemistry class. I had students write the Krebs cycle on their digital whiteboards while keeping track of the specific carbons in the cycle intermediates. The point of this exercise was to have students understand how biochemists study metabolic pathways and to practice writing the chemistry of the cycle. To initiate the exercise, I explained the biochemical logic of the first reaction. After that, I let them go because we had already spent a lecture discussing the reactions. This produced a fairly lively classroom with students trying to understand the flow of both carbons and energy through the cycle. While they worked, I walked around commenting here and there as needed or when I saw a misconception arising. Clearly, learning was happening. But the weird thing was . . . I didn’t feel like I was teaching.

With active learning, we often discuss the culture shock that students feel. No longer is it sufficient for students to sit listening as passive consumers of information doled out by their instructor. An active learning class compels students to become actively engaged in applying the material and uncovering the consequences of their newly learned knowledge. But for those of us instructors who never had active learning modeled for us as students, the experience can be just as alien. It can be invigorating, as it was today when my students were working hard to understand the biochemical logic of the reactions. But for me, it also felt like was I wasn’t doing my job. I was reminded of those comments on my end-of-term course evaluations: “Haave didn’t teach us! We had to learn it ourselves!”

This is a Teaching Professor Article

To continue reading, you must be a Teaching Professor Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[wppb-login register_url="https://www.teachingprofessor.com/subscribe/" lostpassword_url="/lostpassword"]

student at white board April 26, 2017

Helping Students Discover What They Can Do

By:

“What has held me, and what I think hold many who teach basic writing, are the hidden veins of possibility running through students who don’t know—and who strongly doubt—that this is what they were born for, but who may find it out to their own amazement, students who, grim with self-deprecation and prophecies of their own failure . . .can be lured into sticking it out to some moment of breakthrough, when they discover that they have ideas that are valuable, even original, and express those ideas on paper. What fascinates me and gives hope in time of slashed budgets and enlarging class size, and national depression is the possibility that many of these [students] may be gaining the kind of critical perspective on their lives and skill to bear witness that they have never before had.”


students at blackboard February 3, 2017

Attacking Problems as a Novice Learner

By:

My wiper blades needed to be replaced. I hate these kinds of tasks; they make me feel completely inadequate. But I was doing a lot of reading about learning, and I was looking for concrete examples in my own life to help me better understand the theory and practice of learning. Knowledge transfer, constructivism, scaffolding, and making thinking visible were all pretty new ideas to me.

So, I approached the task as a learning opportunity. I gave myself every advantage—no rain, moderate temps, a Saturday morning with no commitments. I prepared deliberately—a full stomach, empty bladder, and the entire toolbox next to the car. But my resolve was shaken with the very first task. Packaging these days requires the jaws of life. After struggling with the pliers and breaking a fingernail, I went inside for the heavy-duty scissors and was once again ready to get started.

This is a Teaching Professor Article

To continue reading, you must be a Teaching Professor Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[wppb-login register_url="https://www.teachingprofessor.com/subscribe/" lostpassword_url="/lostpassword"]

college classroom December 1, 2016

Using Brief Interventions to Maximize Student Learning [Transcript]

By:

The shift toward student-centered learning has transformed our classrooms, and it’s no longer enough to be a subject-matter expert. Instructors have to not only know the material their students need to learn, but they also have to have a reasonably good grasp of how students learn it.

The task is to master both, because that’s when the real learning magic happens. That’s the idea behind cognitive theory and its application in higher education. And while it took you years of study to earn credentials in your discipline, you can learn how to apply relevant aspects of cognitive theory to your courses in far less time.

This is a Teaching Professor Article

To continue reading, you must be a Teaching Professor Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[wppb-login register_url="https://www.teachingprofessor.com/subscribe/" lostpassword_url="/lostpassword"]