When a family gathers around the table to share a meal, the one who prepared and served the fare most likely spent time pondering the recipes, considering the meal’s consumers, and selecting the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables. As in the kitchen, so it is in the classroom. Faculty also ponder content, consider the lesson’s recipients, and select the right balance of lecture, group processing, and independent demonstration of competence. We decide upon our objectives for the lesson and we build our processes around the objectives, seeking to ensure that we reach everyone in our classrooms, online or face to face.
Effective Teaching Strategies
College teachers often enter their classrooms with thousands of hours of experience in their chosen field, and they typically face students who have little to no experience with that field of study. In this setting, teachers may take for granted all that they know and are able to do. In a sense, they expect students to “get inside their head.” One of the joys of teaching is finding ways to take complex topics and present them in such a way that students begin their own journey of discovery.
There’s no arguing with Ryan’s (2009) observation that “coming to class prepared and with some background knowledge transforms students from passive to active learners” (para. 3). But how to get our students to this state of “transformation readiness” is an age-old issue challenging most instructors throughout their careers. I’m sure the struggle also extends to my own students, who are aspiring or practicing language-teaching professionals juggling multiple personal, academic, and professional demands. Research shows that reasons for not completing reading assignments also include factors such as reading comprehension, low student self-confidence, and lack of interest in the topic (e.g., Lei, Bartlett, Gorney, & Herschbach, 2010).
Every course has assignments, but do they get the attention they deserve or do the same versions end up in the syllabus year after year? How much variety is there in the assignments students complete, in degree programs or even across their years at the institution? Bottom line: we think there’s more that could be done with assignments, and this feature aims to provide examples that illustrate innovative approaches and thoughtful attention to design details.
In today’s college practicum experiences, it is sometimes quite difficult for students to find quality field or clinical placements to log hours of pre-professional experiences. Hospitals, clinics, and school districts maintain busy schedules and are not always willing to allow interns into their facilities to practice their professional skills on an ongoing basis.
Thirty years of research in the scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education have demonstrated that when students are engaged in the classroom, they learn more (Pascarella and Terezini 1991, 2005). Classroom discussion is likely the most commonly used strategy for actively engaging students. Whether it is a seminar course centered on discussion or a lecture punctuated by moments of interaction with students, discussion is likely second only to lecture as the most frequently used pedagogical strategy.
I flunked out of college seven times. Yes, seven times. While there are many great tales associated with each failure—friends causing endless distractions, having to work late, one lame excuse after another—ultimately, I accepted that I am responsible for never acting like a student. Seven times I signed up, seven times I purchased books, seven times I went to class for a couple of weeks, and seven times I was off on another (ostensibly more important) adventure.
How often do you hear college students say, “that was fun!” on their way out of your classroom? Probably not often enough. Of course, who has time for fun when you have a syllabus packed with serious learning outcomes and one semester to accomplish your goals. Not to diminish the hard work involved in prepping for lectures, but when was the last time you asked yourself: Is my class fun?
We all endorse it and we all want our students to do it. We also claim to teach it. “It” is critical thinking, and very few of us actually teach it or even understand what it is (Paul & Elder, 2013). Research tells us that our students learn critical thinking only after we receive training in how to teach it and design our courses explicitly and intentionally to foster critical thinking skills (Abrami, Bernard, Borokhovski, Wade, Surkes, Tamim, & Zhang, 2008). We have to start by formulating assessable critical thinking learning outcomes and building our courses around them.
Those who teach in the health disciplines expect their students to retain and apply every iota of learned material. However, many students come to us having achieved academic success by memorizing the content, regurgitating that information onto an exam, and promptly forgetting a good portion of it. In health, as well as other disciplines where new material builds upon the material from the previous semesters, it is critical for students to retain what they learn throughout their coursework and as they begin their careers as a nurse, engineer, elementary teacher, etc.