Monday, February 7, 2011

Two Views of Teaching

by Keith Restine

There are two very different ways to prepare for teaching. One approach looks almost entirely at the actions and behaviors of the instructors. This approach, often referred to as the "transmission model," views instruction as something that is provided to students. Many authors characterize this view of teaching as an attempt to cover as much content as possible; a generalized view of this would be reviewing material at a breakneck speed, interspersed with examinations to determine how well students can retain and restate content.

However, another approach suggested by Ken Bain is that highly effective teachers "thought of teaching as anything they might do to help and encourage students to learn ... by engineering an environment in which they learn." Highly effective teachers also found teaching to be "an important and serious intellectual (or artistic) act" contextualized by "what they want students to do intellectually rather than about what they should learn."

Bain considers four questions in characterizing this rich and complex approach to students:
  1. What should my students be able to do intellectually, physically, and emotionally as a result of their learning?
  2. How can I best help and encourage them to develop those abilities and the habits of the heart and mind to use them?
  3. How can my students and I best understand the nature, quality, and progress of their learning?
  4. How can I evaluate my efforts to foster that learning?
It is also important to reflect on your efforts to impact student learning. How will you know if you are hitting the mark? How will you determine your grade as the instructor? Dee Fink discusses what students will remember about your course one or two years later, and Bain also lists four important considerations when reviewing your teaching:
  1. Is the material worth learning?
  2. Are my students learning what the course is supposedly teaching?
  3. Am I helping and encouraging my students to learn?
  4. Have I harmed my students?
These are important questions to consider as you begin working on a new or existing course. Define, in your own terms, not just what you want students to know, but what students should be able to do and think about at the end of your course. Course objectives and goals copied from a textbook or a publisher's companion website do little to change student learning. These goals and objectives are well-stated and well-intentioned efforts to help, but they lack your insight, experience, and passion about your discipline. Write your own goals and objectives in straightforward language that tells your students what you hold important. Clearly describe what success and learning will look like, both for the final products and for the process.

Use these goals to inform your development of activities and assessments. Consider how the products you want students to develop will help them learn the skills and knowledge you want them to possess at the end of your course. Think carefully about the types and the frequency of feedback you will provide to students to help them understand how they are progressing, and what important, specific skills they still need to master in individual activities.

After you have purposefully designed your personalized course goals and objectives on paper, you will then be ready to consider how you will manage tools in Blackboard or other technologies, as well as additional resources on campus, to reach those goals and objectives.

  • Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Fink, D. (2003). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Intengrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.