Teaching tips

Here are links and article excerpts which may be helpful in your courses and classes. The Center for Learning and Teaching provides workshops and conferences and can arrange for confidential mentoring or class visits with other faculty. Contact us for more information.

Reorienting teaching

All too often, our operational assumption as teachers is that learning takes place when we talk. But students learn [best] when they talk to themselves and to others. Traditional teaching is like dropping ideas into the letter box of the subconscious. You know when they are posted, but you never know when they will be received or in what form.

How can the questions our courses raise become our students' own questions?
• At the end of a lecture or seminar, instead of faculty summarizing main points, have students write their own summaries (can be handed in or not, for credit or simply confirming attendance)
• Develop a common vocabulary of inquiry and recognize the context of students' thoughts and contributions to discussion. Discussion shouldn't be an orchestrated performance in which students try to find their lines in the prearranged script of the professor.
• Use collaborative learning teams, laboratory experiences (even without laboratories), promote undergraduate research, involve students in course development (or ongoing revision).

The above is from "Reorienting Teaching," in A New Vitality in General Education, by theTask Force on General Education, Association of American Colleges, Washington, DC (1988).

Tactics to consider

The ideas below have been used by faculty at Binghamton University and were shared during conferences of the Institute for Student-Centered Learning.

• Quick feedback
At the end of class, hand out index cards. Have students write two things they learned that day, and two things that were unclear. Collect the cards, tally the results, clarify the points that were unclear at the beginning of the next class. This helps keep everyone together and shows the students that you care how they're doing.

• Humor break
Collect cartoons which illustrate various points related to course topics. Display one on ELMO when students are beginning to drag or lose interest, when there's a transition point in the class material or when you need a break yourself.

• Learning games
Develop crossword puzzles, pictionary, etc. with key terms and concepts. Or have students develop similar games. These can be led by students in small groups, or done individually. Consider offering small prizes or tokens (candy or dollar-store trinkets).

• Music
Play classical music at the beginning of class (or at strategic points during class) or mood music to calm students and help them focus. Choose songs or styles to relate material to popular culture or other aspects of everyday life and to encourage a particular mood during class.

• Everyday illustrations
How many calories in a donut? How many flights of stairs would you have to walk up to use that many calories? Create your own illustration according to the concept or skill you want students to learn.

• Other helpful strategies
Break up lectures into specific sections (overview, value added, lecture, peer review, team work). Explicitly teach critical thinking skills from the beginning. Be clear about expectations, get student input when developing expectations (which also helps develop critical thinking skills). Relate evaluation and grading clearly to the expectations.

Links to other resources

The links at the upper right of this page will bring you to other practical ideas on critical thinking, effective discussion questions, motivating students and other useful topics. These resources continue to be developed so check for new content often.

Hilton Baxter, Program Coordinator
Center for Learning and Teaching

Last Updated: 12/20/13