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Effective Teaching

Most educators hope that qualities such as disciplinary accuracy, social relevance, and critical spirit will indeed be embodied in students' performances.
Howard Gardner and Veronica Boix-Mansilla 

Well-informed and thoughtful professional judgment is at the core of effective teaching. Becoming a good teacher is a life-long project. Working in the context of a learning community adds additional layers of complexity because teachers in learning communities find themselves working in widely varying circumstances, with different teaching partners.

In spite of all the variations, however, effective teaching in learning communities can be organized around the following four questions.

What's worth learning?

Given the explosion of information in all fields and the impossibility of covering all things well, teaching teams need to decide which concepts, methods, or habits of mind are most central for students’ development. In Making Learning Whole, David Perkins uses the analogy of baseball to show how people learn outside of school—they learn to play the whole game. Rather than insisting students master discrete sets of skills, adept teachers create opportunities for students to get a big picture of what they are learning so that skill development is purposeful and contextualized. The Teaching for Understanding Guide and Decoding the Disciplines offer two ways of analyzing curriculum in order to tease out those elements most important for students to learn.

What are the best uses of class time?

Thinking through the most strategic use of classroom minutes is critical for many reasons, including the increasing numbers of students who experience significant constraints on their time outside of class. In addition, a growing body of research points to the value of using class time to structure students’ engagement with each other and with the material, opportunities they do not have when they are studying on their own. Rich conversations follow when we move away from assuming the purpose of time in class is to deliver content towards a notion of guided practice.

What kinds of assignments facilitate more learning?

Students are pragmatic. They notice the activities teachers evaluate. Given this orientation, teachers have to grapple with questions about the best ways to award those points—about what students should be asked to do. Collaborative reflective inquiry about the kinds of assignments that produce more learning for students, from exams and quizzes to high and low stakes assignments, are powerful. Dee Fink’s work on Creating Significant Learning Experiences has been widely used on campuses to support these kinds of discussions.

What strategies are likely to engage all the learners who are present in the classroom?

Students come to class with a range of background knowledge, different levels of preparation, different life experiences, and different ways of working with new material and with others. Beverly Tatum’s work on the ABC’s of inclusive learning environments provides a simple yet powerful guide for all teachers: affirm identify, build community, and cultivate student leadership. Learning communities offer conditions in which all three of these elements can be readily cultivated.

The best support for effective teaching is ongoing professional development, beginning with collegial conversations. Many campuses have used Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do to launch such a series. Another resource for conversations are the essays included in Landmark Issues in Teaching and Learning: A Look Back at New Directions for Teaching and Learning, edited by Marilla D. Svinicki and Catherine M. Wehlburg.

Resources

Landmark Issues in Teaching and Learning: A Look Back at New Directions for Teaching and Learning
Marilla D. Svinicki and Catherine M. Wehburg. No. 123. September 2010.

What the Best College Teachers Do
Ken Bain. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2004.

What's worth learning?

Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education
David N. Perkins. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2010.

Understanding by Design
Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Expanded 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). 2005.

Decoding the Disciplines: Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking
David Pace and Joan Middendorf, editors. New Directions for Teaching and Learning. No. 98. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Summer 2004.

The Teaching for Understanding Guide
Tina Blythe and Associates. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 1997.

Teaching for Understanding Linking Research with Practice
Martha Stone Wiske, editor. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 1997.

Big Ideas Project
Website. Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

What are the best uses of class time?

Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom
John C. Bean. Foreward by Maryellen Weimer. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2011.

Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty
Elizabeth F. Barkley, K. Patricia Cross, and Claire Howell Major. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2005.

Teaching with Your Mouth Shut
Donald L. Finkel. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, Inc. 2000.

What kinds of assignments facilitate more learning?

Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice
Maryellen Weimer. 2nd edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2012.

Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners
Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2011. See, especially, Chapter 1: Unpacking Thinking.

Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses
L. Dee Fink. Revised edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2013.

What strategies are likely to engage all the learners who are present in the room?

Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty
Elizabeth F. Barkley. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2010.

Diversity and Motivation: Culturally Responsive Teaching in College
Margery B. Ginberg and Raymond J. Wlodkowski. 2nd edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2009.

The ABC Approach to Creating Climates of Engagement on Diverse Campuses
Beverly Daniel Tatum. Liberal Education. Fall 2000.

Complete list of resources