Approaches to Teaching

by John Jacobs, Judith Branzburg, et.al.

Every faculty member makes numerous important decisions when preparing for their class. Among these important choices is planning individual lessons. How can we reach our students most effectively? Obviously there are inherent differences in subject matter and the knowledge and skills we wish to convey, but extensive studies of college courses all point to the same lessons. The most effective professors promote learning because they:

  • Convey Knowledge
    • Provide an information base
    • Instill contemporary awareness

  • Build Skills
    • Help students develop discipline-specific craftsmanship
    • Guide students as they learn appropriate "vocabularies" for their discipline

  • Promote Critical Thinking
    • Develop student's interpretive/analytic skills
    • Help students understand how people think (cognitive processes)
    • Encourage students to take knowledge and skills and apply them to problem solving

  • Practice Active Learning
    • Create a student-centered learning environment
    • Encourage active engagement in the learning process
    • Encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning

  • Appeal to Various Learning Styles

  • Build Learning Communities
    • Establish and participate in collaborative communities
    • Recognize the need to encourage students to be part of communities at all levels of their education including the classroom, campus, campus organizations, social institutions, city/state, and electronically

PEDAGOGICAL METHODS AND CONCEPTS (TOOLS IN YOUR TOOL KIT):

The first step in determining which pedagogical methods will achieve the highest levels of learning is to establish your learning objectives for the course as well as for particular lessons (refer to the section "Learner Centered Learning Objectives" for guidelines to developing objectives including the SMART formula).

Every method has a specific purpose. Using a combination of pedagogical techniques not only keeps students interested, attentive and involved, but also helps students learn in ways compatible with their individual styles. Good teaching, like good cooking, involves major ingredients combined with a savy mixture of accents, flavors, spices and accompaniments, all used sparingly and with clear intent. Donít be afraid to experiment.

Case Studies:

Examination, analysis and study of one problem or issue through extended scenarios and examples.

Relation to Aims, Overall Objectives and Learning Styles:

  • Appeals to holistic thinkers, broadens perspective.

Methods:

  • Select scenario/example
  • Determine scope of project and establish a timeline
  • Determine method of implementation (individual, large group, small group, short-term/long-term)
  • Select reporting methodology
  • Establish student accountability.

dig deeper More Case Studies

 


Best Practices:

  • Students in a business class analyze the successes and failures of a single company (Southwest Airlines, McDonalds, Starbucks, various .coms, etc.)
  • In a political science class, students examine the year 2000 American Presidential election.
  • Students in a history class study Nat Turnerís revolt to explore the social and economic environment of slavery.

Pitfalls:

  • Instructor chooses too large or too small a concept.
Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATS): 

Strategies for eliciting immediate anonymous feedback about course materials and classroom activities in order to evaluate what students are grasping and to guide the direction of the course (works especially well when read to whole class).

Relationship to Aims, Overall Objectives and Learning styles:

  • Students become more responsible for their learning
  • Students are more committed to the course and are more likely to continue attending
  • Instructor is able to make a more accurate assessment of student needs.

Methods:

  • Use 3-by-5 cards for feedback.
  • Learners write test questions.
  • Learners provide examples of what has been discussed.

Best Pracitices:

  • In any class, students write potential questions for upcoming exam on a 3x5 card
  • Instructor asks students to list on cards clearest or murkiest point of the day
  • At beginning of class session, instructor asks students to mark on card what they didnít understand in the homework
  • Instructor gives students options and asks them what they would like to do in next session
  • In a grammar class, instructor asks students to write a dependent clause (or other grammar element) on a card at end of period.

Pitfalls:

  • Instructor assesses too many things at once, confusing the results
  • Instructor designs questions that require answers that are more than two sentences long.
Collaborative Learning: 

Learners engage in group activities (often applied with other techniques involving case studies, contextual learning, project-based learning, etc.)

Relation to Aims, Overall Objectives and Learning Styles:

  • Enlists verbal communication
  • Helps students learn by doing.

Methods:

Instructorís role is facilitator who establishes:

  • Group (size, selection/composition, duration, task)
  • Student accountability: delegation of responsibilities within groups
  • Reporting methodology
  • Assessment structure and criteria.

dig deeperMore about Collaborative Learning

 

 


Best Practices:

  • Students in science and art classes have lab partners
  • In a literature class, after reading novels with theme of "Home," students work as real estate agents to devise strategies to sell fictional property to the characters
  • Students in a Developmental English class form permanent semester-long groups which complete all work in collaboration, doing assignments together which are graded as individual groups
  • In a Marketing and Retailing class, students collaborate as a large class group and within small groups to run a small food concession on campus
  • Jigsaw: A model used in various disciplines in which groups of students teach the class a concept (grammar, math problems, physics principles, essay interpretation, economic theories, historical events, etc.)
  • Student groups in Freshman Composition courses utilize Hypernews to respond to prompts and discuss essays and issues.

(For other Best Practices, see Project-Based Learning)

Pitfalls:

  • Students go off topic
  • Some students refuse to participate
  • Individuals dominate group discussion
  • Group assignments are not adequately tailored for students to handle.
Contextual Learning: 

Learning that broadens the scope of individual courses to include multiple disciplines and/or real-world contexts.

Relation to Aims, Overall Objectives and Learning Styles:

  • Fulfills critical thinking aims
  • Enhances student interest by making the curriculum more "real" and less abstract.

Methods:

  • Select activity to provide a critical relationship to material.
  • Select appropriate resources to implement activity (props).

Pitfalls:

  • Method fails to communicate pedagogical concept (context doesnít fit material).

Best Practices:

  • In a history class dealing with the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, instructor incorporates scientific and urban planning concepts, as well as sociological and economics concepts, as ways of looking at reconstruction of city
  • In a Womenís Literature class, to provide a broader social context to the literature being read, students in groups present skits about the history, arts, political movements, music, technology, and economy from the period
  • In an American Literature class, students reading The Scarlet Letter brainstorm pejorative labels that have been applied to them in their lives (such as "fat," "nosy," "pushy," etc.) and wear one of the words on placards around their necks
  • In a math class, students construct their own word problems that apply to dilemmas they face in the world (i.e.: determine best prices when shopping, determine the cost of a trip, determine amount of material needed and cost of building a fence, determine how many hours you must work to support yourself, determine how to distribute household duties and expenses to roommates, etc.)

 

Interdisciplinary / Team Teaching 

Integrating knowledge, assumptions and visions of instructors from more than one perspective or discipline into a single course.

Relation to Aims, Overall Objectives and Learning Styles:

  • Builds learning communities
  • Promotes critical thinking.

Modes:

  • Team-teaching mode (two or more instructors teaching a single semester class)
  • Interdisciplinary mode (constructing a course to be taught from semester to semester by faculty from different disciplines)


Best Practices:

  • An African-American studies instructor and a literature instructor teach an Images of Women in Literature class together.

 

 

Labs


dig deeperMore about Labs

 

 
Lecturing 

Presentation of information by instructor with student response.

Relation to Aims, Overall Objectives and Learning Styles:

  • Encourages critical thinking
  • Appeals to studentsí various learning styles by utilizing visual, auditory, theatrical techniques.

Methods:

  • Socratic (delivery, discussion, questions)
  • Narrative (story-telling, personal experience, anecdotes, humor)
  • Use of visual / auditory aids, props, rewards for participation
  • Staying active, moving around the room amid the students
  • Student accountability: actively drawing and recording lecture materials (taking notes), student discussion
  • Experimentation: be willing to try new ideas
  • Scripting/timing.

dig deeperMore about Lecturing


Best Practices:

  • Teacher in a physics class brings in a large basket of Frisbees and tosses them to individual students after they answer questions correctly; after lecture students turn in Frisbees for points.
  • Teachers invite students to aid in directing the lecture by asking, "Whatís next?"
  • Teacher in history dresses in costume to illustrate period being discussed.
  • Instructor invites a guest speaker to present and discuss topic.
  • Teacher explains etymology of words.
  • Teacher has students mount short re-enactments.
  • Teacher utilizes theatrics (standing on furniture, performing with props, etc.).
  • Teacher uses humor in various contexts ("stand-up," presentation of absurd scenarios, use of puns to illustrate points, etc.)

Pitfalls:

  • Teacher fails to wait long enough after a question for students to answer
  • Lecture is boring, students donít listen
  • Lecture materials are not updated and current.
Project-based Learning 

Learning based on specific long- and short-term projects.

Relation to Aims, Overall Objectives and Learning Styles:

  • Fulfills all pedagogical aims
  • Offers opportunity for multifaceted learning: imaginative, analytical, multidisciplinary, etc.
  • Allows for more in-depth treatment.

Methods:

  • Select project or projects
  • Determine length and scope (semester, unit, etc.)
  • Plan method of implementation (individuals, groups, etc.)
  • Determine assessment structure and criteria
  • Establish student accountability
  • Select reporting methodology.

Best Practices:

  • In an ESL class, after reading about presidential campaigns, the students organize campaigns for their own fictional presidential candidates; in campaign literature students are assigned to use specific verb forms, and students present their candidates to the class
  • In a geology class, students use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and, on campus, locate precise longitude and latitude positions of specific small objects
  • In an art class called "Tools for the Artist," the semester project is to build an old-fashioned wooden toolbox, allowing students to learn to apply fractions to the process of cutting wood
  • In a literature class, students write and perform a play-based on a novel or story
  • In a developmental composition class, students use photos from magazines to work in groups; in round robin they identify concrete and interpretive details, from which they write paragraphs describing the action in the photo.

Pitfalls:

  • Teacher doesnít allow appropriate amount of time
  • After devotion of considerable class time, project fails to accomplish learning objective.
Simulations 

Coming Soon

 

 
Storytelling 

Coming Soon

 

 
Thematic Learning 

A type of project-based learning that involves setting up a theme or themes as basis for study.

Relation to Aims, Overall Objectives and Learning Styles:

  • Intensive studies apply critical thinking principles
  • Leads to interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Enhances learning community
  • Contributes to deeper understanding about one issue
  • Requires students to make connections (lateral thinking).

Methods:

  • Select theme(s) for the semester
  • Gather resources
  • Determine scope (semester-long, units, etc)
  • Design assignments (papers, projects, reports, etc.).
  • Choose methodologies
  • Determine method of assessment.

dig deeperMore about Thematic Learning

 

 

Best Practices:

  • In an English class, semester theme examines individual in relationship to society; all reading and papers relate to this theme
  • In a chemistry class, whole semester is devoted to environmental issues
  • In an economics class the theme for the semester examines women and work in different cultures
  • Chaffey College book program: One community college adopted a theme for a year and had teachers in all disciplines voluntarily participate at various points in the semester (dance programs, theatre productions in which economics students collaborated with drama students).

Pitfalls:

  • Theme is not robust enough to stand long-term use
  • Students wander from the theme.