Friday, November 14, 2008

What I'm learning about Teaching and Preaching pt. 1

Teaching is a two-way enterprise: the teacher and the student both must be engaged in order for learning to happen.

A teacher does not exist for his own benefit. This is the problem of tenured professors at colleges and seminaries. They loose the need to develop their teaching skills, instead they end up focusing on things that seem to interest them, and the classroom becomes second. Anyone who has spent a long period of time in classrooms has run across a professor who really doesn’t care about being in the class. And trust me it’s not a good experience. But if you’re like me you’ve been lucky enough to experience the joy of studying under a teacher who truly cares about the student’s progress in the subject being taught.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned about teaching (This list could be longer, but I’m a busy person and could only think of 5 things off the top of my head to write.):

Interaction is key.
One should not equate interaction with question and answer. Interaction is when the student is actually forced to deal with the subject in a meaningful way. I have experienced this best in small groups, projects, & dialogue (once again not just students asking questions of the professor, but the professor asking questions that lead into a structured conversation).

Structure is paramount
The best classes are classes where the teacher has a highly structured understanding of how the class is to develop. This does not mean that the class is full of work, or that the teacher is not flexible. Instead I think this means that the teacher/professor has everything ordered and all the information is clearly communicated to the class before the class begins.

Multiple Short Papers and Open Book Exams
Especially in the upper level college and graduate classes the issue is not information but synthesis. Thus the goal of the professor is not to test one on information, but the integration of the information. This is best worked out in small projects that constantly force the student to deal with information. Also Exams and tests should be few and far in between. The goal is synthesis and a test deals with mastery of the material not synthesis.

Lecture is not the ideal
Unless the professor is an amazing communicator (and even then) a class made up entirely of lecture will be less than productive. The issue is one of information overload, attention span, and lack of interaction. A lecture ends up being a dry recantation of information that does not allow the student to absorb what they are hearing. Lectures should be kept short, should be limited to the basic information, and should create an atmosphere for dialogue between the professor and the student.

The Student will only care as much as the professor cares about them
Too often a professor can give off the vibe that they do not care about the student. When this happens the professor usually has lost the student. The rare occasion is when the student gets angry at the teacher and ends up working in order to spite the prof (a friend in High School actually got a 4.0 because he wanted to show up his teachers…but he’s by far the exception). If the professor wants his student to learn – which is the heart of teaching – they must take every opportunity to show the student that they care.

What are your responses to my thoughts? Would you add any other thoughts?

2 comments:

Eric said...

Excellent post Dan. I am in agreement with most of the points here. A personality like mine doesn't like that interaction is the key, but I admit, it is.

One thing that needs to be mentioned here, however, is class size. A class of 30 or 40 cannot interact with a professor on a meaningful level. You will always have one or two students who dominate conversation and those who are less likely to speak out never will. For what you are talking about to be totally effective, class size must be small. This is key in my opinion!

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