Teachers wanting to take their game to a new level are hungry for what this Observer page offers: tips for effective teaching, tips for teaching that informs, stimulates, energizes, and even entertains.
My favorite teaching tips, presented here, have been gleaned from the collected advice of master teachers and seasoned with my own experience. Some years ago, my collection began to extend beyond Bill McKeachie's classic Teaching Tips (2002). During an extended discussion of teaching tips for new teachers, experienced teachers participating in Bill Southerly's Teaching in the Psychological Sciences listserv (http://faculty.frostburg.edu/psyc/southerly/tips) offered their secrets of success. Here, drawn from the discussion, are my 10 favorites, in italics, with my own reflections:
•Be positive. Correcting mistakes is important, but so is catching students doing something right and reinforcing them. Poet Jack Ridl, a revered professor on my campus and Michigan's Carnegie Professor of the Year, harnesses this principle in his teaching of writing (as I can vouch from Jack's mentoring me with his feedback on several thousand pages of my writing). Jack offers not only specific wisdom — "Your point will have most impact if not buried mid sentence" — but also his delight when catching peak moments: "Dave, can you feel your rhythm here? The cadence is lovely."
•Give frequent and fast feedback. It takes no more time to read papers and exams immediately — and to return them the next class period. Students welcome the immediate feedback and instructors are glad to have the chore behind them.
•Be enthusiastic. As Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal (1992, 1993) have found, it takes but a few seconds for observers to “read” a teacher's warmth and enthusiasm, and thus to predict their course evaluations. Some people are naturally expressive (and therefore talented at pantomime and charades); others are less expressive (and therefore better poker players). Bella DePaulo and her colleagues (1992) have shown that even inexpressive people, when feigning expressiveness, are less expressive than expressive people acting naturally. Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney could not, for more than a few moments, imitate each other's styles. The moral: If you're a low-key person who needs to express more enthusiasm, don't worry about overdoing it. What's more, fake it and you may make it.
•Don't expect them to be as enthusiastic. Chronically sleep-deprived and sometimes self-conscious collegians may not visibly reciprocate our energy, warmth, and enthusiasm. Nevertheless, energy, warmth, and enthusiasm help awaken minds. And as alumni memories of a class sometimes indicate, the mind behind the blank face may register more than we're aware.
•Give lots of practical examples. My first textbook editor, in response to my first submitted draft chapter, offered this advice: "Remember, Dave, for every abstract point you must have a concrete example." This principle of good writing is also a principle of good teaching.
•Make questions concrete. After showing a video I used to ask, "Comments anyone?" and suffer the silence. But then a colleague modeled a more effective strategy for me: "How did you react to the argument that ... ?" An easily engaged, specific question can unleash a discussion.
•Have patience awaiting answers. Don't answer your own question. Allow a few moments of calm silence, and a hand, or perhaps an expressive face, may signal someone's willingness to answer. As a further step, inviting students first to write an answer virtually ensures that they will then have something to say.
•Do say, "I don't know" and entertain ideas about how to answer a question. We show our humanity and humility when acknowledging our ignorance. And we can use such times to engage students in thinking like scientist-detectives — by brainstorming how one might go about answering the question.
•Assume your introductory students will never take another course in your field. Focus on the big questions. What from this course should an educated person know? What are the big lessons you hope they will never forget?
•Realize that in teaching, as in life, two things are certain: 1) You're going to make a fool of yourself at some point, and 2) You're going to have your heart broken. Although teaching for me has been rewarding, even the best of semesters has offered at least one student evaluation that has seized my attention like a bee sting, as in these answers from one of my students: "What did you find beneficial about this course?" "Nothing!" "What could be improved?" "End the course." "What advice would you give a friend who is planning to take this course?" "Don't."
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