Tag Archives: teaching skills; critical thinking

Discussion: Want to Improve your Teaching? Be Organized.

AJ kicked off the meeting by discussing the article, “Teaching Clearly Can Be a Deceptively Simple Way to Improve Learning,” by Dan Berrett published in the November 22, 2013 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education.  The article discussed how teaching clearly is basic to improving student learning.  This conclusion was drawn from an analysis of 3 studies that looked at how organization and clarity of professors is connected to deeper student learning.

The group then talked about different strategies we use in our attempts to explain things clearly and be organized in our teaching.  The strategies included:

  • When you explain a concept, have the students reflect it back or explain it to you.  This not only serves as a check for student understanding, but improves the chances of students who initially didn’t understand now “getting it” since it has been explained in more than one way.
  • At the beginning of class, tell the students your plan and goals for the class.  Write the goals on the whiteboard or project them on the screen if possible.  Check back in along the way so they see how they are accomplishing those goals.
  • At the beginning of class, ask students to tell you what they need to know in order to do their assignment.  Structure the class around their stated needs.
  • Give yourself time markers when you plan the class so you know how long different sections and activities should take and you don’t end up rushing through parts.  Be sure to build in some flexibility, too, and be prepared to sacrifice some content if students end up needing more time on a concept than you intially planned.
  • Give students time markers.  For example, tell them how long they have for an active learning activity and then give them a 1 minute warning before the end of that activity so they can wrap-up.
  • Use a variety of examples and illustrations to explain a point, recognizing that students have different backgrounds and different approaches to learning.
  • One example of how to explain the difference between formats is to show them a journal article, magazine article, newspaper article, and blog post and ask them to tell you which is which, how they know and possibly when different types of information might be useful to their research.
  • Watch other people teach so you don’t get stale in your own teaching.  This is a way to find new ideas to organize your classes and explain difficult concepts.

We also discussed time constraints, which is a problem everyone faces with one-shots. It is hard to build in repetition (so that you explain the same concept in more than one way), formative assessment (to check on student understanding as you go) and even summative assessment (to check on understanding at the end of the class so you can follow-up later and change things next time) into one-shots because of this time constraint.  However, it isn’t impossible and we discussed some useful approaches such as asking students to post resources they find during active learning into a GoogleDoc you can review right away, or taking a few minutes at the end of class to have them write 3 things they learned or the muddiest point.  Krystal mentioned that LIS has a book called “Classroom Assessment Techniques” on our shelf that anyone is welcome to borrow and she is also available to consult with anyone who wants to build assessment into their class.

One outcome of this RIOT is that we decided to start each one with a 15 minute discussion of things we are doing in the classroom in order to learn from each other and get new ideas.  These will be captured in the blog posts and categorized as active learning, assessment and/or “in the classroom” so we can easily find them again.  In addition, people want to observe LIS teaching so we will make that happen in the spring.


RIOT: Want to improve your teaching? Be organized.

Today’s article:
Teaching Clearly Can Be a Deceptively Simple Way to Improve Learning
By Dan Berrett

I read this article a few weeks ago, and was drawn to the focus on the importance of basic teaching skills. The author cites three different studies presented at the Association for the Study of Higher Education, each of which focuses on students’ perceptions of how organized and clear their professors are in class. Each of these studies used data from the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education which looks at results of critical thinking tests, approaches to learning, student motivation, and student perceptions of their professors’ teaching, which is the focus of this article.

The first study looks at the relationship between student perceptions of organized teaching and gains in critical thinking skills between the beginning and end of student’s first years at college. It found that there was not a significant correlation overall between the two, for minority students who entered far behind white students in critical thinking skills, those with high perceptions of faculty teaching in an organized increased their critical thinking skills five times as much as non-minority students.

The second study found that when students perceived good teaching quality, their reflective learning skills greatly improved over four years.

The final study looked at ‘meaningful interactions with faculty members outside class, along with clear and organized teaching,’ correlated closely with positive effects on student motivation during their first year in college.

The message behind these studies is that one of the best ways to improve student learning, regardless of whether you are flipping the classroom, teaching in traditional ways or somewhere in-between, is to focus on your own organizational skills, make sure that you explain concepts and skills in a clear way, and prepare well for class.

The only real methods mentioned in the article for doing this was to either have someone else observe your class and provide feedback or to tape your own class and watch it. These are two of the most difficult (and rewarding) ways to improve your own teaching, but there are many other useful methods that can be helpful.

For discussion today, I would like to talk about different methods we can use, including the two mentioned above, that might help with organization and clarity in teaching. How could we go about doing this in an organized way in the coming semester?