Suggestions to Consider to Improve Teaching and Learning

By: Mark J Horacek

  1. At the beginning of class, tell your students where you are going. This could be a brief overview and will give students the sense that you (and therefore they) are organized.
  2. Periodically break and tell students where you are: i.e., milestones within the material – say something like: "we just covered the anatomy of the shoulder and we now have the foundational basis upon which to talk about the functional significance of these anatomical structures; it is impossible to understand the functional significance of structures unless you first understand their anatomy".
  3. At the end of class summarize where you have been.
  4. Maintain your perspective for "the big picture" and help students understand how the details fit into the "big picture".
  5. Use different speeds of delivery to maintain concentration; pause to make important points; use movement to reinforce important points.
  6. Claim your territory with authority; do whatever it takes to establish and maintain your presence in the room.
  7. In subjects that are open to interpretation, do give your opinion and more importantly, reveal your thought process in reaching your opinion. When you model critical thinking in class, students begin to think in the same way.
  8. We ask students to be critically reflective in analyzing their performance. You must be critically reflective in analyzing your teaching. Every 1-2 weeks critically evaluate what you have done and how you might improve it.
  9. Reflect on your lecture and laboratory sessions. Are students engaged or just going though the motions? Are they learning during the class period or do they depend primarily on studying at home? How do you know that they are learning? Can you produce data that shows what is retained by students immediately after a lecture (i.e., can they answer 10 questions on the major points you made during lecture or lab)?
  10. Reflect on and study your own teaching. Think about your teaching history – what worked last week, what did not? Do you need to change your methods or add variety? Are you covering too much material – or not enough? Are you emphasizing the important points? Do you give specific examples to give students something to "hang their hat on"?
  11. Obtain student feedback frequently. Starting out, I suggest doing this at the end of each week (last class period of the week – see example questions in the "Weekly Classroom Assessment of Teaching/Learning Attachment). You may believe that you do not have time to administer this, but if your teaching is ineffective the time you spend teaching is wasted anyway. Understand that even the best teachers cannot expect positive comments from all students so you must weigh student responses critically. The point of this exercise is not to please everyone in class all the time. If you score perfectly all the time you are probably doing something wrong.
  12. Seek advice from "master teachers". Do this in a specific way when possible; i.e., review examinations; ask for help with small group discussions; classroom assessment, etc.
  13. Read the literature about teaching and learning.
  14. Keep a "teaching log". A teaching log is a weekly record of important experiences, insights, or milestones in your teaching/student learning. As time passes, the log will become very valuable in disclosing your craft: what worked well, what did not. When was I most comfortable and connected to the class; when was I least comfortable and least connected to the class? What are your current assumptions about teaching and learning; do they change over time; are they founded in fact? If you could change something about the teaching for this week, what would you change? If you change something, did you document why?
  15. See your teaching through the eyes of your students. Imagine how you felt the very first time you learned this material. Two things might happen: A) the more years you teach, the more distant you move away from understanding/remembering your own first learning experience; B) the first few times you teach you may tend to over-teach or teach too fast. A hard lesson to learn is that sometimes less is actually more.
  16. Realize that there may be a tendency for the best learners to be the worst teachers with regard to having an accurate perception of the difficulty of learning.
  17. Create a written teaching philosophy and modify it as required based on data that you collect. It is sometimes helpful to share your philosophy with students so that they know what to expect.
  18. Periodically videotape your lectures and labs. You will find this most revealing and extremely helpful.
  19. Periodically have a trouble-shooting session with students. Ask them what is working; what is not working? Be ready to facilitate the discussion initially because they will be reluctant to tell you the truth. When you start getting comments accept them and be "thick-skinned". Check a single student’s viewpoint against the rest of the class. If they want you to change something but you decide it is not in their best interest let them know why.
  20. Test on what you teach and teach what you intend to test.

Weekly Classroom Assessment of Teaching/Learning