Ambrose, Susan A., Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, et al. How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010).
Not really a beginner’s book, but beginners nonetheless should know about it. Apart from being deeply thoughtful and explaining many key principles of education, it also has really useful appendices at the end on learning objectives, scoring rubrics, and more.
Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996.
Lots of very practical assignment ideas here, adaptable for all disciplines.
Huston, Therese. Teaching What You Don’t Know (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).
Presents an intriguing argument: that the vulnerability new instructors feel in having to teach unfamiliar material is actually a positive opportunity that can bring out your greatest strengths as a teacher.
Lang, James M. On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).
Hands-on guide that walks the beginner through the basics of teaching, from syllabus construction to grading exams.
The phrase refers to a map of learning goals that are shared by most if not all disciplines, even though dedicated vocabulary within individual disciplines might disguise the commonality of the domains. It originates from work done in the years after WWII by a task force of educators led by Benjamin Bloom. The ideas were developed and revised over decades, so the term refers to the ongoing science of mapping the learning process in order to establish effective learning objectives. Without needing to know too many of its details, there are two important points to note about the taxonomy.
First, the taxonomy subdivides into three domains: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. Most scholastic interest centers on the cognitive domain, but the affective and the psychomotor should not be ignored. The affective domain covers essential mental acts such as valuing and prioritizing, without which pure cognition is severely restricted in scope and application. When a student sees the relevance and importance of a topic, learning ability spikes. Psychomotor competencies have less obvious impact in scholastic mastery, unless some specific skill (e.g., in the surgery or laboratory) is called for, yet cognition is thoroughly dependent on them (writing, typing, and reading are all psychomotor skills), and abstract ideas can come alive for a student when asked to model them in some way by means of kinesthetic activities (sketching, miming, etc.). The point is that the more students can visualize a complex idea (i.e., one from the cognitive domain) in both affective and kinesthetic terms, the better they internalize it.
Second, the taxonomy often represents the learning process as a hierarchy of mental acts from recollecting ideas (at the bottom) to synthesizing them (at the top). Yet any examination of our own thought life should show us that the mind shuffles back and forth among stages in no set sequence, and that understanding holistically connects its component acts. As teachers, we can use Bloom’s Taxonomy to help us break down an idea into discrete steps and sequence them from the simplest to the most complex. This strategy is also known as “scaffolding.”
At the same time, however, we should recognize that such articulation is a device for learning rather than a real description of a student’s mental process once mastery is achieved. Even so, it still provides a guide for us to check assignments we give. Have we asked students to jump from stating a formula to analyzing its application in some complicated scenario? Break the assignment into discrete steps, and only then ask your students to synchronize them all in tackling the most challenging task.
Diagnostic tests should be directly aligned with the learning objectives for a course. An entrance diagnostic (as distinct from an exit diagnostic) assesses whatever competencies your students ideally should already possess at the start of semester. Assess only those competencies; don’t complicate the issue by importing extraneous material that distracts performance from the priorities.
Grade the test as clearly and objectively as possible. Do not include any diagnostic results in the final grade, or else students might be tempted to cheat and thus compromise the diagnostic value. If not including the results in the final grade disinclines students from taking the test seriously, emphasize that simply taking the test(s) counts positively for participation regardless of any score achieved.
There is much value in assigning an exit diagnostic near the end of the semester (same rules for administering it as with the entrance diagnostic). It is up to you whether to administer a similar/identical test as the entrance diagnostic or to test for different competencies learned through the semester.
First Day of Class
Here is how not to teach your first day of class: begin with the roster; distribute syllabus; spend 30 minutes repeating its contents and dealing with practical questions about textbooks, etc.; assign reading for next lesson; dismiss class early.
The first lesson represents an important opportunity to engage your students and for learning to occur even if they know nothing about the subject and haven’t done any homework. It is understood that some part of the lesson has to be spent on “housekeeping” matters (important dates of exams, getting textbooks, etc.), but that still leaves room for learning something. Here are some key principles:
This entry deals with informal collaborative learning during class time and does not refer to a high-stakes group project, which requires a lot of detailed preparation. Here are some guidelines:
Opinion about the appropriateness of the lecture remains divided among individuals and disciplines. For some, it remains the classroom staple, the most effective way of conveying knowledge; for others, it is sidelined in favor of more hands-on group- or lab-work and student presentations. Whichever way you lean, consider mixing your style a little. A lecture has the power to inspire and fascinate, but without built-in pauses to process the material in various ways, most of it will flow past students’ ears. Here are some guidelines:
Students might have the requisite literacy skills, but that does not necessarily mean that they know how to read analytically. Confronted with academic prose, with its complex sentence structure, footnotes, and technical vocabulary, students often either read too quickly, gleaning only vague impressions of content, or too slowly, trying unselectively to take notes on and absorb everything (which inevitably means they lose the forest for the trees and fail to complete the reading). When assigning readings, keep the following guidelines in mind: