How Can Effective Teaching Be Taught? Breakout Session Notes and Summary, Oct. 14, 2011 (Tamara Fish)

[image from TEFL Teachers Blog]


Barry Lefer, Associate Professor, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

Lawrence Williams, Instructional Associate Professor, Director of Academic Advising, Director of Undergraduate Research, Department of Biology and Biochemistry.

Flavia Belpoliti, Instructional Assistant Professor, Director of the Spanish Language Program, Department of Hispanic Studies.

Melissa Pierson, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and Teacher Education, College of Education.

James Kastely, Associate Professor, Director of Creative Writing, Department of English.

Moderator: Tamara Fish, Instructional Associate Professor, Coordinator of the Core Teaching Fellows Program, CLASS


The following questions were provided as prompts to panelists prior to the session, and to the audience for reflection during the session:

  • How do people learn to teach?
  • Are good teachers mostly born or mostly made?
  • What is “effective” teaching at this time, in this place, and how can we facilitate it?
  • What is the role of each of the following in teaching teachers: Models? Books/research/scholarship? Experience/trial and error? Mentoring/feedback?
  • What is the role of failure in learning to teach?
  • How do we best convey what we know about excellent teaching to a new generation of teachers?
  • Is the term “best practices” meaningful? Helpful?
  • In what ways do standard methods of evaluating teaching either promote or discourage good teaching?
  • What kinds of institutional infrastructure are needed to maximize teaching effectiveness?
  • In what way does the University, as an institution charged with developing standards that seek to measure teaching effectiveness, work either for or against teaching that understands its role in a more complex and nuanced way than can be measured by narrowly defined criteria?

Summary of Discussion:

Each panelist offered a 5-10-minute talk on the question, “How can effective teaching be taught?” After a brief period of reflection, the audience was invited to question or comment. Major points and ideas proffered during the breakout session included the following:

  • Professors often learn to teach on the job, through trial and error, and model instructional practice upon those of favorite professors. Failure has a prominent role in learning how to teach. Perhaps graduate students who want to teach should be required to take a class in teaching.
  • We must think of ourselves as educators, not just subject matter teachers, who both respect and lead students. A good professor must want to teach, and must be constantly receptive to ways to improve, striving to teach with relevance to their students and bringing the classroom to life.
  • Teachers must constantly reflect on why they do what they do; without reflection, not much can improve.
  • Teaching is a balancing act that occurs at the intersection of content knowledge and pedagogy. Part of teaching good teaching is making the components of good teaching explicit. Variables include how long students have wanted to teach and their family or cultural experiences of school, curriculum standards, individual idiosyncrasies, prior experience of a content area vs. a new model they may be asked to adopt as teachers, and affective vs. cognitive qualities—e.g., we want smarter teachers, but we also want qualities such as “grit”—persistence, perseverance—and “with-it-ness.”
  • There are limits to methods, which must be synthesized into a meaningful, discipline-specific approach. We need a plurality of styles to suit a plurality of students.
  • Teaching is a complex, cooperative, human practice, which teachers enter indirectly; only those already inside the practice are able to articulate what the rewards are. Effective teaching is hard to evaluate and is learned by watching a plurality of teachers; we try on moves, replay performances, and think about how to make them available to others.
  • Teachers ideally bring students inside a practice of thinking; the classroom is an arena for the “performance of mind.” Good teachers explicitly address “how to think” for their classes, subverting learned behaviors

Tamara Fish


One Comment on “How Can Effective Teaching Be Taught? Breakout Session Notes and Summary, Oct. 14, 2011 (Tamara Fish)”

  1. Dave Mazella says:

    There’s a wealth of useful principles laid up in this post, but the single most important point that I’d urge profs and grad students to think about would be this statement: “Teaching is a balancing act that occurs at the intersection of content knowledge and pedagogy.” What this suggests, in my view, is that simply knowing, or researching, a particular field will not be enough to know how to teach it to the inexperienced or the uninitiated. Learning how to impart the characteristic modes of thought, key concepts, research and argumentative protocols–all these things are taught through a combination of direct discussion and indirect demonstration. And while the instructor does this, the student must be steadily practicing in these key areas, so as to gain mastery and move on to more complex problems. These are not things that are ordinarily taught in grad school (as the Statesman article I linked to suggested), but perhaps they should.

    The one principle that I would add to this list would be, “Above all, remain curious about how your students learn. Don’t assume you already know what they know or how they are learning whatever you’ve taught them.”

    How might others add to or further refine this list of teaching principles? Suggestions?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s