For some years I’ve been working with a group of teachers who have been motivated to improve their courses and their classroom performance. These teachers were in a teaching in-service seminar I gave some years ago (almost a decade ago!). It was one of those rare experiences when everything seemed to click: the right people in the same room at the same time sharing the same interest and serendipitously finding the right seminar. A small group from this seminar has continued to pursue their work of becoming excellent teachers, and it has been gratifying to see.
Over the years this group of teachers has discovered ways to develop their “killer courses.” These are courses that are extraordinary in their effectiveness, and are not only fun to teach, but have become recognized as “must take” courses in the student grapevine. Each of those killer courses is unique to the teacher, of course. Teaching is more art than science, and there are some things you just can’t package. But over the years we’ve developed a formula for creating a killer course.
In case you want to develop your own killer course, here are the ingredients of the formula:
1. Don’t separate knowing from finding out. Learning is a process and the key to helping students is to not deny them the process of learning. That may sound obvious, but it doesn’t seem to translate to good teaching practices. Too many teachers still use the “teaching-by-telling” approach in their classrooms, the primary characteristic of which is that the teacher spends most of the time lecturing and “telling” students what they are supposed to learn. But teaching-by-telling doesn’t work because it does the students’ thinking for them. The best way to help your students learn is to provide the environment, process, resources, and structure for them to find out for themselves.
2. Get students engaged in the learning process. My golden rule for successful teaching is, “Never work harder than your students.” So, stop doing all the work and get your students engaged in all facets of the course learning experience, from setting down learning objectives to engaging in assessment.
3. Insist on clear and accurate evidence of learning from students. Whether it is in the use of language (terms, concepts, definitions, writing), answers on an exam, or the production of products or projects, effective teachers insist on clear and accurate expression. This is one of the quickest ways to uncover and correct misunderstandings and to foster critical thinking.
4. Practice collaboration. Learning is a social enterprise, and we must create ways for that reality to be a truth in our classrooms. Use a team approach to projects, small groups for dialogue and problem-solving, task groups for creating products, group presentations, study groups for learning, etc. One added benefit to collaborative learning experiences is that you facilitate soliciting self-awareness on the part of students.
5. Foster freedom and aesthetic in the classroom. Fostering freedom means not only empowering students to learn, but making them responsible for their own learning. Fostering freedom also means giving expansive permission to experiment, explore, and, fail in the process. But failure is not evidence of a failure to learn—often, the most important insights and lessons are learned from having tried and failed. Attention to the aesthetic addresses the affect, and there’s no learning if we don’t engage the emotions. The aesthetic cultivates appreciation, and a sense of the beauty facilitates discernment.
So, now you have the formula for creating a killer course. All that remains is the courage to put it into practice!
Date posted: Wednesday, September 17th, 2008 12:05 am | Under category: assessment, Christian Education, curriculum, teaching
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