Students enter classrooms expecting to learn new material from the sources instructors select as well as from instructors themselves. An often underappreciated source of new learning, however, remains a student’s classmates. Fellow students’ fresh perspectives can foster new ways of thinking and yield constructive, unconsidered insights. In this video, Brett Flehinger describes why he refers to his class as a “collective brain,” a metaphor for the collaborative, participatory learning process he strives to create in his lecture classroom.
A lecturer who acts primarily as a “sage on the stage” for an entire class session will likely struggle to gauge or sustain student attention and energy. By incorporating frequent, purposeful questioning into lectures, instructors can keep students energized and deepen their understanding. Brett Flehinger uses factual, analytical, and overarching questions during his lectures to draw out student voices and check the class’s “temperature.”
A classic challenge for the lecturers is how to fit all relevant material into the timeframe of a short class period, not to mention a short semester. When a student makes an insightful point that would take the class in a new direction, instructors must decide: Do I go on a worthwhile tangent to address the student’s point, or do I proceed as I had planned? In this video, Brett Flehinger shares why he allows student contributions to shape the path a class takes and how he makes strategic adjustments on the fly.
Effective lecturers don’t just teach content; they also teach key ways of thinking about that content. When instructors hear or see a student demonstrating strong analytical skills, publicly verbalizing what that student is doing can demystify complex thinking and positively reinforce key skills. When a student draws a conclusion based on multiple pieces of evidence, Brett Flehinger purposefully spotlights what he observes. These moments propel class forward and advance his lesson.
Instead of viewing each class session as an independent, stand-alone component, some lecturers effectively weave together material across classes to create a coherent learning trajectory for students. As Brett Flehinger advances from topic to topic, he makes transparent for students his thinking about the specific curriculum choices. In this video, Brett describes how he uses his syllabus as an “atlas” to elucidate links between classes and concepts. He encourages his students to do the same.
Just like athletes in team practices, students can benefit enormously from a brief warm-up period at the start of class. To invigorate and prepare his students before diving into analytical conversations, Brett Flehinger frequently kicks off lectures with a flurry of factual and brainstorming questions. Once he observes that students have co-constructed some common understanding, Flehinger ups the stakes and challenges students to dig deeper into the material.
Just like assertions made in essays, comments made during class should be rooted in evidence, not instinct. To support the development of this critical skill, Brett Flehinger requires students to “secure with evidence” any statements they make. By explicitly setting and enforcing the expectation that in-class comments must be grounded in course readings, Flehinger ensures that all students practice evidence-based reasoning.
Most academic fields require close, textual analysis. Despite this, some instructors lecture entire class sessions without affording students focused periods for practicing and sharpening their analytical skills. Understanding how crucial it is that students leave his course with particular skills in their repertoire, Brett Flehinger devotes significant portions of class time to hands-on engagement with analysis or, what he calls, “the fundamental historian’s task,” seeking to strengthen students’ discipline-specific skills through guided practice. In this video, Flehinger hands out new...