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.
In lectures, students often have difficulty discerning what is most important. Some students resolve this dilemma by frantically copying down as much as they can, whereas others might assume the most important information will appear in assignments. Both of these sets of students leave class without clear takeaways. Dan Levy gets around this challenge by offering interactive handouts that serve as in-class note-taking guides and after-class “study guides.” Levy uses his handouts to orient the class to the key questions, and he provides students space on the handouts to answer those...
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.
In a conventional lecture class, an instructor typically finds out whether students have learned the material only after it has been assessed, which can happen days, weeks, even months after the material was presented. But particularly in a class that demands mathematical reasoning skills, inviting students to show their thinking publicly during class allows the instructor to get a sense of students’ understanding and reasoning in order to make adjustments in real-time. Dan Levy invites students to use an iPad projected to the front of the class in order to demonstrate the...
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.”
Silence in the classroom can feel uncomfortable for students and instructors alike, but processing information takes time. Waiting for several seconds after asking a question so that students, particularly introverted ones, are able to gather their thoughts before responding is proven to expand participation and improve the quality of student responses. In this video, Bob Kegan and Dan Levy discuss their strategies for using wait-time in the classroom, which Levy calls “one of the most underused weapons that an instructor has at his/her disposal.”
While slides can be helpful for displaying class material, they also tend to be static and relatively passive. Conversely, co-constructing knowledge on the board with students can help make definitions and key concepts come alive. In this video, Paola Arlotta describes how recording students’ ideas on the board engages them in collaboratively “building the class material” and involves them more deeply in the learning process.
Although the physical setup of a classroom typically points toward a lectern or podium, moving around the space intentionally can send important nonverbal signals to students. In this video, Dan Levy describes how he rarely stays “tethered to the front of the room,” especially when trying to elicit participation, stimulate debate, or encourage a particular student to venture deeper on a particular point.
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...
Paying close attention to what’s going on in a classroom can help determine when to delve deeper on a given topic and when to re-teach something that may have been confusing. Through keen observation and “show of hands” solicitations, Bob Kegan stays attuned to the classroom’s ebbs and flows. Regular “temperature-taking” allows him to adapt lesson trajectories accordingly and gain insight into student understanding.
Challenging students to step into the shoes of experts within their fields and consider problems from specialized points of view can make material more relevant and help students develop crucial disciplinary instincts. The ultimate goal of the history instructor, for instance, is for his/her students to be not only well-versed in the content but also able to think like historians. In every one of Paola Arlotta’s class sessions, she presents multiple experiments for students to design or interpret so they can gain confidence and practice thinking like scientists. In this video, she...
To invite quieter students into the conversation and afford students a chance to process and articulate their thoughts before sharing them with the whole group, many instructors intersperse think-pair-shares into their lectures. Using routine, structured think-pair-share activities, Kegan gives every student an intellectual partner with which to react and respond to material in real-time. Such exercises also help to break up the potential monotony of the large-enrollment lecture course while ensuring that all students share in the thinking process instead of the outspoken few.
“When am I ever going to use this?” is a question more commonly asked in grade school classrooms than in undergraduate and graduate school ones, but instructors in higher education often consider the relevance and transferability of their course material nonetheless. To ensure that her course content is relevant and useful to students’ lives, Jane Mansbridge centers class material around transferable, real-world takeaways. In this video, she describes how by doing so, she gives her students “tools” she hopes they will take with them forever.
When students share incorrect or unclear comments in discussion, instructors must tread carefully. Learning how to provide clear feedback without discouraging participants from contributing altogether can be something of a balancing act. In this video, Todd Rakoff employs a range of careful strategies like follow-up questioning, wait-time, and gentle clarifications when he gives students real-time feedback. Such responses aim to increase students’ learning and deepen their engagement.
By framing class discussions as a three-way conversation between authors, students, and herself, Jane Mansbridge broadens and enlivens students’ interaction with course material. This clever framing encourages students to consider the author’s point of view, place his/her writing in historical context, and uncover assumptions that underpin the author’s argument. Framing discussions this way can be an especially powerful technique for instructors teaching historical texts. When done well, it is almost as if the authors are present in the classroom.
Once students are in the habit of discussing ideas among themselves, a key question for a professor is when to jump in. When should we provide helpful context? When should we inject a probing question to encourage students to dig deeper? Is it good practice to always correct misinformation? In this video, Timothy Patrick McCarthy shares how he generally strives to hold back in discussion but will intervene when he notices that something “really crucial” to student understanding has not yet surfaced.
Questions have the power to ignite or short-circuit deeper understanding. While the thoughtfully constructed question might take a discussion to new heights, another can stop it in its tracks. What sorts of questions get students thinking more deeply? How can these questions be planned in advance or developed “on the go”? In this video, Todd Rakoff uses a questioning strategy inspired by Socratic dialogue to probe for deeper student thinking.
An instructor’s personal or political opinions might be less relevant when it comes to some topics, but asserting your opinions on certain controversial issues may be crucial. In this video, Christina “V” Villarreal and Tim McCarthy reflect on when and why they choose to assert certain political positions or strongly held beliefs in a discussion, particularly when “a line is crossed” or when “stakes are high.”
Inviting students to plan for and facilitate discussions can have the effect of, as Tim McCarthy puts it, “provoking robust debate.” Though Tim McCarthy plays an integral role in class discussions, students themselves are responsible for leading the majority of classes, all of which are discussion-based. McCarthy refers to this exercise as a “provocation.” Leading such “provocations” affords student facilitators powerful, pedagogical perspectives while challenging them to participate more broadly in classroom discourse. In this video, McCarthy walks viewers through the intentional...
Invariably, not all good ideas will be heard during the course of a discussion, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be heard at all. By requiring students to write responses to weekly readings before class, instructors can take a pulse on student thinking and use students’ written ideas to plan lectures and discussions. Through timely and detailed written feedback on such responses, Jane Mansbridge establishes an ongoing dialogue with students that extends far beyond the four walls of the classroom.