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 using lectures to simply deliver information, instructors can also use them to create opportunities for students to construct new knowledge themselves. In this video, Paola Arlotta explains how she presents material to students so they first construct their own understanding of concepts, then builds on their ideas to develop more formal disciplinary knowledge and vocabulary.
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.
Prompting students to reflect on how the course material relates to their own lives can help them develop a deeper understanding of your subject. Particularly when students are reading large amounts of theoretical material or research findings, it can be difficult to pause and connect that work to past experiences or future plans. In this video, Tina Grotzer models how she builds in moments for her students to relate the course to their life experiences in order to deepen their understanding.
In a lecture-style course, it can be challenging to assess student understanding in real-time, and the voices of frequent participants are not always representative of the class as a whole. Just because no one asks a question, it does not mean the whole group is on the same page. To get a quick snapshot students’ understand of new material, in-class polling can be useful. In this video, Dan Levy demonstrates how he uses interactive polls to check for understanding and peer discussion to clarify misunderstandings.
Some instructors design lectures that simply telegraph answers to students. While there are certainly cases where it makes sense to deliver answers this way, a wholesale dependence on this approach will likely mute students’ drive to discover answers for themselves, resulting in a class of students who depend on you rather than on themselves to solve problems. Infusing lectures with questions that spark students toward self-discovery, however, can help to foster more productive, interactive learning spaces. Paola Arlotta uses leading and “prodding” questions to help students...
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...
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.
By asking students to apply or search out examples of course concepts beyond the classroom, you can help them see how class content tangibly impacts the world around them. In this video, Tina Grotzer demonstrates how and why she asks students to take their learning beyond their weekly lecture.
What sparks deeper learning is not always neatly predictable. Sometimes instructors must move “off-script” to harness serendipitous moments of discovery. This requires flexibility, quick decision-making, and deft plan-tweaking. In this video, Dan Levy uncovers his thought process in one such classroom moment and explains his decision to withhold a correct answer from his students. The cliffhanger serves to kindle curiosity among students, many of whom conclude the week energized and eager to deepen their understanding.
“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.
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.
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.
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...
It is easy for students to get into a routine of where they sit and who they talk to. While this might build a sense of familiarity among some students, it naturally limits the sharing of perspectives and building of community among all. To ensure that all students have opportunities to hear and learn from each other, Gretchen Brion-Meisels intentionally mixes up students within classes, using a range of grouping prompts across the semester. In this video, Brion-Meisels and her students talk about the value and efficiency of using fun prompts to quickly create diverse groupings.
In discussion-based classes, especially large ones, it is difficult to ensure that all students have a chance to verbalize their thinking and receive feedback on their ideas. Incorporating small-group discussion is a low-stakes way of ensuring that all students have the opportunity to actively engage with course material and their peers. In this video, Todd Rakoff breaks students up into small groups to apply abstract legal principles to a concrete problem. Students discuss in small groups before participating in a whole class discussion, where Rakoff solicits insights and synthesizes...
To get students comfortable speaking in larger groups, discussion leaders might choose to start the conversation in smaller groups first to provide a safe environment for students to gain comfort and confidence while testing out ideas with their peers. In this video, Christina “V” Villarreal discusses how she breaks her class into smaller groups when she wants to draw attention to certain material, or when discussion topics require vulnerability from students.