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Creating a safe environment for wrong answers

Thinking like a scientist means coming up with hypotheses, even ones that might seem plausible but are ultimately incorrect. In her biology course, Paola Arlotta responds to student comments, including the incorrect ones, with positive feedback. In this video, Arlotta explains that by doing so she aims to create an environment in which students feel comfortable thinking creatively and speaking up even when they are stretched to the limits of what they know for certain.

Fostering a culture of valuing different ways of thinking

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.

Exercising gentle humor strategically

An unenergetic, monotone delivery of instruction can easily stifle a student’s intellectual curiosity. The simple addition of humor, however, might keep students more engaged. It has even been shown to increase student learning. By cleverly sprinkling witticisms, amusing anecdotes, and self-deprecating quips throughout his lectures, Bob Kegan keeps the tone light in what can oftentimes be serious, tense subject matter. The result is a welcoming environment in which students feel comfortable and close to their professor.

Developing A Learning Culture

Some academic environments emphasize to students that being “right“ is what matters most. In Dan Levy’s class, however, what really matters is sound thinking, regardless of whether or not such thinking results in the “right” answer. In this video, Levy describes how he sees his job not as “coming with the truth,” but rather as inviting students into activities designed to authentically making them think.

Building on Student Comments to Teach Academic Concepts

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.

Modeling Thought Processes and Sharing Personal Experience

Instead of using class time to deliver a pre-written speech, it can be helpful to spend part of the lecture thinking aloud for your students. Exposing your own thought processes can be a powerful, authentic way to acclimate students to a discipline. Sharing experiences that helped you understand concepts more deeply can additionally offer students a window into your intellectual journey, adding a human dimension to the subject matter. In this video, Bob Kegan discusses how thinking out loud during lectures models the reasoning with which he expects his students to become fluent and...

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Acknowledging Publicly and Precisely What Students Do Well

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.

Modeling norms for actively listening and building on comments

Powerful class discussions feel and sound conversational, not forced. They brim with incisive commentary, active listening, follow-up questions, and thoughtful rejoinders. But these characteristics of rich academic discourse do not always come naturally to students. The discussion facilitator plays a pivotal role in laying the groundwork for such authentic dialogue by both articulating expectations and personally modeling those expectations. In this video, Tim McCarthy consciously uses students' names, makes eye contact, and articulates connections between students' comments to...

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Presenting Material in Multiple Ways

It is tempting, even natural, to want to present material exactly how you like to receive it, but if you do this you may be reaching only a small cohort of students. In reality, students receive and process information in a variety of ways. Lecturers may reach more students by varying the ways they present material and offering multiple entry points for complex concepts. In this video, Bob Kegan describes the range of tactics he uses to teach students in his large-enrollment lecture course.

Using the physical space to support a democratic philosophy

While students certainly pay attention to their professor’s verbal communication, they also pick up on nonverbal cues. Sitting in a circle with your students instead of standing over them, or empowering them to participate without necessarily waiting to be called on can foster a democratic culture where all voices matter equally. In this video, Christina “V” Villarreal explains how she purposefully arranges her classroom and uses physical cues to build a classroom community that “agentizes” her students.

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