Scaffolding New Material

Activating Prior Knowledge: Connecting students' experiences to class concepts

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. 

Conducting in-class polling and peer discussion

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.

Warming Up the Class With Foundational Questions

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.

Encouraging Students to Put Each Class in Context with the Broader Course

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.

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.

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.

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.