3. Working with Students in the Classroom

How can you make the most of your time with students in the classroom? Below you will find some points about common teaching strategies as well as a set of core principle for successful teaching.


When you are using a lecture style to deliver content:

  • Think about students' limited attention spans (need to break up long lectures with activities).
  • Give students a framework for understanding lecture structure (tell them what you’ll be discussing; summarize key points as you go).
  • Keep students engaged (ask questions to get student attention/feedback, have students complete “mini-quizzes” or assignments during class, etc.).
  • Use lectures to model good thinking behaviors – walk through a problem and show them your thought process so they can try to mimic it.
  • Students need to be taught how to learn. Help students learn to take better notes in class (not just copy down every word passively). They should develop a note-taking system that helps them review content and follow up on difficult spots.
  • Keep this in mind: “In lectures teachers cover more material, but research shows that most of the material covered does not get into the students’ notes or memory” (McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, 12th ed., pg. 36).


Discussion & Small-group Work

  • Benefits of discussion/conversation: “If we elaborate our learning by thinking about its relationship to other things we know or by talking about it —explaining, summarizing, or questioning — we are more likely to remember it when we need to use it later.” (McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, 12th ed., pg. 36).

Some considerations with discussion and small-group work:

  • Lack of participation or unbalanced participation (one or two students doing all the talking)
  • Discussions can become very unfocused
  • Some students may need more time to formulate their responses (that is, you may not always want to call on the first person to raise their hand).


Other in-class techniques to increase student attentiveness and learning:

  • Think-Pair-Share (TPS): give students a problem/question, have each student come up with an answer on his/her own, and then have students discuss their answers in pairs (or groups of three). After discussing in pairs, return to a full-group discussion.
  • Use “show of hands” quizzes to check student understanding midway through a session (you can achieve the same result with certain websites or blackboard functions accessible via smartphone). This allows you to adapt your teaching to help make sure more of your students learn key concepts.
  • Have students leave anonymous notes at the end of each class. Ask them: What was the most important thing you learned today? What concepts/topics are you having difficulty with?


Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education

Source: A.W. Chickering and Z.F. Gamson, AAHE Bulletin, 1987, 39 (7) 3-7.

The seven principles below offer guideposts for good teaching and course design. For more information on how to apply these seven principles, see: https://www.utc.edu/walker-center-teaching-learning/teaching-resources/7-principles.php

Principle 1: Encourage Student-Faculty Contact
Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of classes is the most important factor in student motivation and involvement. Faculty concern helps students get through rough times and keep on working. Knowing a few faculty members well enhances students' intellectual commitment and encourages them to think about their own values and future plans.

Principle 2: Encourage Cooperation Among Students
Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort that a solo race. Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often increases involvement in learning. Sharing one's own ideas and responding to others' actions sharpens thinking and deepens understanding.

Principle 3: Encourage Active Learning
Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.

Principle 4: Give Prompt Feedback
Knowing what you know and don't know focuses learning. Students need appropriate feedback on performance to benefit from courses. When getting started, students need help in assessing existing knowledge and competence. In classes, students need frequent opportunities to access performance and receive suggestions for improvement. At various points during college, and at the end, students need chances to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how to assess themselves.

Principle 5: Emphasize Time on Task
Time plus energy equals learning. There is no substitute for time on task. Learning to use one's time well is critical for students and professionals alike. Students need help in learning effective time management. Allocating realistic amounts of time means effective learning for students and effective teaching for faculty. How an institution defines time expectations for students, faculty, administrators, and other professional staff can establish the basis of high performance for all.

Principle 6: Communicate High Expectations
Expect more and you will get more. High expectations are important for everyone – for the poorly prepared, for those unwilling to exert themselves, and for the bright and well motivated. Expecting students to perform well becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when teachers and institutions hold high expectations for themselves and make extra efforts.

Principle 7: Respect Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning
There are many roads to learning. People bring different talents and styles of learning to college. Brilliant students in the seminar room may be all thumbs in the lab or art studio. Students who are rich in hands-on experience may not do so well with theory. Students need the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them. Then they can be pushed to learning in new ways that do not come so easily.


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