Below you will find a set of principles of teaching found at Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation. The principles offer a foundation for an exceptional education and for learning that lasts.
- Effective teaching involves acquiring relevant knowledge about students and using that knowledge to inform our course design and classroom teaching.
When we teach, we do not just teach the content, we teach students the content. A variety of student characteristics can affect learning. For example, studentsí cultural and generational backgrounds influence how they see the world; disciplinary backgrounds lead students to approach problems in different ways; and studentsí prior knowledge (both accurate and inaccurate aspects) shapes new learning. Although we cannot adequately measure all of these characteristics, gathering the most relevant information as early as possible in course planning and continuing to do so during the semester can (a) inform course design (e.g., decisions about objectives, pacing, examples, format), (b) help explain student difficulties (e.g., identification of common misconceptions), and (c) guide instructional adaptations (e.g., recognition of the need for additional practice).
- Effective teaching involves aligning the three major components of instruction: learning objectives, assessments, and instructional activities.
Taking the time to do this upfront saves time in the end and leads to a better course. Teaching is more effective and student learning is enhanced when (a) we, as instructors, articulate a clear set of learning objectives (i.e., the knowledge and skills that we expect students to demonstrate by the end of a course); (b) the instructional activities (e.g., case studies, labs, discussions, readings) support these learning objectives by providing goal-oriented practice; and (c) the assessments (e.g., tests, papers, problem sets, performances) provide opportunities for students to demonstrate and practice the knowledge and skills articulated in the objectives, and for instructors to offer targeted feedback that can guide further learning.
- Effective teaching involves articulating explicit expectations regarding learning objectives and policies.
There is amazing variation in what is expected of students across American classrooms and even within a given discipline. For example, what constitutes evidence may differ greatly across courses; what is permissible collaboration in one course could be considered cheating in another. As a result, studentsí expectations may not match ours. Thus, being clear about our expectations and communicating them explicitly helps students learn more and perform better. Articulating our learning objectives (i.e., the knowledge and skills that we expect students to demonstrate by the end of a course) gives students a clear target to aim for and enables them to monitor their progress along the way. Similarly, being explicit about course policies (e.g., on class participation, laptop use, and late assignment) in the syllabus and in class allows us to resolve differences early and tends to reduce conflicts and tensions that may arise. Altogether, being explicit leads to a more productive learning environment for all students. More information on how clear learning objectives supports students' learning. (pdf)
- Effective teaching involves prioritizing the knowledge and skills we choose to focus on.
Coverage is the enemy: Donít try to do too much in a single course. Too many topics work against student learning, so it is necessary for us to make decisions Ė sometimes difficult ones Ė about what we will and will not include in a course. This involves (a) recognizing the parameters of the course (e.g., class size, studentsí backgrounds and experiences, course position in the curriculum sequence, number of course units), (b) setting our priorities for student learning, and (c) determining a set of objectives that can be reasonably accomplished.
- Effective teaching involves recognizing and overcoming our expert blind spots.
We are not our students! As experts, we tend to access and apply knowledge automatically and unconsciously (e.g., make connections, draw on relevant bodies of knowledge, and choose appropriate strategies) and so we often skip or combine critical steps when we teach. Students, on the other hand, donít yet have sufficient background and experience to make these leaps and can become confused, draw incorrect conclusions, or fail to develop important skills. They need instructors to break tasks into component steps, explain connections explicitly, and model processes in detail. Though it is difficult for experts to do this, we need to identify and explicitly communicate to students the knowledge and skills we take for granted, so that students can see expert thinking in action and practice applying it themselves.
- Effective teaching involves adopting appropriate teaching roles to support our learning goals.
Even though students are ultimately responsible for their own learning, the roles we assume as instructors are critical in guiding studentsí thinking and behavior. We can take on a variety of roles in our teaching (e.g., synthesizer, moderator, challenger, commentator). These roles should be chosen in service of the learning objectives and in support of the instructional activities. For example, if the objective is for students to be able to analyze arguments from a case or written text, the most productive instructor role might be to frame, guide and moderate a discussion. If the objective is to help students learn to defend their positions or creative choices as they present their work, our role might be to challenge them to explain their decisions and consider alternative perspectives. Such roles may be constant or variable across the semester depending on the learning objectives.
- Effective teaching involves progressively refining our courses based on reflection and feedback.
Teaching requires adapting. We need to continually reflect on our teaching and be ready to make changes when appropriate (e.g., something is not working, we want to try something new, the student population has changed, or there are emerging issues in our fields). Knowing what and how to change requires us to examine relevant information on our own teaching effectiveness. Much of this information already exists (e.g., student work, previous semestersí course evaluations, dynamics of class participation), or we may need to seek additional feedback with help from the university teaching center (e.g., interpreting early course evaluations, conducting focus groups, designing pre- and posttests). Based on such data, we might modify the learning objectives, content, structure, or format of a course, or otherwise adjust our teaching. Small, purposeful changes driven by feedback and our priorities are most likely to be manageable and effective.
- Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C. & Norman, M.K. (2010). How LearningWorks: Seven Research Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, California: Jossey Bass Publishers
- Anderson, J. R., Conrad, F. G., Corbett, A. T. (1989). Skill acquisition and the LISP tutor. Cognitive Science, 13(4), 467-505.
- Bandura, A. (1989). Self-regulation of motivation and action through internal standards and goal systems. In L. A. Pervin (Ed.), Goal concepts in personality and social psychology (pp. 19-85). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Carver, C.S. & Scheier, M.F. (1998). On the self-regulation of behavior. New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Clement, J.J. (1982). Studentsí preconceptions in introductory mechanics. American Journal of Physics, 50, 66-71.
- DiSessa, A. (1982). Unlearning Aristotelian physics: A study of knowledge-based learning. Cognitive Science, 6, 37-75.
- Dweck, C.S. (2002). Beliefs that make smart people dumb. In R.J. Sternberg (Ed.), Why smart people can be so stupid (pp. 24-41). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Ford, M.E. (1992). Motivating humans: Goals, emotions and personal agency beliefs. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
- Healy, A. F., & Sinclair, G. P. (1996). The long-term retention of training and instruction (pp. 525-564). In E. L. Bjork, & R. A. Bjork (Eds.) Memory. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
- Hidi, S. & Renninger K.A. (2004). Interest, a motivational variable that combines affective and cognitive functioning. In D. Y. Dai & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), Motivation, emotion, and cognition: Integrative perspectives on intellectual functioning and development (pp. 89-115). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Holyoak, K. J. (1984). Analogical thinking and human intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), Advances in the Psychology of Human Intelligence, Vol. 2 (pp. 199-230). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Kuh, G.D., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J.H., Whitt, E.J. & Associates. (2005). Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Matlin, M. W. (1989). Cognition. NY, NY: Harcourt, Brace, Janovich.
- National Research Council (2001). Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Educational Assessment. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
- National Research Council (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
- Nelson, T. A. (1992). Metacognition. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
- Pascarella, E.T. & Terenzini, P. (2005). How College Affects Students. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
- Schommer, M. (1994). An emerging conceptualization of epistemological beliefs and their role in learning. In R. Barner & P. Alexander (Eds.), Beliefs about text and instruction with text (pp. 25-40). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Singley, M. K., & Anderson, J. R. (1989). The Transfer of Cognitive Skill. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Steele, C.M. & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69 (5), 797-811.
- Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2007). A question of belonging: race, social fit, and achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92 (1), 82-96.
- Wiggins, G. (1998). Educative Assessment: Designing Assessments to Inform and Improve Student Performance, Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.