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July 7, 2011

Learning about teaching

Cover of book and dvd Art of TeachingIn 25+ years of teaching, the last 15 as a fulltime job, I've learned that it's not as easy as it looks. Especially if you care about the majority of students who are NOT self-motivated and eager to learn.

Trying to get better at my job I regularly read books and articles from the internet about how to be a better teacher. Most recently I ordered a series of 24 lectures on DVD from The Teaching Company called The Art of Teaching.

Hope this ends better than my last attempt with a series called Understanding the Fundamentals of Music. I loved that one for the first few lessons but eventually came to some very difficult musical concepts that I couldn't wrap my head around. At that point the instructor mentioned that you'd probably have to listen to the lectures 3 or 4 times before it would make sense. Sorry, not for me.

Fortunately the company has a lifetime guarantee that let me exchange the music series for the new one on teaching by paying just the difference in the cost.

Try again

This new series on teaching is a little bit underwhelming at the start. The instructor, Patrick Allit of Emory University, seems uncomfortable and awkward as he strolls around the "stage" looking from camera to camera in his main lecture. The brief interludes of him filmed in his actual classroom with students seem more like someone who's won many awards for his teaching.

Lectures 1-3 have covered familiar ground: we must teach students how to learn, to become lifelong learners; small-ground learning (collaboration) is very effective; learning the students' names is important to make them feel that you care; you need to be enthusiastic about your subject, etc.

So even though I haven't gotten any new insights yet, it's good to know that I'm moving more or less in the right direction. I'm looking forward to the sections on Dynamic Lecturing (one of my weaknesses), Engaging With Discussion (always a challenge), and Exams, Evaluation and Feedback (a thorny issue for every teacher I've ever met, myself included).

I'm thinking that the best of these half-hour lectures might be a good way to start a discussion among the faculty I work with at Tri-C. We often say we should get together to talk about these things, especially grading, and watching a video could be a good way to start the conversation.

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