What the Best Teachers Know About Preparation ….Matters

Bain and his colleagues discovered through years of observation and interviews Boy Scout Be Prepared emblemthat the best college teachers prepare for a new semester by asking important questions about how their students learn and what the best approaches are to teaching those students. These fundamental questions cluster around four general areas if inquiry.

What should students be able to do intellectually, physically, or emotionally as a result of their learning?

What big questions will my course help students answer?

What reasoning abilities must students develop in order to answer those questions?

How can I best help and encourage them to develop those abilities and habits of heart and mind to use them?

How can I motivate students to reveal and challenge the mental models they bring to my class?

What information will students need in order to challenge their assumptions?

How will I encourage students to grapple with the issues inherent in my discipline?

How will I create an environment in which students can explore, try, fail, receive feedback, and try again?

How can my students and I best understand the nature, quality, and progress of their learning?

How will I help students who have difficulty understanding the questions of the discipline?

How can I uncover and reconcile any differences between my expectations for the course and theirs?

How will I help students learn to learn, to examine and assess their

How can I communicate with students in ways that challenge them to keep exploring and thinking?

How can we (my students and I) understand the nature, progress, and quality of their learning?

How can I evaluate my efforts to foster that learning?

How will I provide feedback to students before the formal assessments?

How can I clearly communicate my standards for assessing their work

Scout Merit BadgesThat’s a lot of information! Here’s our challenge to you: Ask yourself just one of these questions as you begin the new semester. You might start with the first question in the list: “What big questions will my course help students answer?” Generate a list of two or three “big questions” and weave those questions through the course this semester. Encourage discussion around the questions and watch as your students explore your discipline!


Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. (1st ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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