How the Best Teachers Conduct Their Class, Matters

During their 15-year study of effective instruction in the classroom, Ken Bain and his researcher-colleagues observed seven common principles that faculty across disciplines used to shape the learning environment in their classes.

  1. They create a natural critical learning environment in which students encounter and develop the skills, habits, and attitudes of the discipline through intriguing questions and authentic activities.
  2. They get students’ attention and keep it, often by beginning each class with a provocative question or problem.
  3. They start with what students know and care about rather than with theoretical disciplinary information.
  4. They ask students for a commitment to the class and their own learning … and they hold students to that commitment.
  5. They help students learn between class meetings rather than focus on “coverage” during class. This “flipped” classroom approach requires students to complete reading assignments and homework before class in order to devote class time to discussion, clarification, and exploration.
  6. They use class time to help students analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information and ideas the way practitioners in the discipline do.
  7. They create diverse learning experiences by presenting information in different formats (visual and auditory), and organizing class material inductively and deductively.

The most effective classroom instructors were skilled at presenting course material through a variety of presentation methods, including lecture. In fact, Bain considered an effective lecture to be integral to creating and sustaining a natural critical learning environment. In this context, lecture was never used to provide an encyclopedic coverage of a subject; rather, lecture was used to present the structure of a subject and students were encouraged to react and interact with that structure through questions and discussion. Bain and his researcher-colleagues identified five elements of effective lecturers:

Markus Steinz, guest conductor of Baltimore symphony 2015-16They begin with a question (sometimes embedded in a story), continue with some attempt to help students understand the significance of the question (connecting it to larger questions, raising it in provocative ways, noting its implications), stimulate students to engage the question critically, make an argument about how to answer that question (complete with evidence, reasoning, and conclusion) and end with questions. The only exception? Sometimes the best teachers leave out their own answers whereas less successful lecturers often include only that element, an answer to a question that no one has raised.” (Bain, 2004, p. 107).

The Internet is full of ideas on how to lecture effectively. Here are just a few of our favorites:

Simple Keys for Super Lectures: Presentation by Dr. Donald Ritzenhein

The Ten Commandments of Good Instruction, by Dr. Donald Miller

Seven Deadly Sins of Poor Instruction, by Dr. Donald Miller

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