Teaching Principles

When you're teaching something, you want to get every learner involved, maximize repetitions of whatever you're trying to learn, and provide instant feedback. I'm amazed how many teachers don't understand these principles.

Imagine if you were a basketball player, and practice consisted of your coach demonstrating every drill while you sat in the bleachers. Then the coach left and you were on your own for practice. Sure, this may help you become a better player, but with no supervision your team-mates might decide to leave, and you would have little idea of whether or not you were doing the drill correctly. Maybe the coach videotapes your practice session and gives you feedback three or four days later. This team would be awful.

Basketball is competitive - if you're not teaching the drills well someone else is and they're winning games, so there's constant incentiveto become a better at teaching. Most coaches demonstrate the right way to do the drill one time, have the team practice the drill and then provide instant feedback - praise for players who improve and criticism for students who are not trying hard. The best basketball practices I've seen use one basketball for every player, a hoop for every two players and every drill involves everyone all the time. Everyone gets involved, the players are maximizing repetitions and the coach can provide instant feedback.

Few classes are taught in this fashion. Instead, the "teacher" uses all of his interaction time with students to lecture to them. Then the students go off on their own to practice everything in the lecture. They turn in their work two days later and get feedback on it four days after that.

Some teachers give examples and then solve them on the board with help from the class. All of the students know the teacher knows what he's doing, and invariably, the people who volunteer to "help him out" are the top two or three students in the class. Many times I think teachers assume students are slow, when in fact we don't want to tell you an answer you already know. Why doesn't he ask everyone in the class to work on the problem and then go from person to person giving feedback? Then someone can solve it quickly in front of everyone. This way everyone gets involved, the students are thinking, and the teacher gets instant feedback from everyone about how well they understand the concept, not just the do-gooder students.

Even better would be to ask students to read/watch the lecture before class starts. This way all of the in-class time can be spent on getting everyone involved and providing instant feedback.

A simple change in course design can make a huge difference in comprehension and learning rates.


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