The Graduate College

Winter 2011

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One-day Teaching Workshop

A one-day worksession on teaching for graduate teaching assistants, "Advancing Teaching and Learning for Student Success," will be held Saturday, February 5 from 8:30 - 3 at the Drury Inn. This session repeats a similar session held last October.

The worksession will focus on a series of core questions: What contexts do we bring to teaching? What are some key findings about how people learn? What is a means of articulating and structuring learning plans? What are some ways to meaningfully engage students in discussions? What are some ways to learn about and assess student learning? The day will include researched-based information on the core questions and ample time to work individually and with each other on teaching. This session is applicable to all disciplines and teaching settings. Books, resource materials, and meals will be provided. There is no charge for the workshop.

"Advancing Teaching and Learning for Student Success" is sponsored by the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, the Graduate College, and the Faculty Development Program.

Pre-registration is required. Register online at http://www2.nau.edu/~facdev-p/FORMS/rsvpga.htm or by calling the faculty development registration line at 523-9972.

GTA Professional Development Series

A number of professional development sessions for graduate teaching assistants are scheduled for the spring; preference will be given in some sessions to graduate students who are currently teaching. The series is sponsored by the Graduate College, Faculty Development Program, and supported by the Vice President for Research. Watch for the spring workshop schedule and other GTA teaching resources on the Faculty Development Program website.

Advice from the Best!

Don't miss words of wisdom from NAU Distinguished Teaching Fellow Mary Reid, professor in the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability: read "The Seven Ps: Elevating Collaboration Skills."

Also see the article below from NAU Faculty Development Program Director Linda Shadiow, who provides thought-provoking columns on teaching for each issue of The Graduate College e-newsletter. Find them here in the GA Corner!

Teaching for Learning: A Framework
by Linda Shadiow

Consider two questions, both of which apply to university teaching: “What can I teach so content is present?” “How can I teach so content is learned?”

As graduate students who have simultaneous responsibilities for teaching, you likely wrestle with these interrelated questions. The answer to the first of the two questions is evident in a syllabus, a textbook, daily outlines of material, and draws from your own advanced studies. The significance of addressing this first question cannot be overestimated: “Without exception, outstanding teachers know their subjects extremely well” (Bain, 2004, p. 15). Setting aside this question, which entails a career-long process for the university teacher, brings about the second question—what is involved in the leap from instructor teaching the content to students learning the content?

Professor Ken Bain sought to investigate how exemplary university teachers addressed this second question. In a book rich with interdisciplinary examples, Bain identified and then studied the practices of outstanding teachers in What the Best College Teachers Do (2004, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press). He used a variety of criteria to identify the faculty members in his study, and his criteria move beyond the “likability factor” that can be seen in traditional course evaluations. In his study these “best” teachers are those who achieved “remarkable success in helping their students learn in ways that made a sustained, substantial, and positive influence on how students think, act, and feel” (p. 5). The introductory chapter of Bain’s book describes how the evidence of teaching excellence was identified and gathered.

Among the findings Bain describes is a framework that faculty unconsciously used in creating a “natural critical learning environment” (chapter 5). He found five elements embedded in the way learning experiences for students were constructed by the exemplary teachers he studied. This framework is only one of a raft of findings and interdisciplinary examples his book reports. The “natural critical learning environment” is “natural” because students encounter authentic questions, contexts, and tasks related to the content and “critical” because students work with and through evidence. Each of the five elements considers content as something to be learned by students, not just “covered” by their teachers. Here is a brief description of this integrated five-element framework he discusses in the first part of chapter five as well as in an article co-written with James Zimmerman, “Understanding Great Teaching” in the spring 2009 issue of Peer Review.

Step 1: Faculty open their course or unit study by posing an intriguing, content-rich question or problem for students. The question is rich—a provocative, generative question that invites vigorous consideration rather than recitation. The question places the details of the course content into a broad context, often with contemporary ties and implications.

Step 2: Faculty guide students in understanding the significance of the question rather than assuming that the question itself is self-explanatory. Exploring implications, consequences, broad-based applicability, and intended/unintended consequences of the question and its asking are among the ways the faculty approach this stage.

Step 3: Faculty use this question and its significance for engaging students in in-depth thinking about the content necessary to address the question. Students are involved in moving beyond the steps of listening and remembering key details to comparing, analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing critical content in critical ways.

Step 4: Faculty offer an environment that provides help for students in answering the question. Students are often led to use the course content to construct the very steps that lead them to explore and arrive at their answers to the question.

Step 5: Faculty leave students with a question that further engages them in the implications of their study (pp. 101-3).

Notice that each of these steps opens with something faculty do. But each step is grounded in content with the aim of creating an environment for student learning of that content. At each step in this framework, there is a student responsibility. In step one, students focus on a question that arouses their curiosity and invites them to connect with the content. In step two, students explore the breadth and depth of the question. In step three, students critically and actively engage with the content integral to the question. In step four, students are immersed so thoroughly in the content that they discover answer/s to the question. And in step five, students extend rather than conclude the cycle by uncovering questions the initial question raised.

Bain points out that this framework can be seen in the way great teachers work in classrooms whether through interactive lectures, case studies, problem-based learning, group work or a myriad of other approaches. What the Best College Teachers Do is a rich source of the kinds of considerations, dispositions, and practices that exemplary teachers use to build opportunities for student success. Responses to both questions that opened this article provide touchstones for the learning-centered classroom: “What can I teach so content is present?” “How can I teach so content is learned?”

Linda Shadiow

—Linda Shadiow, Professor of Educational Foundations and director of the NAU Faculty Development Program