Since our new president Teresa Sullivan is such an avid proponent of the scholarship of postsecondary teaching and learning, it’s a hot topic around U.Va these days (see recent newsletter article).
We decided to check in with some Curry faculty members who are recognized as good teachers. You may enjoy some useful insights from these familiar scholars who know about and contribute to the literature on teaching/learning and who work hard to practice what they teach. (Read who participated and how they were selected here.)
At the end of this post, if you are a teacher, trainer, or coach, please tell us how you evaluate your efforts.
Influences on Postsecondary Teaching
Seven of the eight faculty respondents have worked either as K-12 teachers or administrators. Most responded that the school setting had the greatest influence on how and what they teach now. Here are a few of their responses on the subject:
As a mathematics teacher educator, I believe…doing mathematics requires learners to explore, investigate, represent, use, describe, justify, and verify. This list of verbs represents mathematics teaching and learning as a process of “making sense” and requires active participation among learners. In order to “do” mathematics in my elementary mathematics methods course, I employ instructional strategies that require students to work collaboratively, reflect on their experiences as learners of mathematics, and think critically about the act of teaching mathematics.
Research in social studies education indicates that effective social studies teachers know their students well, know how to connect social studies content to students’ lives and make it relevant, understand the nature of the discipline, and teach in engaging ways that teach students more than content, but also the skills necessary for active, engaged citizenship in a multicultural democracy. That research informs my practice – I try to model what that looks like in practical terms on a day-to-day basis with 6-12 students.
Stephanie Van Hover
My special education background and training developed my understanding that you don’t teach until you understand students, so I always begin my classes by getting to know the interests and backgrounds of my students so that I can match readings/projects/assignments to their unique circumstances. I try to individualize my course for every student.
I learned while teaching high school science that respect for your students and high expectations go a long way. It’s also important to make sure every class is engaging at some level. If I don’t find a lesson I’m teaching to be interesting and engaging, there’s no way my students will find it that way. I work hard at finding ways to make the less exciting topics more engaging and fun.
Many of the ideas I teach in public schools, such as cooperative learning strategies and project-based learning, I also used in my classes at the university…. [For example] in preparing principals, I was able to take assessment data from various schools, using pseudonyms, and have students take the common set of data given them, prepare school improvement plans, and then defend their plans in various small groups in class.
Robert Lynn Canady
Assessing and Improving Their Teaching
Ann Boyce said she assesses her teaching “through systematic and peer input from doc students and BSEd/MT and PGMT students.” Most of the professors said they consider student evaluations to be one helpful form of assessment of their teaching but not the only one. Sara Rimm-Kaufman and Robert Berry have worked with the University Teaching Resource Center. Several professors have had their teaching observed and videotaped.
“I look for ways I engage students,” Berry said about videotaping himself. “That is, I observe my movement during instruction, observe whether I dominate in one space of the classroom with my questioning and interactions, and observe to see if I use questions both for conceptual and procedural understanding.”
Our professors reflect on their teaching in other ways as well:
I’ve used mid-semester assessments of my teaching strategies and explicitly asked students if the strategies are working or how I might improve them. I also use end of course feedback on assignments, pacing, and activities to constantly revise and improve my courses.
Assessment of my teaching consisted primarily of informal assessments made by talking with students, often after they had completed their program and were employed in an administrative position.
Robert Lynn Canady
These professors assess their teaching indirectly through their students’ learning. As they observe student teaching, Ann Boyce noted, our teacher ed professors have opportunities to see how preservice teachers are applying their learning in the classroom. Professors also receive feedback about how their students are doing from clinical instructors, graduate student supervisors, and school administrators. Mentors and school administrators provide feedback on students in our administration & supervision program, as well.
Here are some of other ways professors assess student learning:
I observe their engagement and consider the way that they describe the material to me.
In addition to classroom assignments and tests, I have conducted research on students’ learning of certain overarching scientific concepts, such as the nature of science, and their ability to teach those concepts in the classroom.
I use case studies quite a bit, which require explicit application of concepts introduced in class discussions and readings.
I follow backwards design when I put together a course – develop objectives, design assessments that show me how students are progressing (or not progressing) toward those objectives, then plan the weekly class meetings. I have a big final project but break it into “chunks,” so I can give in-depth, ongoing feedback so students have a chance to resubmit work until it meets or exceeds expectations. Learning to teach is a complex process involving continuous reflection and change–I want my class and assignments to show that.
Stephanie Van Hover
One way I know students learn is when they have an “aha” moment…. Often students come to learn mathematical procedures but do not conceptually understand why procedures work. A classic example is when we do division of fractions; many students know to invert and multiply but do not understand why they invert in multiply. ”Aha” moments often occur when they discover why things work mathematically.
I’m a fan of formative assessment. We try to ask students to apply ideas regularly. Then we review their work, provide feedback, make opportunities for students to revise work that’s not quite on target, and change classroom instruction as a result of what we see. Simple things like exit cards provide a useful window into student understanding. Of course, good classroom conversations can be really instructive about student understanding as well.
Secrets of Good Teaching
Finally, in a nutshell, here are some ways our professors characterize good postsecondary teaching:
Knowing the material. Knowing the students you’re teaching.
The best lesson I learned was from [recently retired professor] Jerry Short: Teach just a few key principles with many, many examples of each principle. (The tendency is to do the reverse—teach lots of principles with one example each.)
Success comes from teaching human beings, not from teaching content.
Conceptual anchors, connecting knowledge for deep understanding, and engaging multiple perspectives.
Caring about your students. Organization. Preparation. Reflection.
Stephanie Van Hover
Respecting students as adult learners who can define their own learning objectives if you give them the structure and support.
Being very knowledgeable of content, including having more than textbook knowledge; being able to make the content relevant; having the ability to engage students during class.
Robert Lynn Canady
Please join the conversation! Go to the reply box below and tell us how you assess your own teaching/training/coaching.
We invited Curry professors who have received an All-University Teaching Award to participate, as well as those who have received a Curry Foundation Outstanding Faculty Award in recent years. Eight professors responded, including one professor emeritus.
All-University Teaching Award Recipients who responded:
2010-11 Robert Q. Berry, III, Elementary Mathematics Education
2008-09 Stephanie D. van Hover, Secondary Social Studies Education
2007-08 Carol Tomlinson, Educational Psychology/Gifted Education
2006-07 Randy L. Bell, Secondary Science Education
1990-91 Robert Lynn Canady, Professor Emeritus, Administration & Supervision
Curry School Foundation Outstanding Faculty Award Recipients who responded:
2011 Sara Rimm-Kaufman, Educational Psychology/Applied Developmental Science
2008 Pamela D. Tucker, Administration & Supervision
2007 Barbara Ann Boyce, Health and Physical Education