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Let's talk teaching

We are familiar with what both sides want by the end of the term. The educators want the students to learn the course materials. The students want to receive an A in the course. These two desires are not always associated. But as the course instructor, you seek to correlate learning achievements with appropriate score outcomes. You aim to master the intersection among the instructional practice, identification of your classroom implementation and your teaching philosophy.

Instructional practice Where did the idea that somehow a graduate student would magically know how to be an instructor as a result of completing his/her graduate degrees? Nevertheless, this notion is erroneous. The traditional graduate school experience does not prepare you for organizing, leading and managing a classroom of students. The priority in graduate school is in developing research scholars, where instructing and teaching assistantships serve as a mechanism to financially support your scholarly pursuits. Thus, the transition from graduate student learner to professor instructor is a colossal leap.

You must learn how to teach for different discipline concepts, class sizes and student learning styles while also establishing your own teaching style. The subject matter should be relatively easy since the topics appeared in your undergraduate and graduate studies. It is refreshing your memory about the course topics. However, constructing manageable learning modules for students takes study and practice.

Teaching styles range from dull to exciting. Death By PowerPoint is the dullest of them all. A large set of dense slides. Students are overwhelmed with content, but instructors can easily execute. A blend of PowerPoint slides, individual/group problem sets and in-class discussions is one of the most exciting. Students are actively engaged in course topics, while course instructors must thoughtfully plan lecture activities. Check out one of many articles and resources on designing more effective lectures:

I have yet to cover teaching for different class sizes and student learning styles. Well, they will be covered in next in classroom implementation.

Classroom implementation

Class size can be a contributing factor to which teaching style you use. Small class sizes, less than 25 students, allow for lectures to be more of a discussion and conversation that supports a personalized learning environment. Large class sizes, more than 100 students, trigger a structured learning environment with formal content presentation and small group problem sets/discussions that provide the course instructor informal feedback on students' learning. If you are unfamiliar with Bloom's Taxonomy, then I strongly suggest you take a look. Bloom's Taxonomy is an example of how to classify a student's learning (from the simple recollections to advanced abilities in connecting concepts). I find that undergraduate students are comfortable to receive knowledge and show some comprehension with some instances of successful application, while graduate students are more comfortable with application and analysis via showing some evidence in their ability in evaluation. Regardless of the class size, the course instructor should have mechanisms to uncover the class's learning gaps.

The class composition can also influence the effectiveness of your teaching style. For example, college freshmen have a different level of emotional and intellectual maturity than college seniors. The same observation can be said for graduate students and undergraduate students. Undergraduate students tend to ask more detailed questions about format and presentation, e.g., response length, while graduate students ask more detailed questions about technical content, e.g., which method best suits a particular problem. Class composition includes the students' learning styles. The seven learning styles are visual (spatial), aural (auditory-musical), verbal (linguistic), physical (kinesthetic), logical (mathematical), social (interpersonal) and solitary (intrapersonal). You may wonder "how will I apply my teaching style to my class based on differing learning styles?" As the course instructor, you should conduct a mix of different exercises that benefit certain learning styles early in your term to determine the best universal construct for your class.

At the end, you must accept one cold-hard fact: you can not make all students happy or satisfied with your teaching performance. You must stay true to your teaching philosophy.

Teaching philosophy

Simply put, your teaching philosophy is an expression of your morals, values and ideals as it pertains to student instruction. The teaching philosophy evolves as your instructional practice broadens and your classroom implementation matures. Since your teaching philosophy is unique to you, I can only offer up an excerpt of mine as an example.

My teaching philosophy is best described by Bloom's Taxonomy: striving for synthesis, "[to] compile information together in a different way by combining elements in a new pattern or proposing alternative solutions". Learning occurs within and outside the context of the structured assessment mechanisms of quizzes, assignments, exams, projects, etc. But in an effort to minimize subjectivity, these assessments are established to provide the student a gauge on their learning and growth. As a natural result, students associate learning and aptitude with their grade.

I have seen students struggle to understand (and accept) that every course concepts can not be segmented into measurable units. There are many repetitive tasks in which there is no grade. For example, let us take learning how to washing your clothes. You learn how to separate your clothes based on color and fabric. You learn when you should versus need to wash your clothes. The larger, more applicable life lesson is about understanding responsibility, accountability and consequences. A classroom is truly no different. There are course concepts having surrounding contexts and effects. The high priority concepts are assessed and the other ones are their backdrop. You can not deeply know a course concept without comprehending the proper context. This context reveals a concept's benefits and drawbacks.

It is the beautifully frustrating ebb and flow of learning.

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