Have you ever sat through a college class and thought, What is this professor trying to say? Is it me? I was smart in high school (or undergrad, or my master’s program!). Am I just not cut out for this level of instruction?!
Trust me, it’s not you. I promise! Just because someone knows a lot about a subject doesn’t mean they know how to share that knowledge effectively with others. In fact, sometimes when you’re an expert at something, it makes it harder for you to put yourself back in the shoes of a novice.
Or maybe you’re a professor and you’ve experienced the disconcerting half-open mouths and glazed-over looks of students who are just not getting what you’re throwing down. If this is you, there’s no need to panic! Remember, being an academic is hard, but you’ve made it this far, and now it’s time to tackle the next challenge in your career – improving your instructional effectiveness. The good news is that it just takes a little tweaking to start planning powerful lessons that make an impact. Here are some practical tips to help you invigorate your classroom by passing on knowledge like a pro.
Check out the R3ciprocity project YouTube Channel or the writing feedback software). R3ciprocity helps students, faculty, and research folk by providing a real and authentic look into doing research. It provides solutions and hope to researchers around the world.
Put Yourself in Your Students’ Shoes
The most important skill you can work towards developing as an educator is empathy. Try to trade places with your students in your mind and see where they’re coming from. Think back to when you were a student and how stressful it was (In fact, if you need a reminder, check out this blog post: When Do Most PhDs Quit). We all have that one professor who was really there for us or inspired us during a stressful time in our college careers. Think of ways you can be that person for your students. Here’s a good reminder of the importance of encouraging our students through difficult times – The Problem With Higher Education.
Scaffold Your Material
When I look back on my own deficits as a student, most of the time they weren’t there because I was incapable of understanding something, but simply because I had a gap in my educational experience. Somewhere along the way, a teacher failed to teach me an important concept that then hindered my ability to understand harder or more complex concepts down the line.
Don’t always assume background knowledge. Start from the beginning if you have to (even if it’s a quick 20-minute refresher at the beginning of a semester), and make sure everyone has the same base knowledge as you go deeper into the lesson. Start as basic as you can (within reason) and build on concepts as you go through the course.
Constantly as yourself, “What does a person need to know in order to get to the next level of understanding in this subject area?” and then plan your classes accordingly.
Remember, being a professor isn’t about sounding smart in front of your students – it’s about doing whatever we can to pass important knowledge on to the next generation. It truly is a high (and rewarding) calling!
Leave Room for Questions and Discussion
As experts, we REALLY like to talk about our subject area, and it can be very easy for us to drone on and on about it. But I guarantee if you teach your classes like this, at least some of your students will start to tune you out.
One of the most effective (and simple!) teaching tools you can utilize in your classroom to avoid tuned-out students is questions. Get your students thinking and talking. I guarantee that if they can articulate what they’re learning, not only are they more likely to absorb and remember the information, but you’ll also be able to tell which concepts are sinking in and which ones need more attention from you.
Ask For Feedback
Okay, I know this sounds scary. No one likes their performance to be evaluated. It can make us feel like we’re being “judged” or that we’re a failure, but being able to learn from criticism is one of the most valuable traits you can develop as a professional (If you struggle with responding to negative feedback, you may want to read this).
It’s so important that you hear from your students throughout the semester, and this can be done easily through anonymous Google surveys. You can ask your students about anything – what background knowledge they possess when entering your class, what material they are struggling with, what you can do to help them understand, etc.
Most importantly, don’t take the responses you get personally – see them simply as an opportunity to improve your style and delivery. Pretty soon you’ll see those negative responses disappear as you improve as a teacher and are able to better meet the educational needs of your students. For more encouragement on seeing your limitations simply as an opportunity to grow, you should watch this.
It can feel daunting to step out of your comfort zone and try new things in your classroom, but I guarantee that if you implement these steps, you will see improvements in your students’ performance levels. You have so much incredible knowledge to share with the world. Now take that knowledge and do what it takes to share it effectively. You can do it!
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