Guest post by Timothy Michael Ottusch, Graduate Teaching Assistant and Ph.D. student in the Human Development and Family Studies program.
This summer, I’ll once again be teaching applied research methods. For the first time in my teaching career, I’m teaching the same face-to-face class for the second time.
As I work on revising the course, I reviewed my lectures from last time. Looking through my slides, I realized how much I abandoned my teaching philosophy and ignored proven teaching methods. Countless things made me cringe, but one thing that stood out is how I started each class. I failed to build anticipation or get the students mental wheels churning. I forgot to connect the current lecture to and sometimes even jumped right into the subject matter without taking the time to give them the big picture.
Time for some help
Nilson (2010), in her book Teaching at its Best, provides the following suggestions for a lecture:
- Start the lecture with a comment or slide that gives the overall connection of how the lesson connects to the course objectives
- Give a connection and review of last class to the current class
- Find a way to draw the students into the current class’s material (sometimes called a hook or anticipatory set).
Other resources (here and here) suggest similar things–you want your students to get engaged from the start and get their brains thinking about the topic. Connecting my current class content to the bigger picture of the whole term is where I was falling short. I felt so overwhelmed just getting each lecture created I paid more attention to the content in slides rather than getting the students thinking about the overall concepts.
Don’t over do it
For example, last quarter I attempted to cover, all in one class, ethics in research and how to understand how well or poorly a news story did at reviewing a research article. In this rush, I didn’t hook the students into either part of the lecture. Instead, I jumped right into way too many slides with way too little connection to what the students knew already or the overarching goals that content was supposed to connect too.
Cognitive learning theory states that attention is an important first step in moving information into working memory and, ultimately, long-term memory. Educators can support learning by asking students to think about what they know, or think they know, about that topic. By not doing something to grab the student’s attention at the start and get them thinking about what they already know about the topic, I was interfering with their learning.
Time for a hook
Next time I plan on beginning by showing a clip from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight on scientific studies to get students thinking about why it is important to be a smart consumer of research. Hopefully, this will “hook” the students, and we can have a productive conversation about what they know about news articles covering scientific research. After that, I will go into a 10-15 minute review (per Nilson’s suggestion, p. 115) of components to keep in mind when comparing a news article to a research article.
The exercise of reviewing my summer 2015 class has been a great experience. My takeaways from this process are:
- Take a step back and review what you’ve already done
- Review best teaching practices
- Use this reflection to best plan how to reach your curriculum goals
- Set up the students for success by giving them the big picture
- Make sure to connect with the students at the beginning of each class.
I’m excited to start this summer with a more thoughtful approach!