Chapter 3 of the Bain text talks about the process the best teachers use when they are preparing to teach. If you are a seasoned teacher, you can probably look back on how your own process has changed over the years. If you are new to teaching, you may just be focused on survival. If you were to create a new college course (you may be doing this now!), what are the important questions you would ask yourself? After reading Chapter 3, what changed for you? 

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5 thoughts on “The Important Questions

  1. If I were designing a new course, I would first think about questions which lead to determining what the course outcomes will be. These would include what I think of as traditional questions, such as the purpose of the course and the goals to reach at the end of the course. Then, I would consider at what level of knowledge will the course be designed (i.e. low-level or higher) and start thinking about the topics at this level. How will students at this knowledge level learn the important concepts and what can I do to help the learning process? This question is answered very differently for a 200-level course compared to a 600=level graduate course.

    After reading, I learned that I ask some of the questions to myself that were laid out in the chapter regularly. Particularly, I can find examples which demonstrate to myself where I asked questions like 8, 10, 11, and 12. Regarding the “how will I help students learn” and “how will I communicate with students” questions, I have received verbal feedback from students on numerous occasions saying (more or less) that I break down large problems or topics into small bits and provide understanding at this level, which helps with the problem as a whole. When I work with students in a tutoring-style session, I like to give the following advice (for math problems at least): take a break from studying and go eat a meal or watch a movie, essentially clearing the mind of the math topic. Then, come back to the same topics from the earlier study session and see how well you understand without having to refer to notes. If it makes sense while studying, great, but it also makes sense hours later after watching a movie, that shows comprehension and understanding.

  2. If I were designing a new course, I would ask myself what I want students to learn, and how will I assess whether they have learned it. What are the major concepts in the discipline that students should understand, and how can I help them integrate those concepts into their preexisting base of knowledge of biology? What types of problems will students be able to solve after they take the course? I don’t think I will change course design after reading this chapter. I already attempt to use authentic experiences to teach biology concepts, using case studies and new scientific discoveries to try to engage students with the material. I design assessments based on applying knowledge to new scenarios, not repeating of facts. Question 8 for me seems most important and an area where I could improve. I frequently try to remind students to be aware of how they best learn and how much time they need to spend to understand the material. Do my students who struggle lack knowledge of how to learn or do they lack the time or motivation to actually learn? Can I change course design to help students learn how to learn? This seems like something to address program-wide early on in introductory courses.

  3. This last year I really started to dig into question 4, what are the important questions of the course and what do my students need to understand in order to answer those questions. Students can learn the content, especially if given in meaningful and fun ways, but what do I want them to remember 3 years from now? What has been exciting is that my colleagues in Corvallis are asking the same questions and we are trying to meet monthly to discuss during the class rather than try to remember in September what we were thinking.
    Question 3 also keeps bugging me. Are students bringing assumptions that are wrong? Even though I get comments that students feel comfortable in my class, I still have to pry their thoughts out of them. They seem willing to just accept what I tell them, but I want them to think about it. Does it make sense? Is that how molecules behave? Can they think at the molecular level? I haven’t quite figured out a way to design a method to assess their mental models before they arrive in the course and then again after. An ongoing challenge.

  4. This chapter made me reflect on my (brief) teaching career thus far. Bain points out teachers who view their field as “ummutable facts that students must memorize”. As a graduate student thrown into teaching my first courses, I absolutely operated under this misguided principle. My shortsighted goal was to get through each lecture, each topic, each day; slowly progressing through the curriculum I laid out. With years and course preps, I changed my practices and approaches. These questions are very familiar to me because I came upon most of these questions on my own, usually by analyzing my mistakes. But even now, I oft hit these questions only a micro-scale: the day-to-day, the individual interaction. In the next stages in the evolution of my practice, I want to strive to address these questions in my larger course organization, in the macro-. I want to organize the material in ways to better scaffold the concepts, to make time for experiential learning (although perhaps not a field trip to the dump), and to systemically survey students’ understanding to better enable me to challenge their preconceived mental models.

  5. I am in my 11th year of teaching, but I am also creating new courses at a new school. I think because of this, I am getting a little bit of both sides in terms of the questions I ask myself when prepping for a course. On one hand, I still have the same questions that I had in the beginning (where am I teaching? Does my room have a document camera? How many students will I have? What is the layout of the room? Etc.)

    The more experienced part of me has the following questions: How can I incorporate group work into my classroom? What do I ultimately want students to be able to do leaving my class? How will students be able to apply what I have taught them in real life scenarios? How will I get students to think critically?

    I am creating new courses now. After reading chapter 3, I realized that I have quite a few of the same questions in common with the questions mentioned. I may not have articulated it in the same way, but many are questions that I ask myself while creating my new courses (i.e. what do I want students to take away from my class?). The interesting part for me is being at a new school, I also have the same questions I had in my early teaching career (What is important to include in the grade structure for the course? How should I format the tests? Etc.) I think that creating these new courses (even in cases where I’ve taught the course before somewhere else) has encouraged me to start over in my thinking and really evaluate what I want my students to gain from my class.


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