Preparing to Teach Overview

preparing to teachDo we really know what constitutes effective teaching? Is teaching effectiveness something that can be defined, evaluated, measured? What does the research tell us?

Studies on this topic have used various approaches and perspectives to examine the construct of “effective teaching.” Although the approaches for these studies—based on classroom observations, measurements of student-learning outcomes, and expert opinion and learning theory[1]—varied considerably, there is consensus on what makes teachers successful: Enthusiasm, rapport, interest in students, organization and intellectual challenge are the traits that appear over and over again in descriptions of excellent teachers.

Think about your own experience and your favorite teachers, and these traits will undoubtedly come to mind. When deciding what methods to use, it is helpful to keep in mind the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education[2]:

  1. Encourage Student-Faculty Contact: Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of classes is the most important factor in student motivation and involvement. Faculty concern helps students get through rough times and keep on working. Knowing a few faculty members well enhances students’ intellectual commitment and encourages them to think about their own values and future plans.
  1. Encourage Cooperation among Students: Learning is enhanced when it’s more like a team effort than a solo race. Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often increases involvement in learning. Sharing your own ideas and responding to others’ reactions improves thinking and deepens understanding.
  1. Encourage Active Learning:   Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes and listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences and, most important, apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.
  1. Give Prompt Feedback:   Knowing what you know and what you don’t know focuses learning. Students need appropriate feedback on performance to benefit from courses. When getting started, students need help in assessing existing knowledge and competence. In the classroom, they need frequent opportunities to perform and receive suggestions for improvement. At various points throughout their education, students need chances to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to learn, and how to assess themselves.
  1. Emphasize Time on Task:   Time plus energy equals learning. There is no substitute for time on task. Learning to use time well is critical for students and professionals alike. Students need help in learning effective time management. Allocating realistic amounts of time results in effective learning for students and effective teaching for faculty.
  1. Communicate High Expectations: Expect more and you will get it. High expectations are important for everyone—for the poorly prepared, for those unwilling to exert themselves, and for the bright and well-motivated. Expecting students to perform well becomes a self- fulfilling prophecy when teachers hold high expectations for themselves and make extra effort.
  1. Respect Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning: There are many roads to learning. People bring different talents and styles of learning to college. Brilliant students in the seminar room may be all thumbs in the lab or art studio. Students rich in hands-on experience may not do so well with theory. Students need the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them; then they can be pushed to learn in new ways that do not come so easily.

Your students should be actively involved in the learning process and encouraged to ask questions. It’s normal for students to question their professor, and this in no way implies any fault in the professor’s teaching.


[1] Chism, N. (2004) What is Effective Teaching, Anyway? POD conference presentation. Montreal, Canada.

[1] The Johnson Foundation. (1989). The Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. Winona, MN: The Seven