Reflections upon “How do they conduct class?” by Ken Bain

This is the first in our series of readings for GIS Spring 2013, and for me it was like finding a meteorite in my front yard—just sitting out there in the open, apropos of nothing.  Great job of laying out the unifying factors that MAKE good instructors good instructors, but only if you subscribe to the idea that the sum of the parts equals the whole.  For the most part, I can subscribe to this logic—except where humans are involved, and I know that every outstanding instructor I have ever had possessed something that could not be reduced to words.  That is, good instructors engender FEELINGS in their students, these feelings spark curiosity, and curiosity makes you want to know what is on the other side of the mountain.  That said, please see below re Ken Bain’s Chapter Five.

Bain admits from the get go that any teaching method (my favorite was always called guided discovery) can fail, but then goes on to dissect specific methods employed by specific instructors to inspire students.  His first point was that one should create a “natural critical learning environment” with everyone in the class working together.  This latter charge is challenging enough (professionals are supposed to work together, and class work should mirror this model), but the critical learning environment involves embedding natural activity and questions into a learning environment where everyone is reasoning from evidence.  Evidence-based (you fill in the blank) is a huge buzzword these days—I first heard of evidence-based medicine—and if physician scientists need convincing as to the utility of basing behavior or treatment upon the best evidence, how should college students react to this tactic?  Pretty well, I predict, as there is no ponderous structure (yet) limiting young students’ imaginations—what a great opportunity.

The second point was to get students’ attention and keep it (???!), and let the approach you take be student centered (point three), not discipline-oriented.  That is, you need to first care about the students, and then work toward the discipline.  The fourth point was to seek commitment from students to the class and learning class material, and (5) to help students learn out of class and then use class time to actually do work and check on their progress.  Finally, one must engage students in disciplinary thinking (learning to think like professionals in the field), and create diverse learning experiences, as the brain loves variety (harking back to the–apparently outdated–idea of different styles of learning).  All of this contributes to an environment where “What is the next question” becomes the END of any learning experience, and yet is the BEGINNING of the next learning iteration.  Sounds great.

Above all, student must learn to talk in class, and instructors who communicate well and warmly are those who will succeed in this.  From my experience, making students feel empowered to make a contribution to any class, and accepting those contributions is the key to WANTING to go to class for any student (I believe).  In short, the challenges are many, and opportunities equal the number of challenges.  No one has all the answers.  No one is beyond learning (students and teachers).  Great teachers focus on learning, both theirs and their students (p. 134).  Lots to do.  Let’s get with it.

One thought on “Reflections upon “How do they conduct class?” by Ken Bain

  1. In my experience, if a teacher cares about teaching, usually learning happens in their class. I’ve seen it done so many different ways, so this semester is a time for you to find your voice. I think we’re going to have some great conversations 🙂

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