Thursday, September 18, 2008

Becoming a Great Teacher: Part 6

In Part 5 of this series, I discussed how the most important attribute students list of great teachers is that great teachers are dynamic presenters. Students say they like dynamic presenters because it...

(1) helps them understand the material,
(2) helps them maintain class focus, and
(3) helps them retain the material.

These three items are consequences of being a dynamic lecturer that students seek. These are what students are asking of the instructor, and being a dynamic lecturer is just one way to achieve it.

Not everyone is dynamic. Some classes make being "dynamic" harder than other classes. That doesn't mean everyone cannot be a great teacher though. Perhaps, instead of asking yourself how you can be a more dynamic presenter, maybe you should ask yourself how you can better help students achieve these three goals.

Even though being "dynamic" helps students understand and retain the material, you can also facilitate understanding and retaining material in a non-dynamic fashion. However boring your methods may be, if it helps them understand the material, it achieves the most important task they ask of the instructor. I believe in repitition. The more students practice answering questions about a particular topic, they more they will understand and retain. It is not dynamic, but it works.

A number of simple activities can help students maintain class focus without you becoming a David Letterman of the classroom. Often, when I see students getting sleepy, I ask everyone to stand up and spin around once. It is silly, I know, but it gets their blood moving and keeps them awake. One time I videotaped a student sleeping and posted it on In a later class when students were getting sleepy I showed it to them, giving the class a good laugh. It also made students more scared to sleep! Also, I refuse to lecture more than one hour - it is just too much to ask of any audience. In one class I devote the last 15 minutes of every class to a game that requires them to stand, move around, and participate in an active auction. My other class is held in a computer lab where students listen to only 15-20 minutes of lecture and spend the rest of the class completing worksheets.

Find your own way, whether it be dynamic or not. But remember your end-goal, according to students, should be to help them understand the material, retain the material, and maintain focus in class.

Good Luck!