Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Becoming a Great Teacher: Part 8

In previous posts on this series, I discussed how personal interviews with students revealed that being a dynamic lecturer is the most important trait of a great teacher. That is, when we asked students what attributes define a great teacher, without giving them a list to choose from, being a dynamic lecturer was the most frequently mentioned attribute.

Making students identify attributes off the top of their head, without a list to help, has advantages and disadvantages. It prevents them from anchoring (survey instruments always alter the person being surveyed), but the student may just happen not to think of the attribute that they feel is truly most important.

To test whether these attributes would differ if I gave students a list to choose from, I made a list of attributes (attributes chosen from the aforementioned interview data) and asked the students to select the four attributes that best describe great teachers. A total of 24 students took the survey.

The results are strikingly different! Now, being a dynamic lecturer is one of the least most important attributes. By far, the two most frequently chosen attributes are cares that students learn and get to know students in class.

Fortunately, getting to know students in class was also one of the most important attributes from the personal interviews. So some results are robust to the survey design.

The bottom line is that my research clearly indicates that the most important thing a teacher can do is to get to know their students. This is good news. While we cannot all be humorous and witty in the classroom, we can all learn names!

In Part 7, I discuss an interesting class activity to become acquanted with your students, one very popular with my students.

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