In this entry I return to the work of Ken Bain, whose book on the best college teachers (1) was the basis of his presentation to Palmer Davenport faculty a couple of years ago. In his text, there is a chapter on how the best teachers prepare to teach. And in this chapter he discusses a set of questions he finds that the best teachers ask when involved in course planning.
1. What big questions will my course help students answer, or what skills, abilities or qualities will it help them develop, and how will I encourage my students’ interest in these questions and abilities?
What this means is, we start with the results we hope to foster and work backward. What is it we want out students to do- do we want them to reason, to recall or to comprehend? When we look at the questions we want to ask, do we delve behind that question to see if there are larger questions? Do we test our fundamental assumptions?
2. What reasoning abilities must students have or develop to answer the questions the course raises?
We want more than to ask students to memorize information. We want them to be able to reason out the answers, and we want to get them to do so both collaboratively and by themselves in problem-solving settings.
3. What mental models are students likely to bring with them that I will want them to challenge? How can I help them construct that intellectual challenge?
How do these models impact, either positively or negatively, the learning students need to undergo to answer the questions we have set before them? Can we then plan to use this knowledge to help them do just that?
4. What information will my students need to understand in order to answer the important questions of the course and challenge their assumptions? How will they best obtain that information?
This revolves around what students need to learn, and not what we might intend to do in the classroom or clinic. Our focus is on helping people learn to reason, to think. It moves us away from being purveyors of knowledge, dropping content into student heads and brains. It makes learning far more active, and engaging for the student.
5. How will I help students who have difficulty understanding the questions and using evidence and reason to answer them?
This is sort of a question of tactics; do we answer questions, provide explanations, develop exercises, or what? How do we then develop new skills in our students when challenges arise?
6. How will I confront my students with conflicting problems (maybe even conflicting claims about the truth) and encourage them to grapple (perhaps collaboratively) with the issues?
How true this is in chiropractic, where there are numerous and often contradictory fundamental approaches to chiropractic, to management, to concepts and constructs such as subluxation. What methods can we use to address conflicting information that may arise both inside the educational program and outside it? Addressing conflict in ideas needs to be built into the fabric of our coursework and our teaching methods.
7. How will I find out what they know already and what they expect from the course, and how will I reconcile any differences between my expectations and theirs?
We all understand this, but we still often teach in a way that controls the questions, sets the agenda and so on; we are, after all, the experts here. But how do we reconcile this with a need to provide more self-directed and active learning opportunities?
These are only some of the questions that Bain asks, and there are a good number more, but the point here is to open the teaching window and consider the students whom we teach- look to make this a more active and engaging process in which the student actively helps to construct learning. Our best teachers often do this, and may not even understand why. Bain helps to answer that question.
1. Bain K. What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA; hardvard University press, 2004:48-57