Best Practices in the Classroom

Managing a classroom is one of the key aspects of teaching excellence – how do we gain our students attention and pique their interest in the classroom? How do we ensure that they are able to learn and retain knowledge? How can we best communicate our expectations to students? These are questions that will be answered by the following tips and resources on managing your first day of class, leading discussions, enlivening your classroom and more.

First Impressions – The First Day of Classes

A successful first class sets the tone for all future classes. Three things that can make this happen are:

  • Making good use of the first few minutes
  • Clarifying course expectations
  • Getting a sense of where students are

1. Making good use of the first few minutes

As we all know, first impressions are important. Don’t let a poor introductory session tune your students out. Here are some tips for getting your class hooked from the very first session:

Give the course a face.

The first few minutes are a great opportunity to secure student interest. Students need to feel your personality and enthusiasm about the class, to associate the course with a real person who is curious, excitable, and passionate like themselves.

Keep it warm and cool.

A useful way for you to introduce yourself is to weave in a balanced number of warm points—things that show how your experiences or personality will inform this course—as well as cool points—things that are more serious, setting the expectation and tones for the class.

Something curious and something personal.

You may share with students how something personal relates to their intellectual curiosities, and have students share how they anticipate engaging with the materials of the course would relate to their living experience. This might encourage a deepening of learning goals with desired personal outcomes, which would in turn facilitate not just a better attitude towards the class, but also retention as they apply what they know to how they live.

2. Clarifying course expectations

This involves bringing students through the overview of the course, what they can expect to learn, and the kinds of topics they look forward to engaging with. It is also a great time to ask for feedback and a general sense of how the class is feeling towards the course. If changes are necessary, it is still early enough to make adjustments to the syllabus. Considering student feedback also makes them feel more involved in their own learning. If you decide to make adjustments as per the feedback obtained, make sure to let your students know what you’ve changed.

3. Getting a sense of where students are

College students enter the classroom with their own ideas of how things work. It will be helpful to test the waters and see where they are in terms of the subject matter at hand. A kickoff test will help you understand more about your class. This test can include factual elements to see how students differ in terms of content exposure. You can also take this time to learn about how your students perceive certain issues, as well as their motivations for taking the course.

For more information, you can read through this article written for Carnegie Mellon University, which examines the impact of students’ prior knowledge, intellectual development, cultural background and general experiences on learning.

Leading Discussions

Below, you will find a few useful links for leading discussions, setting the space and climate, and communicating effectively.

Helpful guidelines for leading discussions

Facilitation Techniques: This downloadable PDF file offers some general guidelines and tips for leading discussions.

Effective classroom discussions: This document outlines what counts as a discussion, how to create expectations for student participation, clarify student/teacher roles and foster participation from students.

Setting the space and climate

Align seating arrangements with teaching objectives: Seating arrangements can have a tremendous impact on student participation. You will find that different arrangements have their respective benefits. This can help you plan your classes more effectively.

Communication

Characteristics of effective listening: This article compares the difference between an effective, interested listener and an uninterested, ineffective one.

Techniques for responding: Building off listening skills, this resource provides four basic ways for professors to respond to student enquiries, giving helpful suggestions and framing strategies in point-form no longer than two lines.

Asking effective questions: Lists four types of questions that can be asked to students so as to encourage thoughtful and sustained discussion. Also suggests four questioning pitfalls to avoid and why.

Strategies for good conversation: 10 strategies for having good mentor-mentee conversations, useful for one-on-one meetings between professors and students, during office hours and even in class.

Experiential Learning

David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory: An Introduction

Known as the father of Experiential Learning Theory (ELT), American educational theorist David A. Kolb’s groundbreaking work Experiential Learning: Experience as The Source of Learning and Development (1984) moved educational research and practice into a new direction, focusing on the central role that experience plays in the learning process. His work is influenced by giants in intelligence psychology and pedagogy like John Dewey, Kurt Lewin and Jean Piaget; each of whom emphasises the importance of learning from concrete experience, the ability to develop that knowledge over time (the idea and possibility of growing one’s mind versus the view that intelligence is fixed), as well as the transformation of impulses, feelings and desires into goal-oriented, higher order learning.

Kolb’s fundamental idea is that learning occurs in a cycle, and learners learn best when their learning experience touches on every part of this cycle. His theoretical oeuvre has developed extensively to include other tools such as the Learning Style Inventory (LSI), Adaptive Style Inventory (ASI), Learning Skills Profile (LSP), and the concept of Learning Space, most of which are attempts at creating typological tools for assessing learning preferences.

1. Focus Article

This article gives a great overview of what ELT is, and how it works: Using Experiential Learning Theory to Promote Student Learning and Development in Programs of Education Abroad.

Alternatively, you can find a summary of useful tips and pointers extracted from the article here.

Key points:

  • p.2–8. Quick and concise introductions to Kolb’s quintessential set of theoretical instruments—the Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) and the ELT Cycle, Learning Style, Learning Flexibility and Learning Space.
  • p.9–14. These pages share an educational perspective with groundings from the ELT, with suggestions on how to improve teaching as well as facilitate learning. They include the sharing of principles and strategies for becoming an Experiential Educator; an exposition on shifting between the 4 different roles an educator can play for his class; and ways of promoting ownership of the learning process.

2. Supplementary Materials

Carol Dweck’s theories about how learners’ beliefs about their abilities and self-worth affect their capacity to learn, have been monumental in driving education research and informing learner-centric pedagogies.  Below are a set of materials offering the essential ideas of Dweck.

David Kolb’s candid views on teaching and learning are crisp, insightful and digestible in a 6 page interview below; for those interested in evaluations and testing of the ELT, the item following that is a useful read.

3. Additional Materials

The Experiential Learning Resource List compiles a set of extra resources (articles and videos) if you are interested in learning more about Kolb’s work on Experiential Learning or Dweck’s work on self-theories.

Lecture-Free Teaching and Active Learning

New research in educational literature has validated lecture-free and inquiry-based learning at all levels, particular in science courses. In addition, initiatives to combine “case studies” and content from multiple disciplines have helped increase the relevance and impact of science courses.

Eric Mazur, Harvard University Physics. Eric Mazur pioneered collaborative learning in large lectures, with peer instruction and with new technologies to dynamically assign partners to solve in-class physics problems. His work has been extensively validated and assessed. A wide range of resources can be found at his website.

Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative, University of British Columbia. Carl Wieman, a Nobel Laureate in Physics, has developed great resources for assessing and implementing new techniques in science teaching. He continues his work as a member of the Presidential Committee on Advanced Science and Technology (PCAST), and more recently as a newly appointed Director of a Science Education Initiative at Stanford University.

Physics Education Research at the University of Colorado. The UC Boulder group is very active in experimenting with new instructional technologies and new ways of teaching physics at all levels. One of their members, Noah Finkelstein, is also a member of the PCAST committee.

NASA Center for Astronomy Education – Astronomy 101. This resource clearinghouse is home to a number of excellent lesson plans and educational papers that promote lecture-free learning, and in-class activities that are based on the latest research on exoplanets, dark matter, and other exciting topics.

Diane O’Dowd, HHMI Professor of Biology, UC Irvine. Diane O’Dowd has been developing lecture-free learning strategies for large classes at UC Irvine, as well as new techniques in mentoring research students, both undergraduate and graduate.

Harvey Mudd College Computer Science programme. At Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, the computer science class CS5/6 is required of all students, and is based on the Python language. Harvey Mudd College has been recognised as a leader in bringing women into computer science, and is now providing a biology-based course known as CS6 that blends computer science with problems in biology and environmental science. Find out more about on the HMC computer science course through the New York Times article.

Annie Murphy Paul on why College Lectures are Unfair. Annie Murphy Paul is a book author, magazine journalist, consultant and speaker who helps people understand how we learn and how we can do it better. Annie writes that a growing body of evidence suggests that the lecture is not generic or neutral, but a specific cultural form that favors some people while discriminating against others, including women, minorities and low-income and first-generation college students.

Ralph Bouquet Interviews David Waddington on Games and Teaching. David Waddington, a professor at Concordia University in Canada, investigated how a simulation game about a world ravaged by climate change could impact people’s opinions about climate change. This articles argues that as games continue to become a more prominent part of K-12 classrooms, it’s imperative that we take advantage of their full potential to both augment content knowledge in science.

Flipping your Classroom

How to Flip your Class

The ‘flipped classroom’ is probably a term you have encountered before. Although traditionally this is a style of teaching in which pre-recorded lectures and materials are uploaded before class, with the class time itself being used for discussions, you will find that many variations of this classic strategy have been created since. Below, you will find a comprehensive list of resources to help you learn how to flip your class. The online manuals will guide you in getting started, whilst the online tools and platforms provide valuable resources for making your flipped classrooms effective and interactive.

If you would like to know more about how flipped classrooms developed as a strategy, we have a prepared a summary of resources that can provide you that information on its origins.

Online guides and manuals

Quick start guide: This quick, 1-minute (or less) start guide offers you an overview of the steps to ‘flipping’ a classroom in a lightning-fast glance.

Step-by-step video manual: This virtual manual on the website of the University of Texas at Austin is a gem. What you will love most about this are the accompanying videos that accompany each step, which not only explain, but offer recorded footage what each step is laying out, featuring actual instructors who have adopted the flipped classroom model in their courses.

Detailed ‘How-To’ manual: University of Queensland’s comprehensive manual, with links at crucial points to help you figure how exactly to make your flipped classroom happen.

Manual with downloadable PDFs: Apart from the aesthetically pleasing stop-motion videos offered by the Flipped Institute, their how-to page also offers step-by-step guide with downloadable PDFs filled with tips.

Tips and advice

6 expert tips for flipping the classroom: Offers targeted advice and strategies to make the best of the flipped classroom experience.

5 best practices for the flipped classroom: This offers some strategies for conducting the ‘flip’. It also offers you thinking questions and/or reminders to have at the back of your head so that you stay true to the purpose of a flipped classroom and make full use of it.

9 video tips for a better flipped classroom: Similar to the link above, this online article gives you more tips on creating engaging content for flipped classrooms.

Free tools and platforms

The 10 Best Web Tools For Flipped Classrooms: These 10 tools are hosted online and have many uses beyond simply flipping classrooms.

7 free flipped classroom creation applications: Free applications for you to create audio and visual content for your flipped classrooms, some even allow interactions between users!

Books on Teaching Strategies in the Classroom

The following books are available at the Yale-NUS library for faculty who want to read more about how to enliven their classrooms and make their teaching effective.

Author(s) Title Publisher ISBN
Barkley, Elizabeth F.; Major, Claire Howell; Cross, K. Patricia Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty Jossey-Bass 9781118761557
Barbezat, Daniel P.; Bush, Mirabai Contemplative Practices in Higher Education: Powerful Methods to Transform Teaching and Learning Jossey-Bass 9871118435274
Nilson, Linda B. Creating Self-regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students’ Self-Awareness and Learning Skills Stylus Publishing 9781579228675
Stephen D. Brookfield, Stephen Preskill Disscussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms Jossey-Bass 9780787978082
Mastascusa, Edward J.; Snyder, William J.; Hoyt, Brian S. Effective Instruction for STEM Disciplines: From Learning Theory to College Teaching Jossey-Bass 9780470474457
Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom Jossey-Bass 9780470532904
Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom Jossey-Bass 9780470532904
Kolb, David A. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development Pearson 9780133892406
Davis, James R.; Arend, Bridget D. Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning Stylus Publishing 9781579228415
Layne, Prudence C.; Lake, Peter Global Innovation of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Transgressing Boundaries (Professional Learning and Development in Schools and Higher Education) Springer; 2015 edition 9783319104812
Ambrose, Susan A. How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching Jossey-Bass 9780470484104
Friend, Marilyn; Cook, Lynne Interactions: Collaboration Skills for School Professionals Pearson 9780132774925
Weimer, Maryellen Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice Jossey-Bass 9781118119280
Doyle, Terry Learner-Centered Teaching: Putting the Research on Learning Into Practice Stylus Publishing 9781579227432
Brown, Peter C.; McDaniel, Mark A. ; Roediger III, Henry L. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning Harvard University Press 9780674729018
Light, Gregory; Micari, Marina Making Scientists: Six Principles for Effective College Teaching Harvard University Press 9780674052925
Lowman, Joseph; Lowman, Joseph Mastering the Techniques of Teaching Jossey-Bass 9780787855687
Svinicki, Marilla D.; Mckeachie, Wilbert J. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, 14th Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning 9781133940555
Carnes, Mark C. Minds on Fire: How Role-Immersion Games Transform College Harvard University Press 9780674735354
Lang, James M. On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching Harvard University Press 9780674047419
Barell, John Problem-Based Learning: An Inquiry Approach Corwin Press 9781412950046
Meyers, Chet; Jones, Thomas B. Promoting Active Learning: Strategies for the College Classroom Jossey-Bass 9781555425241
Conderman, Greg; Pedersen, Theresa Purposeful Co-Teaching: Real Cases and Effective Strategies Corwin Press 9781412963393
Handelsman, Jo; Pfund, Christine ; Miller, Sarah Scientific Teaching Freeman 9781429201889
Hamilton, Adam Speaking Well: Essential Skills for Speakers, Leaders, and Preachers Abingdon Press 9781501809934
Nilson, Linda B. Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based resource for College Instructors Jossey-Bass 9780470401040
Erickson, Bette LaSere; Strommer, Diane Weltner ; Peters, Calvin B. Teaching First-year College Students: Revised and Expanded Edition of Teaching College Freshmen Jossey-Bass 9780787964399
Brookfield, Stephen D. Teaching for Critical Thinking: Tools and Techniques to Help Students Question their Assumptions Wiley 9780470889343
Roberts, Helen; Gonzales, Juan C. Teaching from A Multicultural Perspective SAGE Publications 9780803956148
Burnham, Rika; Kai-kee, Elliott Teaching in the Art Museum: Interpretation as Experience Getty Publications 9781606060582
Gelman, Andrew; Nolan, Deborah Teaching Statistics: A Bag of Tricks Oxford University Press 9780198572244
Meyers, Chet Teaching Students to Think Critically Jossey-Bass 1555420117
Huston, Therese Teaching What You Don’t Knoq Harvard University Press 9780674066175
Bruff, Derek Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments Jossey-Bass 9780470288931
Finkel, Donald L. Teaching with Your Mouth Shut Heinemann 9780867094695
Plank, Katthryn M. Team Teaching: Across the Disciplines, Across the Academy Stylus Publishing 9781579224547
Sweet, Michael; Michaelsen, Larry K. Team-Based Learning in the Social Sciences and Humanities: Group Work that Works to Generate Critical Thinking and Engagement Stylus Publishing 9781579226107
Michaelsen, Larry K.; Fink, L. Dee ; Knight, Arletta Bauman Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups in College Teaching Stylus Publishing 9781579220860
Gullette, Margaret Morganroth; Gullette, Margaret Morganroth The Art and Craft of Teaching: Ideas, techniques, and practical advice for communicating your knowledge to your students and involving them in the learning process Harvard University Press 9780674046801
Fraser, Kym The Future of Learning and Teaching in Next Generation Learning Spaces (International Perspectives on Higher Education Research) Emerald Group Publishing Limited 9781783509867
Kapp, Karl M. The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education Pfeiffer 9781118096345
Filene, Peter The Joy of Teaching: A Practical lGuide for new College Instructors The University of North Carolina Press 9780807856031
Booth, Alan; Hyland, Paul The Practice of University History Teaching Manchester University Press 9780719054921
Braxton, John M. The Role of the Classroom in College Student Persistence: New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Number 115 Jossey-Bass 9780470422168
Meyer, Jan H. F.; Baillie, Caroline ; Land, Ray Threshold Concepts and Transformational Learning (Educational Futures: Rethinking Theory and Practice) Sense Publishers 9789460912054
Davis, Barbara Gross Tools for Teaching, Second Edition Jossey-Bass 9780787965679
Kaplan, Matthew; Meizlish, Danielle Lavaque-manty Deborah ; Sliver, Naomi Using Reflection and Metacognition to Improve Student Learning Stylus Publishing 9781579228255

Starting the Semester Strong

To learn more about how CTL can help you out for the rest of the semester, read our Beginning of Semester Welcome.

For ideas on how to manage the first weeks of class and start strong, read our Tips and Tricks for the First Weeks of Class.