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For information or questions about teaching a class, please contact Carolyn Wood, Assistant Academic Dean and Director of SLATE.
Success in managing a class, especially in a course that relies heavily on class discussion, depends in large part on establishing clear rules of operation, preferably before the class starts. Moreover, it's easier to impose such rules when they are viewed as widely used in many classes. The following seven rules were codified by a member of the HKS faculty and are recommended by the Degree Programs Office as an appropriate code for all HKS courses. Click here (PDF) to view the seven rules.
Every class, every group, has its own distinctive dynamics, determined by the individuals in it. How many of us have taught the same class to two different groups and had two entirely different experiences? Yet there are some constants among groups: all groups experience a period at the beginning in which people are trying to figure out how this group will work and what their position in it will be; all groups have quiet members and noisy members; all groups have a diverse membership which influences the quality of the interactions.
Groups can be productive or unproductive, based on their constituency, the topic, and their facilitation or leadership. Occasionally “hot moments” arise, in which the emotional temperature rises dramatically, either precluding learning or, when skillfully handled, leading to the most intense and lasting learning of the semester.
Every classroom has contracts in place, some explicit, some implicit. The explict contracts are usually found in the syllabus: what the course is about, what has to be read when, what and when papers or exams are due, what the grading scheme is. There are also many implicit contracts at work: who gets to speak, for how long, how do they get to speak, who sets the agenda, what kind of learning is expected, how is success measured.
Teachers are typically quite open about the syllabus and quite silent about the implicit contract. If we have thought carefully about it in advance, we could be far more open about what we are looking for in classroom dynamics and expectations, make the implicit explicit. Click here (PDF) for more on classroom contracts.
Everyone, at some point or other in their teaching career, faces a "hot moment" in the classroom -- a moment when the conversation either stops or erupts because of the volatile nature of the subject matter, or because of conflicts among students. These moments happen in science courses as well as in the more predicatble social science and humanities courses. The challenge for the teacher is to turn such a moment into a learning opportunity, rather than either ignoring or inflaming it. Accomplishing this means managing oneself, helping the students in the moment, figuring out what is actually occuring, and then imagining how to use the moment for learning. Click here (PDF) for more on managing "hot moments."
Almost every classroom has a few students who are quiet, a few students who talk a lot, and a big bunch in the middle who talk from time to time. This has to do with individual personalities, issues of diversity, the topic, and the personality and biases of the instructor. It is important for the teacher to look for these imbalances in participation and to find ways to balance it.
Written by Richard Olivo for Harvard University's Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning and slightly revised by Lee Warren.
The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) at the University of Michigan has created short videos of faculty describing strategies for engaging students in large classes, and using technology and collaboration tools.
Leading discussions requires a teacher not only to have an idea of what should be covered and where the discussion should go, but also to have the skills to track and improvise on what occurs in real time in the classroom. Discussion leading requires as well that we know our students and find ways to respond to them that are individually appropriate. Click here (PDF) for a list of techniques for responding to students.
The best discussions are those that focus more on the students’ learning than on your teaching; having a clear learning objective for the session will help to focus discussion.
Know your students.
Questioning, listening, and responding are the building blocks of a discussion.
Enjoy yourself and show your enthusiasm for the material. Talking about things that are important to you and helping others understand them is a noble enterprise. Letting your students know you are passionate about your material and that you like and respect them will make it work.
Bok Center videos: Interactive Teaching, What Students Want, Teaching in America, Act of Teaching. The Act of Teaching is available in streaming form on the Bok Center website.
*Revised from Derek Bok Center website, written by Lee Warren.
One of our greatest opportunities and challenges in teaching involves dealing with pluralism in our classes. The most important issues arise around race, gender, and increasingly sexual orientation. ... We need to be far more effective in our work in this arena if we are going to get the maximal benefit from the diversity of our students. ... I would also like to call your attention to a different set of pluralism issues -- the treatment of different philosophical views in the classroom. I have heard from a number of conservative students that they find many classrooms to be unwelcoming of divergent views. Excellence requires that we find ways to understand and incorporate issues and experiences of those who have faced discrimination and powerlessness as well as to find ways to encourage the voices of those who are underrepresented here at the school.
-- Dean David Ellwood, 30 September 2004
All classrooms have a diverse population which is increasingly wide in its range. Diversities include personality, level of preparation, race, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic background. Making learning possible for everyone is the goal, and is often a challenge.
In preparation for teaching in diverse classrooms, the following is a summary of key points to keep in mind:
1. Plan for a diverse classroom:
2. Make the classroom accessible to all students:
3. Confront potential issues of discrimination and manage hot moments:
4. Assess one's own biases:
The above summary was prepared by the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University and slightly revised by Lee Warren.
Harvard Business School’s C. Roland Christensen Center for Teaching & Learning website provides useful information on case method teaching such as a sample class, tip sheets, and short videos.
Harvard Business School offers an online multimedia resource on the topic of participant-centered learning and the case method.
The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning offers the Christensen Discussion Seminar.
There is a wealth of instructional technology and audio-visual resources that instructors can use to engage students within and outside the classroom. Visit the Kennedy's School's Media Services department website to learn more about audio-visual and technology tools for your class or program, including videotaping your class, streaming video / podcasts, videoconferencing, document cameras, and classroom response systems (“clickers”).
Carnegie Mellon's Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence has a useful Web-based tool for identifying and working through teaching problems. Click here to visit the tool.