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What the Best College Teachers Do [Hardcover]

Ken Bain
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bain’s sound and scholarly yet exuberant promotion of America’s "best college teachers" abounds with jaunty anecdotes and inspiring opinions that make student-centered instruction look not only infectious, but downright imperative. Teachers may enjoy the book’s plummy examples from their peers’ interdisciplinary curricula—such as the Harvard chemistry professor whose "lesson on polymers becomes the story of how the development of nylons influenced the outcome of World War II" or the U Penn art professor whose computer game allows students to determine the authenticity of a questionable Rembrandt. Bain’s most compelling arguments, however, concern the quirks and motivations of today’s college students. Though he acknowledges nationwide trends toward grade inflation, he invokes a 1990 study that suggests students are most driven by "high demands" and prefer "plentiful opportunities to revise and improve their work before it receives a grade." Likewise, the book argues that, even in the cutthroat climate of today’s competitive colleges, students thrive best in cooperative classrooms. The best teachers, Bain avers, understand and exceed such expectations, and use them to create "natural critical learning environments." Easy-to-follow headings—such as "Start with the Students Rather Than the Discipline"—help readers learn to create such environments, too. Inspiring though this slender book will be for college teachers at all levels, it may also delight the general reader with nostalgic reminders of their finest classroom experiences.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

With the strong conviction that good teaching can be learned, and after 15 years of observing teachers in action, Bain undertook an exploration of the essentials of effective teaching. The result is an insightful look at what makes a great teacher, based on a study of three dozen teachers from a cross section of disciplines from medical-school faculties to undergraduate departments. After interviewing students and colleagues, observing classrooms and laboratories, and examining course materials from syllabi to lecture notes, Bain concludes that the quality of teaching is measured not by whether students pass exams but whether they retain the material to such an extent that it influences their thoughts and actions. Bain focuses on what the best teachers know and understand about their subject matter as well as the learning process; how they prepare; what they expect of their students; how they treat students; and how they evaluate student progress. Although this book is aimed at teachers, it is a thoughtful and valuable resource for students and parents as well. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

Reading this book is a joy. Ken Bain has conducted years of careful research on a variety of campuses, and the result is an inspirational summary of what teachers do that truly makes a difference in students' lives, and what any teacher can do to improve. As a teacher myself, I found I couldn't put this book down. (Richard Light, author of Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds)

Bain's sound and scholarly yet exuberant promotion of America's 'best college teachers' abounds with jaunty anecdotes and inspiring opinions that make student-centered instruction look not only infectious, but downright imperative...Though he acknowledges nationwide trends toward grade inflation, he invokes a 1990 study that suggests students are most driven by 'high demands' and prefer 'plentiful opportunities to revise and improve their work before it receives a grade.' Likewise, the book argues that, even in the cutthroat climate of today's competitive colleges, students strive best in cooperative classrooms. The best teachers, Bain avers, understand and exceed such expectations. (Publishers Weekly 2004-03-29)

With the strong conviction that good teaching can be learned, and after 15 years of observing teachers in action, Bain undertook an exploration of the essentials of effective teaching. The result is an insightful look at what makes a great teacher, based on a study of three dozen teachers from a cross section of disciplines from medical-school faculties to undergraduate departments. (Vanessa Bush Booklist 2004-03-15)

Bain, a historian and director of New York University's Center for Teaching Excellence, studied 63 outstanding college teachers (as deemed by students and colleagues as well as by an examination of their students' work) from diverse institutions in an attempt to identify their common traits. What he discovered is pertinent to all teachers, including those at the K-12 level. (David Ruenzel Teacher Magazine 2004-05-01)

It combines a robust theoretical framework grounded in the latest scholarship, the wisdom of best practices, and a unique depiction of how successful educators think about their teaching. (Paul Keim Christian Century 2005-02-22)

Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do has generated considerable buzz, and rightly so. Based on a careful study of 60 outstanding teachers from a variety of disciplines and institutions, it distills valuable lessons that warrant the consideration of anyone who wishes to be more effective in drawing students into the life of the mind...[Readers] will find its various discussions to be uncommonly well grounded and uncommonly inspiring. (David E. Leary APA Newsletter on Teaching Philosophy 2007-09-01)

It remains for me the single most inspiring and thought-provoking work in the field. Bain's deep analysis of the teaching attitudes and practices of a small cohort of outstanding teachers, buttressed by research from the learning sciences and narrated in lively prose, provides multiple models for college educators to reflect upon, discuss, and emulate. Nine years after its initial publication, it continues to stimulate my own continuing meditations on teaching. (James M. Lang Chronicle of Higher Education 2013-02-19)

About the Author

Ken Bain is Professor of History and former Provost at the University of the District of Columbia.
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