- Hardcover: 207 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (April 30, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674013255
- ISBN-13: 978-0674013254
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 147 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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What the Best College Teachers Do 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Bains sound and scholarly yet exuberant promotion of Americas "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 books plummy examples from their peers interdisciplinary curriculasuch 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. Bains most compelling arguments, however, concern the quirks and motivations of todays 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 todays 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 headingssuch 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.
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
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To no one’s surprise, it turns out that an instructor’s beliefs about teaching, learning, and students’ potential have a profound impact on that instructor’s effectiveness. Bain first establishes what he means by outstanding teaching (“helping students learn in ways that made a sustained, substantial, and positive influence on how those students think, act, and feel”). It’s important to note the three dimensions of learning alluded to here—thought, behavior, and affect. All aspects are essential for meaningful teaching and learning.
Bain then discusses, in lucid and enlightening detail, how the best instructors prepare, what they expect of their students, how they teach, how they interact with students, and how they assess their students and themselves. Both beginning teachers and veterans will benefit from his analysis. And those readers who are not teachers will come away with an appreciation for the complexity of the profession, which is part art, part craft, and part science.
When I purchased this book, I thought it was a simple "cookbook" to highlight the best practices. To my pleasant surprise, it is not. It is extremely well written and organised, and deceptively easy to read as it is filled with anecdotes. However, it is jam packed with valuable advice/practices which require insight and experience to fully appreciate. The book nevertheless puts forth convincing arguments as to why each practice is worthy of your consideration.
The book also challenged, motivated, and convinced me to think about my teaching in ways many books don't (with the exception of another equally wonderful but complementary book by Susan Ambrose: How Learning Works). All of my best practices (some discovered by accident, and most from students' feedback) are highlighted in this book. How I wished I had read this book before I started teaching, it would have saved me from much grief and frustration. More importantly, since this book distills the best practices from many great teachers, I find myself fulfilling only a fraction of what a great teacher should be. The good news is, teaching can be learned, if one is willing to. My understanding of what teaching and learning means has been greatly expanded, and my students are reaping the benefits even now.
One final note: though this book contains the best practices, it only has scant references to studies on the best teaching and learning practices by leading educational psychologists (experts who know how our brains are wired to learn). Nevertheless, practices highlighted in this book reflect major conclusions reported in educational journals. As such, for in-depth understanding of why certain practices work at the cognitive and emotional level, I recommend you get the book by Susan Ambrose: How Learning Works, which summarizes the most important findings on learning by researchers. I find both books complement each other nicely.
All the best in nurturing the next generation!
EDIT: After reading through some of the negative comments from reviewers, I am compelled to reiterate the following: This book is deceptively easy to read, but is filled with practical, life changing advice. For example, a common problem in learning is what Bain termed the plug and chug learning. Students absorb info and regurgitate it during exams resulting in shallow learning (and many teachers are responsible for this). How do we overcome this problem? Bain condensed 7 extremely good methods to overcome this problem (applicable in small class settings or in lecture halls) -- on the last paragraph of pg. 41! Only a single paragraph! And you see this pattern repeated many times over. Therefore, please read with attention to details and get ready when the "gems" pop up. It took me 4 days to complete a single chapter because I had to constantly understand, review and, more importantly, reflect upon what I have read.
While Bain’s primary audience is professors from both research and liberal arts universities, he contends the book’s conclusions could also be of interest to students and their parents. This book raises questions about the practices and philosophies of highly successful teachers in varying fields. It should be noted that “success” is defined as something more than students’ acing departmental final examinations. Success in teaching students results in “sustained influence” in learning, even beyond the classroom (9).
Bain’s background in higher education learning initiatives (founding multiple “teaching centers” at universities such as NYU, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, and Montclair; serving as Provost of the University of the District of Columbia; and currently serving as the President of the Best Teachers Institute) qualifies him for such a task as uncovering the best teaching practices and philosophies. Bain admits he, like most college and university professors, had no formal preparation for helping anyone else learn, thus suggesting the purpose this book serves in the academic community (181).
This book is first and foremost a study of what it is outstanding teachers do really well. Bain divides his research into six major conclusions concerning teaching: knowledge and learning, preparation, expectations, method and practice, treatment of students, and evaluation or assessment. “The ideas here require careful and sophisticated thinking, deep professional learning, and often fundamental conceptual shifts” (15). A paradigm shift from transmission of information to transformation of the student learner is of utmost importance.
In summarizing the book, Bain first centers on what the best teachers know and understand. The most outstanding teachers are without a doubt experts in their field. Their immense, while specific, knowledge helps to qualify them for the task of teaching and training. Of course, those teachers are also aware that “knowledge is constructed, not received” (26). It should be understood rather than merely absorbed. Bain suggests a student’s interest should be in a mastery of learning over failure avoidance. Bain then shifts his focus from what these teachers know and understand to how they prepare to teach. With a baker’s dozen worth of weighty questions, Bain advocates for engineering a natural critical learning environment that is student-centered. Discerning the abilities and skills of students, understanding the pre-established mental models they bring to the classroom, assessing the student’s difficulty of grasping material, and sustaining long-term student interest and thinking all play a role in creating this environment. “Highly effective teachers design better learning experiences for their students in part because they conceive of teaching as fostering learning” (67). Moving forward from knowledge and preparation, Bain discusses the expectations successful teachers place on their students. A combination of high standards and the assurance of authentic learning goals ring through as critical. Bain emphasizes the importance of intellectual and personal development of the student for meaningful learning. The best teachers in the study expected more from their students — that “more” is tied to critical thinking and acting rather than completion of mounds of meaningless coursework.
Method and practice emerge in Bain’s argument for effective teaching, and once again touches on a natural critical learning environment. Bain makes a case for gaining and keeping the attention of students with something they care about, seeking academic commitment from students, and engaging students inside and outside of class with a diverse set of learning experiences. Particular methods are far less important here than directing and shaping the learning environment. Bain voices his concern for the treatment of students by promoting common decency, acknowledging that professors should conceive of themselves as “fellow students” (144). Lastly, proper evaluation and assessment conclude the research. Bain stresses student assessments should be used as an additional avenue for helping students learn and teaching assessments should be used as a way of promoting learning-based instruction that is student-focused. Bain states, “Excellent teachers develop their abilities through constant self-evaluation, reflection, and the willingness to change” (172). Together, these create a system of evaluation dependent upon how well evaluators know and understand human learning.
Bain’s approach was thoroughly considered. Organizing parts of this research study as a kind of “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ), each chapter informs the reader of different aspects of teaching and learning. This tool makes the book incredibly useful as a resource. While reading the book in its entirety generates a better understanding of the process, scope and reasoning for conclusions, returning later for study concerning specific topics of interest is made easier and more accessible. I appreciated the student-centeredness Bain presented in his work. As the primary beneficiaries in the classroom, teaching should reflect students’ learning potential. It is suggested the best teachers “displayed not power but an investment in the students” (139).
Bain’s work, in some respects, enhances an understanding of learning that exhibits sustained change in students’ lives. I found the information on “mental models” brought into the classroom as a result of each student’s background and rearing in education to be very insightful. Framing teaching in a way that moves beyond encouraging students to absorb information and toward understanding the underlying structures deep-learning requires is by no means a revolutionary conclusion or suggestion, but does act as a good reminder for practice.
Critiques offered for "What the Best College Teachers Do" focus on data and the research methods of gathering that data. Bain’s primary prerequisites for the study are appropriate in direction, but the question arises of the data’s measurability. “Ultimately, the judgment to include someone in the study was based on careful consideration of his or her learning objectives, success in helping students achieve those objectives, and ability to stimulate students to have highly positive attitudes toward their studies” (183). There was great breadth to this study. Because of that, the conclusions offered are cursory at times. While “careful consideration” is admirable, it is not completely objective or measurable. This is where the data and research meet experience and discernment. I commend Bain for his efforts in rationalizing his subjective research methods but still fall on the side of caution in exact implementation or replication of his conclusions.
While some similarities in learning theory across fields can be assumed, all cannot. The universities and subjects surveyed surely do not represent a comprehensive view of the American university system. Only sixty-three professors and teachers were studied closely in the final rounds of research (all but twelve were exclusively from research universities ). This study is hardly meant to be exhaustive, but is still valuable for graduated growth toward teaching students to learn deeply.
Bain’s book is absolutely worthwhile and recommended for any professor or college teacher who is seeking to generate deep-learning motivation in their students. In many ways, it can be customized to each reader’s needs or desires. At just shy of two-hundred pages, the book is easily read in one sitting and well divided for later reference. I believe Bain’s sentiment can best be summed up in his thoughts on the potential and purpose of learning: “Learning doesn’t just affect what you know; it can transform how you understand the nature of knowing” (42).
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