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Tips For Starting the Year

How do the most effective teachers prepare to teach? 

They ask themselves the following: (from Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press)

  1. What big questions will my course help students answer, or what skills, abilities, or qualities will it help them develop? How will I encourage my students’ interests in these questions and abilities?
  2. What reasoning abilities must students have or develop to answer the questions that the course raises?
  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?
  4. What information will my students need to understand in order to answer the important questions and challenge their assumptions? How will they best obtain that information?
  5. How will I help students who have difficulty understanding the questions, using evidence, and thinking critically?
  6. How will I confront my students with conflicting problems and encourage them to grapple with the issues (individually and collectively)?
  7. How will I find out what they know already and what they expect from the course? How will I reconcile differences between my expectations and theirs?
  8. How will I help students learn to learn, to examine and assess their own learning and thinking, and to read more effectively, analytically, and actively?
  9. How will I find out how students are learning prior to summatively assessing them, and how will I provide feedback before any major assessment of them?
  10. How will I communicate with my students in a way that will keep them thinking?
  11. How will I spell out the intellectual and professional standards I will be using to assess students’ work, and how will I help them learn to assess their own work using those standards?
  12. How will I create a natural critical learning environment in which I embed skills and information I wish to teach in assignments that students will find helpful…even fascinating? How will I create a safe environment in which students can try, fail, receive feedback, and try again?
  13. How will I know when my students are truly learning?

Anne's Big Five Tips For A Great Start To The Year

  1. Learning Your Students' Names: After introducing yourself and your course, finding out who is in your class is the next logical and very important step! Many faculty believe that knowing each student’s name is the key to keeping students engaged, facilitating their learning, and establishing a hospitable climate. If you feel that you are a bit challenged by this, especially with large classes, take heart! And, take a look at the following website for great tips on learning names, visit
  2. Getting to know your student: Establishing relationships with students is a critical component to learning success, and an added value to being at BU. Many faculty use “student questionnaires” to find out students’ previous experiences, current involvements and interests, and ways they learn best. Helping your students get to know each other is a critical component as well. Icebreaker activities (they can be done in the first few weeks) often set a climate of “community and comfort” for students and the instructor. Check out this site for some great suggestions on a variety of icebreakers visit
  3. Getting to know your students' cultural context: Finding ways to engage students may begin with learning more about them: Where are they from geographically? What have been the important historical events in their lifetime? What is the cultural context from which they come – both personally and as a generation. Generational differences can influence the habits and expectations students have when they come to college, how they approach learning, and how they view the appropriate roles of teachers and students. What better way to get a pulse on the Class of 2017 than by checking out the Beloit College Mindset List! Each August since 1998, this list has provided a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college each fall. The Mindset List has become an internationally monitored catalog of the changing worldview of each new college generation.
  4. Finding out your students' prior knowledge: Students bring both attitudes about and misconceptions of content areas of knowledge with them to courses. Assessing prior knowledge allows instructors to build on or actively counteract assumptions, information, and ways of evaluating evidence that students bring with them. Certainly, conducting a “pre-test” is one possible strategy, but there are other engaging ways to assess students’ prior knowledge – for example:
  5. Helping your students set goals: Students who set goals for their learning – beyond “I will make an ‘A’ in this course” – will not only be more successful in their academic life, but will establish a pattern of goal-setting for other aspects of their lives. Faculty can assist students in setting a few specific goals to achieve for the duration of their course. These goals can involve time management, learning strategies, even test taking. Engage students in an initial activity of writing 2-3 specific goals for your course, then have them re-visit these goals at mid-term and at the end of the course. For more information on goal- setting, check out:

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