The underlying principles of effective instruction are neither mysterious nor difficult to understand. Some argue that excellent teaching is an “art” that cannot be defined explicitly, adopting Justice Potter Stewart’s approach to obscenity: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” But excellent courses share many common features, all of which can be articulated clearly and understandably. The course organization, the teacher’s presentation, and the activities in which students participate both in and outside of class all contribute to the overall quality of instruction and the learning that results. Our intent here is to identify those aspects of excellent instruction that are definable and about which there is a consensus among excellent teachers.
In the Classroom
- The teacher conveys a personal interest in and enthusiasm for the subject matter of the course.
- The teacher demonstrates respect for students and shows an interest in their learning. [e.g., written work returned promptly; encourages students to meet during office hours, before or after class; class begins and ends on time; encourages questions]
- Class presentations comprise lucid and cogent explanations of subject matter content.
- There are frequent opportunities in class for students to ask questions and to talk with one another about the subject matter.
- There are frequent opportunities, both in and outside of class, for students to practice applying the information and skills learned—solving problems, explaining relationships, restating ideas in their own words.
- The course objectives, activities, and schedule for the semester are clearly stated in the printed syllabus.
- The course objectives focus on understanding and applying important principles in the discipline.
- The course objectives define in clear terms what students will know and how they will demonstrate what they know by the conclusion of the semester.
- The class activities, homework assignments, projects, papers, and labs contribute to the accomplishment of the course objectives.
- All graded assessments, including tests, papers, and projects, effectively measure the students’ accomplishment of the course objectives.
- The primary graded assessments focus on the important principles of the discipline and require the application of knowledge and skills.