TLSS - Teaching and Learning Support Service

Teaching effectively for optimal learning

Effective teaching and optimal learning: How to go about it

“My professor speaks quickly and lectures us non-stop for an hour and a half. And on top of that, he expresses himself with complicated words! I have trouble following, and feel like being force-fed like a goose! So I end up keeping myself busy by doing other things: It’s either surfing the web or thinking of all the other stuff I have to do!”

Sounds familiar?

Indeed, some students sometimes say that when they describe the teaching of their professor. Thus, a question arises: How can you guide your students to avoid cognitive overload and excessive stress, to keep their attention, and to support them in developing their full potential?

Professor Todd Rose of Harvard University (Square Peg, 2013) explains that the neuroscience and education recognize that brains are not all the same, and for that reason, students do not all learn the same way. For example, they assimilate the content of the course at different pace, and especially under pressure! He invites professors to take this into account in the design and teaching of their courses.

There are several strategies available to do so. According to Beaudoin (2013, adaptation), you could apply the following tips:

  • Disseminate in advance the course plan to locate the students and help them prepare. At the beginning of the course, inform daily target students and remind them of the expected results.
  • Put in context, summarize and reframe the content to guide students. For example, use transition slides in PowerPoint presentations, begin a section of the course with a summary before moving to the next topic, and present and situate each theme throughout the course.
  • Vary more learning activities and ways in which information is presented. For example, alternate mini-lessons (15 minutes maximum) with discussions, case studies and other individual activities and sub-groups.
  • Facing the students when you speak, make eye contact with them, observe their nonverbal and validate their understanding at regular intervals.
  • Provide downtime during the lesson to allow students to compare their class notes, review the material in a team and ask for questions which will clarify their understanding;
Use the question-minute at the end of the lesson to double-check students understanding. Start the next course with feedback or upload a video of yourself explaining the same concepts in a different way.

And there are many other strategies!

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