In stories both humorous and touching, Bain
describes examples of ingenuity and compassion, of students' discoveries of new ideas and the depth of their own potential.
What the Best College Teachers Do is a treasure trove of insight and inspiration for first-year teachers and seasoned educators.
has written precisely the sort of book I wish someone had shared with me during my graduate school days.
Like many of my colleagues, I was left to my own devices inside the college classroom.
My solution was to emulate those professors I respected as a student.
Other than a few days of preparation in 1990, I never had any sort of systematic training about good classroom performance or how students learn.
Ken Bain, Director for the Center of Teaching Excellence at New York University, has provided a valuable resource for all of us in a similar situation.
tells a good story in each chapter and uses both his
experiential base and the literature to bolster his
advises college teachers to orient their teaching to the students in the room.
What if everything Bain
says is actually true?
What would that say about the American college student?
advice makes the student sound like a fragile creature who's got to be seduced into an interest in anything outside of himself.
For example, Bain
says professors shouldn't use the word "requirements" on the syllabus.
They should promise students specific valuable things, but never demand.
In fact, he
seems to say that the exact way grades are computed shouldn't be stated.
What would happen if there were clear and straightforward demands?
Would students crumble?
The huge emphasis Bain
puts on connecting course material to a student's personal concerns makes me wonder what would happen if a professor got up and talked about... the civil war ...computers ...botany.
Can't teachers count on the inherent interest of anything?
The advice in the book frequently ignores real world teaching problems.
is very positive about take home exams, thinking it's silly to pass up their advantages because of worries about cheating.
But these worries are serious.
very positive about the idea that every exam should be cumulative, with only the last one counting.
identified a number of teachers who made a meaningful impact on student lives.
team followed up to ask, "What makes them so great?"
also ignores institutional pressures on faculty.
says, high grades can also reflect high learning -- but just try and prove it.
I've also been in environments where students were expected to get A's -- a B-plus was the closest to a failing grade.
Students who genuinely wanted to learn were frustrated by whiny, do-nothing classmates who could hardly provide a stimulating classroom conducive to learning.
Most important Bain
dismisses evaluations. but in reality, nearly every professor will live or die by student opinion.
In Chapter 2, Bain
cites studies showing that students don't change beliefs readily.
I think he's
is a book about student control, authenticity, caring, deep learning, involvement, meaning, collaboration, positive expectations, trust, take-home exams, students teaching one another, higher order thinking skills...
By contrast, Bain
never considers what happens when well-meaning teachers take his
concepts to excess. (And they/we certainly do.)
The book does not address certain concepts vital to teaching and learning, and I miss them -- such as willpower, setting priorities, managing time, developing and improving skills, practice and repetition, hard work, relentless effort, self-sacrifice, commitment to excellence, competition based on achievement, professionalism, responsibility, internalizing values, gaining content knowledge, self-discipline, ethics, and self-directed learning skills in the sense of Knowles.
Part of the reason seems to be acceptance by Bain
and the teachers studied of the concept of Higher Order Thinking Skills, developed from Bloom's cognitive taxonomy.
First of all, the HOTS idea devalues its foundation -- content knowledge through comprehension and recall.
Second, the cognitive taxonomy rests invisibly upon the taxonomy of affective skills, less known, more important.
That's about commitment, participation, and the disciplined internalization of values -- more or less "professionalism."
Four-fifths of the teachers studied for this book came from rather elite institutions ("research institutions"), and even though Bain
claims these concepts work well anywhere, I'm not convinced.
This is a review of What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain
Bain, the director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at NYU, did a study of outstanding college-level teachers.
wanted to find out what such outstanding teachers had in common.
The basic lesson he
arrived at is easy to formulate (although challenging to implement).
In the chapter on how outstanding teacher conduct classes, Bain
identifies the five elements of what he
calls a "natural critical learning environment": (1) start with some question that students will find intriguing, (2) help the students to see why this question is important, (3) encourage the students to think actively and critically, rather than just listening and remembering, (4) guide the students to working out an answer, and (5) leave the student with further questions.
Bain charitably concludes that students have simply gotten very good at accurately determining who will or will not turn out to be a good teacher.