Eric’s Top Ten Teaching Tips
Emily Smith, Intern - Fall 2006
On a crisp day before Thanksgiving I had the pleasure of sitting down with Eric Frierson to discuss his top ten teaching tips for the Instructor College. Eric has been working at the Graduate Library at the University of Michigan for more than two years, teaching classes to faculty and staff as well as students. Eric also has experience teaching high school students, before becoming a librarian. Based on his knowledge and experiences he was able to give me a consolidated list of tips for teachers, both old and new.
- Plan, plan, plan! Prepare your lesson far ahead of time in order to cover the topics in the best order so that they can be clear for the students. Practice your plan, but be able to modify it as appropriate. You must be prepared, but flexible!
- Gauge the audience’s interest before class begins. Take the time to ask questions of your audience before class begins. Find out their names, experience, what they are trying to learn and how they might use the skills you are teaching outside the classroom. This information will make you more approachable and will also give you the opportunity to teach to the students’ interests to further engage them in the lesson.
- Remember the pre-class rituals! Arrive at the classroom early so that you are available to greet and answer questions. Stand outside the classroom door and greet people as they enter. Also chitchat with your students in the classroom. These techniques will make you seem more approachable to the students.
- Think as a Novice First, think of how you would look at a particular activity or problem if you were a novice student. For example, if you are teaching students how to calculate the surface area of a cylinder you could break the problem down into the surface area of two circles, and the surface of the cylinder (which can be unrolled into a rectangle).
- Give students a sense of “home” Identify a starting point that the students can return to in case they get lost in what they are doing and need to be able to “reset.” This point should be a place where the students can return in order to start the task again. For example, when you are searching for periodicals in a database, you could identify the basic search screen as “home.” If students get lost while searching they know they can return to this search page to start over fresh.
- Point, wait, click If you are teaching how to use a complex electronic resource on a projection screen, first bring up what you are going to click on. Next, get up and walk to the projection screen to point to where you are going to click. Finally, return to your computer and click. Providing this extra time for the students to orient themselves on the computer screen makes it easier for students to duplicate a complex task. This also prevents you, as a teacher, from clicking through several screens and losing the students who look at their own monitors as they try to follow and end up missing a step.
- Interact with your Students Use the information you gathered from interviewing your students before class to interact with them. Give students a task to complete, allow them time to work out the problem and then ask them to explain how they completed the task. Students will be more inclined to respond to your questions when they know how they just solved the problem (instead of guessing).
- Allow for “play time” Give students a chance to process what they learned by allowing them to play with the resource you taught them. Summarize the resource so that the students understand the big picture and how the resource they learned fits into this picture.
- Have handouts ready and prepare them thoughtfully Prepare the handouts so that everything you say in class is noted on the handout. This will prevent students from trying to write down each step of the process or application you are demonstrating. Be sure to tell students that the steps you are taking are written in the handout so that they can focus on practicing, not note taking.
- Take student feedback seriously Respond to feedback given in class and try it out. Even if the suggestions that are made might not work, it will be a learning experience for both you and the students. (For example, if you are teaching Microsoft Word and a student suggests a new way to insert footnotes, try it out. You may learn something new!) Remember to be flexible and to listen to the students since they might have something to teach you.
- Remember to pause during your presentation to allow time for students to process what you said.
- Try using humor if this is your style. Just remember to go with the flow and laugh if something goes badly or a joke falls flat.
- Roll with the punches and don’t be afraid to admit you did something wrong.
- Actively engage the audience if you make a mistake while teaching. Ask them what you did wrong so that it becomes a learning experience.
- Try not to down-talk the electronic resource or interface you are teaching. This may discourage the students from even trying to learn a complex system. Emphasize the positive features and the usefulness of the product once one learns how to use it.
- Don’t say that a tool or program is bad. This will only discourage the students.