Planning for Teaching
For some instructors, planning a course is as much fun — or more fun — than actually teaching the class. Finding the right textbook, deciding on the content of the course, planning learning activities, writing objectives and designing exams and assessments, are all a part of the planning process. Moving the pieces of the puzzle around — e.g., deciding what activities go where — can be a fascinating challenge and one that should start many months prior to teaching the class.
In his book Teaching Tips (in its 12th edition), author and instructional development specialist Wilbert McKeachie devotes a chapter to what he calls "Countdown for Course Preparation." According to McKeachie, "the first step in preparing for a course is the working out of course objectives, because the choice of text, the selection of the type and order of assignments, the choice of teaching techniques and all the decisions involved in course planning should derive from your objectives." If your course goals and objectives are not well thought out, you may end up driving to St. Louis when your goal was to drive to Chicago.
Once your course goals (aka "overarching objectives" or course "mission") are determined, you can start to rough out your course syllabus. Your syllabus should include such things as your contact information, the course goals, the course materials, the course policy regarding attendance, a statement about academic integrity, a statement about students with disabilities, the types and dates of the assignments, the types and dates of the quizzes, projects and exams and a day-to-day schedule of the topics. It's especially important to decide how you will handle such things as late work, absences and cheating prior to the beginning of the semester. Putting clear statements of these things in your course syllabus will be tremendously helpful in case there's a problem once the semester begins.
Once your syllabus and overall plans are in place, you can begin to plan your lectures. Each lecture should have specific objectives that you want your students to master. As you're writing the objectives for each lesson, you can simultaneously work on the way you're going to assess whether or not that learning took place.
It's important to keep your objectives, classroom activities and assessment techniques congruent. In other words, don't teach at the literal level and then test at the application level. Or, don't say that you're going to give a multiple choice exam and then change your mind and give an essay test.
For specific tips on planning your instruction, click on "Words of Wisdom" below.
- Dick, W., Carey, L., & Carey, J. O. (2001). The systematic design of instruction, (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- Gagne, R. M., Wager, W.W., Golas, K. C., & Keller, J. M. (2005). Principles of instructional design, (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
- McKeachie, Wilbert J. and Svinicki, Marilla. (2006) Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research and Theory for College and University Teachers. Houghton Mifflin. 12th ed.
- Smaldino, S. E., Lowther, D., Russell, J. D. (2008). Instructional technology and media for learning, (9th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.
Words of Wisdom
- After you write your syllabus, run it by one (or several) of your colleagues to get their input. They may be able to pick up subtle things that you may not have been aware of, like your tone. There's a fine line between wanting to welcome your students to the course and being firm about your expectations and course policies.
- When selecting a textbook for the course, choose one that's at your students' level. If appropriate, choose one that has an accompanying study guide. Explain the importance of reading the textbook and how the textbook and your lectures are going to be connected. And be sure to refer to the textbook from time to time in your lectures.
- Prior to testing your students, make sure they've had a chance — either inside or outside of the class — to practice the objective. Also, make sure that they've received feedback from you about their level of competence so that they can make the change in their knowledge level or skill level prior to the assessment.
- Use a variety of assessment tools throughout the semester to determine your students' knowledge and skill levels. Students have different learning styles which means they do better on different kinds of tests.
- Test frequently. Your weaker students will especially benefit from frequent testing because it makes them keep up with the work.
- Use your end-of semester course-instructor evaluations to make changes in future classes. Most evaluation instruments have a section where students can write feedback about the course — what they liked and what they didn't like. One comment from a student doesn't warrant making a significant change, but several comments along the same line might be worth considering.