How the Best Teachers Conduct Their Class, Matters

During their 15-year study of effective instruction in the classroom, Ken Bain and his researcher-colleagues observed seven common principles that faculty across disciplines used to shape the learning environment in their classes.

  1. They create a natural critical learning environment in which students encounter and develop the skills, habits, and attitudes of the discipline through intriguing questions and authentic activities.
  2. They get students’ attention and keep it, often by beginning each class with a provocative question or problem.
  3. They start with what students know and care about rather than with theoretical disciplinary information.
  4. They ask students for a commitment to the class and their own learning … and they hold students to that commitment.
  5. They help students learn between class meetings rather than focus on “coverage” during class. This “flipped” classroom approach requires students to complete reading assignments and homework before class in order to devote class time to discussion, clarification, and exploration.
  6. They use class time to help students analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information and ideas the way practitioners in the discipline do.
  7. They create diverse learning experiences by presenting information in different formats (visual and auditory), and organizing class material inductively and deductively.

The most effective classroom instructors were skilled at presenting course material through a variety of presentation methods, including lecture. In fact, Bain considered an effective lecture to be integral to creating and sustaining a natural critical learning environment. In this context, lecture was never used to provide an encyclopedic coverage of a subject; rather, lecture was used to present the structure of a subject and students were encouraged to react and interact with that structure through questions and discussion. Bain and his researcher-colleagues identified five elements of effective lecturers:

They begin with a question (sometimes embedded in a story), continue with some attempt to help students understand the significance of the question (connecting it to larger questions, raising it in provocative ways, noting its implications), stimulate students to engage the question critically, make an argument about how to answer that question (complete with evidence, reasoning, and conclusion) and end with questions. The only exception? Sometimes the best teachers leave out their own answers whereas less successful lecturers often include only that element, an answer to a question that no one has raised.” (Bain, 2004, p. 107).


Current Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Marin Alsop, current conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

The Internet is full of ideas on how to lecture effectively. Here are just a few of our favorites:

Simple Keys for Super Lectures: Presentation by Dr. Donald Ritzenhein

The Ten Commandments of Good Instruction, by Dr. Donald Miller

Seven Deadly Sins of Poor Instruction, by Dr. Donald Miller

Show and Tell: Guest Speakers in the Digital Age

It’s past midterms, it’s right before spring break. Even your best students are card-carrying members of the Apathy Club and come to think of it … you’ve started your own count down to the end of the semester.

Well, SNAP OUT OF IT! Or better yet find a guest speaker. Bringing in a guest speaker can change-up the pace and add insights or knowledge that differ from your own.   Thanks to technology,  your guest doesn’t have to travel at all or you can record their one time talk and use it over again next semester or for online.


Through the magic of technology, Professor Steinborn is able to interview speakers from Switzerland, Germany, and France while his students were here in the Detroit Metro-area.  How perfect for an international  business course!  Think of the possibilities of Skyping with peers in Mexico or Egypt for language courses.   Interviewing the author of the course textbook. Artists, CEO’s, Scientists, even your Grandmother in Florida, who know what stories and experiences are out there to share!

Cools tools to use:

  • Adobe Connect - for web Conferencing.
  • Skype - It’s easy and almost everyone has it.  Click here for Skyping in Education.
  • Panopto - use it to capture your live or virtual speaker.

Need to find someone? Check out these options

For tips on this subject check out this website:

Need help setting up the tools to connect with your guest speaker, let us know.  Have you brought in a guest speaker into your class? How did it go? Let us know in the comments.

What the Best Teachers Expect Of Their Students Matters

Bain and his colleagues (2004, pg. 71) asked a series of interesting questions about expectations:

Why do some teachers expect more and get students to produce it with great satisfaction while others fail miserably with what they regard as “higher” standards? Is there something distinctive in the nature of the “more” that our subjects expect? Do the highly successful teachers handle the assignments differently, or possess some other quality that accounts for the results they achieve?

The researchers found that the best college teachers – those who consistently elicit high-quality work from students – possess a series of attitudes and tendencies that inform their approach to teaching. These highly effective instructors are convinced that every student has a perspective or valuable insight to contribute to the class, and they create opportunities for students to develop and express those perspectives and insights. The best college teachers have faith in each student’s abilities and they express that faith to each student individually. They are committed to the idea that every student can and will learn not only intellectual skills as a result of their course, but will also develop and strengthen positive personal and social skills. Because of this belief, these college instructors create learning environments where students are challenged and encouraged to stretch and grow their intellectual, personal, and social skills. The best teachers never lose site of outcomes – course outcomes, assignment outcomes, outcomes for a class session – and they design every learning experience around the outcomes.


Finally, the best college teachers understand that external factors make a difference in student learning. Some external factors are obvious; if a student is hungry or weary or feels threatened, their capacity to perform up to the instructor’s expectations (and their own abilities) is weakened. Other external factors are less obvious but no less effective. A student who feels he or she is viewed as a negative stereotype may be distracted or, worse, face a level of anxiety that can harm his or her performance. The best college teachers understand these important external factors and communicate “positive expectations to students that are genuine, challenging yet realistic, and that take their work seriously” (Bain, 2004, pg. 72)


Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. (1st ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Say Adieu to the Red Pen and Bonjour to Turnitin


Help students turn around their writing using Turnitin.   It’s the next best thing to help student writers since the typewriter … Ok, that may be a stretch but we think that Turnitin has great potential to help our students get better feedback from instructors and peers.  Here is what it offers:

  • An easy and efficient way to deliver electronic feedback to students on their writing assignments.
  • An easy and efficient way to manage and monitor peer evaluations.
  • The ability to leave voice comments for students.
  • Access to rubrics to help your students understand what is being asked of them. 
  • Best of all Macomb has an institutional license and y
  • ou can access it through ANGEL … right now!

imagesCANGPB0EHow to use Turnitin

When people think of Turnitin the first thing that usually comes to mind is anti-plagiarism because it runs a diagnostic report using internet sources and Turnitin’s database of submitted papers for closely borrowed and plagiarized material.  While this tool can be helpful it should be used with care.  As one professor explained, “I don’t want to begin my new relationship with students assuming that they are going to cheat and that my job is to catch them at it. My students are not my adversaries.”  Kudos to this Macomb faculty member, who has her student’s best interests in mind.  So while you may be excited about this feature we strongly suggest that Turnitin should be used as a positive tool rather than a punitive trap.  So forget the originality report for right now.  It’s small beans compared to what else the program allows you to do … and don’t fret, we’ll address this tool in a future post. So check out these cool tools instead.

GradeMark - Allows for 5 different types of engaging and individualized feedback.  You can choose from a variety of pre-made comments,  create your own or leave voice comments.

PeerMark - Easily allows students to have access to each other’s papers and provides for interactive peer feedback.

Rubrics - Connect assignments with grade level appropriate rubrics or create your own.

To get started with Turnitin, access your ANGEL Master shell, go to Lessons and then click Add Content.  Scroll down to Turnitin at the bottom of the screen.  Give your assignment a title to get started. It’s that easy!

Click here for faculmacbook13red2ty focused tutorials

Finally, Something Worth Giving Extra Credit For.

ClipArt-ExtraNews” Is there any extra credit?” Don’t you hate that question?  Even if you are not an extra credit bestowing softy, this might be worth it trying so please read on.  Math Professor Mel Ackerman has an answer to that question and it is YES! Professor Ackerman encourages her students to help themselves by attening Macomb’s Student Succes Seminars.  These offer students an opportunity to learn strategies that will enhance their ability to succeed in college. The seminars, which are free to Macomb students and earn 0.1 CEU (Continuing Education Unit) credit per session, take place in the Learning Centers.   Students need  to bring their student ID to register.  Students who attend 10 or more different sessions during a two year period will be awarded a certificate of completion!

Professor Ackerman has her students register for these seminars through WebAdvisor.  At the end of the semester the students print out thier non-credit transcript.  They are given 2 points for each seminar.  Great idea, right?

2562069-a-pretty-african-american-business-woman-with-thumbs-upHere is how you can kick it up a notch.

If a student chooses to attend a seminar, have them write a short paragraph on what they learned in the seminar and how they have implemented what they learned in their studied, not limited to your course.  Or have your students write out a study plan based on your course.  Now isn’t that worth extra credit?

Click here for the Student Success Seminar Schedule

What the Best Teachers Know About Preparation ….Matters

Bain and his colleagues discovered through years of observation and interviews that the best college teachers prepare for a new semester by asking important questions about how their students learn and what the best approaches are to teaching those students. These fundamental questions cluster around four general areas if inquiry.


What should students be able to do intellectually, physically, or emotionally as a result of their learning?

What big questions will my course help students answer?

What reasoning abilities must students develop in order to answer those questions?

How can I best help and encourage them to develop those abilities and habits of heart and mind to use them?

How can I motivate students to reveal and challenge the mental models they bring to my class?

What information will students need in order to challenge their assumptions?

How will I encourage students to grapple with the issues inherent in my discipline?

How will I create an environment in which students can explore, try, fail, receive feedback, and try again?

How can my students and I best understand the nature, quality, and progress of their learning?

How will I help students who have difficulty understanding the questions of the discipline?

How can I uncover and reconcile any differences between my expectations for the course and theirs?

How will I help students learn to learn, to examine and assess their

How can I communicate with students in ways that challenge them to keep exploring and thinking?

How can we (my students and I) understand the nature, progress, and quality of their learning?

How can I evaluate my efforts to foster that learning?

How will I provide feedback to students before the formal assessments?

How can I clearly communicate my standards for assessing their work

That’s a lot of information! Here’s our challenge to you: Ask yourself just one of these questions as you begin the new semester. You might start with the first question in the list: “What big questions will my course help students answer?” Generate a list of two or three “big questions” and weave those questions through the course this semester. Encourage discussion around the questions and watch as your students explore your discipline!



Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. (1st ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Help your Students Research, Write, and Stay Informed.

Here is the scenario: You want your students to write a persuasive or argumentative essay about a current topic.  Typical assignment, right? Except you have some concerns.

  • How do students pick a topic?
  • How does the student get relevant, accurate and balanced sources in a timely manner?
  • How do they cite and share their sources?
  • Your students do not have very strong organization, writing or research skills and you DON’T have time to devote a lesson to all three skill sets.

We have a helpful tool  it’s called Opposing Viewpoints in Context.  It is a free database for students and teachers available through MeL,  (Michigan e-Library)  Opposing Viewpoints in Context is the premier online resource covering today’s contested social issues, from Offshore Drilling to Climate Change, Health Care to Immigration. Opposing Viewpoints in Context helps students research, analyze and organize a broad variety of data for conducting research, completing writing assignments.  This is an extremely rich resource and will definitely be one of your most powerful teaching tools.

Highlights include:

  • More than 14,000 pro/con viewpoint essays
  • 5,000+ topic overviews
  • More than 300 primary source documents
  • 300 biographies of social activists and reformers
  • More than 775 court-case overviews
  • 5 million periodical articles
  • Nearly 6,000 statistical tables, charts and graphs
  • Nearly 70,000 images and a link to Google Image Search
  • Thousands of podcasts, including weekly presidential addresses and premier NPR programs

Benefits: Students can browse for topics using keywords or by subject. The topic page includes multimedia sources that the students can then use to craft their argument or learn about the controversy.  By giving your students some structure and more specific sources you will prevent them from drowning in a sea of information.  Using this model can reinforce of concepts from lecture in a real-world context, while also stressing organization and proper citation.

Here is how you get there:

Go to Click on MeL databases.  Scroll down to Opposing View points…they are in alphabetical order.  You may have to go through  authentication which may include typing in your driver’s license. 

Try This:   Send your students to Opposing View Points topic page  for homework have them study the various articles.  Instead of lecturing stage a debate style discussion OR create a jigsaw discussion group.  Then give a quiz on the basic information.  After this you will have accomplished:

  1. An engaging lesson,check.
  2. Student self-directed study, check.
  3. Real word application,check.
  4. One less class comprised of straight lecture, double-check.

With all those checks you can write one payable to the CTL…or just tell us how it went :)