Simply put, we should never stop learning. We owe it to our students to share their desire to grow and develop. That’s the vision but what’s the action plan? This is a guide to help you reach your teaching goals.
A key part of developing yourself as a teacher is the development of your teaching and learning philosophy and with this, your approach to teaching practice. These should be documented in your Teaching Portfolio and form the basis for how you interact with the students in your course.
Implementing your personalised approach to teaching not only requires your commitment, dedication and a genuine concern for the student learning experience, but also some careful lesson planning. This section provides you with tips and advice that will help you to develop engaging, supportive and effective learning environments, for all students, whether in-person or online.
Your students are more likely to engage with what you have to say when they sense your interest in them. Remember, that from a student’s perspective, you are the most important person in the room and that can be intimidating. Making yourself accessible will encourage student participation. Key aspects of your teaching practice to consider include:
- Planning for Day One
- Day One
- Introducing your students to your Akoraka | Learn course page
- Classroom management
- Managing large classes
- Online interaction
None of us are perfect, so it is good practice to constantly evaluate and reflect upon your teaching. To learn more, view the resources provided in our Evaluate your Teaching section.
Planning for Day One
The first day sets the tone for the rest of your course so it is important that you spend time planning and preparing. Here are some activities to complete before day one.
- Prepare your course outline and have this available as per the University guidelines.
- Prepare your assessment items including moderation, uploading to your Akoraka | Learn course page, and setting up drop boxes.
- Reset and update your Akoraka | Learn course page, making sure relevant material is available for students prior to day one. It is good practice to have at least the first module and the first assessment item available.
- Prepare lesson plans for the first class and the first week.
- Send a Welcome announcement to your students.
A successful first day can be a key component of a successful class. Day One of your course should set expectations for the rest of the course. You are setting the stage for how you will interact with students, how students can interact with the teaching team (eg, lecturer, tutor, lab demonstrator), the type of learning environment you will provide, and the course learning outcomes, content, and assessment. From the very first moment they meet you, you can personalise your teaching. For example, while discussing the course you can explain your philosophy behind certain policies or your experience in how students learn best.
A key focus on day one should be getting to know your students and letting them get to know you. Establish a comfortable atmosphere and professional rapport – environments in which students feel comfortable asking questions and contributing to discussion in a respectful manner, will increase everyone’s potential for success. Try modelling or practicing the teaching methods and learning expectations you plan to use throughout the course. Get students involved and actively learning from day one.
When students come to the first class, they are eager to know what will be taught in the course, what the teacher is like, how the course will be structured, what will be required of them and how they will be assessed. There’s often a temptation just to work through the course outline, but hold on. While it is important to discuss the course learning outcomes, content and assessment, this should not be the only focus of day one. Encourage your students to read the course outline in their own time and post any questions to a forum or bring them to the next class session.
By planning a focused and dynamic first day you will give students a better sense of the course overall. Specific suggestions for day one include:
- Use icebreakers to help students get to know each other
- Find out what prior learning the students have undertaken and what knowledge they bring to your course
- Walk around the room and chat to students
- Hold an “open house” in which students can briefly chat with the teaching team – this might be during, or at the end of the class session.
Here are some further ideas for the first day (Carnegie Mellon University).
Also review the classroom management tips below.
Good classroom management enables you to build strong relationships with your students, encourage students to play an active part in their own learning, and also minimises disruptive behaviour from students. The classroom management practices provided here can be used in face-to-face, hybrid and online environments. There is also specific guidance on online interactions below.
A good class session is a dialogue between the teacher and the students. Plan to use interaction – people learn and retain more detail when someone talks with them, not at them. Remember the old adage, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
Arrive at the classroom a few minutes early and chat with students. You can break the ice with a comment about current events, a recent news story, or a casual check-in.
During your class session, have some flexibility in your timeline and approach to be able to respond to students’ questions and comments.
Talking with their classmates and being called on to share what they have discussed helps students to retain knowledge and explore concepts they do not fully understand. If students are spending some time during your class session writing, also include time for them to talk about their responses with each other.
Remember to speak to the students not to your notes, the board, computer screen, document camera or wall. Also use variety in your voice. Try to:
- change volume from forceful to soft
- change speed and tempo of speech
- pause and be silent (to get attention)
- enunciate clearly
- avoid repeating words or phrases
- avoid using fillers (i.e., umm, okay, uhhh).
Enthusiasm is contagious, so if you can project that into your teaching, it will help your students become enthusiastic about their own learning. Try some of the following:
- vary your speech (from excited speech to a whisper)
- vary your facial expressions – eg, raise eyebrows, open eyes wide
- maintain eye contact but avoid staring, scan the entire group and look at students individually for 3-4 seconds each
- move freely, naturally, change pace of moving from rapidly to slowly, but avoid pacing back and forth
- use highly descriptive words
- show a high degree of energy and vitality by being highly demonstrative
- be quick to accept, praise, encourage or clarify, nod head when agreeing
- try to have an enthusiastic conversation with students rather than talk at them
- smile often – be friendly and positive.
Fear of peer judgment is a disincentive for many students, particularly in large classes where students fear being embarrassed in front of dozens or even hundreds of their peers. To best deal with student fears of peer judgment, it is critical that teachers promote an environment of trust and mutual respect from the very beginning of a course. In such an environment, students are more likely to feel safe to actively participate in class.
Try to foster a sense of personal connection between students and teachers through small group and partner activities that help students get better acquainted. The resulting feelings of cohesiveness are especially valuable because students who feel connection are far less likely to go against their classroom community’s norms. Finally, be sure to balance student voices by not allowing any students to dominate discussions and by protecting students from interruption. Sometimes the use of a student response system can give everyone a fair opportunity to have their say.
Students can be reluctant to ask questions or make comments in front of peers. When students do ask questions, fan those sparks of curiosity into a flame. You want your response to encourage more questions. Responses such as “I’m glad you asked that” or “That’s a good question” are a simple but effective device to encourage students to continue asking questions. Nonverbal responses such as smiling or nodding can also indicate your support of student questions. Students will not feel comfortable raising questions if they feel scorned, humiliated or embarrassed by a sarcastic response. If appropriate, you might bring a question raised during office hours or after class into the classroom – with or without mentioning the student’s name – for example, “One student/Ann asked me an interesting question about . . . “.
If you find student questions are being dominated by one student or group of students, you can invite other students using comments like “Let’s hear from someone who … [hasn’t shared yet/has a xx background/…]”.
Remember to have flexibility in your class session schedule to allow for student questions to be asked and answers to be discussed. Not all student questions need to be answered by the teacher – try asking the rest of the class if anyone has a suggestion or comment to make before adding your view.
When asking if students have any questions, or when asking students a question, it is important to allow enough time – at least five to ten seconds – for students to consider their response.
Several other methods exist that encourage student questions and feedback – see our section on student feedback during the semester.
Of course, if 20 hands go up in class, you can’t answer all the question. That’s when being available to students both before and after the class session can combat the high teacher-student ratio, particularly in larger classes. Before your class session, you might walk around the classroom and ask students how things are going. Immediately after your class session, make yourself available to answer questions. Schedule office hours and make yourself available during that time and leave the door open. An open door says “Welcome, come on in”. Your students won’t feel like they are interrupting. You can use online forums for student questions and let students know your usual response time to forum posts and emails.
Inform students immediately of your absence should an illness, family emergency or other unexpected event prevent you continuing regular effective contact for a prolonged time period (>1 week). Let students know who to contact with course questions during your absence and when you will return.
Although it may seem daunting, it is important to learn as many of your students’ names as you can. When a student talks with you before or after your class session, or asks a question during class, remember to ask their name. Asking individual students to assist you with demonstrations or other equipment in the class can also help you learn their names. Once you have learned some students’ names, make sure to use them. It will not only help you remember but will also show other students that you are interested in learning their names.
Personalising a course also involves presenting yourself to students as a person rather than just a reader of content and a vessel of knowledge. We’re not suggesting you reveal intimate personal details, including information about yourself in your class sessions or on forums, that would be inappropriate. What does work is to share a personal learning experience. In explaining a challenging part of the course, you might discuss your difficulties in encountering it and learning it for the first time. Humour and showing that you can laugh at yourself can also help establish rapport with students.
Introducing your students to your Akoraka | Learn …
Spending some time introducing your students to your Akoraka | Learn course page will build student confidence and minimise future questions. Read our tips here.
Managing Large Classes
Teaching a large course requires a higher level of practical and pedagogical organisation than a small course, and thus more planning before day one. The aspects covered under classroom management become even more important in a large course.
Many teachers try to “make a large class small” by treating it as such. Methods include:
- walking around the classroom during the class session
- moving toward the student asking a question
- using group work to create a more intimate atmosphere
- learning and using student names
- making time immediately before and after your class session to talk to students
- introducing some active learning strategies,
- developing other methods that allow you to be closer to the students you are teaching.
Regardless of your course delivery approach, you will have asynchronous learning activities in your course and students will expect an online presence from you. Here are some tips for interacting with students in your course’s online learning environment. These tips can also apply to face-to-face interactions.
- Design activities that promote collaboration among students.
- Outline and explain course netiquette and model it at the beginning of the semester with instructor-guided introductions.
- Pose effective questions in discussion forums which encourage interaction and critical thinking skills among all students. It is important that these questions are open-ended and engaging. Here are some useful tips for writing effective discussion forum questions.
- Monitor content activity to ensure all students participate fully and discussions remain on topic.
- Record a 1-2 min video each week to connect with students. Aspects you could cover include:
- A summary of what has happened in the course during the week/topic/module
- Activities the students have done well in
- Any further activity you would like from students
- Any upcoming assessment due dates
- The focus for next week/topic/module and what students can do to prepare
- Create specific forums for questions regarding course assessment, course content and more social interactions.
- Ask students for feedback about the course on a regular basis and revise content as needed.
- Maintain an active online daily presence (particularly during the beginning weeks of a course) as this will be noticed and appreciated by the students.
- Give frequent and substantive feedback throughout the course.
- Let students know up front what response time they should expect for their questions/inquiries (eg, 24 hours).
- Inform students immediately of your absence should an illness, family emergency or other unexpected event prevent you from continuing regular effective contact for a prolonged time period (>1 week). Students will understand and most will be sympathetic and understanding of your predicament. You do not of course need to provide them with specific information about your absence unless it is directly relevant to the students, but what they will not appreciate is being left in the dark with no clarity on how to proceed.
- Inform students about whom to contact with course questions during your absence.
- Let students know when regular effective instructor-initiated contact will resume.