My teaching style could best be described as evolving from a solid foundation. My style is evolving partially because I'm relatively new to teaching and partially because I believe that I can continually improve my teaching effectiveness. Based on student performance, comments, evaluations, intuition, and psychological research, I have made significant changes that are helping my students to perform better. Despite changes to my style, the six principles upon which I base my teaching style are constant.
1. Psychology is science
The most common misperception that I encounter is that Psychology is an art rather than a science. In all of my courses I focus on the questions that psychologists ask, the testable hypotheses they derive from these questions, the methods they use to test these hypotheses, and the results that support one conclusion over another. I ask my students about their beliefs (e.g. are men better drivers than women) and then have them create their own methods to test their hypotheses. This focus on science, with a special emphasis on hypothesis testing, is intended to help all of my students become better consumers of the information they encounter and to prepare interested students for graduate school.
I respect my students' scholarly abilities and give them challenging study guides and readings, including peer-reviewed journal articles, to complete before class. I do not expect them to comprehend everything in their assignments, but I do expect them to try. Having made the attempt, I expect them to explain their understandings of the issues. Based on their levels of understanding, we approach the day's topics and devote more time to those issues that the students found most troublesome.
I also respect my students as human beings who have innate value. Students have busy lives and too often can't make it to classes or exams for legitimate reasons. My grading policies allow my students the freedom to take care of their duties, familial, or otherwise, without having to divulge information that they would rather keep private. To accomplish this I give my students a few free absences and the opportunity to replace a missed exam with an optional final. To avoid speed-accuracy tradeoffs, I also allow my students as much time as they need to complete my exams.
3. Improving understanding using psychological principles
Students perform better when they distribute their study time (Balch, 2006). By providing study guides, students who attend class and prepare their guides should have at least four exposures to the material (i.e. preparation, class, study, and the exam). Using quizzes provides students with additional exposures to the material and encourages them to prepare before class. By providing students with immediate feedback on their quizzes and exams, my assessments also serve as additional learning tools which facilitate retention (Butler & Roediger, 2008). My study guides are designed to be challenging, which should lead to deeper encoding and better performance (Craik & Lockhart, 1972). Furthermore, the exams are designed from the study guides to further improve performance through transfer appropriate processing (Morris, Bransford, & Franks, 1977).
4. Communicating clearly
My ability to communicate is one of my most important abilities as an educator. To enhance classroom learning, I employ a number of methods to facilitate communicating with my students outside of the classroom. During office hours and at other times, I am logged onto AOL Instant Messenger, Google Chat, Yahoo Messenger, and Windows Live ready to help students with any problems they might have. I provide my students with my home phone number and encourage them to use it before 10:00 p.m., unless they have an emergency. Finally, I provide students with an anonymous method to email me. One of my pet peeves in higher education is that instructors usually don't get feedback about their courses until it's too late to benefit those who provided the feedback. My anonymous email form allows my students to impact their own education.
A student's ability to communicate is one of the most important abilities they can develop regardless of their chosen field. Because of this, I require writing assignments in all of my upper-level courses. My favorite writing assignment involves summarizing a peer-reviewed journal article in a way that a high school student could understand. This exercise requires that students extract the essence of the article and communicate it in a jargon-free way. This exercise helps them develop their critical thinking and verbal communications skills.
In graduate school, I learned the importance of revision. My evolving teaching style reflects my approach to improving my teaching effectiveness through revision. Beyond my continuing attempts to provide my students with more value, I stress the importance of revision in all of my upper-level courses. I encourage my students to revise and resubmit their writing assignments as many times as they like before the end of the semester. Although students appear to do this primarily to increase their grades, both my students and I have noticed how much their writing improves with revision.
People perform better when they are happy and enjoy what they do (Wright, Cropanzano, & Bonett, 2007). Because having fun makes me happy and helps me enjoy my work, I try to have as much fun as I can when I teach. I am enthusiastic about what I teach, so this isn't usually too difficult. Many of the revisions to my teaching methods increased the amount of fun that my students and I were having. I use real-world analogies and popular culture to connect abstract theory to concrete examples. My intention is both to grab my students' attention so they learn better and, hopefully, to inspire the next generation of psychologists.
Balch, W.R. (2006). Encouraging Distributed Study: A Classroom Experiment on the Spacing Effect. Teaching of Psychology, 33, 249-252.
Butler, A.C., & Roediger, H.L. (2008). Feedback enhances the positive effects and reduces the negative effects of multiple-choice testing. Memory & Cognition, 36, 604-616.
Craik, F.I., & Lockhart, R.S. (1972). Levels of processing: A framework for memory research. Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior, 11, 671-684.
Morris, C.D., Bransford, J.D., & Franks, J.J. (1977). Levels of processing versus transfer appropriate processing. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 16, 519-533.
Wright, T.A., Cropanzano, R., & Bonett, D.G. (2007). The moderating role of employee positive well being on the relation between job satisfaction and job performance. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12, 93-104.