Seven Principles of Good Teaching

These principles have been intended as a guideline for faculty members, students, and administrators to follow to improve teaching and learning. Research for over 50 years on the practical experience of students and teachers supports these principles. When all principles are practiced, there are six other forces in education that surface: activity, expectations, cooperation, interaction, diversity, and responsibility. Good practices work for professional programs as well as the liberal arts. They also work for a variety of students: Hispanic, Asian, young, old, rich, poor.

Teachers and students have the most responsibility for improving undergraduate education. However, improvements will need to be made by college and university leaders, and state and federal officials. It is a joint venture among all that is possible. When this does occur, faculty and administrators, think of themselves as educators that have a shared goal. Resources become available for students, faculty, and administrators to work together.

Principle 1: Encourage contact between students and faculty.

Building rapport with students is very important. The contact between students and teachers are vital to the students’ success. One of the main reasons students leave school is the feeling of isolation that they experience. The concern shown will help students get through difficult times and keep working. Faculty have many avenues to follow to open up the lines of communication.

For the regular classroom:

  • Invite students to visit outside of class.
  • Know your students by name.
  • Help students with problems in their extracurricular activities.
  • Personalize feedback on student assignments.
  • Attend student events.
  • Advise students regarding academic courses and career opportunities.
  • Seek out students you feel are having a problem with the course or are frequently absent.
  • Encourage students to present their views and participate in class discussions.
  • Have regular office hours.
  • Help students to work with other faculty. Let them know of options, research, etc. of other faculty.
  • Share personal experiences and values.
  • Use the one-minute paper at the end of class to get feedback on what the student is learning and how well they are learning it.
  • Talk to students on a personal level and learn about their educational and career goals.

For distance and online courses:

  • Try computer conferencing.
  • Use listserves.
  • Clearly, communicate your email response policy.
  • Encourage e-mail correspondence and discussion forum use, especially beneficial for those that are shy or are from different cultures because it allows them a different avenue of communication that might be more comfortable.
  • “Chat time” online with faculty (at various times, scheduled weekly).
  • Use pictures of faculty/students.
  • Visit the distance sites, if possible.
  • Have an on-site support person.
  • Maintain eye contact with the camera and local students.
  • Arrange for group work at a distance site.

Technology, like e-mail, computer conferencing, and the World Wide Web/Internet, now gives more opportunities for students and faculty to converse. It is efficient, convenient, and protected. It allows more privacy so that students are able to discuss more openly without fear that other students are going to hear. The e-mail also gives student more time to think about what they want to say. With these new alternatives to face-to-face communication, interaction from more students should increase within the classroom.

Principle 2: Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students.

When students are encouraged to work as a team, more learning takes place. Characteristics of good learning are collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working together improves thinking and understanding.

For the regular classroom:

  • Use cooperative learning groups
  • Have students participate in activities that encourage them to get to know one another.
  • Encourage students to join at least one organization on campus.
  • Assign group projects and presentations
  • Utilize peer tutoring.
  • Encourage students to participate in groups when preparing for exams and working on assignments.
  • Distribute performance criteria to students is that each person’s grade is independent of those achieved by others.
  • Encourage students from different races and cultures to share their viewpoints on topics shared in class.

For distance and online courses:

  • Use chat sites and discussion forums for student-to-student communication.
  • Set up teams to interact through e-mail or phone bridges with enough people at each site.
  • Encourage students to respond to their peers’ work by posting it on the internet.
  • Have a question and answer time online.
  • Use teleconferencing for idea sharing.
  • Encourage online discussion groups that require interaction.
  • Work on group projects through phone and e-mail.
  • Team-teach courses.
  • Include an “ice-breaker” activity to allow students to share their interest and to learn about others.

Cooperative learning has several benefits. Students care more about their learning because of the interdependent nature of the process. Retention is higher because there is a social and intellectual aspect of the content material. Students also find the method more enjoyable because there is no competition placed upon them. Cooperation, not competition, is more effective in promoting student learning.

Principle 3: Encourage active learning.

Learning is an active process. Students are not able to learn much by only sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and churning out answers. They must be able to talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. Students need to make learning a part of themselves.

For the regular classroom:

  • Ask students to relate what they are learning to something in real life.
  • Use journaling.
  • Give students concrete, real-life situations to analyze.
  • Encourage students to suggest new reading, projects, or course activities.
  • Ask students to present their work to the class.
  • Use of simulation software to run “what-if” scenarios allows students to manipulate variables and circumstances.
  • Practice role modeling and use web-based case studies to practice new thinking skills.
  • Encourage students to challenge your ideas, the ideas of other students, or those ideas presented in readings or other course materials in a respectful matter.
  • Set up problem-solving activities in small groups and have each group discuss their solutions with the class.

For distance and online courses:

  • Allow flexibility in choosing material so that it is more meaningful to the learner (e.g. students choose their own topic, project format, etc.).
  • Have an interactive web page.
  • Debate online.
  • Present students work for other students to review.
  • Talk about what students are learning by creating a learning group through e-mail, telephone, chat room, or conferencing.
  • Use e-mail for group problem-solving.

Promoting active learning in higher education is a struggle because of the learning background that many students come to classes with. This is due to the fact that the norm in our nation’s secondary schools has been to promote passive learning. A large amount of information needs to be covered with not enough time, so teachers resort to lecture in order to economize their time to cover as much material as possible. Students progress from topic to topic with no real understanding of the content and how it relates to their life. Effective learning is active learning. The concept of active learning has been applied to curriculum design, internship programs, community service, laboratory science instruction, musical and speech performance, seminar classes, undergraduate research, peer teaching, and computer-assisted learning. The common thread between all these events is to stimulate students to think about how they as well as what they are learning and to take more responsibility for their own education.

Principle 4: Give prompt feedback.

By knowing what you know and do not know gives a focus to learning. In order for students to benefit from courses, they need appropriate feedback on their performance. When starting out, students need help in evaluating their current knowledge and capabilities. Within the classroom, students need frequent opportunities to perform and receive suggestions for improvement. Throughout their time in college and especially at the end of their college career, students need chances to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how to assess themselves.

For the regular classroom:

  • Follow-up presentations with a five minute period for students to write down what they have learned in class.
  • Provide informative comments that show the students’ errors and give suggestions on how they can improve.
  • Discuss the results of class assignments and exams with the class and individual students.
  • Vary assessment techniques (tests, papers, journaling, quizzes).
  • Offer on-line testing, software simulations, and web-based programs that provide instantaneous feedback.
  • Have question and answer sessions.
  • Use audio and/or video recordings to assess performances.
  • Return grades for assignments, projects, and tests within one week.

For distance and online courses:

  • E-mail gives instant feedback instead of waiting for the next lesson.
  • Use online testing, software simulations, and web-based programs that provide instantaneous feedback.
  • Monitor bulletin boards regularly and give specific information feedback to students.
  • Use pre-class and post-class assessments.
  • Schedule a chat group where you, the instructor are present. Use it as a question and answer session when appropriate.
  • Send acknowledgment e-mails when you receive students work.
  • Post answer keys after receiving the assignment from all students.
  • Use of hyperlinks within the text to provide feedback to questions raised within the text.

The importance of feedback is so obvious that it is often taken for granted during the teaching and learning process. It is a simple yet powerful tool to aid in the learning process. Feedback is any means to inform a learner of their accomplishments and areas needing improvement. There are several different forms that feedback can take. They are oral, written, computer displayed, and from any of the interactions that occur in group learning. What is important is that the learner is informed and can associate the feedback with a specific response.

Principle 5: Emphasize time on task.

Learning needs time and energy. Efficient time-management skills are critical for students. By allowing realistic amounts of time, effective learning for students and effective teaching for faculty are able to occur. The way the institution defines time expectations for students, faculty, administrators, and other staff, can create the basis for high performance from everyone.

For the regular classroom:

  • Expect students to complete their assignments promptly.
  • Clearly communicate to your students the minimum amount of time they should spend preparing for class and working on assignments.
  • Help students set challenging goals for their own learning.
  • Have realistic expectations (don’t expect 10 papers in 10 weeks).
  • Encourage students to prepare in advance for oral presentations.
  • Explain to your students about the consequences of non-attendance.
  • Meet with students who fall behind to discuss their study habits, schedules, and other commitments.
  • Be careful that time on task is real learning, not busy work.
  • Do not use technology for technology’s sake. It must be relevant and useful to the topic.
  • Have progressive deadlines for projects and assignments.
  • Teach time management.
  • Discussion topics from class posted in a discussion group on the web.

For distance and online courses:

  • Understand that there will be problems with distance and technology along the way.
  • Identify key concepts and how those will be taught. Given the amount of time, decide what realistically can be covered.
  • Each distance class should involve some kind of achievement expectation that is laid out at the beginning of the course. Assign some content for out of class time.
  • Give up the illusion of doing it all as you might in a regular classroom.
  • Vary the types of interaction. In creating an interactive environment, it can be overwhelming to the students and teacher if the types of interaction required are too time-consuming.
  • Consider both in and out of class time.
  • Make sure you know what your goals are and that the learners understand them as well.
  • Have regular discussions that require participation.

An easy assumption to make would be that students would be more successful if they spent more time studying. It makes sense but it oversimplifies the principle of time on task. Student achievement is not simply a matter of the amount of time spent working on a task. Even though learning and development require time, it is an error to disregard how much time is available and how well the time is spent. Time on task is more complicated than one might assume.

Principle 6: Communicate high expectations.

Expect more and you will get it. The poorly prepared, those unwilling to exert themselves, and the bright and motivated all need high expectations. Expecting students to perform well becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when teachers and institutions hold high standards and make extra efforts.

For the regular classroom:

  • Give a detailed syllabus with assignments, due dates, and a grading rubric.
  • Encourage students to excel at the work they do.
  • Give students positive reinforcement for doing outstanding work.
  • Encourage students to work hard in class.
  • Tell students that everyone works at different levels and they should strive to put forth their best effort, regardless of what level it is.
  • Help students set challenging goals for their own learning.
  • Publicly acknowledge excellent student performance.
  • Revise courses when needed so students remain challenged.
  • Work individually with students who are struggling to encourage them to stay motivated.
  • Encourage students to do their best instead of focusing on grades.

For distance and online courses:

  • Give a detailed syllabus with assignments, due dates, and a grading rubric.
  • Call attention to excellent work in bulletin board postings or class listserves.
  • Show examples of your expectations with previous students’ work.
  • Publish student work.
  • Provide corrective feedback. State what you did and did not like.
  • Be a role model for students. Model the behavior and expectations that you expect from students.
  • Expect students to participate.
  • Try to make assignments interesting and relevant to create interest.
  • Ask students to comment on what they are doing.
  • Suggest extra resources that support key points.

Although it is often only discussed at the instructional level, high expectations also include the students’ performance and behavior inside and outside the classroom. College and universities expect students to meet their high expectations for performance in the classroom, but also expect a personal and professional commitment to values and ethics. They include the discipline to set goals and stick with them, an awareness and appreciation of the diversity of society, and a philosophy of service to others.

Principle 7: Respect diverse talents and ways of learning.

There are many different ways to learn and no two people learn the same way. Students bring different talents and learning styles to the classroom. Students that excel in the seminar room may be all thumbs in the lab or art studio and vice versa. Students need the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them. Then, they can be guided into new ways of learning that are not as easy for them.

For the regular classroom:

  • Use Web technologies to allow students to pick and choose learning experiences that fits the way they learn.
  • Encourage students to speak up when they do not understand.
  • Use diverse teaching activities and techniques to address a broad range of students.
  • Select readings and design activities related to the background of students.
  • Provide extra material or activities for students who lack essential background knowledge or skills.
  • Integrate new knowledge about women, minorities, and other under-represented populations into your courses.
  • Use learning contracts and other activities to provide students with learning alternatives for your courses.
  • Encourage students from different races and cultures to share their viewpoints on topic discussed in class.
  • Use collaborative teaching and learning techniques and pair students so they compliment each others abilities.
  • Give students a problem to solve that has multiple solutions. Guide them with clues and examples.
  • Consider field trips.
  • Be familiar with Howard Gardner’s research on multiple intelligences.

For distance and online courses:

  • Encourage students to express diverse points of view in discussions.
  • Create learning activities filled with real-life examples and diverse perspectives.
  • Provide Saturday lab experiences by contracting with local high schools or community colleges.
  • Some CD-Roms are available that offer a simulated lab.
  • Balance classroom activities for all styles (some books, some hands-on, some visual).
  • Explain theory from a practical approach first then add the structural approach.

The meaning of diversity is very clear from effective institutions. They embrace diversity and systematically foster it. This respect for diversity should play a central part in university decisions, be apparent in the services and resources available to students and resources available to students, be a feature of every academic program, and practiced in every classroom.