Good Teaching Matters, pt. 1: Know your students

Dr. Barbara Martin, a former professor in the College of Education at the University of Central Florida and at Kent State University in educational technology and educational psychology, specializes in instructional design (ISD), criterion-referenced testing, evaluation strategies, distance education, and instructional theory. She’s written numerous articles on ISD and educational technology, including a book on designing instruction for affective behaviors.

In the June 30 issue of the S&S Newsletter, Barbara’s article, Good Teaching Matters:  Five Teaching Practices to Improve the Quality of a Training Course, Barbara listed five practices as essential to providing quality instruction:

1.  Know Your Students
2.  Write Learning Objectives
3.  Include Practice and Feedback
4.  Create Simple PowerPoint Slides
5.  Design Tests and Evaluation Measures that Promote Transfer

In the next five newsletters, Barbara take each essential practice and drill down further.  Thanks, Barbara, for your expertise in improving training.


Knowing your students is really a two-part process:

1)    Determine the skills, knowledge and attitudes of your students.  We know students come to training with different levels of knowledge and experience.  It’s important for trainers to know the variety of skill sets that students have when they arrive.

2)     Once you know your students’ knowledge and skills, decide teaching and learning strategies to use to make it successful for those students.

Let’s look at each part of these processes separately.

1.  Identifying skills and knowledge: Conduct an analysis before students arrive, or conduct a brief learner analysis in the first hour of class.   Here are a few ideas for that:

  • Use the existing NABCEP task analyses to identify the most important skills that your students need to be successful in your course(s).  No task analysis? Create your own list of critical skills for students to learn.
  • Use that list of skills to write a short questionnaire (5-10 questions) asking students how proficient they are at each skill.
  • An alternative to a questionnaire is to write a pre-test of skills.   It’s better to write three or four high-level application or problem-solving questions than to ask 15-20 recall and comprehension questions.

2.  Design teaching and learning strategies. We need to know student experience and competency levels to design the best classes for  them.  Clearly, we want to design instruction to be the most effective for the largest number of students.  Here are some ways that you can design your classes for maximum effectiveness.

  • Determine subgroups in the class based on the results of your questionnaire or assessment instruments that you used in #1 above.
  • Prepare pre-readings or additional course work for students who have trouble with English or whose reading level is low.
  • Use examples and problems to teach the content rather than relying on lectures.
  • Make the instruction purposeful and job related.
  • Incorporate frequent reviews and summaries to help learners remember important information.
  • Chunk information into small, meaningful categories and link the categories to the larger objective of the course.
  • Take frequent breaks so that students have time to process what they are learning.
  • Use other subject matter experts occasionally to change the pace of the instruction.  Sometimes a new perspective helps students better understand the content.
  • Encourage students to answer each other’s questions.   Some students come to with a great deal of knowledge and experience.  Take advantage of them.
  • Be creative.  Lots of things will work, but you may have to take some risks and try some new things

Knowing students’ prerequisite knowledge can make a big difference in how a course could be organized.   Using that knowledge to plan the best teaching and learning strategies can make you and your students stars!

Next up:  Good Teaching Matters, pt. 3:  Write Learning Objectives

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