Newsletter: April 10, 2018

Book Review: Small Teaching

Can’t get students’ attention at the beginning of class? Did they already forget what they learned two days ago? Two weeks ago? Feel like it’s too late to change anything at this point?

James Lang would beg to disagree. In Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, he introduces strategies that we can implement tomorrow without too much planning and preparation. Here’s one: start class with a story. Whether it’s about a scientific discovery, a personal experience in a dysfunctional school, or a disastrous sailing expedition, the right story can open up a topic and its relevance for students.

Another good way to start: summarize the conclusions from the last class session. When Lang says “summarize,” he means “ask the students to summarize.” He also means, “without referring to their notes.” This strategy asks them to retrieve the information from their brains, thus reinforcing the neural pathways that they’ll need on exam day.

And what about the end of class? Lang would recommend closing with questions that prompt students to summarize and reflect on what they have learned. If students answer these questions in writing, they will begin to create the neural pathways that you will ask them to reinforce in the next class.

These are just three of many suggestions. They don’t take much time to plan and implement, and they can make a big impact on student learning. This is because they are all based on the science of learning. Therefore, each chapter includes a few pages about how students learn. Lang not only gives us some user-friendly tools, but he also explains why they work. (If he didn’t, he’d be violating his own rule about giving students some kind of framework for what they’re learning.)

Lang’s final suggestion: learn about teaching and learning. Every year, read at least one book about pedagogy. Use web resources; follow the experts on Twitter; attend a conference; participate in programs sponsored by your campus center for teaching and learning.

Did he really say that? Yes, he did.

James M. Lang, Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2016).

— Jocelyn McWhirter
Director, The Newell Center for Teaching and Learning
April 10, 2018



From Small Teaching:

Books to read (all but one in The Newell CTL Library):

Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do

Peter Brown et al., Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

Susan Ambrose et al., How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching

     Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Daniel Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School? A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions about How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom

Web Resources:

ABLConnect: All about activity-based learning. From The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University.

Pedagogy Unbound: A repository for practical tips. Founded by David Gooblar (University of Iowa).

Faculty Focus: If you subscribe, you get a regular infusion of helpful ideas. From Magna Publications.

Chronicle of Higher Education: The ultimate guide to our profession. For teaching and learning, Lang recommends features like On Course (his own column) and ProfHackers.

Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast: A new 30-to-40-minute episode every week, thanks to Bonni Stachowiak (Vanguard University).


     Start with @LangOnCourse and go from there.

More from James Lang:

     His home page and blog:

     “4 Steps to a Memorable Teaching Philosophy,” from The Chronicle of Higher Education.


“Mapping the Megalopolis: Order and Disorder in Mexico City.”  Glen David Kuecker and Alejandro Puga (DePauw University) led a GLCA Expanding Collaborations project involving ten other humanities, arts, and social science colleagues. In this recorded webinar, they describe the project which led to the publication of an edited volume. According to the book jacket blurb, “Contributing authors engage topics such as the privatization of public space, challenges to existing conceptualizations of the urban form, and variations on the flâneur and other urban actors. Mexico City is truly a city of versions, and Mapping the Megalopolis celebrates the intersection of the image of the city and the lived experience of it.”


News from The Newell CTL

Dedication Day! Join us May 4 for a dedication ceremony to celebrate The Newell Center for Teaching and Learning and to thank the Newells for their generosity. Invitation forthcoming.

Spring Coteries. We’re reading our books and concluding our meetings. Thanks to Ian MacInnes for leading the Small Teaching  coterie. The final CTL newsletter (April 24) will begin with a review and additional resources related to Creating Significant Learning Experiences by Dee Fink.


Upcoming Conferences

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning with an Equity Mindset National Institute. August 6-10, 2018 at Rainbow Lodge in North Bend, Washington. “The aim is to develop our capacity to understand and improve student learning opportunities within all teaching contexts by using critically conscious, self-aware, and collaborative practices of inquiry, challenging inequities while recognizing the community cultural wealth of all students, and engaging in systematic scholarly investigation and analysis learning, Sponsored by The Washington Center at The Evergreen State College.

About Jocelyn McWhirter

Jocelyn McWhirter is the Stanley S. Kresge Professor of Religious Studies at Albion College in Albion, Michigan.
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