Indiana University Teaching Handbook
Preparing to Teach
The first step in organizing a lecture, discussion, lab, or course should be to establish the level of performance you expect from your students and their current level of performance. You may need to administer a diagnostic test or a survey to determine what students already know and what they need to learn.
Begin by asking yourself: What do I want my students to be able to do? How will they be different as a result of this lecture, discussion, lab, or course? The answers to these questions are your objectives. Bloom (1956) has proposed a taxonomy of learning objectives which move from lesser to greater levels of abstraction and complexity in the thinking process. Instruction can be organized around one or more of these objectives:
- knowledgerecall of previously learned material
- comprehensionunderstanding of material and ability to explain it
- applicationability to use what has been learned in other situations
- analysisseparating the content into its component parts to understand the relationships between them
- synthesiscombining parts to form a new whole
- evaluationmaking judgments on the value of material for specific purposes
A college course should aim at teaching more than the simple task of recalling facts. By sharing information about these levels of thinking about subject matter content with your students, you can help them to become more reflective learners.
Lectures facilitate learning at the lower end of the taxonomyknowledge, comprehension, and application, while discussions, problem-solving, writing, and other more interactive teaching strategies tend to facilitate higher-order objectivesanalysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Your choice of teaching strategies should reflect the levels of thinking and learning in which you want students to be engaged.
After determining your objectives, your next step in the planning process is to decide how to evaluate the extent to which students have mastered each objective. If your objectives are clearly defined, it is easy to evaluate them. For example, if one of your objectives is to have students learn to apply subject area principles to new situations, then the evaluation process could present an unfamiliar case or collection of new data. Students would be asked to identify how the learned principle can be applied, and what the product or outcome of the application would look like. If another objective is for students to evaluate the relative validity of multiple interpretations of an event, you can test their mastery by providing several contrasting interpretations and ask students to apply the criteria they have learned for assessing relative validity.
It is important to be aware of the fact that some of the objectives you identify for your course will deal with course content. You will need to determine how much material students can realistically cover in a 15-week semester. Students learn more and have better retention of information and skills when the instructor limits the scope of material covered. A well-focused course that provides a sound intellectual challenge will be more successful and lead to greater student achievement than a course whose main goal is to expose students to lots of material. Make sure that all materials selected help students master a specific course objective. Content that does not have an explicit purpose within the framework of your objectives should not be included in the syllabus. If, after further thought and reflection, you decide the material is important and should be included, you will need to revise your objectives to reflect this change.