Recently, I had the opportunity to observe a class. The instructor was engaging and engaged, the students were paying attention, taking notes and actively participating in Top Hat questions peppered throughout the session. As the end of class neared, within earshot, one of the students turned to another and said, “I just wish I knew how it all pieced together.”
If you designed your course with Constructive Alignment (View CELT’s Basic Course Design: Aligning Course Objectives with Class Assignments webpage), you know that your course goals are linked to your teaching and learning activities, to classroom assessments and evaluation, to course learning objectives, and ultimately to course learning outcomes. Even if you used this backward design process, your students might still struggle with really grasping the bigger picture of how your lesson fits within the course, or even how the course fits within the major and, perhaps their future careers. There are a number of strategies that you can use to help the students make sense and find the purpose in the everyday class session. These include:
Begin a class session with the “big picture.” In many courses, the material is taught chronologically or through a sequence of steps. The sequential nature can lead to an approach where students pay attention to the individual steps, but fail to understand the broader narrative. Before an upcoming lesson, consider how the day’s material fits into the context of your subject matter. Explain to the students how this material links to previous material covered and how the lesson will look forward to upcoming content.
Reduce the complexity of visuals. If you use graphs, visuals, images in your course, show the image in its most basic form and then build it up gradually to show the complex illustration. Add labels to the image as you build it up to explain the purpose of each element of the visual, graph, or image.
Help students find meaning. Is there a way to relate the subject to something students already know either through previous content learned or to a current-day topic? Demonstrating the relevance and importance of your topic helps students make meaning and thoughtfully consider (and hopefully realize) why it is important to gain the knowledge through their attendance, their participation inside and outside of class, and through ongoing practice.
Happy Week 9 of the fall semester,
Sara Marcketti, Director
Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching
Reference: Fry, H., Ketteridge, S., & Marshall, S. (2009). A handbook for teaching and learning in higher education: Enhancing academic practice / edited by Heather Fry, Steve Ketteridge, Stephanie Marshall. (3rd ed.). New York; London: Routledge.
Full Teaching Tip
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