James Lang: How teachers could make a significant change in their approach to teaching

James Lang, author of “Small Teaching”, visited our Cengage offices in 2017, to discuss a teaching approach that Ken Bain (author of “What the best colleges teachers do”) discovered was used by the best college educators.
These ideas will be reflected in our community. Great questions.

What structure can we create if we build something around a problem, a question, rather than building it around content?
Ken [Bain] offers us a nice structure. What structure did highly effective teachers give to their courses?
I’m going to show you five parts with this [approach]
1) They started by articulating a problem or question. This could have been a deep philosophical question that the course was going answer, it could also have been a problem that people have been struggling with for a long while, or something that has recently arisen in society.
2) They tried to show students why this question or problem was relevant or interesting.
Why should I, a student, care about this problem?
Why is it important for our society today?
3) The third thing they did was a very important one. Give students the chance to answer this question. This question would be difficult to answer if you tried to solve it right now.
What would you do?
How would you answer that question?
How would you approach this problem?
Perhaps students are unable to do this individually but they might be able to work together, or go home and think about it, if they prefer a digital environment, they may have the chance to explore some possible solutions.
4) The fourth thing that happens is that we think about what we are doing in class or in a class, which is “I’m answering the question”. Ken suggests that this is in some ways the most important thing. Motivation is about getting them excited, getting them curious, and getting them to try things on their own. Only after they’ve done that will they be interested in the answer.
5) The final step is to end with a new question. This will send them back curious.
If you think of this five-part learning structure, it can be seen as a way to get students interested in a class. It could be a video lecture, a text component, or an individual learning session that could be done face-to-face or digitally.

This is the idea: Let’s just try to change the structure a bit from what a normal course looks like.

Instead of saying, “Here’s an outline, here are the things I want you to know ” I would rather say, “Here’s what I want to say to ” because this is a really interesting problem. Let’s discuss this problem briefly. How can you solve this problem? We then say, “Okay, now I’m going tell you a bit about here’s a tool, here are the ideas that will help you try and solve this problem.”