teaching what you don’t know

okay, for now i’m going to use this space to jot down things that i don’t want to forget. from an article in the chronicle about what to do when you’re teaching outside of your content area…that seems to make sense regardless of what you’re teaching:

Focusing on lists. When professors teach outside of their expertise, their lectures tend to be heavily peppered with lists, such as the “eight most powerful political parties in India” or the “12 steps to designing an effective Web page.” In part, faculty members who are new to the material may rely on lists because they provide prepackaged, well-organized information.

But students can often get that information directly from their textbooks or the Internet. Further, you might be sending the message that you value rote memorization when you really want students to understand those concepts, not just list and recite them.

Try to engage students by examining the relationship among the items on the list. Why are some items on the list and not others? Why is the list organized this way? Construct the list using students’ input. Write the title and first item from the list on the board, then invite students to generate the rest.

Teaching outside your expertise can be intimidating, but you don’t need to know everything to create an environment in which students learn new things. As Codrina the chemist remarked to me, “Students don’t learn more when you’re perfect.” They learn more when you’re human and you make the classroom a place where it’s safe to ask questions.



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