Can we define the characteristics of a good teacher?

SALT has undertaken an investigation of 2013/14 Academic Year module feedback comments left by students where modules were identified to be improving in relation to:

  • increase in 1st class marks, or
  • decrease in failure rates, or
  • the average module mark was above average for all modules in the selected level of study and department or
  • where a student’s mark was above his/her average mark on all other modules

This resulted in the free text comments of over 200 modules being analysed. While the analysis did not identify clear evidence as to why these modules were seen to be improving, it was evident from reading and analysing the frequency of the comments and themes within the data that many of the comments relating to the question “What is the best thing about this module?” related to the lecturer; how they interact with the student cohort and the teaching methods and tools they employ.

Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles of good practice in undergraduate education formed the basis for the coding of the free text comments as the 7 principles were inadvertently being referred to by the students within their responses. The top 10 referenced themes found in the comments related to What is the best thing about this module? are shown in the chart below, and 3 of Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles are highlighted in red.

Even though students were not specifically asked what makes a good teacher, the results of the investigation when read in conjunction with Chickering and Gamson’s Seven principles are excellent starting points to provide both an overview of good practice as well as an insight into the opinions of Swansea students as to what they perceive to be good teachers.

So what are Chickering and Gamson’s Seven principles of Good Practice?

Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson published an article “The Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” in 1987, and later in 1991 published a book titled “Applying the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education”. These Principles grew out of a review of 50 years of research on the way teachers teach and students learn supported by the American Association for Higher Education, the Education Commission of the States and The Johnson Foundation.

The Seven Principles are:

  • Encourage contact between students and faculty
  • Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students
  • Encourage active learning
  • Give prompt feedback
  • Emphasise time on task
  • Communicate high expectations
  • Respect diverse talents and ways of learning

The principles “are intended as guidelines for faculty members, students, and administrators … to improve teaching and learning. These principles seem like good common sense, and they are — because many teachers and students have experienced them and because research supports them. They rest on 50 years of research on the way teachers teach and students learn, how students work and play with one another, and how students and faculty talk to each other.” Chickering and Gamson, 1987, p. 1

The table below provides some ideas on how the principles could be implemented within your teaching.

Principle Meaning Examples
Encourage contact between students and faculty Contact in and out of the classes is the most important factor in student motivation and involvement Encourage student contact before, during and after teaching sessions.

Advertise office hours, virtual and in person.

Provide opportunities for discussion using discussion boards (virtual) or discussion groups, and be involved. Get research students involved to answer some questions that are raised.

Speak to your students, ask how they are doing.

Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort. Working with others and sharing ideas deepens understanding Provide opportunities for collaboration using group work, group assignments, peer evaluation or discussion boards, debate, group presentations.

Encourage students to prepare for seminars, lab work, exams together.

Encourage active learning Students must talk and write about what they are learning. Relate learning to experiences, reflect and apply it Engage students during lectures using voting response systems, group questions, group discussion, presentations, problem solving.

Encourage self-evaluation and peer-review.

Use a range of communication tools and applications to provide opportunities to interact with content and each other.

Encourage the use of professional journals.

Give prompt feedback Knowing what you know and don’t know focuses learning. Students need appropriate timely feedback so they can reflect and act upon it Respond to student queries and problems quickly.

Use rubrics for grading to standardise and provide prompt feedback.

Give focused attainable feedback on work early in the term.

Incorporate low stakes assessments/quizzes to provide frequent feedback, progress and reflection on their learning.

Communicate regularly via email/VLE about various aspects of the module.

Emphasise time on task Students need help in learning effective time management Emphasise deadlines in the syllabus and provide reminders of up coming deadlines.

Break larger assignments into smaller more manageable pieces and deadlines. Outline, rough draft, 1st draft, final draft and final submission.

Underline the importance of regular work, self-pacing, planning and scheduling.

Meet with those falling behind, and refer to appropriate support programmes.

Communicate high expectations Communicating high expectations is important for all students, it can act as motivation to make extra effort Make detailed explanations and expectations in the syllabus at the beginning of the course.

Tell them you expect them to work hard.

Provide rubrics with assignment briefs so that they know what is expected of them.

Provide regular updates on how well the cohort is doing.

Make exemplar work available from previous years; this can motivate students to higher levels of attainment.

Respect diverse talents and ways of learning Students need the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them. What works for one may not work for another Use a variety of methods when delivering teaching and making materials available.

Incorporate a variety of activities into the course or module.

Vary assessment methods to enable students the opportunity to be assessed in ways that work for them and also to push others out of comfort zones.

Extra material or exercises for students who lack essential background knowledge or skills could be provided.

Additional Resources

Chickering, A., & Gamson, Z. (1987). “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” (PDF). AAHE Bulletin. 3.

Research findings on the seven principles. In A.W. Chickering & Z.F. Gamson (Eds.) Applying the seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education (pp. 13-25). New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 47. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

An analysis of 13/14 module feedback: Identify trends within excellent and improving modules. SALT

ELTA-ESSA Output – Excellence at Swansea. Award Winners 2016

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