When you teach, do you ever ask yourself:
What should I teach? Or What should I cover this week?
Focusing on “teaching” can be deadly. With the new semester upon us, maybe we should focus more on the “learning” part.
That realization changed everything for Professor Mark Dust.
When he walked into a college classroom for the first time three years ago, he defaulted to how he was taught: By standing up in the front of the class, reading off his lecture slides, and sprinkling some personal experiences with the material when appropriate. Yet he did well; during his first semester teaching courses in public health Mark received 92% A’s and B’s from his students.
Not bad the first time around.
But that quickly changed the next semester when his approval dropped to 79% A’s and B’s. Apparently, he couldn’t just teach the same way he taught before.
Time to recalibrate.
But like most higher education instructors and professors, Mark never actually learned how to teach during his grad studies. So he did some research. He took professional development courses at his college’s faculty development center and enrolled in his graduate school’s “Preparing Future Faculty” program.
Mark only taught two sections of the same class in public health during his first semester and “prepared like crazy so he wouldn’t look like a fool in front of [his] students.” Managing to land 92% A and B ratings on his student evaluations that semester, Mark started to incorporate more class discussions and case studies. Neither worked particularly well.
Why? He was overwhelmed with all the teaching tips, tricks, and hacks he learned.
Like throwing all of the techniques at the wall to see what stuck. While evaluations went up to 84% A’s and B’s, students were still not performing as well on critical thinking tasks as Mark thought they could.
That’s when he came upon the “You, Y’all, We” model—popularized by educator Magdalene Lampert—in Norman Eng’s book, Teaching College: The Ultimate Guide to Lecturing, Presenting, and Engaging Students.
“What I found most appealing is the validation of my gut instinct that the ‘sage on the stage’ model isn’t right for everyone. I strongly believe that our unique perspectives of the world matter and through those lenses we see the course material. I’m not tapping into those perspectives if the students only hear how I perceive the material.
“I loved the idea of students grappling with the material first [the you part of the ‘You, Y’all, We’] to figure out what they didn’t know or had misconceptions about, seeing how another student interprets the material, and finally getting another perspective from the class and myself. Because of what I learned about presenting material and the less-is-more concept of how much material I should be covering in class, I sought out and adopted a new textbook that incorporates these principles for my health promotion theories course.
“For the you part of ‘You, Y’all, We,’ I start the class with multiple choice and true/false questions based on the reading that are in the knowing and understanding levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. The students respond using a clicker system, and I post the responses as a bar graph on the board.
“If there doesn’t appear to be a clear majority of the correct answer, I will have the students turn and convince their partner why they are correct—that’s the y’all part of ‘You, Y’all, We.’ This usually reveals flaws in their thinking while reinforcing the students who know the correct answer. Another benefit: it preserves ‘beginners’ eyes’ as the students grapple with the new material. I, on the other hand, don’t have beginners’ eyes anymore and might not remember the struggles I faced when first exposed to the concepts.
“If needed, I will then lecture for no more than ten minutes before presenting a challenge question that requires them to apply and analyze. That’s the ‘we’ part of the ‘You, Y’all, We.’”
So, did students perform better?
Over the past two semesters, Mark’s student opinion surveys increased to 88% and 92% A’s and B’s with multiple comments such as:
Dr. Dust is the best thing since Betty White (because she’s older than sliced bread!).
Dr. Dust helped us by allowing us to answer the questions on our own and then with a partner before we discussed them with the class.
The in-class activities and peer work really helped reiterate and reinforce what was being taught. Dr. Dust facilitated these timings which in turn effectively helped deliver the material because we didn’t have time to get off track.
GPA distributions have increased as well. Last semester, the class averages on exams increased from 78.5% to 82% in Mark’s theories course.
Not that exams and student evaluations were the sole indicators of awesome instruction, but they were concrete. In reflecting, Mark explained:
“These methods worked because students saw they were actually learning. I tell them the first day of class that my classes are not ones where you memorize and regurgitate facts for the exam. They are responsible for their learning, and I am here to facilitate that learning. I will not stand up here and tell you everything you need to know for the exams, and I will do very little actual lecturing.
“This catches them off guard a bit, since that’s what they’re used to. I tell them those kinds of classes bored the crap out of me when I was in college. I’ve learned that one of the best ways to learn something is by doing and making mistakes. This is where the learning that sticks occurs.
“I’m continuing to slowly add more ideas from the [Teaching College] book into my courses. There is just so much good information within that I wouldn’t be doing the techniques justice if I tried to do it all at once. This semester, I’m adding case studies to my theories course and revamping the research methods course to incorporate more small group discussions and challenge questions.”
Mark’s new approach highlights his new focus on learning—rather than teaching. It’s a mindset among top professors and instructors in the field.
How are you focusing on learning, rather than on teaching?
Learn more about “You, Y’all, We” for your classroom:
- Book: Teaching College: The Ultimate Guide to Lecturing, Presenting, and Engaging Students (Norman Eng)
- Article: “Why Do Americans Stink at Math?” (New York Times)
- Podcast: “Please Apply the You, Y’all, We Template Tomorrow…Starring Norman Eng” (James Sturtevant)
Immense thanks to Dr. Mark Dust for sharing his journey in this blog. As an adjunct professor in the Department of Public Health at California State University, Fullerton, Dr. Dust teaches Stress Management, Determinants of Health Behavior, Health Science Planning, Research, and Evaluation, and Personal Health. He is a disabled combat veteran and his research interests revolve around the concept of building physiological resilience for the prevention of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For more information or to contact Dr. Dust, connect with him on LinkedIn or email him directly, at firstname.lastname@example.org.