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Research & Resources

Myth and Facts: Teaching and Learning

Thomas R. Rosebrough, Ph.D., Executive Dean, College of Education and Human Studies & University Professor of Education

August 27, 2003 - Myth 1 Blank stares and bovine-like eyes on student faces are inevitable and unavoidable; teach expecting to see them.
Fact Human curiosity is a natural gift which good teachers can rekindle and nurture.

Myth 2 Lectures, even well-planned ones, dampen enthusiasm for learning.
Fact Students lack knowledge and can benefit from professors whose lectures connect to their individual experiences. However, few professors are gifted lecturers.

Myth 3 Effective teaching occurs in direct proportion to time on task.
Fact The quantity of time spent on learning something is not a reliable variable in itself. While time can be an important element in learning, the key to effective teaching is always the quality of the time, i.e., how engaged the learner is with the subject matter.

Myth 4 Teaching someone something adds to their storehouse of knowledge.
Fact Teaching is more than telling someone something new. Teaching occurs when learning happens and learning results when students are engaged with new information in contexts meaningful to them.

Myth 5 Tests contribute to the learning process because they show what the students have learned.
Fact Exams hold students accountable and can give important feedback which reinforces learning. Learning, however, is only demonstrated in the student’s ability to apply their new knowledge in different contexts.

Myth 6 The best teachers are those professors with a reputation for being hard.
Fact Rigor is good when it means maximum, meaningful learning. Rigor is bad when it means excessive and irrelevant requirements for the learner.

Myth 7 Professors with a reputation for making learning “fun” have sacrificed standards.
Fact Emotion is a basic human structure connected to learning. The best teachers find ways to touch the joy of learning.

Myth 8 Twenty-first century technological advances are demonstrating how dispensable teachers are.
Fact Students need teachers’ assistance in learning. The process of learning requires the organization, insightful challenges, feedback, and motivation that good teachers provide.

Myth 9 The traditional role of teacher, that of covering essential subject matter, is vital.
Fact Teaching in the traditional sense is vastly overrated. Learners often learn despite unnecessary emphasis on coverage but find such teaching mostly irrelevant.

Myth 10 College students are ready for symbolic thought and higher order reasoning.
Fact Half of college freshman have not reached this formal stage of cognitive development. The most effective professors take this research into account and otherwise plan for concrete-thinking students by fostering interaction between students and their physical environment, between students and others (including professors and peers).

Note from the author: The research behind the above facts is strong. However, I do realize that one person’s facts are another’s fiction. These facts, as I see them, have been gleaned from findings about learning in the fields of education, psychology, and even neurobiology. If you’re interested in learning more, may I recommend a respected book in the learning field, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School , published in 1999 by the National Academy Press.

This article appeared in the August/September 2003 issue of The Teaching Professor as “Debunk These 10 Myths About Teaching and Learning.”)

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