A Review Teaching Tips (10th Edition)

Janice Albert

EVERYTHING ABOUT Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research and
Theory for College and University Teachers (Houghton Mifflin,
10th edition), by Dr. Wilbert McKeachie, suggests that it
was originally intended for the beginning college-level teacher
or teaching assistant. Now in its tenth edition, Teaching
Tips is not so much one book as an anthology written by seven
authors. The overall plan of the book takes the reader from
the first steps of planning a course through the basic and
advanced skills of “facilitating student learning,” finally
to a goal of lifelong learning for both teacher and student.

This ambitious plan makes the book applicable throughout
many years of a career, but it also forces a degree of compression
and generalization. In addition, chapters by six authors other
than main author (Wilbert McKeachie) are so different in tone
and consciousness, that they cry out to be considered separately
from the main body of the text. For example, Chapter 2, written
by Dr. McKeachie, covers basic practices in setting up a course-ordering
textbooks, writing a syllabus, planning your instructional

The chapter seems to assume an ordinary, classroom-based
college situation. Chapter 3, however, written by Graham Gibbs,
is suddenly rhetorical and disputatious. Gibbs asserts that
“There is no clear evidence that lots of class contact is
good for students or even necessary.” Gibbs, a teacher in
the Open University, a distance learning institution in the
U.K., goes on to present a series of interesting learning
activities from which the reader might glean several useful
teaching ideas. But distance learning forces instructors to
find substitutes for classroom work, and Gibbs’s agenda has
caused him to focus on examples of poorly constructed classroom-based
assignments that are simply bad practices to begin with.

In addition, some of his reasoning invites argument. “In
Holland students have been found to work on their studies
for about 42 hours a week, including both in- and out-of-class
activities, regardless of how many hours they spent in class.
If class hours are lowered, then these students simply spend
more time studying out of class to bring the total up to a
reasonably hard-working week.” My guess is that in America
students behave differently, and I hope this chapter does
not cause too many American T.A.s to find this out the hard
way. A chapter I turned to with interest? Chapter 20: “Taking
Student Social Diversity into Account,” by Nancy Van Note
Chism of Ohio State University.

This chapter fully subscribes to the overarching theory of
the text, that teachers are “facilitators” of student learning.
That is, the text reminds us repeatedly, students need to
feel welcome, respected as individuals, personally acknowledged.
The professor, like a good host, makes students feel comfortable.
(If students cheat, Chapter 8 suggests that the first step
is to “reduce the pressure” in your course.) Who can disagree
that American education in this century prioritizes the needs
of students above all else? But in Chapter 20 Nancy Chism
brings up many of the problems facing college faculty today
(please note: you will be expected to come up with your own
solutions, as Chism offers little in the way of solutions).

Noting that teachers are faced with the need to adapt to
the variety of students in the classroom, Chism calls the
instructor to welcome diverse groups, and to acknowledge different
perspectives, to examine our curricula for ways to provide
role models to people of color, gays and lesbians, older students
and disabled students. Yet, she warns, students who represent
any of these groups do not want to be identified as such,
but want, rather, to be treated as individuals. This is the
toughest balancing act in the classroom today, and Chism might
provide some “tips” here, some examples of model behavior,
rather than relying on obvious racial slurs and acts of insensitivity
to illustrate her points.

Useful teaching tips might include how to predict which of
the groups to include, how to weigh relevance to the subject
matter against the need of a group to feel represented, how
to determine whether the inclusion of an author had the intended
effect or was an empty, possibly irritating gesture. In some
places the text is surprisingly dated. “There are … areas not
covered by the formal rules of the college, in which instructors
must tread lightly. For example, in most college cultures
instructors who become intimately involved with their students
are overstepping the bounds of propriety.” On the next page,
we learn that “Students have had experience in previous classes
with instructors, who, in a more or less fatherly way, gave
information and rewarded those students who could best give
it back.”

On age 236, in a discussion of “Angry, Aggressive, Challenging
Students,” McKeachie says, “I use the male pronoun because
these students are most likely to be males.” Perhaps in his
experience this is true. And finally, on page 246 we read,
“Remember that your problem students are human beings who
have problems and need your sympathy and help — no matter how
much you would like to strangle them.” Sometimes books with
a simple purpose turn out to be so popular that they become
candidates for transformation into multipurpose, do-all, fix-all
wonderworkers. While the tenth edition of Teaching Tips still
has some excellent parts, it is no longer the elegantly simple,
useful tool it was in past editions. However, the book is
still a fine resource for faculty who understand that tips
are just that, helpful suggestions.

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