Annotations from Chapter 3, What the best college teachers do, Bain, 2004.

Berkeley, Saturday, October 27, 2018 5:00 PM

Chapter 3 challenges the reader with 13 questions about how to prepare the material, syllabus, challenge traditional methods, be flexible, empower students, facilitated their learning, and have an influence in their self-steem.

I am not going to cover all the 13 questions here, but some important aspects from the last one, which provide two eye opening examples of good teacher.

Example 1: In Fall 1977, Chad Richardson went to Lower Rio Grande Valley to in the southern tip of Texas and began teaching the sociology program at Pan American University. I think that his biggest challenge was how to bring all his diverse group of students to a coherent group, engaged and achieving the highest levels of learning.

The class was composed by 3/4 of hispanic, Mexican descendent, from the working force in the region, but in many cases were the first generation at school, even in many families those students were the first to learn to write and read. Thus, developing studying habits was a challenge. 1/4 of the classroom were Anglos, who despide coming from families, who had economic and power control in the region, felt isolated in the classroom.

Richardson aimed to engage student by learning and identifying with their own culture and regions. Assignments in the class was to publish essays in a local newspaper, to which Richardson managed to gain that opportunity. While that assignment sounded intimidated at the beginning for the students, it not only boosted their learning skills, but their connection with their culture, their commitment outside of the classroom, and boosted their self-steem as well. Many of Richardson students describe him as a life changer. One of them became the chair of the sociology Department at Texas A&M University, which was the alma mater from Richardson himself.

Another example was a change of power to the students in a interdisciplinario studio between Landscape Architecture, Architecture, and Industrial Design at Rhode Island School of Design, implemented by Charlie Cannon.

Basically, it promoted a interactive interaction between the disciplined from the beginning, the professor gave the problem or topic, but the role of the students was to create the solutions in a time frame, without specifics techniques or approaches, the role of the professor was more a one-one coaching rather than a reviewer of the final product. Students had real problems to solve. After four weeks in the library and the classroom, they went to field, and back to the studio to come up with their group project.

While this learning approach can be new in other disciplines, I myself have experienced amazing project with similar approaches in studio classes at the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning in UC Berkeley.

I fully agree that this a fulfilling learning experience. Where we are giving background, some data, references, working space, contacts, and individual-group coaching but it is up to our initiative to come up with the best creative solutions. In most of the cases the project on which worked had as reviewers people from the project municipality, county, plus other external experts, who challenged us, and pushed it to reach the most practical and applicable solutions. Therefore, there were inductive and deductive learning in this process.


Bain, K., 2004. What the best college teachers do. Chapter 3. How do they prepare to teach? Harvard University Press. pp. 48-67

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