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Preparing for Class

Designing a semester long course is challenging enough in itself, but deciding how much time to spend preparing for each class presents a particular problem for graduate students and new teachers still managing other academic responsibilities. Keeping certain guidelines in mind can help manage that precious time while also preparing the teacher to be maximally effective in class.

Learning objectives. The most important step to take in preparing for any class is to remind yourself what the learning goals for this session are. Specific learning goals allow you to focus your preparation for the class and provide your students with the most helpful information. Keep the course as a whole in mind while you do this, so that each objective directly contributes to the course’s overall purpose. In addition, make sure that your objectives are manageable within the time given; if you try to cover too much in one class session, you will only frustrate yourself and your students. See the Kaneb Center’s handout on learning goals here.

Variety in the classroom. The general structure of a class should always have a beginning, middle, and end, with the appropriate amounts of time blocked for each part. Within this structure, however, you are free to consider a wide variety of teaching methods that will keep you and your students engaged in the material. Now that the semester has started and you have had a chance to begin to know your students, consider the different ways in which they are participating and responding. Different combinations of mini-lectures, class discussions, in or out of class reflections, or more active learning, can all be used to help you design the most effective class session for the learning objectives you have set.

Be flexible. Once you have your learning goals and teaching methods for the day in hand, you might well feel completely ready for class. But the truth is that classes rarely go exactly according to plan, and it is always advisable to be ready for changes. If you plan a discussion that ends much earlier or much later than you expected, think of back up plans for the remaining learning objectives that will still cover what you need for that day. This might mean adding a discussion to a mini-lecture, or asking students to write a reflection on that final point that they can turn in at the next class. Thinking ahead to these kinds of contingencies will keep you calm and confident in the classroom.

Physical and mental readiness. Give yourself time before class begins to be fully alert, warmed up, and ready. Recollect your learning goals, plans, and backup strategies for the day, but also revisit your hopes for the course as a whole and your interest in teaching it. Not only will you avoid the forgetfulness and disorder that comes with being rushed, but you will also come to class more energized and enthusiastic, creating a better experience for you and your students.

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