By Claudia Gebert, PhD
Following a night with a mere five hours of sleep, I arrived at Dr. Todd Zakrajsek's daylong seminar, "Overcoming apathy and creating excitement in the classroom: strategies for teaching from the psychology of learning." I had my coffee in hand (a strategy that I developed to avoid falling asleep during class), but it soon became apparent that with Dr. Zakrajsek, the coffee was unnecessary.
How I wish I had encountered the privilege of studying with only one teacher like Dr. Zakrajsek during university—either undergraduate or graduate! His enthusiasm about teaching and exploring ways to help students learn was infectious. Experiencing Dr. Zakrajsek’s teaching makes me want to take on the challenge of becoming a teacher like him.
What is the hallmark of a teacher who facilitates instead of lecturing and who motivates students to understand rather than memorize facts? There is a concept known as "Lecture less, learn more." Students who have the opportunity to come across this style of teaching first acquire the basic knowledge via homework, then in class, under the teacher's guidance; students apply the knowledge by discussing concepts. The ultimate goal is to have students actually understand the material and apply the newly acquired information rather than simply regurgitating the facts.
This type of learning-centered teaching requires talking with instead of talking to students. An equal communication between teacher and students can be achieved by building a community during the first class. While the teacher holds the authority in the classroom, students, too, are given a voice, and their expectations on how the subject matter should be taught are heard and taken into consideration.
The challenge when teaching in the learning-centered style is to keep students engaged and focused on the subject matter. One of the multiple strategies to make coming to class attractive and to enhance students' participation is to distribute the handouts only after class and/or to keep the information provided on handouts to a minimum. That being said, if you missed Dr. Zakrajsek's teaching seminar this time, don't ask for a copy of the handout, because its information will be incomplete. Instead, try to attend his seminar the next time he comes to NIH—it will be worth every minute of your time!