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Let CAR Drive Our Instruction

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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I’ve always wanted to author an easy-to-remember mnemonic that could serve as a model for my instruction. From over 26 years of classroom experience, reading the literature, and attending workshops, I’ve realized the importance of three key elements to good teaching. 


The posting below examines three key elements of good teaching. It is by Mark Francek*, professor of Geography at Central Michigan University.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Let CAR Drive Our Instruction


I’ve always wanted to author an easy-to-remember mnemonic that could serve as a model for my instruction. From over 26 years of classroom experience, reading the literature, and attending workshops  I’ve realized the importance of three key elements to good teaching.

The first involves building a sense of community within the classroom. We don’t have a lot of extra time when “covering” content in our classes, so it may seem odd that promoting camaraderie and mutual respect in the classroom should be a teaching priority. But experience suggests if students don’t like the partners that are in their collaborative groups, then learning isn’t going to be promoted. If students don’t like you, they aren’t going to want to learn from you. As instructors, we need to foster community as well. Never pass up the opportunity to show our regard and respect for students. Arrive to class early to learn names. Shake hands during class to congratulate a student for his  accomplishment. Leave late to help a struggling student.

And by community, I’m not just limiting the term to how students feel a sense of shared responsibility when learning course content;  I am also more broadly speaking of sharing what students learn with the surrounding campus community, that is, service learning. Content learned in class can be shared at local K-12 schools and assisted living communities. Pen pal programs, science fairs, and reading buddies are some of the ways that students can apply what they learn in the local community. It’s win-win. In the process, students will see the relevance of what they learn, having to apply what they learn with a diverse audience. At the same time, students will be performing a valuable community service.

The second element for good teaching involves accountability. Most students will not come prepared for class unless they are held accountable for their learning. Given the assessment scheme in most classes, there are periodic exams that students cram for, but a distributive scheme for studying is the exception rather than the rule. The result? Instructors are reduced to defining terms, and lecturin  on content that the student should already be familiar with if the reading was done the night before. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could spend your time addressing higher order thinking skills of evaluation, analysis, and synthesis? Where students could apply their knowledge through discussion, presentation, and field trips? This can happen but only if students are answerable for assigned content. To achieve this goal, assessment strategies should include well designed quizzes and homework before every lecture. Most textbooks have computerized adaptive learning systems (like McGraw Hill’s Connect and LearnSmart programs) that can help instructors more easily craft assessments that students can take the night before a lecture. But accountability is not limited to online homework and quizzing.

While online quizzes and homework before class can help assure accountability and are, in and of themselves, forms of assessment; instructors need to go beyond these tools to include frequent in-class formative assessments. Think of formative assessment as low stakes evaluation;  if counted at all in the grading scheme, it’s a small percentage of the grade. Think of formative assessment as an evaluation FOR learning rather than evaluation OF learning for accountability or ranking purposes. This means the instructor carefully crafts strategies like think-pair-share, muddiest point, two-minute paper, and concept mapping to see if students are comprehending content, allowing instructors to identify misconceptions and difficult content. With this in mind we should use  formative assessment to help us to adjust our teaching given the needs of our students.

The final component of good teaching involves relevance. Think back to when you were an undergraduate student. What was important to you? A survey would probably show that Hollywood movies, music, food, dance, nature, and friends would rank high. Given that these items are viewed as valuable to our students’ lives, we can use these factors as a hook in learning content.

Edited clips from Hollywood films can be used to show the accuracy of scientific or historical concepts. Did the director get it right or is the movie perpetuating misconceptions and stereotypes? Students can be challenged to create their own video clips using their phones.

Music can be much more than just background when students are completing class activities. The lyrics of music can be dissected for their social and scientific significance and accuracy.

What student doesn’t like candy or cookies? After screening the class for allergies, the instructor can use food as rewards in class activities. Food can also be used to teach culture or to demonstrate various science concepts.

While it might be difficult to have students learn the culture of a particular civilization through native dancing, body movement can be used to mimic scientific processes.

Demonstrate class concepts by taking students on field trips, having students apply class concepts to a real world setting. The creative instructor can look to see how class concepts are found even on a campus setting, in which case it becomes a backyard field trip.

Sports- where can LeBron dunk, on average better and why ? What is the sociology of hooliganism and soccer in emerging countries? What is the science behind home runs?

Finally most students enjoy friends, and by judicious use of ice breakers and a shared sense of mutual responsibility, students can make new friends by creating collaborative groups.

So when you combine community, accountability,  and relevance you get CAR. This acronym can serve as a powerful mantra to drive effective instruction.


*Mark Francek

Geography Professor

Faculty Fellow, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Dow 285

Central Michigan University

Mt. Pleasant, MI 48859


Phone: 989 774-7617

Fax: 989 774-2907

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