in Teaching

Ken Bain’s Research on College Teachers

Ken Bain came to Pratt last night to discuss his amazing research on teaching. Twenty years ago he and his colleagues worked to identify the best college teachers in America. They then examined how those teachers did research, planned courses, and taught classes. It’s all summed up in his excellent book, What the Best College Teachers Do.

They found that all of these teachers thought of their work as paradigm-building, breaking down old models inside students’ minds and building up new ones. The importance of this is illustrated by a story in the book about physics students who, after they had taken the introductory course, still held an Aristotelian and not a Newtonian understanding of the world, much to the teachers’ dismay.

Bain described three conditions for paradigm-building:

Create an expectation failure Put the student in a situation where their old mental model doesn’t work.

Affirm their motivation The student has to care that their mental model doesn’t work and has to be rebuilt.

Provide support Create emotional support while the student breaks down and reconstructs their model.