The Craft of College Teaching: A Practical Guide
reviewed by Rachel Moquin - July 26, 2021
Title: The Craft of College Teaching: A Practical Guide
Author(s): Robert DiYanni & Anton Borst
Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton
ISBN: 0691183791, Pages: 245, Year: 2020
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Through The Craft of College Teaching: A Practical Guide, authors Robert DiYanni and Anton Borst present a framework for higher education instructors to broadly conceptualize, intentionally plan for, and meaningfully facilitate and execute instruction in optimal learning environments targeted to the broad and diverse student population they will encounter in their classrooms. A critical point the authors emphasize throughout the text is their view that teaching ought to be an organic rather than a mechanical activity (p. 7). An additional core belief that grounds the information and strategies presented throughout the text is that teaching can be learned, improved, even mastered (p. xi). DiYanni and Borst are clear in this view and empower readers to buy into the vision that teaching practice can (and should) always be made better. From this optimistic vision, the authors then focus educators on the critical decision-making of what to teach, how to teach, and why. They guide faculty away from more outdated learning structures and offer alternative, research-based strategies tailored to the way adults best learn.
When situating this work amongst the extant literature, DiYanni and Borst acknowledge that for readers interested in theories underlying teaching and learning, there are many texts available. They argue, however, that theoretical underpinnings are not necessarily enough for novice educators to make meaningful improvements in their practice, as this requires individual practitioners to make a leap from theory to practical application without much support for how to do so. The Craft of College Teaching supplements other texts in this area by offering a concise introduction to theory for faculty that is combined with a practical guide for how to specifically apply these theories to ones practice across a broad spectrum of areas. This text is grounded in theory and the extensive work that has been done already, but it adds a manual-like quality to the space. Readers will find this book encompasses takeaway strategies, rather than just a broad overview of theories with little support for how to bring those to life in their practice. The authors describe their approach as practice grounded in theory and theory tested in classroom practice (p. 6), with the ultimate goal being to avoid the pitfall of separating theorists and practitioners in the education space.
DiYanni and Borst bring a wealth of background knowledge to the topics covered in this work. DiYannis prior works have a heavy emphasis on critical thinking in the classroom, while Borsts experience as an instructional consultant grounds the work in tangible ideas for instructional improvement. The authors compiled the information in this book from content they present in workshops for faculty and graduate student educators on a variety of topics at New York University. These workshops are cross-disciplinary, which allows for tailoring the information they present to work in nearly any setting or discipline. As they developed this book from those workshops, they reflected on their own knowledge and insights, as well as patterns of behavior and the collective knowledge of their workshop participants over the years. Through these workshops, DiYanni and Borst have observed two general challenges in the area of higher education instruction: disparities in instructional quality across higher education classrooms, and a lack of intentional focus on teaching and learning in favor of research and scholarly pursuits, as these are more recognized by higher education leadership. This work addresses and combats both of these perceived challenges head-on by sharing strategies for instructional improvements that could apply to any higher education classroom, and by repeatedly emphasizing the critical importance of quality instruction for students lifelong success.
The book is well organized and covers a wide range of topics in a logical order, from course design elements to learning environment and instructional execution, all the way through assessment and grading. Generally divided into halves, the first half explores more broad topics one might expect to find in a manual on teaching that are focused on pedagogy and mindsets (such as Motivating Student Learning and Active Learning), whereas the second half dips into some additional, more nuanced topics like technology, grading, and critical thinking. DiYanni and Borst guide readers all the way through the planning and teaching process, with helpful checklists and guiding questions that aid teachers in creating clear through lines from their vision and planning to their course execution. The organization of content allows for readers to consider concept and design through execution while remaining tightly aligned to their initial vision.
Application questions are provided at the end of each chapter, which aid in applying what was covered in the chapter to ones specific practice, providing intentional space for readers to reflect on content and personalize it to their own context. These questions drive at the heart of DiYanni and Borsts goal to bridge theory and practice by driving readers out of the text into their own courses and classrooms to consider new strategies and approaches. One example that showcases the utility of these questions comes from the Discussion-Based Teaching chapter, where the authors pose the following questions: Recall a lecture you delivered and think through how you could revise that lesson to incorporate discussion-based teaching. What questions would you ask? How could you generate curiosity? What might you do about students who are hesitant to participate? (p. 91) The reflection questions are written to be practical and specific to readers experiences, which pushes them to make immediate changes based on new learning.
Chapters are interspersed with Interludes that DiYanni and Borst use to offer short vignettes in areas related to the chapters that come before them. These are highly specific in nature, and through these interludes the authors offer their personal insights on how to address the scenarios they pose, for example how to tackle the first day of class or how to structure and facilitate group work in the classroom. For readers looking for direct suggestions to take and apply in their practice, the interludes offer quick, easy-to-digest insights directly from the authors.
One of the most useful elements of the book is the Appendix, which is presented as A College Teaching Survival Kit comprised of five specific tools: a one-stop inventory of all checklists in the book, templates for preparing planning documents such as a course syllabus and lesson plans, sample grading rubrics, a list of teaching and learning centers that house useful pedagogical resources, and a list of periodicals related to teaching and learning for further exploration. The goal of the Appendix is to serve as a one-stop guide for where to find the highest priority, most practical tools from the text for use to jump-start improving your practice as well as provide resources for those interested in further learning and development in these areas, and it is an extremely handy way to wrap up the text.
For faculty newer to higher education instruction and classroom practice, The Craft of College Teaching offers clear guidance on where to begin with course planning and how to meaningfully execute instruction to maximize student learning outcomes. Faculty at any stage in their career can glean valuable takeaways about how adult learning theory should inform educator practices, along with specific ways in which they might adapt their practices to better support these theoretical underpinnings. Throughout the text, DiYanni and Borst emphasize their core belief that student learning arises from motivation and flourishes when supported by active engagement, community, and collaboration in the classroom. They challenge faculty educators to keep the ultimate goal of developing learning into a lifelong habit for their students at the forefront of their decision-making and practice, and provide tangible ideas for how to do so in any classroom context.
DiYanni, R., & Borst, A. (2020). The craft of college teaching: A practical guide. Princeton University Press.
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