I read a lot of books on teaching and learning. If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you know that I’m always referencing a book I am reading or have read. As I read, I enjoy learning about new strategies to employ in my classroom or new ways to assess my students. I also like thinking about different ways to conceptualize the work that I do or the students I serve. I figure if I can learn one new thing in a book I read, it was worth my time. That’s my standard of success for a book, at least.
Reading as much as I do, I realized recently that there is sort of an echo chamber that exists with teaching and learning books. That’s not entirely a bad thing. All of the books I’ve read over the last decade promote active learning in student-centered ways. In a lot of ways, the books are just identifying ways or sharing research to support Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practices in Undergraduate Education. That might be an over-generalization, but it’s not intended to be a criticism. It’s just an observation.
I share that as a lead into something I read in Paul Hanstedt’s book Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World (2018). Hanstedt takes an interesting perspective on teaching and learning and encourages instructors to create courses to help students develop the skills needed to solve the “knotty problems” they’re likely to face after graduation. The book itself is a good read. Hanstedt is the director of pedagogical innovation at Roanoke College and does a great job of unpacking the different aspects of planning and teaching collegiate courses. While the book is a great primer for teaching, most of the stuff can be found in other places. That’s not a criticism. Again, I read a lot of books on this stuff and there’s sort of an echo chamber that exists. But the book meets my standard of success because of a “controversial” topic that it addresses.
In the chapter on Structuring Wicked Courses, Hanstedt writes,
“When structuring courses, we need not necessarily follow the layout of our textbooks. This point may be a bit more controversial, so I will spend a bit more time on it” (p. 43).
Okay, I’ll admit that it’s not that controversial, but it did make me think. How many teachers follow their textbooks sequentially? I rarely organize my syllabi that way, but I don’t actually know what my colleagues do. I do know, however, that this is the first time I’ve seen an author offer that suggestion and provide a rationale and alternative organizational approaches to instructors. In the chapter, Hanstedt offers the following alternate ways to organize content:
- categorical – where instructors organize content by “type, class, family division, and subdivision.”
- chronological – where instructors focus on “what comes first within the course content, then second, and so on.
- methodological – where teachers focus on “how problems are solved within a field”
- theoretical – where instructors organize content on “the major ideas driving a particular field”
After outlining these different organizational approaches, Hanstedt dedicates the rest of the chapter to offering examples for how instructors from different content areas structure their semesters. This helps readers see the possibilities and learn a thing or two. And ultimately, that’s my standard of success for any good book.
Hanstedt, P. (2018). Creating wicked students: Designing courses for a complex world. Stylus Publishing, LLC.