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What the Best College Teachers Do

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  1,151 Ratings  ·  160 Reviews
What makes a great teacher great? Who are the professors students remember long after graduation? This book, the conclusion of a fifteen-year study of nearly one hundred college teachers in a wide variety of fields and universities, offers valuable answers for all educators.

The short answer is--it's not what teachers do, it's what they understand. Lesson plans and lecture
Hardcover, 207 pages
Published April 30th 2004 by Harvard University Press
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Aug 05, 2007 Seth rated it really liked it
Shelves: professional
This book covers almost exactly the same ground as The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life without, fortunately, Parker Palmer's cloying woo-wooness. As with The Courage to Teach, it raised lots of interesting questions in terms of what I teach and how I think about teaching (and assessments and evaluations). Unfortunately, also like The Courage to Teach, it was a little vague on the details. While broad concepts were illustrated with touching and fascinating anec ...more
Aug 11, 2014 Jerzy rated it liked it
Much of the content is about convincing you to adopt the mindset of a good teachers: You should be interested in the students' understanding, not just in getting them to regurgitate facts or plug & chug formulas. You should be patient with learners of different types and levels. Assessments for the sake of getting feedback should be frequent and separate from assessments for the sake of labeling the student with a final grade. You want the students to become able to learn independently, so t ...more
Aug 11, 2011 Heather rated it it was ok
Shelves: textbooks, education
I began What the Best College Teachers Do, my first required reading for graduate school, with enthusiasm; however, my enjoyment of and agreement with the book waned as I read through it. The style is one of the thousand variations on self-help books, and it lapses into one of the greatest faults of the genre: needless repetition and explanation of the main points. As an essay, it would be useful, but as an entire book, its redundancy snowballed. In tandem with this, Dr. Bain emphasizes and extr ...more
Dec 03, 2012 Paul rated it liked it
Some good advice, but in many ways a frustrating read. First to me, a scientist, it's annoying early on when it talks about this study it did and how it selected participants, but then there's no solid data, no means of quantification, no controls, no hypothesis, nothing that one would typically consider part of a "study". You can say "we chose to study these individuals to see how they taught", but, to call it "a study" implies some sort of scientific vigor that wasn't there. Also, the book spe ...more
Jul 14, 2016 Richard rated it really liked it
During the scenic two-hour shuttle ride from the Calgary Airport to Banff on my way to the Open Education Global conference I managed to plow through the slim little bestseller, What the Best College Teachers Do, by Ken Bain. Dr. Bain was one of the keynote speakers at the 2015 Virginia Community College System New Horizons Conference and I was really captivated by his talk, which he gave in the midst the keynote audience, wandering table to table like some Vegas crooner. His keynote was essenti ...more
Jun 25, 2010 Josh rated it liked it
A good overview of excellent teaching and what it entails. But, little about how to actually do these things while maintaining your sanity, and more importantly, avoiding lynching from parents and colleagues. If I had tenure I might try some of these things, but the program really falters when it comes to assessment; which is also the thing that will most likely get you into trouble with administration, parents, and students. Nevertheless, found the book very helpful in getting me to think about ...more
Jul 07, 2015 Elise rated it it was ok
Honestly? I took less than a full page of notes. I am not impressed. Spoiler: The best college teachers care about their students, ask them how they are, and listen to the answers. That's it? I hoped for more. I'm not sure of what, but I wanted more.
Michael Meeuwis
Aug 18, 2014 Michael Meeuwis rated it it was ok
Frustratingly vague. This had been much-recommended to me, from a variety of different people and courses. When I finally sat down and read it--when is the right time to read teaching books?--I found it pretty lacking in interesting ideas. At its worst, this is Goofus and Gallant: "Good Teachers make sure students learn all material clearly; Bad Teachers lecture while students sit in acid baths." I wonder who this book is directed at, given that (it seems to me) no-one would see themselves as ac ...more
Geoffrey Benn
Apr 15, 2014 Geoffrey Benn rated it it was amazing
“What the Best College Teachers Do,” by Ken Bain, is the result of a 15 year study of exceptional college teachers from around the United States. Bain and his colleagues identified outstanding teachers through a process that considered student evaluations, recommendations from other teachers, and in-person interviews and observations. Sixty-three teachers from a wide variety of disciplines and institutions were selected and their teaching practices and philosophies were studied in detail. This w ...more
Feb 10, 2012 Brendon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: teaching
An excellent book! Very timely that I read it right now as we are making lesson plans and waiting to go to Papua to begin teaching young adults.

This book is an accessible yet thorough report on an extensive 15-year qualitative study of 63 great college teachers. The book answers six questions:
1) What do they know about how we learn?
Short answer: Learning is NOT a bunch of knowledge I open your head and pour in. Learning is always built on previous knowledge and experience, and takes place when t
Jul 06, 2013 Melanie rated it it was ok
So far, not much new, though I'm working at keeping an open mind. Having read Finding Freedom in the Classroom ages ago, and Parker Palmer (ARGH YUK) more recently, I will say that so far, this is more accessible to instructors in disciplines other than humanities, and for that reason alone it may well be more effective than PP, for instance.

Revision/Update: Bain's not helpful. If you want to figure out how to be a "best" college teacher, read first: Bridging the Class Divide by Linda Stout, an
Jul 20, 2016 Jeff rated it liked it
I wouldn't say I learned a great deal--Bain's study seems to have led him to a lot of conclusions about effective pedagogy that have been well-established for quite some time, but this was a really good recharge-the-batteries read, and I definitely picked up a couple ideas that I will be implementing this coming school year.
Mar 06, 2016 Eileen rated it really liked it
Anyone in higher education should read this book. The author interviewed over 100 college teachers in different disciplines over 25 years and communicated the results here. There are stories about the teachers making a difference and discussion about the qualities that matter after the most. Of course subject expertise and string methods of teaching are essential but I've preached to my teacher prep students-its the human variable that is so critical. making the connection with your students. Br ...more
John Henry
Nov 19, 2015 John Henry rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-library
1. Overview
This book, What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain, is the result of an extensive study of a set of the “best” college teachers. This study is not based on student evaluations, however it does follow a criteria of outcomes to determine if these professors truly stimulated learning. Ken Bain sought to find those teachers who stimulated deep thinking and “fundamental conceptual shifts” in the thinking of learners.

Bain asks six questions about the teachers examined: 1) What do th
Nov 17, 2015 Melody rated it liked it
Shelves: pedagogy
Reviewing this book feels complicated, because to do so I must acknowledge that teaching--like writing--is a deeply personal endeavor, and responding to any book about good teaching is likely to say more about my own struggles and insecurities than it says about the book itself. I happened to look at reviews of this book while I was reading it and noticed that many reviewers decry it for being fuzzy--like Parker Palmer. If I were Bob Bain, I would take that as a high compliment, because teaching ...more
Jess Caren
Jan 25, 2015 Jess Caren rated it really liked it
I admired that the book covered a decent quantity of highly successful teachers (63) across disciplines. This is useful compared with teaching books which give one person's version of how to be a successful teacher, in which it is unclear whether success can be attributed to something about them or whether it is common to all good teachers. The variety of professors and approaches contributed to the author's hesitation to provide hard and fast rules of teaching. This meant their was few broken d ...more
Jan 27, 2011 Julie rated it it was amazing
As the director of our university's teaching and learning center, I used this book in a faculty reading group. All agreed that it has provided valuable, evidence-based insights into the kinds of teaching approaches that lead to transformative learning. It has also left plenty of room for further debate and discussion. And best of all, it's readable and engaging, and well-organized. Well done, Ken Bain! I'd buy a copy for each professor at our university if I had the funds.
Aug 19, 2016 Jim rated it it was amazing
I suspect that most instructors who will read this book already possess much of the wisdom contained in its pages—and that’s fine. Who doesn’t benefit from positive affirmation of good habits and effective practice? But this volume doesn’t pretend to be a “how-to” manual or the academic equivalent of “Teaching for Dummies.” Instead of providing concrete advice or recipes for good teaching, Bain distills the wisdom and methodology of the most highly effective college instructors into a clear and ...more
Apr 16, 2016 Fredwbaker rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book, but was a bit disappointed to learn that the "big secret" practices that everyone has been raving about all basically involve treating students like human beings who are capable of learning, and encouraging teachers to give them meaningful instruction, promote active learning, and help them understand the material in ways that peak their own interests.

Because this model of teaching was the big revelation everyone has been so thrilled about since the book came out, it made me
Sep 04, 2013 Carla rated it it was amazing
This book changed my life, no exaggeration. I started to think about the social aspects of learning, cognition, and ability in an entirely different way. ALL teachers whose students are teenagers or older should read this.
Jul 31, 2016 Lindseyb rated it really liked it
Would love to give this 3.5 stars. It does a great job in terms of perspective-setting but I was still left with a lot of questions about implementation. I felt the author cheated a bit by saying he didn't want to outline specific practices because that would give the impression that great teaching can be accomplished by simply employing a few tricks and strategies on top of otherwise mediocre teaching. I feel like it would have been more useful to read a more close-up documentation/case study o ...more
Feb 07, 2015 Jackie rated it really liked it
I read this for a class paper, and I have to admit, I went into this expecting to hate it. BUT it was actually fantastic! I loved the way every tiny aspect of teaching was flipped on its head, inspected, and discussed in a way that I had never previously considered. I know Ken Bain is really popular in the realm of academia, and I can understand why. He is great at making "bland" topics accessible and interesting. A little repetitive at times, but overall I am glad I read this. If you are a teac ...more
Jul 21, 2016 Charmin rated it really liked it
Shelves: prof-dev
1. First day of class: rather than laying out a set of requirements for students, they usually talk about the promises of the course, about the kinds of questions the discipline will help students answer, or about the intellectual emotional or physical abilities that it will help them develop.

2. Trust begins to emerge as students and teachers listen to each other. Talk with students about their lives and to share personal moments from his own.

3. Shift power to the students until they
Chido Nwakanma
What The Best College Teachers Do attempts to define excellence in teaching by looking at the career and practices of excellent tutors. It captured the work of about 36 of them.
It set out to answer these fundamental research questions. The answers are illuminating.
• What do good teachers do to have a sustained and substantial influence on the intellectual and moral development of their students?
• What does any of the best college and university teachers do to help and encourage students to achie
Jun 24, 2015 Michael rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, teaching
I enjoyed the book! I read it some time ago as part of a Faculty Dinner and recently reread it for discussion in a teaching circle. The reading along with the discussion has had something of a re-energizing effect on my thinking about pedagogy and ways to improve my effectiveness as a teacher. If you teach in higher ed, it's a no-brainer as to why you should read this book. However, if you're looking for some quick "tricks" to improve your teaching, buyer beware. The author, Ken Bain, approaches ...more
Dec 07, 2014 Ale rated it really liked it
Though not as heavy as its twin book (aimed at college students), this is certainly worth a read. It covers a lot of key concepts that good teachers or potentially good teachers already put to use or flirt with. The benefit of this read is that it gives clear names, explanations and support for those good habits, and it can provide a cleaner path to better teaching. It's a short read, and it does leave a number of things to the reader's background or research (core psychological concepts are exp ...more
Robin Henry
Oct 01, 2014 Robin Henry rated it really liked it
This was a very good book examining the question, "what do really effective teachers do differently?" The answer is actually pretty simple, according to Bain. They ask good questions to get students interested in the subject, which they themselves love. They give students time and tools to figure things out. They have good classroom discussions that are meaningful. They are constantly working to become better teachers. Styles, approaches, personalities varied, but these basic good teaching techn ...more
Aug 23, 2014 Monique rated it it was amazing
Shelves: phd-stuff
This is a reflective report on a qualitative study on exceptional college teaching. Bain is the Vice Provost for instruction, professor of history, and Director of the Research Academy for University Learning at Montclair State University. He has over 20 years of experience researching what exceptional professors do to encourage learning in the classroom. After the completion of his doctorate degree, he realized that he had no idea how to teach or encourage learning of history to his college stu ...more
Jeffrey Niles
Oct 10, 2011 Jeffrey Niles rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
It was his first day of class and mine. One week fresh from Central America, Hannah approached the class with a grimace and drove panic into our souls. Little did we know that the same fear gripped him and served as the catalyst for his abrasive approach and harsh demeanor. But he then began to do what the best college teachers do. Ken Hannah created an environment in which the students began to realize their potential to learn. He spoke, he connected, he changed our thinking, he affected our wo ...more
Sep 24, 2011 Kristin rated it did not like it
This book asks an interesting and important question: What do the best college teachers do? The contrast between the average instructor and the best instructor is played out on nearly every page by many, many comparisons. For instance, the average instructor is focused on the points to be acquired for performance in the course, including reductions for late work, while the best instructors have concrete and specific criteria for learning and do not reduce grades when it comes in late (since teac ...more
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“Donald Saari uses a combination of stories and questions to challenge students to think critically about calculus. “When I finish this process,” he explained, “I want the students to feel like they have invented calculus and that only some accident of birth kept them from beating Newton to the punch.” In essence, he provokes them into inventing ways to find the area under the curve, breaking the process into the smallest concepts (not steps) and raising the questions that will Socratically pull them through the most difficult moments. Unlike so many in his discipline, he does not simply perform calculus in front of the students; rather, he raises the questions that will help them reason through the process, to see the nature of the questions and to think about how to answer them. “I want my students to construct their own understanding,” he explains, “so they can tell a story about how to solve the problem.” 2 likes
“The best teaching is often both an intellectual creation and a performing art.” 2 likes
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