Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “What the Best College Teachers Do” as Want to Read:
What the Best College Teachers Do
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

What the Best College Teachers Do

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,930 ratings  ·  240 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 28th 2004 by Harvard University Press
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about What the Best College Teachers Do, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Robert Fulton None of the above. This book identifies the qualities of teaching that a great professor brings to the classroom to better engage with his or her stud…moreNone of the above. This book identifies the qualities of teaching that a great professor brings to the classroom to better engage with his or her students. It is not a book of "tips and techniques" but about the level of commitment to learning that the best teachers bring into the class. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,930 ratings  ·  240 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of What the Best College Teachers Do
Jul 11, 2011 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
Jul 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Some people watch every football game because they follow a team. I rarely watch any sport – unless I am in the room with someone who is watching – but I love watching the Olympics, where amateurs at the top of their sport compete. It's not just sports, though, I love watching people who excel at whatever they do, particularly when they perform with passion and write/speak about what they do in a thoughtful way. Watching excellence in any form can bring me to tears. (Good tears.)

Ken Bain's What
Jul 01, 2007 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
Jan 18, 2014 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 train ...more
Michael Meeuwis
Jun 25, 2014 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
Jul 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: edumacation
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
Oct 25, 2012 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
Dawn Betts-Green (Dinosaur in the Library)
3.75 stars...An interesting survey of what makes a great college teacher. Not a practical manual by any means, but useful.
Steve Granger
Apr 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A must read for any post secondary teachers out there.
Jul 04, 2014 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
Jun 25, 2010 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
Jan 03, 2014 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. ...more
Lukasz Pruski
Jan 12, 2018 rated it liked it
"Knowledge is constructed, not received."

Ken Bain, a professor and higher education administrator, had spent his academic career at Vanderbilt, Northwestern, NYU, and University of the District of Columbia, before he became the founding director of several major teaching and learning centers, currently the President of the Best Teachers Institute. His What the Best College Teachers Do (2004) is a bestseller and a higher-education classic. I have read the book with great interest as I have been t
Nov 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: course-design
I read this for a graduate class on Course Design. I don’t think anyone will be particularly shocked by any of the information in the book but it did make me reflect on the way my college courses were structured. I could count the instructors I consider “good” or “impactful” on one hand, and this material in this book allowed me to work through why. This book also made me rethink the way I approached the process of learning. Perhaps this isn’t helpful for anyone who has years of teaching experie ...more
Feb 18, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, 2021
I can't say I was exactly expecting this book to change my life, but I'm amazed at how underwhelming it is. The author states that the contents to the book are universal, but I'd like to see how some of the exceptional professors profiled in the book would handle working at an open-enrollment community college. I don't disagree with anything in the book, but sometimes I can't even get my students to show up to class. ...more
May 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Really insightful. Definitely one to re-read before designing and teaching a course eventually.
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If for no other reason, I come back to this book, at the start of every semester that I teach, to help spur the excitement and intention to be an effective teacher.
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Martijn Vsho
Jan 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This review will go through the basic premises and some of the arguments that Bain presents in this book. I also give a reflection on how the book has changed me and my attitude on teaching and learning.
If you want to know the basic premises of this book, Bain briefly goes through them in his first chapter. The overall philosophy of the book is twofold. First, “good teaching can be learned” (21). However, teaching is not a simple formula. Bain strongly believes that these ideas are not just prin
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I’ve been teaching college for nearly 30 years, but have just recently started my doctoral work. I loved this book. Am I the best? Nope. But I know where I am on the spectrum, and I always try to improve - mostly by realizing that those who teach for students have a different feel in the classroom than those who teach for themselves. At different times in my career, I’ve been at different points along the range. I’m extremely fortunate now that I get to teach a subject I adore to students who ha ...more
Geoffrey Benn
Feb 19, 2014 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
L. Marquet
Feb 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: teaching
Isn’t it all about getting people to think?

College costs since I graduated in 1981 have risen twice as fast as medical costs, three times as fast as family incomes and four times as fast as inflation. With average private school costs approaching $40,000 a year and public school costs approaching $20,000 a year, the OECD estimates that the United States spent 2.6% of GDP in 2008 on education, about $370 billion. Given the investment, understanding what the best educators do is important.

Ken Bain
May 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: prof-dev
1. The 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
Jan 12, 2009 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
May 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I had a pencil and page flags with me at all times when I was reading this one. Not loads that was super-surprising brand-new information to me, but many well explained points and examples worth being reminded of/remembering.

It was validating to find some of my own thoughts and goals reflected in there, and frustrating trying to apply others to my specific teaching situation. I was looking for something not too heavy to get my brain back into thinking about and evaluating my teaching and it was
Jan 27, 2011 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. ...more
Jul 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I'm preparing to teach my first class as an Assistant Professor, so I got this book because I saw all the positive reviews. I have to admit that the cheesy cover really turned me off at first. But this book is excellent! It has made me radically change my approach to preparing my courses. I'm very excited about implementing what I've learned from it. ...more
Kim Yi Dionne
Dec 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Great ways to think about teaching, and some helpful strategies. Rooted in >2 decades of research on what the best have done. Wish there was more on how to deal with difficult students or on the challenges that are particular to female faculty and faculty of color (and those of us at the intersection of that).
Jul 10, 2016 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. ...more
Sep 04, 2013 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.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching
  • Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes
  • Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning
  • McKeachie's Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers
  • 33 Simple Strategies for Faculty: A Week-By-Week Resource for Teaching First-Year and First-Generation Students
  • Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto
  • Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches
  • The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics
  • Dime qué comes y te diré qué bacterias tienes
  • Connected Teaching: Relationships, Power, and Mattering in Higher Education
  • Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future
  • Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses
  • American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump
  • Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats
  • In Pharaoh's Army: Memories of the Lost War
  • A Life on the Road
  • Moral Issues in Military Decision Making
  • The Snowden Operation: Inside the West's Greatest Intelligence Disaster
See similar books…

News & Interviews

Happy Women's History Month! One of the undisputedly good things about modern scholarship is that women’s history is finally getting its due....
99 likes · 16 comments
“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 moments of the class must belong to the student—not the students, but to the very undivided student. You don’t teach a class. You teach a student.” 2 likes
More quotes…