Start with the STUDENTS rather than the discipline

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Student Success
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Start with the students rather than the discipline: this is the 3rd principle from Ken Bain’s book, “What the Best College Teachers Do” (pp. 110-112):

…the best teachers start with something that, as [Harvard political theories Michael] Sandel put it, “students care about, know, or think they know… Such an approach often means asking students to begin struggling with an issue from their own perspective even before they know much about it, getting them to articulate a position.

Find Out What Students Think Is True

The idea is that before instructors explain a concept to students, we might want to ask them what they think about the problem at hand first. Ask them what they think is causing the problem you’re about to discuss.  Then begin to introduce ideas (theories, scientific findings) that shed light on the problem.

Most of the best teachers make a deliberate and carefully measured effort to confront some paradigm or mental model that students are likely to bring with them to class… 

You could combine this with the “Think, Write, Pair, Share” teaching technique.  That is, talk to the students about the problem/issue you want to address that day in class and then ask them to think about it and write down a few ideas on paper on their own (Think, Write). Give them perhaps 5 minutes for these two parts.  Then have them pair up and share what they’ve written with their partner.  You could go a step further and have your groups of two become groups of four and those four could share their ideas (I wouldn’t go any further than four, however). Then the groups can share their ideas with the class.  While this is going on, you might put some key ideas on the board.  These ideas tie into the theory or research you’re about to introduce when the sharing is complete.

One powerful way to (potentially) change students’ minds is to first find out what they think is true.


Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.