Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Chapter 4: Increasing Critical Thinking and Motivation

Different Perspectives

Think for a moment about how you got here. Presumably you like doing what you do; you were probably naturally better at it and more interested in it than anything else you studied in college. You might think of “Yale” almost exclusively as the department in which you study. You probably enjoy spending long hours alone, reading and writing about your subject, or carrying out your bench work. Maybe you’re one of those people who are incapable of discussing anything other than dissertation topics. And that’s all fine… for graduate school and graduate students. When you enter the undergraduate classroom, however, you need to keep the bigger picture in mind.

For undergraduates, Yale is a smorgasbord of opportunities and experiences (only a fraction of which are academic in nature). Undergraduates fill their plates from the chafing dishes of macroeconomics, poetry, organic chemistry, Italian, field hockey, and improvisational comedy. As a graduate student, you’re apt to think that your field is the tastiest dish on the buffet—it’s the most interesting and the most important. As a result, you’re likely to think about—and, consequently, teach—your subject in the way you first encountered it.

If your teaching philosophy is “There is one tried and true way to learn this material, and it is the best way,” then your teaching is laid out for you. You are carrying on a tradition. However, if you are willing to consider that there might be other ways to teach the subject, and other (possibly better) ways for students to learn it—if, in other words, you are open to experimentation—then you may want to consider the strategies presented in this section.

All of the strategies described here have one thing in common: they move the focus of attention away from the teacher to the student. Rather than focusing on what you’ll say in class, you’ll have to think more deeply about what your students will do and learn in class.