Mastering the Techniques of Teaching by Joseph Lowman was first written in 1984 during, as the author states in his introduction, "a time of renewed national interest in improving the quality of college teaching" (p. xi). It is ironic that, by the time of the second edition (1995), the interest had become even stronger, much had been written about ways to promote active learning by adults, and yet many doctoral programs still did not have methodology courses geared towards the pedagogy of teaching. Even now, in 2002, many still do not. This leads to a situation where new faculty, armed with the latest knowledge in their fields, struggle to convey that knowledge effectively in the classroom. It is precisely that audience--new faculty, teaching both undergraduate and graduate level classes--at whom this book is aimed. It is not enough to have knowledge about one's subject matter; it is also important to have knowledge about effective ways to deliver material, to engage students, and to manage difficult classroom situations.
This topic is especially important to faculty in the CSU system (and elsewhere) where a heavy teaching load is "normal" and an expectation of "good" teaching is one of the most heavily weighted criteria for retention, tenure, and promotion. How does someone become a "good" teacher when that person can have up to four classes and may be interacting with up to 200 students in a semester? It helps to have a "toolkit" of sorts, one that gives very specific suggestions about how to plan a class, implement the plan, and adapt the plan according to the changing circumstances and nuances of the class. This is the focus of this book.
Lowman's book is laid out in a logical, understandable manner, beginning with a discussion of what exemplary teaching actually is and an exploration of the extent to which exemplary teaching leads to "extraordinary learning." There is also a chapter that attends to the subtle dynamics that exist in a classroom--the attitudes of teachers and students that affect class morale and students' feelings of safety about participating in classroom discussions.
For beginning teachers, there is some excellent material offering concrete suggestions for developing an effective teaching style and analyzing and improving one's own classroom performance. It includes techniques as concrete as different ways to learn the names of students in a class (according to Lowman, a very important attribute of an "engaged classroom"), ways to increase the quality of one's voice projection, and ways to enhance a "dramatic style" that is effective in piquing student curiosity.
Especially appreciated was a discussion of how much is too much when it comes to using visual aids. Major advances in technology have made it possible to teach using a great deal of "whiz-bang." However, despite the possibilities of providing high entertainment, the author discusses the need to allow time for thinking about material, as well as presenting it in a stimulating manner.
There are chapters on effective ways to organize lecture material and specific ideas about enhancing the quality of classroom discussions. Sections are also included on integrating learning outside of the classroom and evaluating student performance. In each section, the advice given is clear and direct. For example, in advising how to create essay questions, Lowman says, "Focus essay questions by specifying parameters, so that students will be less tempted to 'bullshit'" (p. 276).
For beginning teachers, this would be a very helpful and reassuring volume to own and use as a reference. It would give readers a sense that they can resolve the challenges that come up in teaching and that they can make the changes necessary to improve their performance in the classroom. For more experienced teachers, much of the specific information will feel familiar, as it covers things already figured out by trial and error. What will be especially interesting to more seasoned faculty members, however, is the theoretical material, which is presented in an engaging manner and will inspire them to think about what they think about teaching and learning! In summary, this is a valuable reference tool that will be used, rather than just glanced through.
Posted May 17, 2002
All material appearing in this journal is subject to applicable copyright laws.
Publication in this journal in no way indicates the endorsement of the content by the California State University, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, or the Exchanges Editorial Board.
©2002 by Susan Rice.