This series highlights an array of teaching strategies implemented by faculty members at the University of Iowa. Each strategy aims to enhance students’ engagement and broaden the scope of their learning.

This month’s strategies are provided by Associate Professor of School Counseling Susannah Wood.

Keep It Relevant. One of the biggest challenges all instructors face is ensuring our students understand the relevance of what they are learning. The connections between readings, activities, lectures, and discussions to the real world should be as transparent as possible. If students are internally asking themselves, “Where is this going to take me?” “How am I supposed to use this later?” “Does this connect with a career?”, we need to be ready with an answer. Sometimes the connections are very apparent, sometimes they are not. I challenge myself to consistently connect what my students are learning to either the current “here and now” via news and media or to building their future tool boxes as professionals.

Keep It Simple. Easier said than done! Many majors and professions are responsible for ensuring students demonstrate mastery over specific content and skills. Syllabi are built around course objectives, but in the end, what do you really want your students to be able to do? Do they know that? I keep reflecting on the life skills I want my students to have: critical thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, leadership, etc. What am I doing in my classes to ensure those skills are developed?

Keep It Student-centered. Again, not the easiest challenge to take on. A question you might find yourself asking is: Who’s doing all the work here? Students are not empty receptacles. They come with their own background, experiences, values, ways of thinking, and whatever happened the day before. Can you use this as an instructor? Is your classroom safe enough for that exploration? If so, what are you doing that’s working? What do you want to change? It’s okay to let students do the “heavy lifting”—it’s part of self-directed learning. What do they want to know that they think will be useful to them? How can strategies like jigsaws or problem-based learning help them and you?

Keep It Fun. If I’m bored, chances are students are, too. It’s okay to go off script every once in a while and try something new. Maybe it was something you saw at a conference or read about in a journal article. Prepare your students that today might be unusual. Walk them through the activity. Then process on the levels that are important to you and to your field. Why did we do this? What did you learn about the content? About yourself? What worked or didn’t? What feedback do you have for me? How will you use this later?