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Content is one of the four pieces of the the Fearless Teaching Framework. Learn more about the other pieces: Teaching PracticesClimate, and Assessments

This piece of the Fearless Teaching Framework is not designed to dictate what teachers should or should not teach. The TLTC fundamentally supports academic freedom. Instead, it is meant to provide guidance for instructors and departments as they consider what to include in their courses. 

Content refers to what course topics are covered in a class. Research indicates that students are more successful when course content is appropriate for their developmental stage and academic ability. Further, students are more likely to be engaged when they understand that the content prepares them for the next courses in their sequence of study, and is relevant to their lives outside of the classroom. In other words, high quality content meets students where they are, and prepares them for where they need to go.

Relevant: Fearless teachers understand that students are more intrinsically motivated in the course content when topics are, in some way, made relevant to the daily lives and interests of the learners (Clegg & Kolodner, 2014). Content can be made more relevant by using examples that students might encounter in their regular lives, or by encouraging students to connect course topics to their personal interests (Lave & Wenger, 1991).

Additionally, we believe that fearless teaching is also Culturally Relevant Teaching - when teachers display cultural competence and make space for students to relate course content to their cultural context (Howard, 2001). Culturally Relevant Teachers use a variety of practices grounded in the teaching philosophy that all students are entitled to learn and that the best way to teach all students is to deliver content in a way that is relevant to students of diverse populations (Brown-Jeffy & Cooper, 2011).

Engaging: Content that is interesting and thought-provoking is helpful for keeping students engaged. Students who are engaged and active in their learning are more likely to achieve learning objectives and to retain what they learn, especially lower-achieving students (Carini, Kuh, & Klein, 2006). Heath & Heath (2008) found that content is more likely to stick in students’ minds when teachers:

  • Distill an idea to its essence.
  • Gain and maintain attention.
  • Ground an idea in sensory details.
  • Sell and support an idea with hands-on examples.
  • Motivate students to care.
  • Inspire and teach students how to act with storytelling.

Applied: A tenant of Problem-Based Learning is the application of new knowledge to problem solving (Hmelo-Silver, 2004). When learners have the chance to apply their knowledge to community and real-world problems, content learning is reinforced and new transfer pathways are developed. Teachers of problem-based learning have to adapt to the problem solving projects of their students - there is no blueprint (Resnick, Bruckman, & Martin,1996). To encourage intrinsic motivation among learners, teachers must allow learners the freedom to design new solutions to complex problems of interest. Through the applied problem-based learning process, learners can identify gaps in their knowledge, find new resources, and correct misconceptions.

Teach Less, Better: Bain (2012) says often that the best university teachers “Teach Less, Better.” Fearless teachers focus their courses on two or three learning objectives that are the most important. Grading structures and assignments consistently reinforce these two or three key learning objectives.

Attend to Prior Knowledge: Fearless teachers recognize that learners enter the classroom with varying levels of prior knowledge. Before introducing new content, Fearless teachers first assess students’ knowledge and skills to determine their zone of proximal development (Arends & Kilcher, 2010Vygotsky, 1978). Students achievement will improve when you assess and activate prior knowledge before introducing new concepts.



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