Many people know Maryellen Weimer for her landmark book Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. In this book, one of our recommended core readings, Weimer gives a compelling argument for implementing learner-centered teaching and describes practical and paradigmatic changes that teachers can make in order to do so. Like many readers, I find the book compelling, challenging, and, above all, helpful.
But Learner-Centered Teaching only represents the pinnacle of Weimer’s contributions to better teaching in higher education. The bulk of her work has been in the trenches, so to speak. She has edited The Teaching Professor newsletter since 1987 and has blogged at The Teaching Professor blog since 2008.* She also conducts The Teaching Professor conferences and workshops. Weimer’s life work over these past several decades has included both contributing to and making accessible the scholarship on teaching and learning.**
I recommend reading the articles in the blog and newsletter as a good practice for continually thinking about teaching. They regularly prompt me to consider things I hadn’t before or to consider familiar things in a new light. They also regularly lead me, through their references, to others articles I want to read.
However, while Weimer’s book presents an entire paradigm about teaching, it strikes me that some readers could approach the newsletter and blog as collections of “quick fixes” (even though Weimer expressly discourages quick-fix thinking). For instance, in her post “Tough Questions on Texting in the Classroom” (Apr. 24, 2013), Weimer relates the findings of a recent study on students texting in class. The study found that “a whopping 98% of the students reported that they had texted some time during the term” and that almost half of these did so even though their professors had “no texting” policies.
What will teachers make of such findings? Those primarily focused on getting students to pay attention to lectures may see the texting as the problem in and of itself and may address it accordingly. Alternatively, those primarily focused on engaging students in their own learning may see the texting as a factor in or a symptom of deeper underlying disengagement or even as a potential tool for increasing engagement. These two possible ways of reading illustrate the tension between tips and paradigms in improving teaching.
In my view, the best approach to reading Weimer’s work is to read Learner-Centered Teaching up front in order to get the big picture and then to read The Teaching Professor blog and the newsletter in light of that big picture. In this way, the articles will be understood not as standalone tips but as questions, reports, ideas, and practices that fit into a larger paradigm.
*I should note that I have several items published in The Teaching Professor newsletter, including “Teaching for Inner Growth” and “The Writing Process.” The Teaching Professor blog is one of the Faculty Focus blogs, which, collectively, rank high on the Teach 100 list of top education blogs.
**James M. Lang’s worthwhile tribute quotes Weimer on how her work on The Teaching Professor began.