Teaching and Learning Essential Skills


When discussing the assumption that skillful teaching is whatever helps students learn, Brookfield (2006, p. 19) states that“…there will be very few standardized practices that help students across the board learn essential skills or knowledge. An approach that one student finds particularly useful or congenial may well be profoundly unsettling and confusing to the student sitting next to her.” These differences may be a result of different levels of intellectual development amongst students. In the first- and second-year courses I teach, many of my students do not have the right mindset in the classroom. Felder and Brent (2005, p. 65) describe the student mindset I witness as expecting their instructors to pose questions, provide the answers, and require these answers to be memorized and repeated on exams. The difference in student acceptance of different teaching practices could also be based on personal, social, or cultural beliefs.


I agree that the methods of teaching essential skills such as communication, computer use, and numeracy are more effective for some students than others. However, I do not see the difference in student acceptance of teaching methods as extremely as Brookfield is making them out to be. I believe that many students initially lack the skills to learn when entering university. From my experience I have found that students are not aware that they need to purchase and actually read required textbooks to supplement the lesson material. I find that students like to simplify content into series of steps instead of thinking critically about solving a problem. Because of time constraints, I see students take the easiest route to completing their work which commonly results in incorrect work. It is important that as instructors we not only teach course content to our students but also teach them how to learn along the way.


Perhaps I do not see the difference in student acceptance of teaching methods because I do not regularly survey my class about their learning experiences. Would surveying my class really help though? Hammond (2008, p. 93) says that “[i]f teachers investigate the effects of their teaching on students’ learning, and if they read about what others have learned, they become sensitive to variation and more aware of what works for what purposes in what situations”. So surveying my class would be helpful, but so would researching about what other teachers have experienced when teaching essential skills. I could conduct this research by talking to my colleagues, reading blog entries online, and obtaining relevant journal articles. Talking to my colleagues is a very valuable resource since many of them are teaching in the same field as myself.


David and Brown (2012, p. 1059) found an interesting way to teach essential skills, in their case statistical literacy. In order to define what a first-year statistics student needs to know they used the concept of critical thinking. I find this an interesting approach as opposed to other methods of teaching essential skills. A common approach I have experienced and teach is to follow a four-step process: explain why the skill is valuable, demonstrate the skill, have students use and apply the skill, evaluate students on their use of the skill. If I designed my computer business systems courses around critical thinking, I could move the demonstration and practice portions of the skills to online videos that students would be required to complete before class. I could then focus my energy on further enhancing their skills through exercises that foster critical thinking.


Brookfield, S. D. (2006). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom (Second ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

David, I., & Brown, J. A. (2012). Beyond statistical methods: teaching critical thinking to first-year university students. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 43(8), 1057-1065.

Felder, R. M., & Brent, R. (2005). Understanding Student Differences. Journal of Engineering Education, 94(1), 57-72.

Hammond, L. D. (2008). Teacher Learning That Support Student Learning. Teaching For Intelligence 2, 91-100.


About simoncrothers

I am an Australian who moved to British Columbia, Canada with my family in 1998. After completing my undergraduate degree in mathematics and computing science at Simon Fraser University, I moved back to Australia for several years. During this time I completed a Masters in Computational Mathematics and began my teaching career in mathematics at the University of New South Wales. In 2010, I moved back to Canada and taught computer science at Douglas College for three years. I am currently regular faculty in the Computer Business Systems department at KPU. I have also taught some courses in the Business and Quantitative Methods department at KPU. In my spare time I like to spend time with my wife Jami, who I met in Australia, our three year old daughter Lillian, and our newly born son Aiden. I also like to indulge in the occasional video game and I am involved in various self-employed web development projects.
This entry was posted in Journals and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s