On Bain…

Summary on… What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain

It’s difficult to think of beginning to compose a summary of a book everyone else is writing a summary for… compounded by the fact that I’ve been exposed to so many summaries prior to reading Bain’s book.  In all good conscience, without reiterating what everyone read, I do want to quote what Harvard University Press had to say.

“What makes a great teacher great?  Who are the professors students remember long after graduation? This book, the conclusion of a fifteen-year study of nearly one hundred college teachers in a wide variety of fields and universities, offers valuable answers for all educators.

The short answer is—it’s not what teachers do, it’s what they understand. Lesson plans and lecture notes matter less than the special way teachers comprehend the subject and value human learning…. the best teachers know their subjects inside and out—but they also know how to engage and challenge students and to provoke impassioned responses. Most of all, they believe two things fervently: that teaching matters and that students can learn.”  (from http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674013254, About This Book).

There is no possible way of summarizing Bain’s book more concisely and effectively.

Every chapter of the book focuses on a habit or attribute a good college instructor should use for inspiring and teaching a college student.  Each chapter delves further into discussing what cognitive social science and education researchers believe that quality exemplifies through stories of inspiring students to success.

What is my bottom line takeaway from the book?  Question, question, question… continually ask questions of yourself and for your students.  I fully intend on utilizing the major conclusions from six broad questions they asked:

  1. Know your subject matter well.
  2. Prepare for teaching as intellectual endeavors.
  3. Expect more from students.
  4. Create an environment conducive to natural learning.
  5. Treat students respectfully and fairly.
  6. Assess and evaluate.

This book will work as a significant reference tool for me, understanding how the best teach, providing a captivatingly thorough study.   While the questions and ideas presented are those we, as instructors, should/would/could already ask ourselves, it guides us through how to ask the right questions regarding pedagogy and methodology.

I’m looking forward to looking at Bain’s follow up, What the Best College Students Do…

“Teaching only occurs when learning takes place” – Ken Bain

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  1. Darryl,

    I had not read any reviews of the book prior to reading it, but since reading your post I have gone back and looked some up. I agree with you that the quote you gave is one of the most concise and accurate statements. In each review, the main takeaway tends to be very similar; Bains’s books asks we as educators to change the way we think and question each decision we make. We need to identify the purpose behind our choices and are we helping the students to truly learn rather than memorize. This book will serve as a reference for me as well to remind me and guide me in learning and moving forward as a college teacher.

    While I like your review, I would have liked to read more about how you will apply it. Your main discussion topic is about how you will use this book as a reference and how you want to utilize the six main conclusions but I thought it needed some follow through. The Harvard University Press does give a great summary but how did what you read impact how you teach this semester? or maybe next semester? From your discussions in class a few weeks ago, the classes you teach sound very energetic and diverse, do you find yourself already doing many of these things or what do you think about when designing a class?

    I am always curious how other departments run their classes and would love to know more.



  2. Hi, Darryl,

    The bottom line assessment of your review is spot on.

    How might the qualities of a teacher change after the teacher stops posing questions regarding the process of learning?

    Best regards,



  3. Hi Darryl,

    I liked your opening quote by the Harvard University Press – I always love it when other opinions or thoughts are brought in from the outside. I agree that it did well in summarizing the text! Perfect selection. And, I appreciate your grand lesson to be learned: “question, question, question”. It is something we ask of our students, so I am glad we are learning to do the same with ourselves. In particular, how do you think the text will have an impact on your teaching, both at a larger (i.e., looking at the class at the semester level) and a smaller (i.e., looking at the class at the day level) scale? For example, I decided that each class I teach in the future will include a semester project that requires students to explore, in depth, a topic that interests them.

    All the best,


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