My Top Myths in Teaching

I was going to do a Top Ten, but these are sufficient, really.  (Listed in no particular order.)

If all the students answer a test question correctly, the question is too easy and should be dropped. 

If the question properly assesses the mastery of knowledge, then when everyone answers the question correctly that means that the teacher and the students have all succeeded!  If one repeatedly drops such questions from tests over the years in favor of those that students cannot consistently answer, it may be that the students are not getting dumber over the years, but rather than the tests are getting more difficult.

Students nowadays are lazy and need more challenging classes so they’ll learn.
There’s a difference between challenging students and just making things hard on them.  Challenging students helps students by “scaffolding” them up to the next level in their learning by providing a level of difficulty that can be surmounted with a reasonable amount of effort on the part of the student and with the aid of the instructor.  Just making things difficult for students is pointless.

Student grade point averages should fall in a normally distributed bell curve, or else the grading scale should be changed to fit a normally distributed bell curve.
The normally distributed bell curve requires that for a number of students that do better, an equal number must do worse! It is not necessary that the curriculum be “dumbed down” for all the students to master the subject material. Nor is it required that good grades be a commodity in short supply. What is the goal of learning?  The goal is the transfer of knowledge.  This goal applies to all the students.  It is NOT wrong for all the students to do well! Likewise, if so many students are doing poorly on a test and the mass of poor grades need to be curved to create a new grading scale, then something is going seriously awry in the teaching-learning-testing process.

Student behavior is best shaped by rewarding correct behaviors with positive reinforcement and punishing incorrect behaviors with negative reinforcement.
If a student is not behaving (socially or academically) in the way we expect, we need to find out why.   Students who are having problems need to be helped, not punished. No long-term benefit is gained by reacting to the symptoms produced by a problem; the cause of the problem must be addressed.  “Helping” is not necessarily doing something for a person (which increases their sense of incompetence), but rather aiding them in figuring out how they can help themselves by either removing the cause of their problem or finding some way to compensate for it.  Teaching them self-help skills not only gives the student tools to solve future problems, but also builds self-esteem, which in turn improves the student’s ability to learn the curriculum.  Punishing the student for having problems not only further breaks down the self-esteem, but can also reinforce learned helplessness.  Furthermore, this kind of system turns the motivations from learning (intrinsic) to getting the reward or avoiding the punishment (extrinsic).

We’re not here to entertain the students!  
No, but we are here to engage them.  An instructor must have enough enthusiasm or thought-provoking information about the subject to create interest.

We need “flunk-out” classes like introductory chemistry or physics to weed out the less-than-stellar students.
Um, I thought the point of education was to teach students the things they don’t know?  The purpose of universities is to serve your student clients, not to remove them from the local populations within various colleges.  When students know (or just perceive) that there are “flunk-out” classes, this dismotivates them, and you end up with fewer students in necessary fields (like engineering), rather than more students and a greater diversity of students in particular fields.